The absence of a functional government in Afghanistan has been creating economic and security challenges for the Central Asian states since their founding in 1991. Long frustrated by the international community’s failure to end the Afghan civil war through negotiation, the 2001 September 11 attack created the expectation among these countries that the US would intervene successfully in Afghanistan, leading to an economic recovery that would advance the development of all the states in the region.

While the US-led NATO operations in Afghanistan have resulted in somewhat enhanced security capacity in the Central Asian countries, most projects designed to strengthen the regional economy remain on the drawing board. In fact, the long-term security challenges faced by the Central Asian states seem to be increasing, given the current situation in Afghanistan and the growing instability of Pakistan.

As public pressure mounts in the US and in Europe to wind down their military involvement in Afghanistan, and to find other ways to protect their populations from the risks posed by al-Qaeda, Central Asian elites are left pondering how best to protect their own populations, in view of the limited regional, multilateral or bilateral assistance on offer.

Nato withdrawal would be very damaging for the Central Asian states and would greatly exacerbate the deteriorating economic and security conditions in some of these countries. Aid from the West is badly needed; however, in the past Western funding for projects in Central Asia has often fallen short. Given the financial climate, the current emphasis on smaller bilateral exchanges and cross-border production of electricity should be encouraged.