Central Asia after 2014: With and Without the United States

Ambassador Spratlen delivers assistance to Kyrgyzstan's MOD. Image courtesy Embassy Bishkek.

by Noah Tucker on 6/15/2013 · 5 comments

This is another guest post from Alisher Abdug’ofurov, a young ethnic Uzbek Kyrgyzstani who lives near Jalal-abad. Many thanks to Alisher for offering the first perspective from the region on the future of US policy–and for reminding us that if we don’t engage, others will.

Since the announcement of withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan there have been many disputes about US policy in Central Asia after 2014. These disputes still continue. I don’t know what decisions the United States will make, but nevertheless I think it is very important to continue an active foreign policy in the region. There are several very important reasons.

First, the United States should prove in practice that promoting democracy and human rights are among the main directions of its foreign policy. In the period of the Soviet Union, Central Asian nations were disconnected from the world and knew America only from one side: as an enemy of the Soviet Union. After independence thanks to international organizations the U.S. and Europe made a name as promoters of free speech, human rights and democracy. For thousands of young people they become a land where dreams come true. But after 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the authority of the U.S. in Central Asia began to decrease. The fact that Afghanistan and Iraq are Muslim countries also gave cause for some people to refer to America as an enemy of Muslims.

The Arab Spring and cooperation with repressive regimes of Central Asia give cause for many people to think that the U.S. is ready to capture any oil-rich country and cooperate with any regime if only they are loyal to Washington. For example, not so long time ago Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was one of the main allies of the U.S. And the fact that the U.S. suddenly supported the Egyptian opposition once again gave cause to think about double standards of the U.S.

Of course, we should not forget the role of Russian media. The influence of Russian media is still strong in Central Asia whether we want it or not. Several Russian TV and radio stations broadcast as local channels and they are very popular. People are used to watching international news on these channels. Since most of these TV and radio outlets are Russian state-owned channels, information there is based on the foreign policy of the Kremlin. I think you can already guess that on these channels there is not much positive information about US foreign policy. The Arab Spring, for example, is shown largely as a special operation of U.S. intelligence to offset outcomes undesirable for U.S. politicians, rather than a protest of civilians in these countries against dictators.

So If America wants to regain his good name, it will have to consistently promote human rights and democracy. In any case the U.S. is a more democratic country than even the most democratic country in post-Soviet region. Therefore, America can play a key role in helping the values of democracy take root in Central Asia. But this process must be peaceful, without supporting the color revolutions. In the example of Kyrgyzstan, we have seen that revolutions don’t yield good results. On the contrary, people now have a belief that you can only come to power this way. I think the U.S. should support democratic changes and human rights in this region in general, but not specific politicians or parties.

Secondly, the US has an important role to play in the balance of power in the region. As soon as its economy began to grow significantly, Russia began trying to restore the old colonies to its circle of influence. Organizations such as CSTO/ODKB, Customs Union and Eurasian Union are examples of this. With Kazakhstan already in this circle, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are going to join. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are abstaining for now, but if after 2014 the U.S. will not have an active policy in Central Asia these counties can also be drawn into the integration projects of Putin’s Russia. If we take into account what is happening with Russia in terms of democracy during the rule of Mr. Putin, it is easy to guess that these unions will not be based on equality and will not be so different from the Soviet Union. Also we should not forget about China, which is not averse to increasing its influence to region.

Third is the issue of safety and security. Today we know that the U.S. will have a contingent in Afghanistan after 2014, but this contingent will not be very large and terrorist groups can become more active. Now in Central Asia only Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have a real army that can fight a war with terrorists. But they are also maybe not prepared to fight for very long with terrorists who are more experienced after war with NATO. That’s why the U.S. should continue to be one of the main actors in the Central Asian region even after 2014.

This is just what I think. I welcome your comments and ideas below and look forward to the discussion.

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This post was written by...

– author of 54 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Noah Tucker is managing editor at Registan.net and an associate at George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs Central Asia Program. Noah is a researcher and consultant for NGO, academic and government clients on Central Asian society and culture. He has worked on Central Asian issues since 2002--specializing in religion, national identity, ethnic conflict and social media--and received an MA from Harvard in Russian, E. European and Central Asian Studies in 2008. He has spent four and half years in the region, primarily in Uzbekistan, and returned most recently for fieldwork in Southern Kyrgyzstan in the summers of 2011 and 2012.

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Martin Doyle June 15, 2013 at 2:55 pm

This young person should be encouraged to write often about observations from a local and regional perspective. Moreover, these observations should receive considerable attention by all interested parties. Well done!

Alisher June 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Thank you Noah for publishing my materials on Registan. And thank you all for comments. I’ll try to write in future more interesting and useful for you!

Tm June 16, 2013 at 12:54 am

I, as a citizen living in post-Soviet Central Asia, completely agree with Mr. Alisher. All mentioned aspects are right and worthy of more careful attention of the Western world. Especially the Russian phenomenon is very clearly defined. Thanks to Alisher for the timely assessment of the situation and being voice of Central Asia residents.

Justin Dunnicliff June 17, 2013 at 8:36 am

Excellent article! I’m an international relations graduate student and my area focus is Central Asia. I’m very curious about your perceptions in the region of the influence of China. Does it seem that they’re actively trying to push more into the region? I believe it is in China’s interest to do so. I know that discussions about expanded rail lines have been ongoing for years, which would potentially give China a way to offset the “threat” of the U.S. presence in the South China Sea by giving them a viable land route to the Middle East and Europe. Does it seem like this is happening? Also, do you think that Russia would allow this to happen if it meant creating more challenges for the U.S. or would they try to block it in favor of their own interests?

hamdard June 19, 2013 at 9:49 am

Justin, Chinese presence in Central Asia is mostly economic at least for now. It does not mean that they do not have other more important agendas for these states. In my opinion, China will always be welcomed in Central Asia. They are pretty much seen as “good dudes.” They bring in FDI, and do not demand democracy in return. Plus there is no recent history of imperialism/colonialism with this state. That suits authoritarian leaders of Central Asia very well.

I think China’s more aggressive encroachment should be expected. CA states are quite important for many reasons for China, I think. First they are still a substantial source of natural resources. Plus, it’s a potential market of around 50mil consumers. That could be huge. Also, what could be a better deal than getting together with a bunch of like-minded people when it comes to “fighting terrorism”, and countering UN’s or USA’s demands on minority and human rights?

Finally about Russia’s view on China’s encroachment – sure, Russia won’t like it. But it can’t do much right now. Russia does not have much of investments to support its claims. Recent cases with US military basis in KG and UZB are prime examples. The leaders of these states are not going to stay loyal for empty promises.

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