Pakistan -- with whom we still haven't agreed about resumption of the transit of non-lethal military goods to Afghanistan -- usually gets all the attention when people talk about the vulnerabilities around the US exit from Afghanistan.
But there's all of Central Asia, too.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Tajikistan's Foreign Minister today for talks in Washington.
Foreign Minister Zarifi is here in the US to attend the NATO summit next week in Chicago. None of the Central Asian presidents are coming -- hey, no need to bow and scrape. But they're invited because of how vital these countries are to the Northern Distribution Network, so they are at least sending their foreign ministers. And they should do that much, given that collectively, they get $500 million from the US for their right-of-a-way through their countries, and they should see this in some way as "their" war (but don't).
Why? Because Tajikistan is next to Afghanistan, and when we pull out our troops in 2014, what's going to blow, besides the thin veneer of urban secularism in Kabul holding back the Taliban? The Afghan border of Tajikistan, that's what, and that's of concern because Tajikistan is the poorest of the post-Soviet states and now racking up increasing incidents of terrorist attacks and the arrests and trials of extremist groups that seem to then fuel more terrorist attacks. Tajikistan is also next to Iran and shares the ancient Persian civilization.
It's a place where children still get polio -- surely a shortfall of the international community's care. although after 32 cases, the UN responded with another immunization program. If you have a poor childhood do you get to be a terrorist? No, of course not, and terrorists are often urban educated middle class people. But they develop a message that can be attractive to poor people who have no recourse. We don't know very much about the people in group trials of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Tajikistan and other Central Asian states.
It's a state from which a large part of the population leave for migrant work in Russia, where they are treated poorly (of the 50 or 60 or so migrant workers murdered in Russia in hate crimes every year, most are Tajiks). More than a quarter of the Tajik economy is made up of remittances from migrant laborer. Tajikistan weathered a civil war in which the largest number of journalists in the world were killed (about 50), after Algeria -- in the same pattern, by both the state and the Islamist militants).
Government nervousness about extremism is said in fact to have fueled unrest, some believe -- there's a tough new religion law that punishes even parents taking their children to the mosque. For the first time the US Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the State Department to give Tajikistan the desigation of "country of particular concern" for its deteriorating stae of religious rights.
I want to think a lot more about the hydraulic theory of terrorism that is so very, very common everywhere among human rights groups, think tanks, the government -- that is, that the very brutal tactics that the Central Asian governments use, or the US uses in the drone war and in counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism, are what create new rebels and terrorists. That's the operating conclusion and most find it to be true because indeed it does seem to follow a pattern. This is one of those debates people may have forever. Does the death penalty deter crime? No, it doesn't, crime increases. Did the death penalty at least remove that one murderer? Yes, but another sprang up in his place. And so on.
Certainly when you take a BBC reporter, charge him on suspicions of Islamic extremism merely because he reported on Hizb-ut-Tahir followers, beat him, throw him in jail, mistreat him for weeks, before finally letting him go after an international outcry, you haven't made a friend for life. Think of what we heard from the Pakistani lawyer discussing the claims of his clients who became victims of US drone attacks -- they become militarized because they have no redress. Why are people in Hizb-ut-Tahir? Because they have no sense of redress -- no place to go where their grievances are heard and addressed. Even doing part one of this proposition can go a long way to ameliorating distress in a population in dire straights, but even that part isn't done well when you tell people they can't take their children to a place of worship.
Whatever the dynamics, the US military seems sufficiently concerned to be trying to bolster Tajikistan now as a weak link in the exit strategy -- if the war spills over from Tajikistan into Afghanistan, or if it becomes a fuel pump for the revival of the civil war between a secular state and its supporters and Islamic groups, then the US is making more problems than it is solving by leaving.
Back in March, CentCom promised increased military aid to Tajikistan to buy equipment, Avesta reports:
Noting the "buffer" role of Tajikistan in the prevention and spreading the threats of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking, Mattis emphasized that the U.S. is going to provide the technical assistance to the border guards and other security and law enforcement agencies in Tajikistan.
As throughout the war in Afghanistan and other wars, there's a confusion and conflation between war-fighting and police work -- so here's U.S. Army Central Command James Mattis in Dushanbe, our top army guy for the region meeting President Rakhmon to give assurances about support for equipment of police to fight terrorism. So there's a war on terror, but it's fought with support, training and equipment to police (and not army, although presumably they are trained, too.)
The budget is $1.5 million for this year. That's not really very much. Although it's part of a full aid package of $19.1 million:
Tajikistan ($19.1 million): U.S. assistance is focused on ensuring the stability of Tajikistan,
particularly in light of the military drawdown in Afghanistan. Programs will seek to strengthen local governance and improve education. Funding will also be used to increase food security by seeking to solve systemic problems that contribute to food shortages such as inequitable access to water, inadequate supplies of seeds and fertilizer, a lack of modern technologies, and poor farm practices.
What is training and bolstering and what does it accomplish? It's not like people who fought a civil war for six years killing tens of thousands need to learn how to fight. Presumably they need to learn how to fight more professionally and...democratically...or something
I keep seeing the images so vividly relayed by Kim Barker in the Taliban Shuffle, the trainees waving their guns around and shooting in the air and shooting themselves in the foot by accident -- and then grimly, the incidents where the trained Afghan army then shoots US soldiers. Why? Is that, er, poor training? Or is resentment building over things like the accidental Koran burning? Or was it that they were never really on our side to start with? Or are they set up by other forces in Pakistan intelligence? Or what's the deal?
At least -- if I've read this correctly -- we're giving the Tajiks nearly as much for health ($1.2 million) as we are in military aid, and that's good news.
Open Society Institute complained two years ago that the US gives more in military aid to Central Asia than it does for democracy programs. I'm the first to complain about state-tropic baggy USAID programs and don't confuse them with more effective NED or Freedom House programs that are more directly useful in helping civil society groups. Except that these organizations are expelled from most of the Central Asian countries and their grantees sometimes wind up in jail and it's actually hard to spend civil society grant money in this area of the world because of the Zen of foundation work: if it were the kind of place where you could give money easily to good causes, it wouldn't need your help.
I think it would be worth going over the budgets again and looking at the non-military but non-democdracy aid that is related to health, labor, women, etc. that may be of significant help to this poor country -- unless of course it's all being siphoned into the president's relatives pockets or something.