MOSCOW RAISING TALIBAN SPECTER TO DRAW CENTRAL ASIA INTO MILITARY BLOC.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 42
Secrecy continues to envelop the talks held — and whatever decisions may have been taken — by the Russian, Uzbek, Kazakstani, and Kyrgyz defense ministers on February 25 in Tashkent. Their "working meeting" discussed possible joint responses to the Talibans’ recent advance into northern Afghanistan and its anticipated spring offensive against Afghanistan’s Uzbek and Tajik forces, which are favored by Moscow and Tehran and are commanded, respectively, by Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ahmad Shah-Masood.
Russian defense minister Igor Rodionov’s keynote remarks at the Tashkent meeting described the Uzbek-Afghan and Tajik-Afghan borders as "CIS borders," and their defense as a Russian security interest. Rodionov argued that the Afghan conflict was "developing from an internal into an international conflict, threatening the security of Central Asia" and requiring "an immediate response through joint actions" by the Central Asian countries and Russia. Meeting separately with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, the key player in the region, Rodionov urged "bringing the Russian and Uzbek positions closer and working out a common approach" to what he portrayed as a looming crisis.
Rodionov’s most salient points invoked the CIS Collective Security Treaty, signed by six countries back in 1992, as a basis for proposed joint actions, and suggested that the Uzbek-Kazak-Kyrgyz joint peacekeeping battalion (CentrasBat) be used in conjunction with Russian forces for such actions. CentrasBat, however, is specifically earmarked for UN-sponsored actions outside the CIS framework, and is scheduled to exercise with NATO troops this year. Rodionov submitted three scenarios envisaging joint military responses to a Taliban offensive. One scenario which has transpired involves creation of two joint motorized army divisions by Russia and the Central Asian countries.
On the same day in Moscow the commander of Russia’s Border Forces, Gen. Andrei Nikolaev, raised the prospect of the Taliban pushing the Masood and Dostum forces, plus hundreds of thousands of refugees from northern Afghanistan, into Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. To prevent such a development, Nikolaev suggested that the Central Asian countries work with Russia to "freeze [zakonservirovat’] the military confrontation in Afghanistan" — i.e. help to shore up Masood’s and Dostum’s defense. (Russian agencies, February 25)
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