January 11, 2008

CENTRAL ASIA : Security and Commerce at the Crossroads

INTELLIBRIEFS:

I2CAP = India,Iran ,China ,Afghanistan ,Pakistan

I2CAP are critical players in the security and economic issues of CENTRAL ASIAN COUNTRIES with stable Afghanistan acting as Pivot country

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SOURCE: RAND

Central Asia and Its Asian Neighbors Security and Commerce at the Crossroads

By: Rollie Lal

The Asian states neighboring Central Asia have historic links and strong interests in the region. China, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan are critical players in the security and economic issues that will determine the future of Central Asia and affect U.S. interests in the region. Although these Asian states do not agree on how to secure Afghanistan against threats, there is unanimous agreement that a stable Afghanistan is critical to their own security interests. By assessing the developing relations between Central Asia and its Asian neighbors, it is evident that each country stands to benefit from stability and economic growth in Central Asia, but opinion toward U.S. presence and policy in the region could be a point of conflict. The purpose of this monograph is to provide an assessment of the nature of Asian states’ interest and influence in Central Asia in order to determine the development of these relationships and how they will shape strategic dynamics of Asia in the coming years.

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Excerpts

ROLE OF US IN CENTRAL ASIA

INDIA
India views a continued role for the United States in the region as positive for its interests. The continued existence of terrorist groups and drug trafficking in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains a primary concern for India, and it seeks help from the United States in stabilizing Afghanistan and securing the region against terrorist groups. To date, there has been little clear cooperation in Central Asia between the United States and India, and this may be an area in which to explore the possibility of greater coordination. Cooperation could draw upon common interests in the region in countering terrorist groups, stemming drug trafficking, and promoting democracy and stability.

PAKISTAN
A continued U.S. presence in Central Asia presents domestic complications for Pakistan. U.S. forces active on the Afghan-Pakistan border have been forced, on occasion, to enter Pakistan to pursue militants, causing uproar in Pakistan over national sovereignty.20 The government of Pakistan is under domestic pressure to limit its cooperation with the United States in pursuing Taliban and other militants in the area, and there is considerable support from the leaders and public in the Pakistan’s NWFP and Baluchistan for the Taliban.21 Insofar as Pakistan is successful in reigning in extremist groups and activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, relations between Pakistan and the countries of Central Asia may see improvement. If, however, the situation in Pakistan worsens, Central Asian states will view Pakistan as an increasing
threat.



IRAN
U.S. involvement in Central Asia complicates Iran’s dealings with other countries in the region, leading some to note with concern that close ties with Iran might alienate the United States, even as they recognize the need for peaceful and positive relations with this neighbor. The Central Asian states are apprehensive that tensions between the United States and Iran could eventually escalate, thereby destabilizing the entire region. The evolving situation in Afghanistan also remains a vital interest for Iran, and it has expressed concern that the conflict
in Iraq will draw international attention and resources away from stabilizing and securing Afghanistan. However, Iranian officials oppose a sustained U.S. military presence in the region, particularly U.S. bases in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Iranian officials are apprehensive
that the United States intends to maintain hegemony and inhibit Ira- nian interests in the region.26 Nonetheless, there is no evidence that Iran is making efforts to counter U.S. activities in Central Asia.


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The Asian countries bordering Central Asia have distinct and growing interests in the region. For most states, regional security and economic ties form the central issues of interest. Trade across the region, in the energy sector and otherwise, is difficult if not impossible without
stability and development. Regional organizations such as the SCO could have a role in promoting these common objectives. However, not all of the interested parties have the same perspective or approach to addressing regional security, weakening the effectiveness of
organizations such as the SCO.

China would like to have broader influence in Central Asia, both economically and in security matters. Trade is growing rapidly between China and the states of Central Asia, and China is pursuing energy ties aggressively. Concerns regarding Uighur separatists have driven China to support aggressive policies against militants and to develop cooperative security relationships with the Central Asian states. Chinese apprehension regarding U.S. presence in Central Asia
provides yet more incentives for China to strengthen regional security cooperation through the SCO.

India also seeks to build a relationship with the Central Asian states, but its security focus in doing so has far more to do with counterterrorism efforts than with seeking local hegemony. India’s concerns revolve around the possible resurgence of the Taliban and other militant groups that pose a direct security threat. As most transport routes to the region traverse Afghanistan, for India, a stable Afghanistan is also critical to expanding economic ties with Central Asia. In contrast, Pakistan remains a smaller player in Central Asia, as suspicion toward its role in supporting regional Islamic militants remains throughout the region. Nonetheless, Pakistan is working toward greater economic ties with the region.

Iran’s interests are largely economic in nature. While it, like India, China, and Russia, has been building security relationships with these countries, Iran’s primary focus now appears to be in expanding trade, transport, and energy links with the region. A stable Afghanistan is required for Iran to have a productive relationship with the region. However, Iran also has concerns that U.S. military presence in the region could be aimed at containing Iran, or worse. Friends, allies, and others have watched the recent development of U.S. security ties with the Central Asian states with significant concern and some trepidation. All are curious if the United States
does, indeed, intend a long-term presence in the region, and wonder not only what this means for the region’s future, but also what it indicates about U.S. global policy.

Thus, U.S. actions have enormous potential to shape the future of foreign involvement. While other neighbors and interested parties are concerned about U.S. “neo-imperialism,” they also recognize that the United States can deliver more of the stability everyone seeks for the region than can any other actor. The question is whether it plans to take on that role, and, if so, with what long-term purpose in mind.The solution may well be that the United States must lead with transparency and cooperation, working with India and China (and even, insofar as it is possible, Iran) so as to better leverage and better understand the efforts of others. This would also serve to assuage some aspects of concern in Asia about U.S. policies and it would help demonstrate to the countries of Central Asia that seeking the United States as a patron is far less effective than building friendly and balanced ties with a broad range of interested nations.

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