The Afghan vector has for many years remained the key to a number of security threats to Central Asia. These threats stem both from the socio-economic and political problems of the development of Afghanistan itself, and by virtue of the “geopolitical game,” in which its participants play a very specific place and role for Afghanistan’s fighters and militants based in its territory.
The threats and challenges associated with the Afghan vector can be (quite arbitrarily) divided into three groups. Real threats and challenges, that is, those that the regional and national security systems are currently facing. The alleged threats and challenges, that is, those that may arise in case of failure of the strategy of the Western coalition, changes in the tactics of its struggle with the rebel movement, as well as its rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan. The third group is related to the currently actively debated problem of the participation of the SCO in the settlement in Afghanistan.
The first group includes the following threats and challenges.
First, the preservation of Afghanistan as the main base of terrorists, including from among individuals who are associated with terrorist and extremist organizations whose goal is to destabilize the situation in Central Asia, to overthrow the existing political regimes and create within its borders the Islamic Caliphate.
The political instability in Afghanistan and the uncontrollability of a large part of its territory by the central government is the basis for using the territory of the country to prepare even small groups that actually represent a real threat to the political regimes of the Central Asian states. We are talking about such groups as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Akramiya, Tablighi Jamaat, the Islamic Party of Eastern Turkestan, the Jamaat of the Mujahideen of Central Asia, etc. That is, those who have the birthplace of their state of Central Asia.
Since the countries of the region and Russia are unable to fight these groups within the territory of Afghanistan, they can only hope that the national security forces of Afghanistan and the ISAF units still located in that country will suppress the external activity of these groups.
The only thing in our power is to strengthen the borders along the perimeter with Afghanistan and strengthen the CSTO CRRF as the only structure designed to ensure collective security in the region.
Second, the preservation of Afghanistan as the main base for the production of raw opium, as well as the main supplier of heroin and other drugs to world markets in transit through the states of Central Asia.
The main problem for us is the use of the territories of the states of the region for the transit of Afghan drugs, the emergence of criminal gangs connected with this transit and the rapid increase in the number of drug addicts in the states of the region.
To expect that this problem will resolve itself, naivety.
First, according to a number of estimates, opium poppy cultivation yields up to 40% of Afghanistan’s GDP and more than 3,5 million Afghans are involved in this production (or almost 15% of the country's population).
Moreover, according to estimates by the International Narcotics Control Board, at the end of 2009, the total opium reserves in Afghanistan and neighboring countries amounted to about 12 thousand tons. This amount is enough to meet the global illicit demand for opiates for two and a half years.
Secondly, the borders of Afghanistan with Tajikistan and Pakistan are practically transparent and do not represent an obstacle to drug smuggling.
Thirdly, in the 1990s of the early 2000s, an international network for financing, producing, transporting and selling drugs was created. Deliveries of drugs from Afghanistan to Europe are carried out simultaneously through several channels. Eliminate this whole network overnight will not work.
But the main obstacle preventing effective counteraction to this threat lies in the fact that, most likely, both coalition forces and a significant part of the elite in the United States, Europe, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and the states of Central Asia are involved in drug trafficking. If it were otherwise, it would be enough just political will to block the routes of delivery of precursors not produced on its territory to Afghanistan.
Third, the possible collapse of Hamid Karzai’s government and the return of the Taliban movement to power, leading to the inevitability of a new spiral of civil war in Afghanistan and the threat of destabilization in Central Asia.
We cannot participate in the dialogue with the Taliban movement, both because of limited foreign policy opportunities and because the United States and NATO will not allow the United States and NATO to do so. The only thing in our power is to strengthen the security belt along the perimeter of the border with Afghanistan on a collective basis within the framework of the CSTO and, possibly, the SCO.
At the same time, as already mentioned, the main problem lies not in the unlikely aggression of the Taliban movement to Central Asia, but in the very real revitalization of the activities of ethnic terrorist organizations in the north of Afghanistan that have close contacts with the terrorist underground in the Central Asian states (especially in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan) and in Russia.
Fourth, the further aggravation of the situation in Pakistan, the collapse of the ruling coalition and the prospect of hitting the nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists.
Judging by the development of the situation in Pakistan, this is the near future. The ruling coalition has practically collapsed, and the only force that is still holding Pakistan from total collapse is the army.
However, at the moment there is an offensive against the positions of the army and special services in order to reduce their positive image and role in society. Moreover, this is happening against the background of the weakness of the government, the growth of the radicalization of society and the number of terrorist acts committed.
Finally, the inevitable and fairly speedy departure of the US and ISAF units from Afghanistan (even if they decide to leave the permanent military bases there).
This means that the only force that really holds back the pressure of Islamism in Central Asia leaves the region and leaves secular political regimes alone with the growing influence of radical Islam.
The withdrawal of the US and the Western coalition forces from Afghanistan will require the states of the region and Russia to independently solve the whole range of problems associated with Afghanistan, the main of which is the possible emergence of a new wave of Islamist radicalism throughout the region and the resumption of Islamist activity in Central Asia.
The second group of threats and challenges is not so obvious.
The first and most dangerous military-geo-strategic challenge; Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, the United States and NATO for 10 years have created an attack bridgehead in Afghanistan that allows, if necessary, to very quickly deploy a powerful force grouping of troops on the southern borders of the CIS.
Judging by the way the war in Afghanistan is being conducted, the conclusion is that the main goal of the United States and NATO is to create a bridgehead in Afghanistan and Pakistan for subsequent penetration and establishment of its influence over the entire Central Asian region and the blockade of Russia and China. As a matter of fact, this is what the strategy of the “Greater Central Asia” aimed at separating the Central Asian countries from the CIS, CSTO and SCO is aimed at.
This, as some experts warn, says that the main goal of the United States in the region is to form a controlled "arc of instability" on the Eurasian continent, which they need to maintain their status as a world superpower.
Secondly, the planned transfer of active operations of the troops of the Western coalition to the north of Afghanistan and the resulting inevitable intensification of the actions of the Taliban movement and the militant groups of other ethnic groups near the borders of the CIS.
Here are two potential challenges. First, the inevitability of drawing Russia and the states of Central Asia into a civil war in Afghanistan; and, possibly, independently, without support (or rather limited support) from the side of the western coalition.
Secondly, the inevitable intensification of terrorist groups that pose a real threat to the political regimes of the states of the region.
It is possible that the transfer of US and NATO activity to the north of Afghanistan is due to the fact that the US plans to expand the zone of “controlled conflict”, transferring it to the Fergana Valley.
Thirdly, the transformation of Afghanistan and Pakistan into a single zone of instability with the prospect of aggravation of the Indo-Pakistani conflict with a high probability of the use of nuclear weapons in it.
In this case, a hotbed of a new big war will emerge near the Central Asian region, with all the ensuing negative consequences.
The use of nuclear weapons in this war will lead to an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe in Central and South Asia.
Finally, in the event of the final defeat of the western coalition and its rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban will turn from a terrorist organization into a national liberation movement, serving as a model for the entire Central and South Asian region how to effectively resist foreign forces and overthrow the current political forces. modes.
This is a very real prospect. Already today the authority of the Taliban is quite high. However, so far within the limits of only Afghanistan and partially of Pakistan. His victory in the conditions of increasing the number of troops of the western coalition will only add him credibility, and the inevitable coming to power after the departure of the ISAF will give every reason to consider it as a national liberation movement.
As for the threats and challenges associated with the participation of the SCO in resolving the situation in Afghanistan. The very idea of the participation of the SCO in Afghan affairs is interesting and, under certain conditions, quite realizable in practice. The question is different, you need to be clear about what the SCO in Afghanistan can do, and what is better not to do in the interests of maintaining a positive image of the organization.
What can the SCO.
First, the financing of social and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. True, when creating a structure through which such financing could be made. While such a structure is missing.
Secondly, assistance in the fight against drug trafficking in Afghanistan, including through the creation of control mechanisms along the perimeter of the Afghan borders. Immediately it must be said that the SCO does not have the ability to take any measures to combat drug trafficking within Afghanistan itself. The second task is in principle solvable, although here there are some limiters.
First, to solve the problem of creating a drug security belt around the perimeter of the Afghan borders without the participation of Pakistan and Iran will not succeed. And without granting them full member status, the SCO is out of the question of all-round cooperation with them in this area.
Secondly, there is a difference in the assessment of the level of drug threat by the SCO member states. For some (Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan), the problem of drug transit from Afghanistan is relevant, for others, other problems are a priority. In any case, for China the problem of Afghan drug trafficking is not a serious threat yet.
Third, I have already spoken about the involvement in drug trafficking and the interest in it of the elites located on the perimeter of Afghanistan.
Third, creating a favorable foreign policy environment, blocking as much as possible the export of narcotic substances and the import of precursors into Afghanistan, sharply narrowing external financial support for the Afghan opposition and creating conditions that restrict the export of radical Islam.
This does not require coordination with the Government of Afghanistan, and most importantly, with the command of the ISAF, it suffices only the political will of the SCO member states. At the same time, the SCO strategy in the Afghan settlement in its economic component should be aimed at concentrating investment efforts based on a specific plan for restoring the Afghan economy, and not on the amount of allocated investment that is happening today.
The main goal for the SCO countries should be the creation of a peaceful, drug-free, buffer zone along the perimeter of the borders of the Organization's member countries.
What the SCO cannot and should not do.
First, in one capacity or another, get involved in solving military problems in Afghanistan. This is impractical for several reasons.
First, Afghans view any foreign military forces as occupiers, whose stay significantly violates the sovereignty of the country and leads to significant casualties among the local population.
Second, Russia already has the sad experience of introducing its troops into the territory of Afghanistan, which vividly showed the intolerance of Afghans to the presence of foreign military here and the unrealizability of any attempts to build a modern society by force in Afghanistan.
Third, the process of forming the SCO power component has not yet been completed, and its capabilities are rather limited. Consequently, one should not indulge in the illusion that the SCO can replace NATO in Afghanistan.
And the last. The issues of involving the SCO in Afghan affairs should first be discussed with the government of Hamid Karzai and with the leadership of the United States and NATO, having worked out a particular scenario of this involvement.
Secondly, to try to organize the intra-Afghan negotiation process under the auspices of the SCO. A practical solution to this issue is hardly possible. Despite a certain change in attitude towards Russia by the current political leadership of Afghanistan, the Taliban for various reasons do not accept Russia and China and will not go on a dialogue with them. The role of intermediaries in the dialogue with the Taliban can be played only by two countries - Iran and Pakistan, which today are not SCO members.
But the main thing is not even that. In today's conditions, the organization of the negotiation process with the leaders of the Taliban movement, and even more so with the so-called "moderate Taliban" is devoid of any meaning. Hoping for a positive outcome of negotiations in conditions where the Taliban are stronger than the government and the international coalition is an unforgivable naivety.