OSCE Network has recently published a report titled The OSCE and Central Asia – Options for engagement in the context of the crisis in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine. It describes recent events including the collapse of the Afghan government in August 2021, withdrawal of the Western forces and Taliban takeover as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
These events have led to two key challenges to OSCE and Central Asia including:
- How to manage the current crisis and prevent a spill-over of insecurity and instability into the region;
- How to engage with the Taliban.
At the same time, Russia’s declining influence on Central Asia, China’s reluctance to fill in the void and gradual increase in collaboration among Central Asian countries to manage regional stability provide an opportunity for the OSCE for renewed engagement in the region. Below we summarise authors’ main points and recommendations to the OSCE as they relate to Central Asia.
Turkmenistan has the second-longest border with Afghanistan and it is the most vulnerable in Central Asia due to poorly trained and poorly equipped border guards and weak border infrastructure. The country has experienced a number of border clashes with Taliban forces and problems with drug trafficking. As one of the interviewees of the report highlighted, “Turkmenistan is one of the most closed-off countries in the world, we have not had access to the country in the past 20 years”. The authors could only obtain limited data on Turkmenistan mainly relying on secondary sources. However, they emphasised that Taliban takeover poses a relatively low risk for Turkmenistan.
Since the 1990s the Turkmen government has managed risks through engagement with the Taliban. Since Taliban takeover in August 2021 Turkmenistan has promoted bilateral dialogue with the Taliban mainly focusing on stability, economic interests and feasibility of interconnectivity projects. Turkmenistan has also actively engaged with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and attended the organisation’s 2021 and 2022 summits, although it is neither a member, partner, nor observer country. Moreover, Turkmenistan remains one of the key providers of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.
One of the priority projects for Turkmenistan is TAPI, the pipeline to export Turkmen gas to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India and potentially decrease its over-dependence on China. Other connectivity projects are the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) high-voltage power transmission line and the new railway connections between the countries. In addition to stability in Afghanistan, the success of these projects also depends on sufficient funding which has been a major challenge in the past. In October 2021, the State Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs of Turkmenistan together with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development created a joint venture – the Turkmen Investment Company, which potentially could finance part of the TAPI.
Authors of the report advise on various ways the OSCE may engage in Central Asia and with potential regional partners as well as Afghanistan. Below is key recommendations in relation to Central Asia:
- conducting a regional and country-specific needs assessment on the impact of the situations in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine;
- contributing to Central Asian dialogue between the governments including on cooperative management of regional water resources;
- supporting Central Asian countries integration into the global economy;
- supporting border security and management;
- building the capacity of government officials, security services and prison administrations on human rights issues;
- continuing the provision and facilitation of scholarships and visas to Afghan students to attend degree programmes in Central Asian Higher Education Institutions.