The United States and Uzbekistan Presidential Elections: Possible Impact on Afghanistan and Central Asia Policy

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(Timings of the American and Uzbekistan Presidential Elections nearly within a month together with the functioning of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and forthcoming Tripartite meeting of Russia, China and Pakistan over Afghanistan may likely lead to major policy shifts in America’s Afghanistan and Central and South Asian policy trends).  

BACKGROUND:  leadership changes after the Presidential Elections 2016 reflect potential new trends in US foreign policy towards Central and South Asia.  The acting President of Uzbekistan H.E. Shavkat Miromonovich Mirziyoyev has already begun opening cooperation with otherwise somewhat abnormal relations with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  On the sidelines of the OIC foreign ministers meeting in Tashkent October 18, 2016, H.E. Dr. A. Komilov received his Afghanistan counterpart, H.E. Salahuddin Rabbani, to discuss bilateral security issues between the two countries. Both US and Uzbek Presidential Elections are being followed by the tripartite summit between Russia, China, and Pakistan over Afghanistan peace and reconciliation December 7, in Moscow.  These events also coincide with the first opening of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) an important leg of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) global trade and transit initiative on November 4, in which, most Eurasian countries desire to participate including Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, all five Central Asian Republics, and Russia; reportedly Azerbaijan and Mongolia are also pondering.

Af-Pak region is thus undergoing several geo polynomic changes. The success of these positive changes largely depends upon stable and secure Afghanistan. Lacking peace in Afghanistan will likely be changing the most convenient trade and transit route with alternative routes, from which other CPEC aspirant countries will benefit, but the Central and Southwest Asia may suffer. Additionally, these developments are also taking place at a time that the Russian and Pakistani militaries have completed counter-terrorism exercises in northern Pakistan to be followed by tripartite meetings in Moscow. A Defense Aviation report (November 19, 20016) insinuation suggests that the counter-terrorism cooperation will likely develop into joint patrols surrounding the Pakhtunkhwa regions from trans-Indus highways to Gilgit-Baltistan regions near the Chinese border. Although Russia holds similar exercises with India, but, significance joint patrols in nearby Afghanistan suggests preparations for the endgame in Afghanistan.    The functional trajectory of CEPC/OBOR appears unstoppable.  Although President-elect Honorable Donald Trump has yet to announce his Afghanistan and Central and South Asia policy, a coincidence of all these events that have materialized within a month suggests major alternative policy changes in the region on all sides. What could be the alternative scenarios?

IMPLICATIONS: considering the past futility of peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan including the recent quadrilateral initiative, it is likely that the tripartite Moscow meeting will be considering hitherto dormant 6+two (Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors plus China and EU) peace proposal initiated by the late Uzbek President H.E. Islam Karimov during the Bucharest Summit in 2006, now inherited by the would-be-likely elected Acting president Mirziyoyev. Politically oriented matters are difficult to predict, but logical assessments suffice to suggest that the would-be President of Uzbekistan will abide by the original peace plan or will devise his own policy perspective delaying the peace processes for Afghanistan irrespective of CPEC participation or the results of tripartite Moscow meeting because Uzbekistan policies have had been complex.  This is the question that the Trump presidency must have in mind because Karimov is no more. China, Russia, and Pakistan have no problems with the proposal, even Taliban appear inclined to such an arrangement.

The United States had reservations about the plan as it excluded India. A reason for India’s exclusion, as told by Dr. A. Komilov during a meeting in Tashkent was that “India’s inclusion will turn the peace effort into India-Pakistan competition and showdown.  India may perhaps be included later at an opportune date when Afghanistan is stable”.  Efforts to normalize India-Pakistan relations have always been destabilized every time some terror attack transpires in India and Pakistan; Pakistan governments feels that India is playing a zero-sum game against Pakistan from Afghanistan and that TTP was created by Indian RAW and Afghanistan Defense Intelligence Agency that started penetrating Pakistan since 2009. All immediate neighbors of Afghanistan support Karimov’s plan for the sake of regional stability.

The idea behind the Tripartite Moscow deliberations highlights stability in Afghanistan, enabling the greater Eurasian countries to engage fully with the CPEC/OBOR projects. On the U.S. side, President-elect is reportedly considering some alternative ways to peace in Afghanistan by the time US drawdown is complete. Some American policy-making circles are concerned about the lost investment in Afghanistan but these circles also feel war and assistance fatigue without any returns. Trump’s advisory circles have suggested direct contacts with Taliban, but if there was any such chance it ended down with the killing of Mullah Mansur by a US drone early this year dashing away from the further possibility of peace dialogue with the USA as the failure of quadrilateral dialogue indicated. The United States need to acknowledge that Taliban are not simply extremist fighters, but they also perceive themselves as freedom fighters fighting against an American occupation.

Perhaps, at the outcome of Tripartite Russia, China and Pakistan meeting, President-elect and his team will deliberate about the Karimov’s peace proposal.  The increasingly weakened government of Afghanistan could not be strengthened with Indian assistance which has limited support only within some Tajiks and Hazaras. Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors appear temporarily willing to accept India’s exclusion from Afghan peace talks may be undesirable, but the US national interest about drawdown will likely prevail because there is no other alternative left and no one benefits from the prolonged conflict in Afghanistan, which is only hurting both Afghanistan and US policy.  The Karimov peace proposal thus provides a reasonable alternative to the United States not only to end Afghanistan engagement but also with a new opportunity to re-start her relationships with Central Asian states, this time without preconditions of democratization and political engineering through regime changes.  After all the motivation behind US presence in Afghanistan from the beginning has been to secure a foothold in Central Asia, better to close one chapter and start anew with promising policy initiatives.

CONCLUSION: Entire region, in particular, Central and South Asia including the United States appear fatigued in every which way with the conflict in Afghanistan. While, Eurasian powers are now fully engaging themselves to bring the conflict to a meaningful end, the United States, under the new president has a new opportunity to approach the region with newer viable policies. It is the time that the President-elect explored the alternatives, hence Karimov peace plan among others for an honorable and peaceful endgame in Afghanistan, in order to re-initiate US-Central Asia relationships.

Lately, Indian influence in Honorable Obama presidency has in ways ignored Pakistani concern about peace in Afghanistan, but it is not the end of the world. Should anti- Pakistan or similar attitude continue to dominate US South and Central Asia policies, under the emerging new developments, United States may lose traditional intimacy with Pakistan which is already trying to reintegrate the Eurasian power ream together with new developments like CPEC/OBOR moving geopolitically towards greater Eurasia. India can never replace pivotal Pakistan as a geopolitical substitute for the United States. The timings of the US and Uzbek elections are thus important in terms of an alternative policy approaches towards Afghanistan endgame and new policy initiatives towards Central and South Asia.

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