Foreign Policy Blogs

Year in Review: Predictions for 2009

Making predictions is a fool's man's game…thankfully I love that game!

While one cannot foresee what exactly the future holds, some trends can be seen. For instance, it is hard to foresee any changes in the political leadership of all the Stans’, as they are all deeply entrenched and seem to have learned much from Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution. But other issues in the region are evolving and are worth a quick look:

Financial Crisis – As I discussed a few days ago, the region is experiencing some major economic pains stemming from the world's global downturn. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Regional Outlook viewed the region rather positively compared to the rest of the world, stating: “Growth is underpinned by high commodity prices, strong domestic demand, and also credibility of the authorities' economic policies. So far, the Middle East and Central Asia region has been largely resilient to the ongoing international credit crisis and the downturn in the US and other advanced economies.” Though oil and gas prices are dropping rapidly, the energy rich CA states, Kazakh, Turk, and Uzbek, should be all right, especially Kazakhstan with their huge National Fund, but this does not mean that their governments and even more so their citizens won't suffer. The coming year looks much worse for the citizens of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and their miniscule economies, as much needed loans and foreign direct investment will surely be harder to come by.

Afghanistan – 2008 was not a good year for the people of Afghanistan or for NATO force there, as the insurgents from Pakistan and the country's south continued to create instability and challenge the young government. The US and the incoming Obama administration has committed to put about 20,000 more troops into the fray, with the first few thousand set to arrive this January. The Obama administration may also be able to convince the European members of NATO to commit more troops themselves. The ability of these deployments to bring stability to the country will be something to watch and will probably largely depend on the chosen strategy to counter the insurgency. Gen. Petraeus, the mastermind behind the successful surge in Iraq, is now the Cent Com commander over the Middle East and Central Asia, but it is unlikely that a similar strategy could be successfully implemented in Afghanistan. It looks like the first deployment of US troops will protect Kabul and its surrounding provinces, so one may assume that these new troops may be used to protect civilian centers, hopefully allowing room for economic and political growth, instead of emphasizing taking the fight to the insurgents in Pakistan's tribal areas. Though I would think it will be a strong combination of the two.

Another major issue for Afghanistan in the new year will be the Presidential election. As of right now I would assume that the much maligned Hamid Karzai will win reelection. There does not seem to be any serious contenders that have the backing of either the Afghan people or the United States. The Afghan people deserve a more stable and capable government with less corruption and hopefully this will be the trend in either Karzai's second term or in his successor's.

Russian, Chinese, and American Policy in CA – In my opinion, the Obama administration's policies in Central Asia will not differ much from the Bush administrations.  Obama is committed to a long-term presence in the region, mainly for the Pakistan/Afghanistan stability, and as a person with a Muslim background, should enjoy some positive feelings from the region's citizens.  I would also expect to see a little less democracy promotion rhetoric and policies from his administration than the current one.

Russia's integral presence in the region will largely remain for the near to distant future as most of the CA's states’ energy infrastructure and political leaders are tied to Moscow, especially regional leader Kazakhstan.  Though its tremendous economic growth is slowing, China's presence and interests in the region will still be on the rise as the CA states look for foreign investments and loans.  Both China and Russia will continue to try and mitigate a growing US presence in the region by emphasizing the utility and mechanisms of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to the CA states.  And for the six or seventh straight year, despite the rumors that the SCO will expand its membership to include either Pakistan, India, Iran, Mongolia, etc, the group's membership will remain in its current state.

Do you have any predictions of your own?  What do you foresee in Afghanistan? Turkmenistan? Kyrgyzstan? For the SCO?  Obama in Central Asia?

 

Author

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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