The UN Security Council on Wednesday expressed “grave concern” at the continued armed conflict in Afghanistan, and at incidents of what it called “extremists and terrorists” from Afghan territory entering three neighbouring Central Asian states: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
According to a UN press release, Council members warned there was “a growing risk of greater internationalisation of the problem.”
“There is a real danger that the Afghan territory is being used as a base to destabilise other countries in the region,” Council President Agam Hasmy of Malaysia told reporters in New York after closed door consultations on the situation Afghanistan, the statement added.
The Security Council statement followed a summit of Central Asian leaders in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on Saturday to address a common approach to the threat posed by a series of incursions from Tajikistan into southern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan by Islamic insurgents. Regional analysts say the insurgents have been trained in Afghan camps.
Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev, Askar Akayev, Emomali Rahmonov and Islam Karimov of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan decided to refrain from carrying out preventive air strikes against the gunmen, but agreed on closer military and security cooperation to address the militia threat, news organisations reported.
In a statement from the summit, which was also attended by Russian Security Council Secretary Sergey Ivanov, the special envoy of President Vladimir Putin, the Central Asian leaders called on international organisations to do more to resolve the civil war in Afghanistan which they termed “a major threat to regional stability.”
The Taliban leadership - or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan - on Tuesday denied any link with the clashes in neighbouring countries, and said all the unrest was a result of their domestic problems.
Leaders in these countries “have not yet realised the inability of the Communist way of administration” (sic), which put them in conflict with their peoples, according to a foreign ministry statement reported by the official Afghan news agency Bakhtar.
“By accusing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan of interference in their internal affairs, these countries’ leaderships want to please Russia and the West,” it said.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, led by Uzbek militia leader Jumaboi Namangani, is reported to be behind the offensive. Namangani, who took refuge in Afghan territory controlled by the Taliban movement in May, was committed to overthrowing Uzbek President Islam Karimov and has mainly Uzbeks and Tajiks, but also radical Islamic fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Chechyna in his ranks, Agence France Press (AFP) reported.
According to the Uzbek government, the rebels are trying to create a base in an isolated mountain range in Uzbekistan in order to store food and weapons as they plan terrorist attacks on Uzbek territory and to open transit routes for drugs and weapons. Fighting has been intense in the Tashkent and Surkhandarya regions of Uzbekistan, and in the Batken Region of Krygyzstan, according to news organisations. Dozens of rebels and government troops have been reported killed. The fighting has also drawn in Russian border guards, who have engaged armed fighters attempting to illegally cross the Afghan-Tajik border, the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency reported.
Kyrgyz and Uzbek army detachments this week started joint “search and reconnaissance and combat operations” against Islamic terrorists, the RIA news agency in Moscow reported on Wednesday, citing a Kyrgyz Defence Ministry press officer. Joint operations would be carried out in the sector between the Dzhalalabad Region of Kyrgyzstan and Tashkent Region of Uzbekistan, thus putting into effect the cooperation agreed in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz military said.
The clashes in the last fortnight were a further warning of looming trouble in Central Asia, where conflict had been brewing for some time - particularly in the Ferghana Valley where Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Krygyzstan meet - but the situation had received scant attention in international policy-making circles, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent crisis analysis institute.
Uzbekistan faced particular deteriorating social and economic conditions and “the government’s draconian response to several terrorist incidents and to the underground Islamist opposition are aggravating a sense of grievance in some communities,” ICG President Gareth Evans warned, after the release a recent report on Central Asia.
[for full report see: http://www.crisisweb.org
In a situation where living standards were depressed and continuing to deteriorate, the Ferghana Valley was of particular concern because “the size of the Uzbek community in the parts of the valley belonging to Krygyzstan and Tajikistan provides considerable potential for ethno-nationalist provocation,” Evans stated.
While international engagement with Central Asia has been low-key and limited so far, focused principally on humanitarian concerns rather than conflict prevention and security-building measures, Japan and China have a particular role to play in helping to head off further conflict in the region, according to the ICG.
“Their emerging strategic interests in the region suggest they will save themselves a lot of pain and money if they act now. The governments and communities of Central Asia are certainly in need,” Evans said.