Uzbekistan Key to the Future Stability of Afghanistan

Uzbekistan’s support of traditional anti-Taliban forces may exacerbate the conflict in Afghanistan.

Despite the two state construct of Afghanistan and Pakistan within which American policymakers usually consider the former in the region, the role of Uzbekistan, with has deep relationships with and leverage over key Afghan assets, will grow in importance, especially if post 2014, conditions devolve into civil war.

By focusing squarely on the future influence of China, India and Iran in a post-2014 Afghanistan, American officials face the threat of being caught off guard by the ongoing contingency plans of Uzbek president Islam Karimov. Believed to have little faith in the Karzai government and its ability to function after the withdrawal of NATO forces by December 2014, Karimov’s administration, through its longstanding ties with northern, anti-Taliban forces, may exacerbate a potential conflict with military and financial support of anti-Islamist forces.

Karimov’s belief that post 2014, Afghanistan will descend into chaos is supported by the recent assassination of an ethnic Uzbek former mujahideen commander and key opposition figure, Ahmad Khan Samangani.

More worrying, Uzbekistan’s support of traditional anti-Taliban forces puts it indirectly in conflict with the main supporter of Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan, Pakistan.

Analysis

The failure of “Karzaiism” to spread beyond personal networks into a force that is sufficiently stable in Afghanistan to deserve even a label is striking. We are confronted with the strange spectacle of a country whose insurgency (the Taliban) has a name but its government does not, just an impulse to resist than insurgency.

Afghanistan’s future, as seen from Tashkent, should be one that does not depend on opposing forces to give it life. Until it develops into something that can at least be labeled, warfare is baked into the language.

Islam Karimov’s vision seems one of continual spoiler, not comfortable with victory but too potent to actually kill by movements rising up from Afghanistan’s south. Uzbekistan will need to move beyond this vision to ensure something more productive than a continually bleeding ulcer on its southern border. Its partners will have to help it do so or solutions to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan will always be subject to Uzbekistan’s imposition of a sort of geopolitical heckler’s veto.

Wikistrat Bottom Lines

Opportunities

Those seeking to influence Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal have another option.

Karimov can leverage his influence to gain more assistance from the international community.

Risks

Karimov could find himself under international pressure (and at risk of losing assistance) to help create an ideal Afghan regime.

Ignoring the Uzbekistan factor could harm those seeking to influence the new Afghanistan.

Dependencies

Can the Karimov regime articulate a positive vision for Afghanistan and then develop it?

Michael Breen, Ruben Gzirian, T. Michael Lutas and Graham O’Brien contributed to this analysis.