December 19, 2011

Foreign Relations Committee Releases Comprehensive Report on Central Asia and the Transition in Afghanistan

Foreign Relations Committee Releases Comprehensive Report on Central Asia and the Transition in Afghanistan

Link to report: https://www.foreign.senate.gov/publications/

Washington, DC – As part of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ongoing oversight of U.S engagement in Afghanistan and the broader region, Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) today released a report examining Central Asia’s critical role in Afghanistan.

“Central Asia matters. Its countries are critical to the outcome in Afghanistan and play a vital role in regional stability. As we reassure our partners that our relationships and engagement in Afghanistan will continue after the military transition in 2014, we should underscore that we have long-term strategic interests in the broader region,” said Chairman Kerry. “Pakistan’s internal dynamics may have the most profound impact on the conflict, but Central Asian countries provide military supply routes for non-lethal cargo and participate actively in reconstruction. The Obama Administration has advanced a comprehensive regional agenda to build on these cooperative efforts. As the United States enters a new phase of engagement in Afghanistan, we must lay the foundation for a long-term strategy that sustains our security gains and protects U.S. interests. This long-term strategy is dependent upon striking a balance between meeting our security needs and promoting political and economic reform in Central Asia and the region.”

Central Asia and the Transition in Afghanistan is based on an October 2011 field visit by the Committee’s majority staff to Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan as well as extensive staff meetings with experts and policymakers. It provides several important statistics and offers three overarching recommendations for the Administration as it prepares for the 2014 transition in Afghanistan and continues to engage with countries in the region.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

 1)      Strike a balance between security and political priorities in Central Asia. As the United States increases security cooperation with the countries of Central Asia to support efforts in Afghanistan, it must also lay the foundation for a long-term strategy that sustains these gains and protects U.S. interests in the region. Security assistance has an important role to play, but the United States should continue promoting political and economic reform by making greater investments in democracy and governance, public health, economic assistance, and English language training. Given the tight fiscal climate, the Administration should consider using existing Afghanistan resources on cross-border projects that promote regional stability. It should also prioritize and increase assistance to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, given their fragility and importance for broader regional stability.

2)      Translate the New Silk Road (NSR) vision into a working strategy for the broader region beyond Afghanistan. This will require identifying needs, available resources, U.S. comparative advantages, and the economic reforms regional governments must take to support increased trade and investment. Connecting Central to South Asia via Afghanistan will be challenging in light of the barriers to continental transport and trade, including the lack of regional cooperation. NSR will not be a panacea for Afghanistan’s economic woes, but it offers a vision for the region that has the potential to foster private sector investment if projects are prioritized and steps are taken to create an enabling environment. The United States can play a vital role by supporting political and economic reform and leveraging its resources. 

3)      Link the regional Central Asia Counternarcotics Initiative (CACI) with bilateral initiatives that offer traction, given the constraints on regional cooperation. CACI provides an important vision for reform and information sharing to tackle narcotics trafficking in the region. While there is demand for such an initiative among local agencies with a mandate to combat the drug trade, significant challenges remain. Regional cooperation has a checkered history in this part of the world. Corruption is widespread and prospects for the task forces remain unclear, given the lack of political will. The Administration should consider piloting the task forces in countries where they stand the greatest chance of success, which will require a comparative regional assessment of efforts to combat the drug trade. It should also scale up cross-border operations between Central Asian and Afghan law enforcement and military officials, including joint training activities.

KEY STATISTICS

Northern Distribution Network

  • Since 2009, the United States has steadily increased traffic on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a major logistical accomplishment.
  • According to U.S. Transportation Command, close to 75 percent of ground sustainment cargo is now shipped via the NDN. An estimated 40 percent of all cargo transits the NDN, 31 percent is shipped by air, and the remaining 29 percent goes through Pakistan. An estimated 70 percent of cargo transiting the NDN enters Afghanistan via Uzbekistan’s Hairaton Gate.

Extremist Groups

  • Central Asian militant groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) are based in North Waziristan, Pakistan. They have conducted attacks in Afghanistan and have ties to the Taliban and Haqqani network. Both groups continue to pose a threat to stability in Afghanistan. Central Asian governments fear that these groups, which entertain ambitions of establishing a caliphate in Central Asia, will thrive as the United States draws down its military presence in Afghanistan.

Counternarcotics

  • According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as much as 25 to 30 percent of narcotics flow from Afghanistan to the rest of the world via Central Asia, mostly through Tajikistan. Tajikistan remains the weakest link in Central Asia, and instability there would affect the entire region. 

U.S. Assistance to Central Asia

  • Civilian assistance for all countries in Central Asia was $186.2 million in FY2010 and is on a downward trajectory.
  • Peace and security assistance to the region, which includes funds from the national defense 050 account and smaller amounts from the foreign assistance 150 account, increased from $70.4 million in FY2001 to $257.52 million in FY2010, though it too may actually be declining.
  • In FY2010, total U.S. assistance to Central Asia, including both the function 150 and 050 accounts, amounted to just under three percent ($436.24 million) of what we spent in Afghanistan ($14.78 billion).

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