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Eastern Express 16.08

The year after the Taliban seized Kabul and proclaimed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as a republic in its place, the politics of the country’s northern neighbours have diverged – the Uzbek and Turkmen governments are meeting and negotiating with the Islamic fundamentalists.

Analogous positions have been taken by Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, in turn, Tajikistan’s leader Emomali Rahmon is pursuing an assertive policy.

The August 2021 power grab in Afghanistan has seriously unnerved the northern lying former Soviet Central Asian republics. These countries have long relied heavily on Russian security guarantees, but for now, Moscow is preoccupied with something else.

In addition, a third player has emerged – a very dangerous one. In Afghanistan, the Islamic State is fighting fiercely against the current authorities. Not only does it carry out terrorist attacks, but in early May the organisation announced that it had shelled Tajikistan.

Russia has for decades been seen as the guarantor of security in Central Asia. However, given the Russian military’s track record in Ukraine, there must now be some doubt in Central Asian capitals about the certainty of Moscow’s support. Whether the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were on good or bad terms with the Kremlin, they always seemed confident that if their security would be seriously threatened, Russia would step in and help them neutralise the threat.

This became even more important once the Taliban took power in Afghanistan.

Central Asian countries fear not so much an open invasion by the Taliban, but an incursion from those very countries of the Islamic militants who fought alongside the Taliban and now want to bring a similar regime to their homelands. It is estimated that the Taliban have deployed some 4,000 fighters along the border with Central Asia – these are mainly people from neighbouring countries. Taliban officials stressed that the move would contribute to regional stability.

However, Afghanistan’s northern neighbours know their own. Fears have been raised in Central Asian capitals that militants may want to infiltrate their home countries.

To shed more light on the issue, we were joined by Bruce Pannier from Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe.

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