Berdimuhamedov and Karimov worried about Afghanistan
Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov held talks on October 8 in Tashkent. They declared their readiness to contribute to peace and stability at regional and international level and expressed concern over the situation in Afghanistan, where the radical Taliban movement is taking full control of the northern provinces of the country.
"The latest events near the Afghan city of Kunduz cause concern in neighboring countries," Islam Karimov said at a press briefing. He drew attention to the need for coordination of joint efforts both bilaterally and within international organizations. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, in his turn, stressed the importance of cooperation in combating extremism, international terrorism and drug trafficking – to maintain the long-term stability, security and sustainable development of Central Asia. "We are in favor of establishing a mechanism to settle the conflicts by means of political and diplomatic methods," the Turkmen president said.
In late September the Taliban movement launched a major offensive in northern Afghanistan. Kunduz Province fell under its pressure. The Taliban occupied the administrative center of Kunduz for three days. After an attack by the US Army, the Taliban fled the city, moving the fighting to the neighboring province of Faryab, which borders Turkmenistan.
According to the expert on Central Asia and political scientist Arkady Dubnov, Maimana was attacked by the Taliban, under the same scenario as Kunduz in the previous week – from three sides. The attack was repulsed, but one can be sure that an attempt to take the city will be repeated. Experts do not exclude that the radicals can test the strength of the 745 km long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan border. Especially there have been such attempts since the spring of 2014. A mobilization of the military reservists of Turkmenistan – reserve officers and men – was declared at the beginning of 2015, which continues to this day.
According to local media, currently the Ministry of Defense of Turkmenistan has started the redeployment of military equipment and weapons of the land forces. Military vehicles are being pulled up to the border. Divisions of Turkmen border guards stationed in the south of the Mary and Lebap regions, are being reinforced with additional artillery, air defense and support services. All of these forces were moved from other, more quiet regions of the country, in particular the Turkmen-Uzbek border.
A senior scientist of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Shokhrat Kadyrov, told Vestnik Kavkaza that Turkmenistan can count on the help of its neighbors. "An agreement on the joint protection of borders under external threat between Berdimuhamedov and Karimov was reached in 2012, and now it seems to be a time for the practical implementation of this agreement," the expert said. He believes that Turkmenistan, having the status of a neutral state, may ask for help from anywhere in the world, even the United Nations. "As far as I know, Moscow is ready to help Ashgabat in case of threat from the Islamists in Afghanistan," Shohrat Kadyrov said.
Russia fully closes the so-called Central Asian front. Currently, there is a planned strengthening of the Russian military presence throughout the whole of Central Asia. In particular, attack aircraft, designed for combat in mountainous terrain, have arrived at the Russian Kant Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. Issues of expansion of military cooperation were discussed yesterday in Tashkent. The Deputy Defense Minister of the Russian Federation, Anatoly Antonov, noted that there is a need to co-ordinate actions in the military sphere to ensure peace and stability in Central Asia. In addition, he emphasized that an important factor in maintaining stability in the region is military and military-technical cooperation with Uzbekistan as a strategic partner.
"Uzbekistan have the strongest army in the post-Soviet Central Asia. However, it's a big question whether Uzbek help will be enough for serious problems," the Director of the Analytical Center of the Institute of International Studies, Andrey Kazantsev, told Vestnik Kavkaza. According to him, it's impossible only with Uzbek help. But Turkmenistan as a neutral state may seek help from anybody, for example, Russia, NATO and Iran. "As far as I know, all these channels are already involved in varying degrees. China also can intervene - which is the main buyer of Turkmen gas, interested in its uninterrupted receiving," the expert said. According to him, a number of sources maintains that China has provided Turkmenistan assistance in security matters, and Beijing has such resources in Afghanistan like nobody else - China is closely linked with Pakistan, and Pakistan's interdepartmental intelligence is one of the main players in Afghanistan.
Kazantsev believes that classical Taliban, being Pashtun nationalists, of course, will not go to Central Asia - it is a myth, and it is not even worth discussing. "But the invasion of the groups of different ethnic extremists associated with both Al-Qaeda and Islamic state (prohibited by a court of the Russian Federation) to the region is generally expected in the light of the situation that has developed in Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Middle East," Andrei Kazantsev said.
The expert believes that President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has significantly improved relations with all its neighbors, including Uzbekistan, after coming to power. "His foreign policy is stable enough, he tries to live in harmony with everyone. In fact, Uzbekistan will have to help, simply because if the boundary line in Turkmenistan crashes, then Uzbekistan will suffer itself. Problems will easily creep through the Uzbek-Turkmen border. That's why Tashkent is helping Afghanistan, even though Uzbekistan has few economic resources, this country is not very rich in natural resources. But it is possible that it will ask Turkmenistan, as a country rich in gas, to give something in return, for example, in the sphere of economic," Kazantsev noted.
It will likely be about the increasing of oil and petroleum supplies, which allow Uzbekistan to provide Tashkent gasoline and diesel fuel in minimal volume. According to analysts, Uzbekistan is reducing its own oil production, therefore Tashkent intends to increase imports of "black gold" from Turkmenistan, as well as polymers of propylene. Following Berdimuhamedov's visit to Tashkent a memorandum on cooperation between JSC Uzbekistan Railways and the Ministry of Railway Transport of Turkmenistan was signed, as well as contracts on agricultural and automotive machinery supply to Turkmenistan.