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America’s War with Itself in Central Asia

WASHINGTON, DC – In its decade-long slog to secure Afghanistan, the United States has juggled contradictory foreign policies in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the fragile Central Asian states with key supporting roles in the war. There’s the policy of engaging the two post-Soviet states for their own sake, promoting good governance, human rights, and business ties – the usual grab-bag of US diplomacy. Then there’s the policy of using them as logistical hubs in the Afghanistan war.

Unfortunately, the two policies have often worked at cross purposes, diminishing America’s long-term influence in the region and at times hurting its ability to conduct the war. And, as the US pours more troops and money into Afghanistan, military expediency is once again trumping other policy goals in Central Asia.

In some ways, that is understandable: the US has a war to wage on a tight, self-imposed deadline. Fuzzy, feel-good projects to foster human rights and good governance in an obscure region next-door must wait.

But that view fails to comprehend that a weakened, corrupt, and abusive Central Asia is not in America’s interest, or in Afghanistan’s for that matter. In Pakistan, the Afghan government already has a big, splintered, and nearly ungovernable neighbor. A more sensible approach is to balance America’s real and pressing security needs in Afghanistan with a more wholesome policy in Central Asia.