At a closed-door, high-level gathering in Paris in 2008, the United Nations’ special representative to Afghanistan urged ministers from Eurasia, the Middle East, and South Asia to jointly tackle common security challenges and identify achievable projects to assist Afghanistan and improve the security of the broader region. Officials from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan enthusiastically proposed a series of win-win projects and resolved to work together to fight the drug trade, share intelligence to combat terrorism, and build roads, rails, pipelines, and bridges to Afghanistan.
After the conference, Central Asian officials did a unilateral about-face. The Uzbek ambassador publically complained about Afghanistan’s “narco-aggression.” Tajik officials expressed continued willingness to help Afghanistan so long as that meant that the international community would fund bridges, electric grids, dams, and roads in Tajikistan. Since the Paris gathering, Afghanistan has further deteriorated and the Central Asian states are arguably no more and no less cooperative when it comes to so-called “win-win” regional projects.
A good look at such regional initiatives demonstrates modest returns on donor investment. Indeed, these returns are overshadowed by Central Asian governments’ resilient resistance to cooperating with one another even in the face of mutual security threats. The particular interests of Central Asian regimes largely drive how security assistance is absorbed, channeled, and used. Officials in Central Asian capitals have managed to secure funding and participate in hot-button regional security initiatives while maintaining mistrust and severe cooperation deficits with one another.
It is time for international stakeholders to rethink their approach to security assistance to Central Asia. This policy memo briefly discusses the status and stakes behind internationally-sponsored initiatives in Central Asia on counter-terrorism, trafficking, and Afghanistan’s recovery and proposes ways to retool policy for more effective results. It suggests ways to better coordinate and implement international security assistance. More importantly, it argues that security-sector aid should be diverted to the Central Asian governments most likely to put it to good use. […]