US Moving towards Central Asia
July 22, 2011
Tajikistan, by virtue of its geographic location, is a strategic part of Central Asia having China and Afghanistan as its immediate neighbors. Though gifted with ample amount of natural resources, issues such as poverty, ethnic conflicts and clan schisms – and of course the authoritarian rule – are major hurdles in its development. Tajikistan was one of the poorest economies soon after it gained independence from Moscow in 1991. The new born state was soon forced into a devastating civil war between competing regional interests that lasted until a peace settlement in 1997.
Former state farm chairman Emomalii Rahmanov rose to power during this period and was elected as president after the peace settlement as part of a power-sharing arrangement. He was reelected in 2006.
Rahmanov’s rule has been increasingly authoritarian, marked by ongoing human rights abuses, according to many observers. As Rahmanov struggles with domestic political challenges, he has expanded relations with the United States since the war on terror began in late. The two countries now have a broad-based relationship, cooperating in areas such as counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, non-proliferation, and regional stability.. In the light of the Russian border forces’ withdrawal from the Tajik-Afghan border, the U.S. Government leads a concerted effort to enhance Tajikistan’s territorial integrity, prevent the illegal trafficking of narcotics and technology related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In February 2010, the U.S. and Tajikistan launched an annual bilateral consultative process to enhance cooperation on a broad range of policy and assistance issues.
After 9/11, US entered the Central and South Asian region to combat terrorism, but according to some analysts, US had various covert objectives behind this war on terror and for that reason it had to extend its scope of operation in the region. Although most of the Central Asian states have faced multiple political and economic problems after their independence, the US, rather than solving these problems, intervened in the region and supported the authoritarian regimes to expand its influence to counter Russia. That is why despite claims of support to democracy, US has offered little solid measures to improve miseries of CARs.
USA has so far been successful in influencing few of the CARs for pursuit of its agenda and policies. Some states have agreed to join hands with the US in the hope of some economic dividends. Important bases among many include Krgystan’s Manas air base and Uzbekistan’s Karshi Khanabad air base, though US left Karshi base in 2006. Kazakhstan opened its air space for the US and expedited rail transshipment of supplies. Turkmenistan permitted blanket over flight and refueling privileges for humanitarian flights in support of OEF. Tajikistan permitted use of its international airport in Dushanbe for U.S., British, and French refueling and basing. The airport is used as a base for stationing of US troops, refueling jets and cargo planes. The Manas Base , Kirghystan, is also under the use of US and other forces. Overtly, the administration wants to uproot terrorism from the region, but covertly, it seems, it aims to contain Chinese and Russian influence in the CARs. That is why there have been grave concerns coming out of Moscow asking for a cut-off date for the withdrawal of US forces from Central Asian bases.
The US strategy in CARs has largely been successful, and its next target may well be change of a regimes to install pro-American governments on the model of Afghanistan and Iraq in the region. The start though seems to have been initiated from Tajikistan when Hamrokhon Zarifi, the minister of foreign affairs, seems to have the American backing to succeed Rahmanov as the next President. It was USA that promoted Zarifi to the status of Foreign Minister, who previously served as an ambassador in Washington.
The Tajik masses are discontented with the way Rakhmon is running the state affairs, and keep confronting the regime through protests led by Zarifi seems to have recently gained popularity among all contenders. This on the other hand is also a golden opportunity for the US to exploit the growing anti-government sentiment and support foreign minister Zarifi as the next president. This seems to be a simple yet sophisticated pathway for the US for control over the resource rich and strategically important state of Central Asia. Current tensions between the US and Pakistani government would also help the cause as the former is looking for expanding the Northern Supply Route for supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan.