Gen. Abizaid in Central Asia

by Nathan Hamm on 8/24/2005 · 2 comments

General John Abizaid visited Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. RFE/RL’s stories about each visit are quite short, but indicate that the meetings had quite different tones. In Tajikistan, Abizaid discussed the country’s military and anti-drug trafficking cooperation. With the Turkmen government, Abizaid’s message seemed more to be that the US is not interested in confrontation with Central Asian states. While I can certainly conceive of that meaning “…so what do you think about letting us base some planes here?” I certainly hope that if it has anything to do with repositioning US forces in the region, it has to do with securing overflight rights for flights from Azerbaijan.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Rumsfeld was buttering up the Kazakhstan’s foreign minister in Washington.

UPDATE II: Here’s what Kazakhstan had to say about the role of the US military in Central Asia.

Kazakhstan’s foreign minister yesterday pledged his country’s support for U.S. military operations in Central Asia and said his country worked to water down neighboring countries’ efforts to evict American troops from the region.
Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev added that the U.S. military presence since the 2001 Afghanistan war and China’s emergence as a regional and global power were helping revive the 19th-century “Great Game” struggle for influence in the region.
“Yes, to some extent, the ‘Great Game’ is coming back to our region,” Mr. Tokayev told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.
“All of the major countries are expressing their own interest to be present [in Central Asia], which is only natural because this region turned out to be important geopolitically and from a strategic point of view,” he said.

Though much else has changed in Central Asia, Tokayev’s remarks indicate that Kazakhstan is still committed to not getting too close or too distant from any of the great powers. And he goes on,

But Mr. Tokayev said he worked hard behind the scenes at the SCO summit, held in the Kazakh capital of Astana, to avoid an anti-American tone in the final resolution.
The text, he noted, does not mention the United States by name, refers only to unnamed “above-ground infrastructure,” and ties any withdrawal of outside forces from the region to the conclusion of active military operations in Afghanistan.
“Yes, probably others at the summit wanted a stronger statement, but we succeeded in making [the resolution] acceptable to the international community,” he said.
“Our credo is to maintain an equilibrium of good relations with all the major powers in our region.”

Tokayev also says that China is driving events in the region. Perhaps this attitude will eventually pressure Russia to drift towards cooperating with the West.

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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