Results of the summit in Shanghai showed that, one the one hand, Russia supports American actions aimed at the destruction of terrorists’ bases in Afghanistan, and, one the other hand, Moscow, like Beijing, advocated the quick transfer of the military phase of operation in this country into a political phase. According to observers, having supported the antiterrorist operation of the US against the Talibs in their joint statement, Bush and Putin failed to come to agreement about certain lines of joint policy regarding the governance of Afghanistan after the war. It is possible to make such conclusion from the fact that until the next summit of the two presidents a Russian-American working group for counteraction to the terrorist and other threats coming from Afghanistan will discuss governance of Afghanistan after the war.
Meanwhile, at the unofficial level it is known that until recently the US already held negotiations with the Pushtun leaders about the governance of the country after the war. Americans proposed a broad economic assistance to the Pushtuns in exchange for making Afghanistan a confederation and granting of autonomy to ethnic minorities. The Pushtuns rejected all proposals of the Washington when it tried to persuade them to establish Uzbek autonomy in the territory of the Balkh and Samangan provinces. In this case, Uzbeks, who account only for 6-7% of the population of Afghanistan, will acquire control over almost 10% of the country’s territory. These are relatively developed provinces where very little Pushtuns live. However, these provinces have always been subordinated to the central authorities in Kabul, under the rule of the king or regimes of Karmal and Najibulla. Only after withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan former general of the Afghan governmental armed forces Rashid Dustum ruled these provinces for a short time. Actually supporting Dustum through Tashkent, Americans want him to become the ruler of the Uzbek autonomy again. Not only the Pushtuns but also Tajiks and legal President of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani disagree with such position.
Rabbani made an official proposal to Moscow to begin negotiations about the governance of Afghanistan after the war through the President of Tajikistan and Chief of the Russian General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin. Thus, having arrived in Dushanbe and having met with Rabbani, Putin outran Washington and became the leader in discussion of political issues related to Afghanistan.
Sources close to the Russian Defense Ministry reported that officers of the General Staff are currently working in Afghanistan in cooperation with officials of the government of Rabbani. They discussed specific issues of military and military-technological aid to the legal government of the country. Negotiations are conducted not only with the Tajik forces of Fakhim, but also with representatives of other ethnic minorities and leaders of Pushtun tribes. However, Tashkent wants to hinder the initiative of Moscow. Military sources report that Afghanistan still does not let trains with armament for the anti-Talib coalition through its territory to Tajikistan.
Now Tashkent is demonstrating an obvious loyalty to the US. Pentagon is already openly dominating the territory of Uzbekistan. For example, sources in Tashkent confirm that recently the Defense Ministry of Uzbekistan and Pentagon signed an agreement in which the US undertook destruction of biological weapons buried on an island in the Aral Sea. Pentagon is ready to assign $6 million for liquidation of anthrax spores on the Island of Vozrozhdeniya.
This fact generates a number of questions. First, why it was Pentagon that was concerned about a purely humanitarian ecological problem? Second, why the US signed this document only with the Uzbek party? The former Soviet biological testing range and the Island of Vozrozhdeniya are territories disputed by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Hence it would have been correct to attract Astana to this process, because it is concerned about environmental problems of the Aral Sea not less than Uzbekistan. Third, according to Russian biologists acquainted with problems of the Island of Vozrozhdeniya, a program for liquidation of consequences of biological weapons tests there requires ten times more money than $6 million.
The Island of Vozrozhdeniya is the biggest Soviet testing range where bacteriological weapons were tested. The testing range was arranged in 1930 in the very heart of the Aral Sea. Now the island is divided into two parts. The southern part of the island belongs to Uzbekistan, and the northern to Kazakhstan. Due to unstoppable drying of the sea, the Uzbek part of the island was already actually connected with the mainland through shallow waters and the island is becoming a peninsula. Tests on the island stopped between 1991 and 1992, when Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan demanded Moscow to close the testing range after breakup of the Soviet Union.
The testing range was closed, but secrets remained. Observers do not rule out that the US signed a contract with Uzbekistan to have access to the testing range. According to Uzbek sources, American money will be primarily spent on dismantling of special equipment of the range.
Thus, increasing its influence on Uzbekistan the US is attempting to receive very big benefits from its presence in the country. These benefits are related not only to the combat operation against the Talibs in Afghanistan but also to penetration of American companies into various sectors of Uzbek economy. In exchange for American military presence in Uzbekistan the US offered a big financial investments in industrial and agricultural aid to Uzbekistan. This aid is allegedly estimated at up to $8 billion. It is very difficult for Moscow to counteract to American presence in Central Asia. However, Moscow is taking and may take certain steps in the near future. What are they?
First, Russia is strengthening its political alliance with Tajikistan and the government of Rabbani, which will become the main official initiator of the coalition government formation.
Second, Russia provides military assistance to the forces of Fakhim. Fakhim is expected to liberate the major part of the country’s territory and to acquire control over strategic objects like the airfield in Bagram, around Kabul and on the Salang Pass.
Third, Russia will evidently exert economic pressure on official Tashkent. Fourth, some other actions associated with internal problems in the country are possible. Many people are discontent with the regime of Karimov. It is possible that Moscow will seek a successor for him among the leaders loyal to Russia.