Security in Central Asia was the main topic of the meeting of leaders of the member states of the CIS Collective Security Council (CSC) in Bishkek on October 11. Participants of the meeting signed important documents, “Agreement on development of military-technical integration within the framework of the collective security treaty and measures for formation of regional systems of collective security,” “The plan of major measures for formation of collective security system for 2001-2005,” and “Agreement on status of formations, forces and means of the collective security system.”
Participants of the summit did not hide that these measures were associated with the threats currently originating from Afghanistan, where the Islamic movement Taliban, supported by Pakistan, is waging war against the Rabbani government, which is still officially recognized by the international community. The member states of the collective security treaty are not mainly concerned about the war itself, but about the fact that the Taliban have actually begun supplying terrorists to the hot spots of the CIS republics. Russia and its allies are also concerned about the growth of drug trafficking from the territory of Afghanistan.
The war has caused flows of refugees. According to various estimates, there are about 200,000. We cannot rule out that many of them will try to enter the territory of Tajikistan. Thus, the possibility of destabilization of the situation is quite real.
The UN, the US, and Russia do not recognize the Taliban, although they have been controlling almost 90% of the territory of Afghanistan for several years. However, the Islamic movement has allies and supporters. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait support the Taliban from an ideological standpoint, because they wish to disseminate their experience all over the Moslem world. In turn leaders of some former Soviet republics consider Afghanistan an alternative route for oil and gas transport to the international market. Thus, on the one hand, Uzbekistan expresses concern about the concentration of militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Afghanistan, and on the other hand Uzbekistan arranges official contacts with the Taliban. President Islam Karimov of Afghanistan has announced the possibility of building pipelines via Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. This ambivalent attitude toward the Taliban movement shows that some CIS countries estimate the situation in Afghanistan inadequately. Practically all military analysts and state officials predict that the Taliban will hardly take aggressive actions against other countries. Why then are participants of the collective security treaty organizing a regional security system and coalition groups of forces? First, member states of the treaty are demonstrating their readiness to parry a possible aggression on the part of Taliban, and the summit in Bishkek can be considered a political initiative associated with the readiness of member states to preempt threats from the south.
Second, events in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and the participation of Wahhabi extremists in combat operations in Chechnya, terrorist acts in Alma-Ata and other CIS regions have shown that militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other religious extremists are preparing for real combat operations against the legitimate governments. Hence it is necessary to offer a real response. This explains why the session of the CSC primarily considered military aspects of organization and maintenance of collective security system of the CIS.
What can member states of the collective security treaty do in particular forming their coalition forces? Valery Nikolaenko, the General Secretary of the CSC, says that “this is not an organization of joint military formations and the accomplishment of combat missions by them in territories of partner countries,” but these are only “actions within the borders of their own countries.”
Officers of the General Staff explain that the organization of coalition forces and their joint operations are possible only during a period of threat. The agreements signed in Bishkek create only the mechanism for their formation. Their composition, tasks, functions, and directions of activities will be outlined later. Most likely this information will be classified, which is why there are so few reports about this aspect in the media. Meanwhile, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes that the coalition forces will include not only ground forces, but also an aviation component. Command over these forces should be unified and will be evidently be based on principles that have been effective in the international forces system in Tajikistan for a few years. These forces head the staff of collective peacekeeping forces. Joint units will also probably be organized according to the pattern of Tsentrazbat (Central Asian battalion), which Kazakhstan has offered.
“This way or the other” writes Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “it is already obvious that the unified regional group of forces will include the structures which operate within the united air defense group of the CIS, as well as the 201st mechanized infantry division deployed in Tajikistan. We cannot rule out that the coalition forces will also include border guards of the member states of the collective security treaty in Central Asia and Russia.”
Meanwhile, we need to admit that all initiatives aimed at organization of the collective security system in Central Asia will be incomplete if Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan do not join them. Demonstrative non-participation of these countries in any military groups of the CIS and their alienation from Russia will not allow them to stay aside of the problems which may appear in Central Asia and in these republics in the near future. These problems probably will not be directly connected with Afghanistan and Talibs. At any rate, it is evident that possible future conflicts in the region will directly influence Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Why do we make such conclusion?
1. There are authoritarian regimes in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Struggle of clans and political groups may become public at any moment. This is especially possible if the leaders are changed (through physical liquidation or death).
2. In entire Central Asia and in these republics there are inter-ethnic contradictions. So far these contradictions are restrained with participation of armed forces, but in case of instability these contradictions may be aggravated.
3. We need to take into account the religious factor. The with to make Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan Moslem countries will push religious extremist organizations to “export” of Vahhabist militants to these countries, and so on.
4. Outside of these countries there are opposition political leaders who also strive to come to power. We cannot rule out that they will use any methods for ascension to power, including organization of conspiracies.
Member states of the collective security treaty soberly estimate the threats existing in Central Asia. Their steps towards the military integration are explained by this awareness. For almost eight years the collective security treaty in the CIS has not been in demand. Therefore Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan withdrew from the treaty. The summit in Bishkek has demonstrated that the collective security treaty has received real meaning. Organization of the regional security system in Central Asia confirms this process. At any rate, we need to admit that this system itself may turn out to be less effective than the member states would like it to be.