(P20)(Jazeeera)The Dynamics of Relations in Central Asia: Security Threats and Economic Promises

June 4, 2021

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Central Asia: a well-established position, however! 

From the perspective of global politics, Central Asia has established itself as a region with very important geopolitical dimensions, and it needs some strategic adjustments to achieve the desired goal of creating a stable continental balance. The magic of seizing the riches of the Caspian Sea from natural resources prompted the US administration to expand its influence in Central Asia, exposing this region to a wide global confrontation between the United States and Russia. On the other hand, the “terrorist groups” that formed internally as well as the terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan could add fuel to the fire of the volatile and fragile situation of the regime in the Central Asian region. 

After the so-called defeat of the Islamic State in the Middle East, the group had no choice but to search for a new base for its so-called caliphate. In this sense, it has already set foot in the province of Khorasan. Therefore, security officials in Moscow and Central Asian countries are concerned that the Islamic State will use Afghanistan as a staging ground for its penetration into the Central Asian region. This concern became more realistic after the Islamic Movement in Uzbekistan announced its alliance with the Islamic State. 

Challenges Facing Economic Security 

Central Asia has countless natural resources, from minerals to gas to oil. But since its independence, doubt and fear have dominated the survival and economic future of this region. Also, the socio-economic future of Central Asia depends largely on regional integration and the geopolitical role that China plays in that region (1) . 

The region appears to be a fulcrum for the geopolitical ambitions of China and the United States separately, and this makes the challenge of predicting what this region will look like in the future very difficult. The growing economic role of China in Central Asia since the early 2000s is not surprising given their geographical proximity. If China can establish itself as a protector of prosperity and economic development through its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank ( AIIB ) and the New Silk Road Initiative ( OBOR ), then conditions can improve in the volatile Central Asian region, especially as both aim to Strengthening the domestic economy of Central Asian countries and keeping them out of Moscow’s orbit (2) . 

For Central Asia, lower oil prices as well as slower economic growth will reveal the structural flaws inherent in the economies of that region. Therefore, the gloomy economic outlook has caused the currency to fluctuate and led to the implementation of measures to reduce public spending, in addition to the resulting unemployment among youth groups, and all of this could eventually lead to a wide political schism across the countries of the region (3) . 

According to the strategy of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program 2030 ( CAREC ), the Central Asian region can make the most of its enormous potential by connecting people, and adopting sound economic projects and policies. Moreover, strengthening cooperation areas in areas such as energy, transport facilitation and trade can also put the entire region on the path of recovery. While the lack of cooperation in areas such as agriculture and water resources are among the major challenges hindering regional economic development (4) . On the general level, the security situation in Afghanistan has made economic channels in the region vulnerable to threat; Thus Central Asia’s trade relations with South Asia remained suboptimal, at least in the first twenty-five years of its independence (5). Without stability in Afghanistan, the entire region may be unable to implement its vital project of integration in a serious and meaningful manner (6) . 

Since most of the Central Asian countries have contributed to the establishment of regional organizations, the stability and security of these countries can directly affect the path towards integration and economic cooperation. Moreover, the future prospects for achieving international and regional cooperation in Central Asia will depend on the extent of interdependence of interests (7) . 

However, each of the Central Asian countries seeks to achieve the ambition of achieving integration with other regional countries, but a popular survey conducted by Kazakhstan shows that these countries do not consider each other as the main economic and political partner (8) . 

At the same time, China is actively seeking to expand its economic influence, and the war with neighboring Afghanistan puts vital economic arteries under constant threat.


Due to the developing geopolitical role and interest of China, the pace of Chinese investments and its trade relations with Central Asian countries has witnessed a remarkable positive transformation. The volume of trade exchange between them in 2010 amounted to about twenty-eight billion dollars, while it did not exceed one billion dollars previously. On the other hand, given Russia’s internal economic challenges, its economic involvement in the region amounted to about fifteen billion dollars in 2010. Some Central Asian countries view China’s ambitious economic plans in Central Asia as an opportune moment to diversify their energy export routes. On the other hand, since Beijing has since relied on seaborne imports to fuel its economy, one of the strategic reasons behind China’s construction of a regional infrastructure is to make power lines within its security orbit and reduce its dependence on the seas for energy imports (9) .

In pursuit of its economic goals, China is on its way to replacing its export-led economic model with a consumption-based economic model. This in itself will fundamentally change the dynamics of China’s relations around the world. In order to satisfy its domestic economy, China will expand the areas of its relations and cooperation with Central Asian countries, where natural resources are abundantly available (10) . 

Simultaneously, China is turning back towards the East, and Central Asia is the only economic center that, if stable, will be crowned by turning the “Asian dream” into a tangible reality. The economic stability as well as the sustainability of the entire Asian architecture project depends mainly on the existence of the Central Asian region free of tension or unrest. At the same time, Israel and some Arab countries are aiming to expand their relations with Central Asia in order to enhance their economic interests, by targeting what the Chinese call the “Century Project” (11) . 

The Central Asian region enjoys significant interconnections in improving trade and energy relations across the Asian continent and beyond. The growing obsession of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan with their combined economic interests with Central Asia is evidence of the fact that this region is not only a land passage to China, but to the entire Indian subcontinent. Therefore, refocusing global attention on communication and transportation across the Caspian Sea and the consequent security issues have become important areas that gain significant weight for this region (12) . 

The geopolitical position of the Central Asian region offers many opportunities. The global economic drive of China, as well as the transformation of the economic superpower to the East, are unprecedented opportunities and centered on the heart of this region. Using economic logic when exploiting these opportunities can be a win-win situation for all parties involved, which in the end will bring about shared prosperity. 

Security Challenges 

The importance of the Central Asian region in world politics was historically recognized by the researcher and political theorist “Halford Mackinder”, when he considered that the Central Asian region bears important geopolitical dimensions, and that benign leadership with a vision can exploit this to create a sustainable continental balance. In spite of that, if the region turns into a chessboard over which powers are battling to extend global influence and sovereignty, the region may fall into eternal chaos (13) . 

In light of the recent global developments, the Central Asian region is in the process of transformation and facing common security challenges. The security, economic and geopolitical challenges in the region are interrelated and intertwined, and therefore, they need joint and simultaneous solutions (14) . 

The abundance of rich energy resources in the Central Asian region, its geopolitical position as well as the threat of international terrorism and joint international trade, in addition to the Afghan conflict; All are factors that tempt the powerful forces to compete in the region. Some experts interpret the US interest or commitment to Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region as a strategic attempt by Washington to contain and counter Russian ambitions. This sparked a kind of paranoia in the Kremlin and the capitals of Central Asia (15) . 

Internally, the homegrown terrorist organizations are tantamount to adding fuel to the fire by increasing the fragility of the Central Asian regime; In the last two decades, both the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan ( IMU ) and the Islamic Jihad Union ( IJU ) have grown in size and number and their ideology has become more radical due to their close association with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Both groups (the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union) pose a serious threat to the security and stability of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (16) . 

Above all, terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan also pose a threat to the security of Central Asia. This phenomenon, which has spread across the borders of Afghanistan to Central Asia, remains largely speculative, but instead of pooling political and strategic resources together to resolve the Afghan conflict and thus restore stability to the entire region, each individual country proposes and even supports a different solution for the future of Afghanistan. This in itself increases the complexities of the political challenges facing the countries of the region as a whole (17) . 

Mostly, the violence in Central Asia stems from the instability of governments under authoritarian and corrupt dictatorships. This increases the magnitude of the threats directed both from the home front and from within the neighboring country, Afghanistan. The strengthening of security in Central Asia, in turn, will restore stability to northern Afghanistan and will also stop the movement of drug trafficking from Afghanistan (18) . 

At a time when the West has exploited its influence, as historically established, to invade areas that are politically palatable, and to consolidate its control and rule over them economically, one of the unique features of China’s foreign policy is that it is drawing an economic blueprint for resource-rich countries in order to pave the way for the emergence of a good political system Intention. Central Asia enjoys a strategic location between two competing superpowers: Russia and China, although the latter has outperformed the former in terms of economic aspects (19) . 

Against the backdrop of this rivalry, the people of Central Asia are concerned about the ability of their governments to withdraw from these geopolitical shackles (20) . Repressive regimes, divergent political views on confronting security challenges as well as the rampant internal terrorism and its networks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, in addition to the complexities of Chinese influence are the most prominent security challenges in the Central Asian region. This has caused the Central Asian region to turn into a fertile ground for the growth of terrorist networks, which can easily establish themselves on the territory of the region