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Common threats of Central Asia

01/06/07 - MOSCOW(Fakhriddin Nizamov, member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council) –


Regional security does not wholly depend on internal factors. Big
geopolitical players are skillfully using destabilizing elements such as
separatism, ethnic problems or suppression of political rights in order to
enhance their influence.

In so doing, they often conceal their strictly economic goals under
political slogans and talk of Western values. But the regions are resisting
heavy pressure. Southeast Asia has come up with Asian values, while Russia
speaks about sovereign democracy. Central Asian countries have stepped up
the elaboration of the national idea because they want to be immune both to
regressive (religious) and progressive (secular) fundamentalism.

This is how Mobashar Jawed Akbar, the editor of the Asian Age, described the
current ideological threats to Central Asian countries. Exporters of Western
values do not like being reproached for democratic fundamentalism. They know
well that divorced from national traditions, religious sentiments and
mentality, democracy is doomed, but they do not stop. In many cases, their
pressure is negatively affecting security in many regions, including Central
Asia.

Indian expert Ramakant Dwivedi believes that sometimes external impact is
useful for the renewal of the internal system and consolidation of forces in
the drive against both external and internal threats. They are interlinked
and require a comprehensive approach. All sides should participate in a
search for a common approach.

Today, Central Asia as an integral whole is not ready for modern challenges
and risks. This is an alarming situation because some analysts predict a
growing threat to both regional and global security, especially if there is
a crisis around Iran, and the Iraqi and Afghan problems remain unresolved. A
package of internal and external threats may seriously destabilize Central
Asia.

It is not yet ready to counter these processes in full measure. For the time
being, it can only minimize the negative regional phenomena. It is
particularly important for Central Asian states to step up their
cooperation. Such regional agencies as the Collective Security Treaty
Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could
play a decisive role in this process.

It is no secret that each republic in the region is determining its home and
foreign policies proceeding from its own interests, location, economic
potential, and linguistic and cultural affinity with its neighboring and
other countries. This leads to the concepts of neutral pragmatism and
multi-vector policy. This is acceptable for national interests but is a
source of concern for regional security. Lack of coordination and different
orientation of Central Asian countries create a fertile soil for the
exacerbation of the geopolitical struggle between the external power centers
– not only great powers but also international terrorist organisations and
major criminal groups engaged in drug trafficking.

Paradoxically, Western countries, which need Central Asian energy more than
anyone else, are still making political demands as they did in the early
1990s. As the local political elites describe this, the West is putting the
cart before the horse, although the experience of Georgia, Ukraine and
especially Kyrgyzstan has shown that “velvet” revolutions cannot be an
effective instrument of development. They are plunging local societies into
the abyss of a permanent struggle for power. This struggle is turning into a
strong destabilizing factor and does not help the region’s countries to deal
with one of their biggest problems – economic backwardness and poverty of
the majority of the population. Discipline and stability are essential for
prosperity. This may be a dubious assertion from a democratic point of view,
but such is the harsh reality of the region.

Therefore, Russia, India and China are hurrying to invest money in the
region and offer it mutually advantageous economic projects. Pakistan has
also become markedly more active of late. Before, the presence of terrorist
groups threatening Central Asian security was the only obstacle to the
development of normal relations, whereas now the attempts to oust them from
the region are openly welcomed. It is enough to mention the recent agreement
between Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan on the construction
of a railway from the Uzbek Termez to Pakistani Peshawar via Kabul. In turn,
China is planning to build part of the railway to link its western areas
with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The West is not alone in being drawn to the
region’s rich energy resources.

The Afghan factor of destabilization deserves special mention. The failure
of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to consider the local
reality is diminishing its chances of success. One gets the impression that
Western countries, the United States above all, are fighting not against the
terrorists but for the right to keep their presence in the region as long as
possible. As a result, the Afghans no longer hope that IASF will make their
lives better and are fleeing to the Taliban.

Moreover, some analysts believe that the West is pushing the Karzai
government to reconciliation with the Taliban. If the latter returns to
power after the ISAF’s departure, Afghanistan may turn into an even bigger
hotbed of tensions. The independent Central Asian republics will be the
first to feel this. Military experts believe that they will have to increase
their defense expenditures, but this will hardly produce any results.

In a word, experts are not very optimistic about the region’s stability. But
Central Asian security is still in its infancy. This is a very sensitive
process for a number of reasons. It requires mutual trust and concessions,
for which government leaders are not always ready. This makes it difficult
for the sides to harmonize their national interests, which are sometimes at
variance with each other. Elaboration of a well-orchestrated policy largely
depends on the balance of interests between external players, who have
different influence on the region’s countries. Regional agencies have a big
role to play in undoing the tight knot of problems, because no country will
be safe without guaranteed security of Central Asia as a region.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not
necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.-0-