Will the change of power in Afghanistan affect Central Asia’s relations with the big powers?

Some say Russia's presence in the region will be strengthened, or perhaps China's, and U.S. influence will be on the wane in the coming years.

The author notes that while the results of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan might have been unexpected, the pullout itself had been announced 10 years earlier by then-U.S. President Barack Obama; so Central Asia's leaders knew foreign forces were leaving Afghanistan and had 10 years to prepare for it.

Between 2001 and 2021, the United States reportedly helped Central Asia increase its capacity to identify and neutralize threats from Afghanistan through joint training, funding and equipment for border security, and military vehicles including quad bikes, trucks, and (for Uzbekistan) MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles).

The United States provided and still provides aid to Central Asia, according to the article.

And the United States provides a counterweight to Russia and China, allowing Central Asia to avoid falling too much under the influence of either Moscow or Beijing.

Some feel Russian influence in Central Asia will be significantly enhanced now that the United States and its allies have departed Afghanistan.

Mr. Pannier notes that in terms of security in Central Asia, Russia has long had a presence there. That began long before U.S. and allied troops were deployed to bases in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to support the operations in Afghanistan.

Russia's 201st Division has been based in Tajikistan since the 1940s, and under the terms of an agreement signed in 2012 will remain in the country until at least 2042.

Russia opened a military base at Kant, in Kyrgyzstan, in 2003, after U.S. forces were already stationed in Kyrgyzstan, and, under the terms of an agreement signed in 2012, Russian forces will stay there until at least 2027, with an option to extend that deal by another five years after that.

The article says there has been no sign that Russia plans to increase its military presence in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan and, so far, no word that Russia is seeking to use bases in other Central Asian countries.

Certainly, Moscow could play on Central Asian fears of threats from Afghanistan and might also convince Uzbekistan to rejoin the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which Tashkent has joined and left twice already (1992-1999 and 2006-2012), or even pry Turkmenistan out of isolation and firmly under Russian influence, a process already under way in recent years.

There have been suggestions that Beijing might take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to expand its influence in Central Asia.

But Chinese sway in the region is mainly economic, although it has undoubtedly helped Central Asian states contend with perceived security threats (mainly so such threats don't spill over into China), the article says.

China reportedly sells weapons in Central Asia, and has conducted joint military exercises and drills both bilaterally and within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). .

Beijing also operates a small military base in a remote area of eastern Tajikistan guarding the high mountain gateway to China.

Some think China could send troops to help Central Asia if the region were being destabilized from elements coming out of Afghanistan, but this is unlikely to happen.

The author notes that China has invested a large amount of money and been able to extract huge amounts of raw materials -- including oil, natural gas, uranium, iron, and more -- over the course of more than two decades in Central Asia.

The region's governments have seemingly profited from those ventures, and some of their citizens have found jobs working on Chinese projects.

But the days of the huge Chinese projects in Central Asia -- the oil and gas pipelines, the new railways and roads, oil refineries, and other infrastructure -- are coming to an end, if they are not over already.

China will continue to invest in Central Asia and extract valuable resources. But Beijing will not be spending the amounts of money it did 10 and 20 years ago.

Central Asian governments' fears regarding Afghanistan could lead them to make rash decisions about foreign partnerships in the coming months. But, in truth, they might not need much outside help at all, the article says.

Source: Asia-Plus