By Stephen Blank
November 24, 2021, the CACI Analyst
As part of the continuing story of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan Washington is evidently still negotiating for bases in Central Asia. The idea here is to be able to carry out “over the Horizon” (OTH) operations in Afghanistan for counter-terrorist purposes. It also turns out that Washington and Moscow were discussing this issue in the talks between Chief of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Those discussions apparently derived from remarks made by President Putin in his earlier summit with President Biden in Geneva offering the U.S. the opportunity to base evacuation flights in Russian bases in Central Asia.
By S. Frederick Starr
November 23, 2021, the CACI Analyst
Relations between the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan have been in a slump since the small country closed the U.S. air base at Manas in 2014. In the limited attention Washington has accorded Central Asia since then, Kyrgyzstan has not figured in a visible way. This could change: new nationalist Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov appears to have concluded Kyrgyzstan must balance its over-dependence on Russia and China. Bishkek has embarked on a path of cordial and productive engagement with the West, and especially the United States. His government prepared a document setting forth a full range of new relations with Washington and transmitted it to the U.S. State Department. It remains to be seen whether Washington will embrace President Japarov’s bilateral initiative and perhaps even expand beyond it by adding initiatives and projects of its own.
Tokayev’s Reforms: An Evolutionary Model of Change?
By: Svante E. Cornell and Albert Barro
Much ink has been spilled in recent decades on the failures of democratization in the Middle East and Central Asia. Indeed, for over a decade and a half, Freedom House and other democracy watchdogs have been documenting a clear regression of dem-ocratic development. This has happened not only in countries considered in “transition”, but also in established democracies, where authoritarian tendencies have, unexpectedly, returned.
The Middle East and Central Asia have proven particularly resistant to democratic development. The resilience of authoritarian systems of govern-ment in these regions caused considerable frustra-tion, which switched to great excitement when popular revolutions against corrupt and dysfunc-tional government took place between 2003 and 2011. The wave of revolutions began in Georgia, followed by Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, upheavals quickly dubbed “color revolutions.” These were followed several years later by the 2011 “Arab spring”, which similarly generated great hope that democracy had finally come to the Middle East.
Except it did not work out that way. The color revolutions and Arab upheavals must now be termed a failure, as no country that experienced these upheavals has progressed in a sustainable way toward democracy. Some, like Libya, Syria and Yemen have descended into civil war. Others, like Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, experienced recur-rent political crises while continuing to be mired in corruption. For some time, Georgia and Tunisia appeared to go against the grain, and make sus-tained progress – but in recent years, those two have also backtracked. All in all, it seems clear that revolution is not a sustainable model to change entrenched authoritarian habits.
India’s Changing Approach towards Central Asia and the Caucasus after the Afghanistan Debacle
By: Gulshan Sachdeva
India’s ambition to raise its profile and connect with Central Asian neighbourhood was reflected through its ‘Extended Neighbourhood’ and ‘Connect Central Asia’ policies. Prime Minister Modi further elevated these policies through India’s SCO membership and other institutional mechanisms. India’s strategy towards the region has been linked to its Afghanistan, China and Pakistan policies as well as Russian and U.S. designs. With the Afghanistan debacle, the earlier connectivity strategies are no longer valid as a Taliban-Pakistan-China axis will further strengthen the BRI profile, in which India has not participated. In coming years, New Delhi will work with Central Asian partners to safeguard the region from negative repercussions of the Taliban takeover in terms of radicalization, increased terrorist activity and drug trafficking.
Central Asia and the Caucasus have long been part of the Indian imagination because of old civiliza-tional linkages and cultural connections. After the Soviet break-up, new geopolitical realities and geo-economic opportunities further influenced Indian thinking in the 1990s. The emergence of new independent states opened opportunities for energy imports as well as trade and transit. There were also worries of rising religious fundamental-ism. Therefore, developing political, economic and energy partnerships dominated New Delhi’s “ex-tended neighbourhood” policy in the 1990s. Alt-hough India established close political ties with all countries in the region, economic ties remained limited. An unstable Afghanistan and difficult India-Pakistan relations created problems for di-rect connectivity. New Delhi tried to resolve the issue through working with Russia and Iran via the International North-South Trade Corridor (IN-STC) and its tributaries. Due to the U.S.-Iran ten-sions and stagnating India-Russia trade, this op-tion did not prove very effective. In the mean-while, the Chinese profile in the region increased significantly.
By Stephen Blank
October 6, 2021, the CACI Analyst
The U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan should force American policymakers to rethink America’s position and goals in Central Asia. For years U.S. policy in Central Asia was subordinated to the goal of winning the war even though Washington never fashioned either a satisfactory definition of what winning meant or an Afghan government capable of standing on its own and acquiring the legitimacy and capacity it needed to survive. Despite a more regionally inclusive white paper by the Trump Administration, neither it nor its successor have been able to overcome the primacy of military factors in regional policy and the insufficiency of economic and political means to conduct a truly robust regional policy in Central Asia.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.