In accordance with its efforts to diversify its allegiance with major powers, Kazakhstan supports a strong U.S. economic and defense presence in Central Asia. The U.S. is equally interested in preserving Kazakhstan’s balanced relationship with the other great powers. Renewing the partnership requires realigning its focus as the U.S. military presence in Central Asia declines but U.S. interests do not, while Kazakhstan responds to China’s growing regional role and strong Russian interest in maintaining Moscow’s primacy in the region. An effective U.S. diplomatic approach toward the region requires reaffirming U.S. support for the political and economic independence of Kazakhstan and its neighbors.
Facing depleting petro-chemical reserves and soaring demands for energy, Pakistan has tough choices to make. It can either risk punitive action by opting for a steady supply of Iranian gas or rely on the more vulnerable but U.S.-backed 1,700 kilometer Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline. Political instability and a lack of a long-term vision over the past two decades have impeded the evolution of both pipeline options, as well as inland and offshore exploration. With a modest forecast of an economic growth rate of 5.5 percent, Pakistan’s energy demand in 2030 may soar to 361.31 Million Tons of Oil Equivalent (MTOE), causing a deficit of 141 MTOE. Hence, Pakistan is increasingly facing an energy emergency.
On February 17-21, Russia conducted its first surprise military inspection exercise in twenty years. The exercise in the Southern and Central Military Districts (MDs) tested combat readiness levels in key formations. These involved the elite Airborne Forces (VDV), Ground Forces brigades, Military Transport Aviation (VTA) and the defense ministry’s 12th Main Directorate. The top brass criticized the performance of officers and soldiers and equipment deficiencies following the exercise, which also revealed the limited power projection options the Russian military possesses in relation to Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan has made clear that the U.S. must withdraw all of its troops from the Transit Center in Manas when the current lease agreement expires in the summer of 2014. During the ten-plus years of U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. depended on Central Asian countries, particularly Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, to funnel military supplies through the Northern Distribution Network into Afghanistan. This led to an increase in U.S. military and political influence in Central Asia. However, with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan opposing continuing the lease, there are doubts whether the U.S. will retain any influence in Central Asia after 2014.
Starting from February 1, 2013, a ban on purchasing cash in foreign currency was introduced in Uzbekistan. From now on foreign currency banknotes can be obtained only through non-cash operations as a prepayment order on the bank account. On February 4, regional mass media reported that Uzbekistan’s government was ordered to reduce the quantity of imported goods, and to substitute these with locally produced ones. These currency regulations of Uzbekistan’s National Bank could signal an upcoming devaluation of Uzbekistan’s currency. An alternative interpretation is that the measure aims to preserve Uzbekistan’s hard currency reserves and to protect the business interest of local entrepreneurs.
On February 26-27, Kazakhstan’s southern capital, the city of Almaty, hosted another round of international talks regarding Iran’s nuclear program. This high-level meeting attended by representatives of the P5+1 group of countries and Iranian officials was earlier confirmed by the European External Action Service, which is currently acting as one of Tehran’s main interlocutors. Although Kazakhstan is not formally involved as a negotiating partner, it decided once again to use its global reputation as a firm supporter of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the non-proliferation policy in providing its territory for the first round of talks in 2013.
On December 19, 2012, the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization adopted a decision according to which Uzbekistan de facto completely ceased its membership in this organization. It seems that such a decision is to the mutual disadvantage of both Uzbekistan and the CSTO. Uzbekistan lost one important, albeit weak, multilateral platform for international engagement; the CSTO lost one important, albeit stubborn, member. The strategic and geopolitical situation in Central Asia became even more uncertain than has so far been the case. Uzbekistan’s bilateralism cannot be a panacea in face of security challenges, while the CSTO’s multilateralism, in turn, cannot be efficient in the region without Uzbekistan.
NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is reaching its home stretch. On February 10, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) held what will likely be its last command transition, with John Allen handing over command to fellow U.S. Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, who will now lead the international effort to train and assist the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and to help achieve NATO’s other objectives in the region.
In 2011, Kazakhstan’s President expressed strong support for Vladimir Putin’s initiative of creating a Eurasian Union. In fact, Nursultan Nazarbaev himself presented similar ideas almost 20 years ago. While Putin sees the new Eurasian Union as a Russia-centered geopolitical entity with exclusive ties between Russia and other members, Kazakhstan regards its relationship with Russia as just one among several others. Kazakhstan is actually distancing itself from Moscow, which has increasingly lost its attraction as a center of science and technology for Kazakhstan’s elite. One indication is Astana’s decision to phase out Moscow’s control over the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The escalation of insurgency-related violence in Dagestan, in conjunction with the authorities’ inability to deal with the increase in militant attacks, led the Dagestani government to establish in 2010 a commission aimed at rehabilitating rebel fighters. Yet, despite scores of processed applications and a number of successful cases claimed by the commission, conflict-related violence continues to increase in Dagestan. Created by the government of Dagestan as the first effort to implement a “soft” form of counter-insurgency, the rehabilitation commission nevertheless lacks legal and social mechanisms to ensure fair treatment of former militants and to re-settle them in civilian life.