Thursday, May 5, 2011

Does Osama bin Laden's death affect Central-South Asian relations?


Here in Washington, the death of Osama bin Laden is welcomed as an American victory in the GWOT. Certainly, his demise bears symbolic significance and for many victims of 9/11, may provide some sense of closure.

Amidst the hype surrounding the death of bin Laden, recent developments in South and Central Asian political affairs speaks to the dire need for security in the region and the sheer potential for mayhem if the security situation plummets.

First, just last week representatives from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India  (TAPI) met in New Dehli and signed agreements for the TAPI natural gas pipeline. The four states plan to meet again at the end of July to sign final pricing agreements. While officials hope to have the TAPI pipeline operational by 2016, there are serious doubts surrounding the feasibility of the project given the region’s instability. This past week, the Afghanistan legislature approved the TAPI pipeline agreement.

Uzbekistan is the only country (perhaps in the world) to not report the death of Osama bin Laden to its 30 million inhabitants. The country is also offering reduced price electricity to Pakistan. Uzbekistan’s omni-powerful President Islam Karimov is known in the West for his anti-extremist views and oppressive crackdown on the free exercise of religion, all in the name of security. Uzbekistan already provides Afghanistan with electricity and its offer to provide Pakistan with affordable energy, while the Pakistani government copes with the international political fallout of bin Laden’s death, signals Uzbekistan’s desire for regional stability and to cut off Islamic fundamentalist thinking from the country.

There is such a bizarre tension in Central and South Asia. On one hand, the security situation remains unstable and no one seems to know what will happen next or what to prepare for. At the same time, governments are endeavoring to cooperate on tangible issues related to infrastructure development. As we wait and see if TAPI and Uzbekistan’s offer to Pakistan materializes, the sheer fact that Central Asian regimes are cooperating with Pakistan and Afghanistan reveals a different approach to the region than we see her in America. To the CARs, South Asia represents a potential political ally and valuable market. Central Asian regimes recognize that a stable and secure South Asia is absolutely essential to a stable and secure Central Asia. Ultimately, bin-Laden’s death in itself will likely not affect Central-South Asian relations. Rather, his demise will only have an impact if the security situation deteriorates precipitously and results in widespread outbreaks of violence.

Readers, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Do you think the death of Osama bin-Laden is a factor in Central-South Asian relations? 

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