- - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump announced recently a new American strategy for the country’s longest war: Afghanistan.  The major change is a shift from the “deadlines,” used to the detriment of American national security by the Obama administration, to a focus on “conditions.” In other words, America wants to see certain facts on the ground before it withdraws troops.  After all, we still have forces in South Korea, Japan and Germany for a reason—they provide stability.  

That being said, it is painfully obvious the United States does not have the financial resources, or political will, to enforce the peace in regions of the world that have an out-sized impact on our security.  

America is in a quandary.  We can’t write a blank check to the Afghan government, but we also cannot allow that nation to become once again a breeding ground for terror against the homeland.  

The answer to this dilemma is for neighboring states and regional powers to pick up the mantle of leadership for peace and stability in Central Asia.  American military force can change the facts on the ground, but ensuring a long-term stabilization will take regional countries’ involvement, for the duration.  

Regional players know the Afghan actors well, and have worked with some of them for decades. The Trump administration obviously recognizes this, and has been busy rebuilding and strengthening relationships with countries in the region.

The countries of Central Asia, namely its largest and most developed ones, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, should be counted on to be engaged the most. They have the potential, the wherewithal, and the political will to engage, with some results to show for their involvement already.

Consider Kazakhstan. It has provided around $20 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and it has been implementing a $50 million worth program to educate Afghans in peaceful traditions at its best universities. Such efforts should, certainly, be encouraged and supported.

Uzbekistan, for its part, has been helpful to Afghanistan as well. Tashkent’s participation in the design and construction of the Mazar-i-Sharif-Herat railway will contribute to the quick recovery of Afghanistan’s economy. After commissioning of the Hairaton-Kabul Electricity Supply Line in 2010, electricity flow from Uzbekistan, doubled the capacity from 150 to 300 megawatts.

During the Shanghai Cooperation Summit in Astana in early June, Uzbekistan massively increased delivery of mineral fertilizers, agricultural machinery, and wheat and other food, to Afghanistan.

The Trump administration sees Kazakhstan’s and Uzbekistan’s role as pivotal to America’s interests in Central Asia, an area that has had a material impact on Afghanistan’s future, as well as on the security of American citizens at home and abroad over the last few decades.  

The proof in the pudding is the recent renewal of a new five-year bilateral defense cooperation plan between the U.S. and Kazakhstan.  “During the meeting…military cooperation between Kazakhstan and the United States (was) discussed, another five-year military cooperation plan for the years 2018-22 was signed, defining areas of cooperation for the coming five-year period,” read a statement by the Kazakh Foreign Ministry regarding the pact.  

The White House announced after a phone call between Trump and Nazarbayev in September, that “President Trump expressed appreciation for Kazakhstan’s regional and global leadership, including its upcoming tenure as Chair of the United Nations Security Council in January, and congratulated President Nazarbayev on hosting the Astana Expo 2017,” further highlighting the importance the administration places on the Kazakh relationship.  It would serve the United States and the NATO alliance well to strengthen this friendship with such a critical player in this volatile part of the world.  

Kazakhstan is increasingly playing a prominent role facilitating peace talks, including in the Middle East, hosting the Astana peace talks on the Syrian civil war.  

The country’s role in nonproliferation is similarly oversized with the establishment of a low enrichment uranium (LEU) fuel bank under the IAEA auspices to facilitate access to peaceful civilian nuclear energy, and to discourage nations from developing their own enrichment capabilities, something that can be abused to develop homemade nuclear weapons.  

From Afghanistan to Syria to the U.N., Kazakhstan can and should be counted on by the United States to practice responsible Realpolitik in the region and be a partner in furthering our security agenda. Nazarbayev has shown his independence from Russia by going so far as introducing English as the third language of instruction in schools after the Kazakh and Russian, and beginning the process of changing the Kazakh language’s alphabet from the Cyrillic script imposed during Stalin’s Soviet rule back to Latin, introduced in the 1920s.

Uzbekistan, on its part, has been moving to open the economy after decades of autarky, and welcoming foreign investors.  Uzbek President Shavkhat Mirziyoev had a successful visit to the U.S. in September resulting in renewal of US-Uzbek security and economic ties.  

More importantly, Tashkent and Astana seem to have found much better understanding and willingness to work together over the past year or so since the change of the leadership in Tashkent  after the death of the former President Islam Karimov. In addition to numerous commercial agreements and positive steps in political, economic, and social spheres, the two governments have recently signed an agreement on military and technical cooperation, an unprecedented area in relations between the two states formerly engaged in purported regional rivalry.

 In the tumultuous world, a long-lasting partnership with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia will certainly help American security in Eurasia and Afghanistan.

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