- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 21, 2010

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — U.S. special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke visited Kazakhstan on Sunday to drum up regional assistance in stabilizing Afghanistan, the last stop on his tour of former Soviet states in Central Asia.

The recent surge in the U.S. military contingent in Afghanistan has been accompanied by a U.S. effort to enlist help from neighboring nations in rebuilding the war-ravaged country and to provide reassurances that the war won’t spill over the border.

“We are talking to all the countries that have a concern in the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that is why we are here today,” Mr. Holbrooke said in Kazakh capital of Astana.

Mr. Holbrooke’s trip also included Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where he met with heads of state and held talks on cooperation in Afghanistan.

In Tajikistan, an impoverished country that shares a long and porous border with Afghanistan, Mr. Holbrooke warned of the continuing danger posed to the region by al Qaeda.

The roles of Central Asia and Russia in assisting NATO operations in Afghanistan has grown over the past year with the opening of an overland route to Afghanistan from Europe via Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The route offers an alternative to the alliance’s main logistics chain through Pakistan, which has come under repeated attack by militants.

During his tour, Mr. Holbrooke also discussed electricity and transportation networks linking Central Asian to Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan supplies electricity to about four million people in Afghanistan and is working on completing a rail route between the two countries. Tajikistan also hopes to complete a 1,000-megawatt project that would allow it to export power to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Uzbekistan also has renewed its commitment to act as a bridgehead for nonmilitary supplies to its neighbor to the south.

“Large amounts of humanitarian goods deliveries to Afghanistan will be made through the territory of our republic,” the government Web site said as it reported on Friday’s meeting between Mr. Holbrooke and Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Uzbekistan’s relations with the West deteriorated significantly after the government’s violent suppression of a popular uprising in the city of Andijan in 2005. Uzbekistan expelled U.S. troops from a base on its territory in a dispute over the uprising.

Its government has since sought to capitalize on its role in assisting security operations in Afghanistan to curry favor with the West, but Mr. Holbrooke ruled out of the possibility of the United States reinstating its military base.

“Uzbekistan does provide us valuable opportunities to transit material to Afghanistan, and that’s important, but a military base, no,” he said Sunday.

The United States has a sizable base in Kyrgyzstan, which it uses for transportation, refueling and supply for U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan.

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