Russia’s efforts to extend its influence in Central Asia as a counter to an Islamic threat have backfired. Russian border forces helped Islamic militants move from Tajikistan into northern Afghanistan a year ago. When those forces then infiltrated Uzbekistan, Moscow tried to revive the collective security treaty of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the former Soviet republics) as the mechanism for defense against the “bandits.” Uzbek forces, not without difficulty, were able to drive the rebels out, and President Islam Karimov, who has made resistance to militant Islam a rallying point for his dictatorial regime, said he would “never” invite Russian troops in or participate with them in military “adventures.”
On a visit to Turkmenistan September 21-22, Karimov announced new policies designed to improve relations with Afghanistan’s Taliban and to reduce Central Asia’s economic dependence on Russia. Uzbekistan, he said, is prepared to join with Turkmenistan and Pakistan to build transportation routes–power lines, pipelines, roads–across Afghanistan to link Central Asia to markets to the south. The Taliban authorities as well as Pakistan are keenly interested in those plans, which cannot be carried out without peace in Afghanistan and international recognition of Taliban authority there. Karimov’s statements seem well coordinated with a larger diplomatic campaign by the Taliban authorities to end their international isolation.