Afghanistan and Central Asia: A Collective Security Problem (Part Three)

Below is Part Three Foreign Intrigue’s three-part series examining Afghanistan’s future and the threat that instability in the country poses to the states of Central Asia. In the conclusion to the series, we analyze the role of the United States in Afghanistan’s fight against a resurgent anti-government insurgency. Finally, we explore a collective solution by the states of Central Asia can aid in securing the future of Afghanistan. You can find the two previous articles in the series here:

Afghanistan and Central Asia: A Collective Security Problem (Part One)

Afghanistan and Central Asia: A Collective Security Problem (Part Two)

Thank you for reading.

Eric Jones
Foreign Intrigue

 

The United States and Central Asia: Afghanistan and Instability

The threat of continued instability in Afghanistan for the security of Central Asia is immense not only for the states of Central Asia but for U.S. interests as well. Recently, the United States Department of State reformulated its strategy and priorities in The region. In a speech to the Brookings Institution on March 31, 2015 Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the priorities of the United States in Central Asia. Included in this speech was a portion dedicated to security issues stemming from resurging anti-government forces in Afghanistan. Blinken noted the potential for cooperation among Afghanistan’s neighbors in Central Asia in specific areas of international concern:

“Our security is tied to a stable Central Asia and, at the same time, we see a region of enormous potential, a region that could act as an economic bridge from Istanbul to Shanghai and provide opportunities for our own businesses, technologies, and innovations to take root; a region that could offer goods and energy to the booming economies of South and East Asia; and a region that could serve as a stabilizing force for Afghanistan’s transition and an indispensable partner in the fight against narco-trafficking, terrorism, and extremism.” (Blinken, Antony. “The United States and Central Asia: And Enduring Vision for Partnership and Connectivity in the 21st Century. An Address by Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.” {Speech at the Brookings Institute, Washington, DC., March 31, 2015.})

The United States benefits from geographical distance from the problems in Afghanistan. The U.S. has spent nearly 14 years battling to stabilize the country and strengthen its central government in order to accomplish several security goals. Among the security goals are the elimination of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the destruction of al Qaeda’s national support networks inside the country, and the successful creation of a national security force capable of denying haven to al Qaeda in the future. By accomplishing these goals, the U.S. succeeds in eliminating significant threats to the U.S. homeland and the country’s interests around the world.

SimonP - Central_Asia_political

Map courtesy of SimonP and Wikimedia Commons.

Even as committed as the U.S. has been to ensuring the long-term stability of Afghanistan, it is clear that these goals cannot be accomplished without the investment of regional states. In particular, the states of Central Asia are a key component of a successful strategy to ensure that Afghanistan does not return to lawlessness. The chaos that would arrive with the collapse of the Afghan national government would invite the re-formation of al Qaeda havens in Afghanistan and a return to the environment that existed prior to the 2001 invasion that facilitated total freedom of movement to the terrorist organization.

A collective approach to combating the threat must include the states of Central Asia. Each state’s participation in a new strategy requires national commitments to the future stability of Afghanistan but the United States would continue to both drive the strategy and underwrite its success. The national commitments of the regional states should proceed in collective fashion, driven by common security interests.

 

The Way Ahead: A Collective Approach

Due to a number of constraints (to include state affiliation with the CSTO and impermissible battlefield environments) collective action focused on exercises at the border is the most feasible way ahead for cooperation on containing the threat of Islamist militancy spilling out over into the states of Central Asia from Afghanistan. To augment this action, increased funding of ANSF (to include the provisioning of military hardware and security materiel) should be spearheaded by the United States but include each Central Asian country according to their state capability. This plan invests each Central Asian state in the successful outcome of capacity building of the ANSF and the strengthening of the Afghan national government.

Central Asian states pursue policies to contain the threat of Islamist militancy inside Afghanistan. While issues such as drug trafficking and a sudden flow of refugees across borders are of significant concern to states such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, the primary concern of the regimes in Central Asia in regards to Afghanistan is the potential spillover of Islamist militancy. Should Afghanistan once again become the somewhat lawless and failed state that it was during the years following the defeat of the Soviet occupation forces, Islamist militant groups with strong ties to the states of Central Asia could once again find sufficient haven. The threat of Islamist militants launching attacks and undermining the regimes of the governments of the Central Asian states is and should be the focus of the national governments. Accordingly, it is rather easy to convince the regimes of Central Asia to invest in the success of Afghanistan.

To tackle the challenges that remain in Afghanistan, a reconceptualization of the international community’s approach in stabilizing Afghanistan is required. To form this new strategy, key roles must be occupied by willing state actors with security interests driving their participation and clear benchmarks defining their roles. The states of Central Asia have an inarguable investment in the future stability of the Afghan state. However, the Central Asian states lack the financial resources by which to accomplish the tasks of strengthening the Afghan national government, modernizing its military, and defeating the country’s insurgency.

The United States can provide financial incentive by funding the partnering exercises between ANSF and Central Asian security forces. Additionally, the U.S. can induce cooperation by negotiating limited but effective military modernization efforts of states such as Turkmenistan. Given the recent troubles inside Turkmenistan’s military, the U.S. could accomplish two security goals in assisting Turkmenistan in its effort to modernize its military. First, the modernization campaign would strengthen partnering the relationship between the security forces of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Second, the modernized Turkmenistan military would more effectively deter potentially aggressive efforts of ISIS inside Turkmenistan. This is a comparatively low cost solution to mitigating at least some of the problems related to border control in the northwestern border shared by Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Given that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan do not share borders with Afghanistan, the contributions of the two countries could manifest in training in security forces. Kazakhstan’s relative prosperity, the government in Astana could participate by continuing to fund the training of ANSF. Kyrgyzstan has a history of partnering with U.S. special operations forces on training to conduct security operations.

“The U.S. trained 1,024 troops from Kyrgyzstan in fiscal year 2013 (that is, the year beginning October 1, 2012), up from 345 the year before. Of those, 880 were special forces troops which took part in six-week training courses led by their American special forces counterparts, documents newly released by the U.S. State Department show.” (Kucera, EurasiaNet, December 28, 2014)

Kyrgyzstan’s special operations forces would be great partners for the budding special operations elements of the ANSF.

Tajikistan’s primary concerns with a failure of the Afghan state are related to both the rise in Islamist militancy and the flow of drugs across the border into its Gorno-Badakhshan region. Recent CSTO exercises on the Panj River reflect concern in Dushanbe that a withdrawal by U.S. and allied forces could catalyze a resurgence of Islamist militancy in Tajikistan from Afghanistan.

“The CSTO, comprising Tajikistan, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, has been helping Tajikistan strengthen its defenses along the Afghan border.” (Joanna Paraszczuk, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 9, 2015)

Partnering exercises between Tajik and Afghan troops should be increased along the border shared by the two countries. Exercises would build trust and cooperation across a number of other issues as well, to include drug trafficking originating in Badakhshan Province. The U.S. should fund monthly partnering exercises along the border to instill cooperation and build capacity.

 

Conclusion

To accomplish the essential security goals in Afghanistan, a state must act as the lead actor in the collective endeavor. Because of its economic resources, its unmatched military capabilities, and its international reputation as a partner in fostering improved governance and military modernization, the United States is uniquely suited for the lead country in this prospective collective of nations. The Obama administration has signaled its intent to remain engaged with its recent adjustment of its planned troop withdrawal and timeline. This is a positive sign that Afghanistan’s future will not be once again relegated to the motivations of a fractured system of warlords and a gradually weakened national government.

With the U.S. guiding, the Central Asian states can assume vital roles in the modernization of Afghanistan’s military, support the Afghan government’s fight for legitimacy among its citizens, and act as partners in Afghanistan’s effort to root out and destroy the last remnants of an insurgency that threatens to upend the state itself.

While ethnic relationships across the border are instrumental, there are also relationships between the security services of several Central Asian states and those in Afghanistan.

“As in the Soviet period, the Central Asian security services oversee a large part of the relationship with Afghanistan. These services have networks in Afghan intelligence circles that date back to the Soviet period and are often Russian-speaking. Directly responsible for border security and customs committees, Central Asian law enforcement agencies are prominent actors in both official and illegal trade with Afghanistan. For example, Tajik and Afghan security services shared intelligence about IMU incursions from the non-controlled enclaves on the Pianj River in 2010 and during clashes in Khorog in July 2012.” (Laruelle, Marlene, Sebastien Peyrouse, and Vera Axyonova. February 2013. “The Afghanistan-Central Asia Relationship: What Role for the EU?” EUCAM, FRIDE, P. 8)

Capacity building in the ANSF will be the most important partnering exercise in the near term for both the United States. The Central Asian states are especially well suited to take part in these exercises. The force-to-force relationships that result will cultivate cooperation between the Central Asian governments and Kabul.

With effective financial incentive packages, adequate security inducements, and a clear strategy crafted by U.S. military leadership, the states of Central Asia can become true partners with the Kabul government in its battle to defeat the Afghan insurgency. Border control and capacity building of the ANSF are key components of a strategy that, to be successful, must include all Central Asian states and the United States. With the U.S. funding a collective action and leading the way on security force training and partnering, the states involve could grow their relationships with one another and effectively reduce the threat of instability that would emanate from a failed Afghan state.
 

(Featured photo courtesy of the United States Department of Defense: An Afghan National Army Special Forces soldier with the 6th Special Operations Kandak speaks to Afghan National Army soldiers about recent activity in the area during an operation in Kabul province, Afghanistan, Jan. 7, 2014.)

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Eric Jones

Eric Jones

Director, Co-founder, and Editor in Chief at Foreign Intrigue. Eric researches and writes about international affairs and US foreign policy, particularly Europe, Russia, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. You can email Eric at Eric.Jones@Foreign-Intrigue.com. Follow Eric on Twitter via @Intrigue_Jones. Follow Foreign Intrigue on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/ForeignIntrigue.