Russia and Allies Towards Post-2014 Afghanistan

Discussion Paper | February 12, 2014

The East and West face the same threats: terrorism by the Taliban and Al Qaida, as well as drugs production and trafficking. Both sides will remain involved in and around Afghanistan after 2014, hence, cooperation is essential.

In June 2011, President Obama announced the withdrawal of most American troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. NATO made the same decision in 2011, reducing its current force of some 100,000 military to 8,000–12,000 troops in 2014, in a new non-combat mission, to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces.

When the West has mostly departed from Afghanistan after 2014, the East, i.e. Russia and its allies, will have to continue to cope with the Afghan security situation and its overflow to the Central Asian region. Russia, although not directly adjacent to Afghanistan, is affected by Afghan narcotics and terrorism. Afghanistan borders China and the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. These states, as well as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, are partners of Russia, bilateral but also multilateral, as members of the military alliance Collective Security Treaty Organization CSTO and/or the regional organization Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Much has already been said about post-2014 Afghanistan, but not enough about the consequences for Russia and its allies. This work deals with that largely untouched area, by explaining the security challenges; the mind-set of the Kremlin towards Afghanistan; the statements of CSTO and SCO on Afghanistan; the views of NATO and the EU on cooperating with these Eastern institutions; as well as the policy action towards post-2014 by Eastern and Western actors.

In preparation for post-2014 Afghanistan, different parties have different approaches. Russia, China and CSTO have no wish to deploy armed forces in Afghanistan. Russia is expanding its military presence in Central Asia (bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan); strengthening the borders with Afghanistan of the states with a fragile security, i.e. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; as well as supplying CSTO with modern weapons and equipment, hence reinforcing its rapid reaction force. These actions are taken to counter terrorism and drugs trafficking. The Central Asian states give priority to strengthening border security.

Furthermore, in addition to their military cooperation with Russia (bilateral and through CSTO), these states have also demonstrated—to the dissatisfaction of Moscow—an interest in military cooperation with the West, by obtaining arms and equipment, which the U.S. and NATO intend to leave behind after their retreat. Regarding direct aid to Afghanistan, Moscow’s assistance lies mainly in the military realm, by supplying arms and training. China mostly cooperates economically with Kabul, with financial aid and investments, especially in mineral exploitation.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the strongest Central Asian states, are also involved in bilateral military and socio-economic cooperation with Afghanistan. CSTO supports Afghanistan by training its military and law enforcement agencies and by realizing socio-economic projects. The SCO lacks joint actions, such as CSTO’s collective counter-narcotics operations, but primarily supports the actions of its individual members. The U.S. financially supports reinforcement of the border security capacity of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In addition to the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) -projects like counter-narcotics training of Afghan and Central Asian personnel, the (Afghan air force) Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund, and the Action Plan on Terrorism, NATO has mainly concentrated on the reverse transit route through Central Asia and Russia, to get its arms and equipment out of Afghanistan.

With regard to post-2014, the lack of cohesion of the mentioned parties is particularly stunning. A deficiency of unity, consistency and cooperation is visible, within the East (Russia, China, Central Asia, CSTO, SCO) and West (U.S., NATO, EU). Each of these actors has its own national or organizational objectives and corresponding agenda. However, time is running out. The East and West face the same threats: terrorism by the Taliban and Al Qaida, as well as drugs production and trafficking. Both sides will remain involved in and around Afghanistan after 2014, hence, cooperation is essential.

After its formal declaration rejecting Moscow’s alleged privileged interests in Central Asia, NATO has the possibility of opening a path to engage in joint action with CSTO/SCO. A division of labor could be established whereby CSTO and NATO carry out military and security teamwork and SCO and the EU handle socio-economic cooperation. CSTO-NATO military cooperation could entail exchanging liaison officers between their headquarters; information sharing by military intelligence services of both sides; joint CSTO-NATO-NRC training of Afghan (and Central Asian) law enforcement officers; border guards and military; coordinated delivery of weapons and maintenance to the Afghan army; as well as Russian-US-CSTO strengthening of border security capacities of the Central Asian states. Socio-economic cooperation by the EU and the SCO could be conducted in areas such as direct relief and assistance (water and food supplies), good governance, state-building, police training and reconstruction projects (building schools, hospitals, roads, railways, bridges, etc.). Such a mutual East-West approach would benefit all parties.