The Changing Of The Guard
Central Asia is slated for a series of inevitable leadership transitions with the future passing of the elderly leaders in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan coming after the recent one in Uzbekistan, opening up many avenues for state breakdown and interstate sabotage in the latter two mutually antagonistic Fergana Valley states and inviting a plethora of externally managed Hybrid War scenarios (the phased transition of Color Revolutions to Unconventional War for regime change or “Identity Federalism” purposes) to play out.
Greater (Islamic) Uzbekistan
The neighboring ethnic Uzbek diaspora in southern Kazakhstan, southwestern (Fergana) Kyrgyzstan, and northern and western Tajikistan are highly susceptible to irredentist rhetoric, and if this somehow manages to be fused with radical Islamist principles, then a Greater Uzbek Caliphate project could emerge as one of the single most disruptive geopolitical shocks in Greater Eurasia, especially due to the fact that its located in the ‘heartland of the Heartland’.
The Revival Of Historic Tajikistan
In the week following Karimov’s passing, an interesting article was published in the influential online magazine The Diplomat speaking about “The Tajik Tragedy of Uzbekistan”. Everything written in this pro-Western publication is true, but it’s very surprising to see a globally renowned outlet only now finally speaking about the Tajiks’ historical claims to the present-day Uzbek cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, as well as the discrimination that Uzbekistan-residing Tajiks continue to endure.
The curious timing of this article makes one wonder whether the US might subtly be in favor of Tajiks reasserting their historical claims and ethno-linguistic rights in Uzbekistan during this key moment, whether it be to advocate for separatism or the ironic recreation of a Tajik Autonomous Republic within Uzbekistan (albeit this time in inside the borders of ‘official’ Uzbekistan and not in the territory of modern-day Tajikistan like the pre-1936 one was). The US might be serious in probing the viability of this project and linking it the majority-Tajik communities in northern Afghanistan, which in that case has the chance to create a new tristate center of power in Central Asia.
Given that the US has little substantial influence among the Tajiks despite the ‘dog whistle’ that it might be blowing to its Uzbekistan-residing community through The Diplomat article, it’s much more likely that Washington might be wanting to provoke violence within Uzbekistan during this sensitive leadership transition, knowing that Tashkent wouldn’t tolerate any anti-government protests at this moment, let alone those which could easily turn into some form of separatism potentially backed by its hated Tajik neighbor.
In other words, just as it typically does, the US’ affiliated information organs might be purposely sending suicidal signals to targeted demographics so that they sacrifice themselves as a first step in creating chaos abroad, which in this case might be directed towards triggering the bloody dissolution of Uzbekistan and creating a ‘plausibly deniable’ opening for Afghan-based “Tajik” jihadists to attack the country.
The Taliban-Daesh Dash For Turkmenistan
The constitutionally neutral state of Turkmenistan is ill-positioned to deal with a Daesh-like cross-border dash by the Taliban or any other Islamic terrorist group or temporary coalition thereof that seeks to charge across the flat and easily traversable desert territory to strike at the world’s fourth-largest gas reserves tantalizingly sitting within an hour or two’s drive from the border. The oasis conditions along Turkmenistan’s Murghab River, Karakum Canal, and the Amu Darya River that it shares with Uzbekistan could make for ideal blitzkrieg corridors for the terrorists and provide them with enough agricultural and water resources to burrow into their surroundings and begin setting up a Caliphate.
The North Afghan Buffer Zone
The Turkmen, Uzbek, and Tajik communities in northern Afghanistan could be supplied by their eponymous nation-state patrons to set up fortified buffer zones in their territory that would serve as a stopgap to any unexpected Taliban-Daesh surge northwards, though the three Central Asian states (and especially Uzbekistan & Tajikistan) might end up in a heated proxy competition with one another that eventually spills out into open warfare between them.
Uzbekistan’s “Reverse Crimea”
Totally exploiting the principle of national reunification that the Crimeans practiced in their historic referendum to rejoin Russia, a pro-American government in Uzbekistan might seek to engineer similar conditions for doing this with the neighboring Uzbek diasporas in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and/or Tajikistan, with the second one being the most likely target due to its structural, political, and geographic weakness in defending this territory. The whole point of this scheme would be to bait Russia into a quagmire out of the legal obligation that it has to defend its CSTO allies, with Moscow being put on the spot of being “damned if acts” (and gets dragged into a larger mess) and “damned if it doesn’t” (and undermines the trust that its allies have in it).
The NGO Plan For A “Reverse Crimea” In Kazakhstan
The US understands that one of the centerpieces of the emerging Multipolar World Order is the Russian-Kazakh Strategic Partnership and post-modern integration projects, but it sees a convincing opportunity to divide these two allies by having foreign NGOs provoke separatist feelings among the Russian population of northern Kazakhstan so as to produce a major crisis in relations between the two allies. Both sides would speak out against this plot and expose it for what it is, but the misled Russians in the borderland area might popularize “Moscow’s betrayal” of their interests and take up arms against the Kazakh state, thus putting Russia in the very uncomfortable position of having to watch what will predictably be marketed by the Western mainstream media as “Muslim Kazakh troops” killing “pro-democracy Orthodox Russians”, with this particular spin being used so as to incite anti-government resentment within Russia itself and primarily concentrated in the already opposition-prone Siberian region.
Kyrgyzstan’s Fratricidal Killfest
Kyrgyzstan is the weakest of all the Central Asian states in terms of its identity vulnerabilities, with the Fergana Valley portion of the country being inhabited by a large number of Uzbeks and thus susceptible to Tashkent or any nationalist rabble-rousing NGO’s irredentist influence. The country almost exploded in civil war the last time there was a Color Revolution in 2010, with the earlier one in 2005 foreshadowing the carnage that hit Kyrgyzstan only five years later. As the pattern shows, it might only take just one more regime change in order to push the country into all-out chaos, with, as the saying goes, “the third time being the charm”.
The Kush Caliphate
The mountainous border regions of southern Kyrgyzstan, eastern Tajikistan’s autonomous province of Gorno-Badakhstan, northeastern Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, and Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and even to an extent part of its Province of Gilgit-Baltistan are poorly policed and their respective national centers exercise minimal control over their affairs. Drug traffickers already move back and forth along these transnational passages, but if Islamic terrorists found an opening to do the same and began laying claim to some of the territory here, it would extremely difficult to dislodge them (especially in the winter months that cover around half of the year) and they might therefore be successful in setting up a Kush Caliphate. It might perhaps be for this reason which the author had warned about back in 2015 in an article for the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies that China recently announced the formation of a Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism earlier this month with Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Uzbekistan Turns Towards The US
If the government in Tashkent decided to “balance” against Russia’s restored influence in Central Asia and seek a ‘third-party’ means of retaining strategic independence from China by turning towards the US, then the centrally positioned state in the ‘heartland of the Heartland’ could endow Washington with a paramount geostrategic perch from which to indirectly disrupt regional integration processes via proxy. It cannot be overstated enough just how game-changing of a scenario it would be if Uzbekistan made a resolute and rapid decision to strategically align with the US, perhaps in the aftermath of an internal post-Karimov power struggle or a successful Color Revolution.
Indian And Iranian Influence Invades The Region
Iran is working very closely with India as part of the North-South Corridor, one branch of which is planned to run into Central Asia and lead to a strong stream of Indian commercial, political, and eventually one day military influence. India and Iran are coordinating their efforts through the Ashgabat Agreement that they, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan are all party to (including Oman, but it’s insignificant in this context), so there’s a multilateral agreed-upon foundation for having this happen. The large-scale influx of Indian goods will compete with Russia and Chinese economic influence in Central Asia, perhaps even pushing them out of certain industries or even entire markets, which would almost certainly exacerbate the Chinese-Indian Cold War and Moscow’s suspicions of New Delhi’s newfound partnership with Washington.
As for Tehran, it has grand dreams of reestablishing its historical footprint in the region, with its leaders and businessmen (and possibly even clerics) planning to ‘piggyback’ off of India’s infrastructural penetration there in order to advance their own self-interested agenda. With time, and if it turns out to be just as disruptive as its Indian partner, then Iran might eventually become a serious regional rival of Russia and China in the Eurasian Heartland. The coordinated synergy of the India-Iran axis might be enough to substantially challenge its Russia-China counterpart, which would then divide the multipolar world even further and work out to the divide-and-rule benefit of the US.
The Turkmen-Iranian Gas Alliance
Iran and Turkmenistan have the world’s largest and fourth largest gas reserves, though they haven’t yet entered into a workable alliance with one another owing to Iran’s international circumstances (e.g. “rogue state” reputation to the West and the anti-nuclear energy sanctions), but that might change now that Tehran is coming in from the cold with the West’s blessing. The prior speculative talk about an expensive and geopolitically unworkable trans-Caspian pipeline to Azerbaijan might be replaced with practical plans for Turkmen gas to hit the global markets by means of Iran, whether southwards through the pipeline to the LNG export terminal in Oman and/or westwards to Turkey for linkup with TANAP/TAP and the EU’s Southern Gas Corridor. Both scenarios would be devastating for Russia because they’d dramatically keep international gas prices at an unprecedented low and thus inflict long-term budgetary challenges for Moscow. It’s foreseeable that Russia would thus see any Iranian movement in this direction as a passively-aggressive hostile act that would harm the fragile and complicated relations between these two Great Powers.
By Andrew Korybko