On August 23, leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) member states gathered for the extraordinary session of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO held in video conference format. The main focus of the session was the situation in Afghanistan and its impact on the security of the countries participating in the organization.
For two decades, the central government in Kabul concentrated on supporting the troops deployed by the United States and NATO countries. As a matter of fact, the instability of the political structure built in Afghanistan as a result of international counter-terrorism operation was obvious to many. As soon as the United States made a decision to reduce and then withdraw its military presence in Afghanistan, the Kabul government collapsed before our very eyes. In mid-August, the Taliban took control of most of the country and entered Kabul. The President of the country fled to the UAE, and the United States was urgently forced to evacuate the Afghans who had been providing them assistance.
While President Biden is convinced that the drawdown of US troops and their Western partners from Afghanistan is the correct move, arguing that the US did not plan to “nation-build,” the country’s neighbors who predicted this development are now facing the prospect of a mass migrant exodus from Afghanistan and a Taliban government at their borders.
At the beginning of 2000s, the global community was appalled by the Taliban’s destruction of Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley and them pushing back against feminism and setting the agenda concerning the empowerment of Afghan women in society several decades back. Today, the Taliban are more restrained, seeking to make a more positive impression in the eyes of the world. Nonetheless, their first actions suggest that disobedience by representatives of the media and civil activists will be severely punished.
Despite the demonstration of military superiority by the Taliban and the rapid defeat of their opponents, the situation in Afghanistan is far from being resolved. The record shows that the warlords switching sides to the strongest player today is not a guarantee of loyalty and will not deter them from siding with other sides in the future, which was an often enough occurrence in the political history of Afghanistan. The situation regarding the position of ethnic minorities and their role in the future political structure is rather ambiguous. The north of the country, home to Tajiks and Uzbeks who effectively opposed the Taliban in the 90s under the auspices of the Northern Alliance, is once again forming paramilitary groups to challenge the Taliban.
Under these conditions, the need for close coordination in security between the CSTO countries becomes more and more apparent. Although the Taliban said they would not threaten the countries of Central Asia, the Organization must keep its powder dry and be ready to fulfill allied obligations in the required format in the event of an aggravation of the situation at the Afghan-Tajik border and the emergence of a military threat to Tajikistan. The activity of extremist and terrorist groups taking refuge in the Af-Pak region requires special attention in order to neutralize their possible attempts to infiltrate the territory of the Central Asian countries.
Responding to possible risks and threats on the Afghan-Uzbek border, the CSTO deems it important to establish cooperation with Uzbekistan, which suspended its membership in the organization in 2012. In this regard, the participation of President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev in the session of the CSTO Collective Security Council is of great importance.
The fact that the Taliban have seized power in Afghanistan and will soon form their own central government will be difficult to ignore, especially for the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan. The issue of recognition or non-recognition of the Taliban will be put on the agenda. It seems that the CSTO, as the most influential military-political organization in the post-Soviet space, will not remain aloof from dealing with this pressing set of issues. However, so far, the international community views the Taliban as a terrorist organization, and it is banned in many countries.
Participants of the summit thoroughly and substantively discussed the issues of regional security in Central Asia arising due to recent changes in Afghanistan. One of the key outcomes of the summit was an agreement to draw up a joint statement of the foreign ministers of the CSTO member states on the situation in Afghanistan in the coming weeks. In the context of increasing tension on the southern borders of Central Asia, the holding of an extraordinary CSTO summit demonstrates to international donors and key players influencing the military situation in Afghanistan the consolidated approach of the member states and their readiness to implement joint crisis response measures if necessary.
During the week preceding the CSTO summit, observers could not help but notice the intensification of foreign policy contacts between Kazakhstan and Russia. On Aug.18-19, the head of the Russian government, Mikhail Mishustin, on his way to Cholpon-Ata, where the meeting of the Intergovernmental Council of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was held, visited Nur-Sultan. He had substantive meetings with the top leadership of Kazakhstan. A day later, on Aug. 21, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev arrived in Moscow on a working visit at the invitation of Vladimir Putin. Such a packed schedule of contacts between the leaders of the two countries is an indicator of strengthening Kazakh-Russian cooperation.
As it became known recently, the next bilateral meeting of Presidents Tokayev and Putin is expected in October within the framework of the Interregional Cooperation Forum, which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, before that, a number of important foreign policy events – the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and CSTO summits in Dushanbe – are planned to be held in September. Obviously, the strategic situation on the Eurasian continent is developing today in such a way that the presidents of Kazakhstan and Russia decided not wait for the autumn to meet and discuss possible coordinated approaches on key issues on the regional agenda, including the Afghan issue.
The author is Askar Nursha, a political analyst, PhD in History.