Pakistan reopened NATO’s logistical route to Afghanistan on July 4. This was made possible by an official apology from the U.S. regarding the November 26, 2011, drone attack on the Salala border post, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. While western analysts are optimistic over the outcome, the Pakistani public at large does not see the recent developments in the Salala affair as a win-win situation. Policymakers in Washington D.C. view Pakistan as an unreliable player in the region, while their Pakistani counterparts increasingly do not view the U.S. as either an ally or a partner. The resumption of NATO supply line hence bears closer resemblance to a fire-fighting mission than a reset of U.S.-Pakistani relations.
While Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov participated in the May 15 CSTO summit in Moscow, Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on June 28 that Uzbekistan suspended its membership in the organization. This sudden and seemingly paradoxical decision is a consequence of a changing geopolitical context in the region and indicative of Uzbekistan’s preference for bilateral security arrangements. Not only did the decision once again reveal that the collective security organization lacks collectivity but it also raised the conceptual question of revising the existing regional security arrangements in Central Asia.
Tashkent’s decision to suspend its membership of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on June 20 prompted speculation about Uzbekistan’s apparently sudden policy reversal. Some observers restricted themselves to dismissing Tashkent as a troublesome and disagreeable partner both for Russia and the country’s Central Asian neighbors, while others advanced the argument that President Islam Karimov is preparing to host a new U.S. airbase in Uzbekistan. However, the timing of the decision, delayed public disclosure combined with the cautious statements on the issue by Moscow highlight a much deeper and complex picture. Indeed the unanswered question that emerges from Tashkent’s suspension of CSTO membership is about the timing of a widely anticipated move.
For the first time in many years the SCO held a summit that actually mattered. The attendees at the June 6-7 annual meeting of the heads of state of the SCO member states admitted Afghanistan as a formal observer country and designated Turkey a dialogue partner. Perhaps the reality of NATO’s impending military withdrawal from the region has finally spurred the SCO to assume a more forthcoming role in securing Afghanistan’s security. Nonetheless, the SCO still has a number of important issues to address before it can become a truly effective regional organization.
There are growing indications that the ongoing transformation of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) from a more narrowly focused collective security organization into a body capable of meeting a much wider set of modern threats is trying to fill potential voids in Central Asian security after the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. As the CSTO positions itself as the main multilateral vehicle for the Central Asian states to bolster regional security it appears to focus on several key areas: border security, developing rapid reaction and peacekeeping capabilities, reforming its legal mechanisms to act across a wider range of mission types and promoting its image as a genuinely strong political-military alliance.
In May, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov publicly reviewed the construction plans for a new architectural complex to be built in the capital Ashkhabad commemorating the Turkmen national heroes of the war against Nazism in 1941-1945 and the victims of the devastating Ashkhabad earthquake of 1948. The president’s endorsement came only two weeks following the nationwide celebrations of the Day of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, referred to by Turkmenistan's media for the first time omitting the Soviet epithet “Great Patriotic.” Both moves indicate a further shift away of Turkmenistan from the historical meta-narratives of the Turkmenbashi era entering after Berdimuhamedov’s reelection a new “Epoch of Might and Happiness.”
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has shown interest in Central Asia through its statement on the riots in Xinjiang in 2009 and its demand in 2012 for the release of a female Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) and German Taliban Mujahideen (GTM) financier incarcerated in Germany. AQIM and IJU both aim to create a global Islamic Caliphate and share enemies, such as the U.S., Germany, France, the U.K. and China. With the migration of jihadists from the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre to hotspots in Somalia and AQIM’s new terrain in Azawad (Mali), coordination will increase between terrorist groups in Africa and Central Asia. The cross-regional networks are already in place and Germany appears to be a hub.
The presidents of Ukraine and Belarus, Viktor Yanukovych and Alexander Lukashenko, both visited Turkmenistan in April 2012. Whereas Ukraine is staunchly opposed to Moscow’s planned Eurasian Union and Belarus is part of a Union State with Russia, both countries are in fact interested in reducing their dependence on Russian gas, which Moscow uses not only for economic but also geopolitical domination. Turkmenistan’s government is in search for new means to deliver its gas to Europe directly rather than through Russia, and has proven responsive to the requests of its fellow post-Soviet states. However, it remains unlikely that Turkmen gas will reach European markets in the near future and China increasingly emerges as a primary alternative.