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Central Asia 2008: Year in Review


Just a few days ago I was jotting down some of the major happenings in the Afghanistan and Central Asian region this past year and a few significant items came to mind, but it was not until I went over my resources, news clippings, and former posts did I realize that there were stories everywhere.  The opening of Turkmenistan, small yes but still an opening, the rise of Dmitri Medvedev in Russia, the horrific winter in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which too clearly laid before its citizens the weaknesses of their governments, and much, much more.  In the next few days, I will cover the economic crisis, subjects that received too little coverage, misconceptions, and put forth some predictions for the coming year regarding our CA region, but for now let us go over the events in the year 2008.

The year began with Afghanistan's government and society under a severe and determined Taliban-led insurgent attack.  NATO, who was and remains in pursuit of more troops from its members, was actually partnering up with Moscow in Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbor states in order to help supply routes.  Now as the year is nearing a close, Russia and the United States are involved in what I would call a ‘mini Cold War’ since the Georgia conflict and this may hinder further cooperation in and around Afghanistan in the coming year.  Regarding Russia, the transition from Putin to Medvedev was surprisingly smooth and it now appears that they are indeed sharing power (though it looks like things are being nicely set up for a Putin return to the presidency).  Before we leave Russia, the Georgian conflict indeed had immediate ramifications for the region, first at the annual SCO summit where though pressured none of the CA states recognized the two breakaway Georgian states, second in a serious of rapid fire oil/gas dealings by Putin in the region, and the events of last August will probably reverberate for years to come.

Back to Afghanistan, the conflict has grown since the year began, and is widely now seen in a more regional light, especially in regards to Pakistan, where most of the insurgents find safety.  A disturbing trend in the conflict involves the increasing deluge of militants from other CA states, providing evermore recruits for the Taliban's cause.  President Karzai has been under increasing pressure to bring progress to the country and is keeping one, two, probably three eyes on the upcoming presidential election early next year.  Though the Afghan situation has had its brighter moments, it starting to be seen as possibly a task too large for the US and NATO, but this has not stopped American commitment as both this years presidential advocates advocated bringing in more troops to the conflict, not bringing them home.  Though, I found the presidential debates mostly devoid of a serious discussion of the war's problems and whether or not more troops was a ‘good idea’ or not, President-elect Barack Obama did seem to have a worthwhile diplomatic visit to the troubled country, meeting with Karzai and US military leaders.

One of the first stories I covered on this blog were Freedom House's Freedom of the World rankings, and unfortunately, our CA governments did not fair well.  Though much has changed in the region and in the world since 2008 began, one constant is the fact that most CA states are governed by autocrats, who show little sign of letting their power slip.  However, this did not stop the EU or the US from entering into economic dealings with them, mainly regarding oil and gas rights.   However, the spread of democracy and the liberalization of government policies was indeed on the US agenda in dealings with the CA states, especially regarding Kazakhstan, which will become Chair of the OSCE in 2010.

Above, I mentioned the opening of Turkmenistan, and it is true that Ashgabat's President Berdymuhamedov has distanced itself from the Niyazov era in many ways, especially regarding the cult of personality and making sure the world's powers knew that it was open for business.  However, a few months ago there was a serious clash between government forces and unidentified civilians (militant Islamists, human rights protesters?), that had the look of an Andijon II.  The Turkmen state quickly swept the incident under the rug.  So progress has occurred, but some things don't change quick enough.

There were many other important and newsworthy stories from the region during the year:  China's crackdown of Uighur extremists and citizens alike before and during the Olympics, some in response to a major terrorist attack against Chinese border patrol.  The battle for a water agreement between up and down stream CA states was constantly on the agenda for all the region's governments, and though an agreement was finally made, it is still just short-term and it is likely I will be writing about this conflict again next year.  Lastly, nearly all of the region's citizens suffered from rising food prices, with the poor almost definitely suffering the most pain.

I’m sure there is much I missed and please feel free to fill in the holes by writing comments.  The next few days will feature these four Year in Review questions:

  1. How has the global recession impacted your subject area in 2008?
  2. What event in your subject area in 2008 do you think deserved more coverage than it got?
  3. What do you think is a widely held misconception about your subject area?
  4. What are your predictions in your subject area for 2009?


Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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