A Strategy for Central Asia; Weak Borders Argue for a Comprehensive Approach
Byline: Borut Grgic and Alexandros Petersen, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
As the United States prepares to deploy an additional 17,000 troops to the troubled Afghan theater, Kyrgyzstan to the north vows to close the U.S. air base at Manas, considered vital for continued operations in Afghanistan.
Manas was opened in the American rush to the region after September 2001. Eight years later, the failure to engage the countries of Central Asia has only made efforts in Afghanistan all the more difficult. In view of the Obama administration's goals for a regional Afghanistan strategy, White House decision-makers would do well to take into account the entire region, not just Pakistan and Iran.
Afghanistan borders Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to its north. The Tajik-Afghan border has been manned by Russian troops for years, while Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan conduct their own border patrols. All three operations are under-resourced and badly managed, which partly explains the organized crime problem Central Asia faces and the notorious buildup of contraband and smuggling in the region's central Fergana Valley. Weak borders between Central Asia and Afghanistan are a recipe for long-term failure for the United States and its NATO allies in Afghanistan. We see today how terrorists and other criminals move unbothered through the porous border with Pakistan. Why should it be any different on the Central Asian side?
As the White House conducts a comprehensive review of operations in Afghanistan - to be ready this month - it would do well to emphasize the country's porous northern borders, which also intersect with the main supply routes for U.S. and NATO forces. Huge potential exists to cooperate with regional countries through know-how transfer and institutional capacity enhancements for customs and border security. In 2010, regional leader Kazakhstan will take over the chairmanship of the Organization for Stability and Cooperation in Europe, and Astana has already shown an interest in working with the United States and its allies on stabilizing Afghanistan and the region.
For Kazakhstan, proliferation across the Afghan border presents a major security problem. Organized crime and other elements passing through are not only injecting instability into the region's politics, but are corrupting and undermining the real economy and trade.
At the same time, there is a great deal of concern in Washington and European capitals about the future of the OSCE. The region's broadest security structure is suffering from a post-Cold War What-do-we-do-next? …