The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan this year is almost as worrying to the country’s neighbours as to the Afghans themselves. The five central Asian states – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan – fear an upsurge in Islamic terrorism, increased flows of heroin and a flood of refugees. The US-led intervention, which aimed to uproot al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, may instead have scattered the seeds of jihadism over a wider field.
In private, Russian officials express nervousness about the withdrawal. But Moscow is also using the political vacuum as an opportunity to reassert itself in a region that it has always considered its backyard. The Kremlin has promised tiny Kyrgyzstan $1.1bn in military aid and debt relief worth a further $500m. In return, Bishkek has agreed to shut down a US air base in the country. In Tajikistan, parliament voted in October to allow Russia to station 6,000 troops inside the country for another 30 years. Continue reading »