Monday, May 21, 2012 -
Central Asian states look to be critically strategic in the gradual withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan, considering the decisions reached by foreign delegates at the NATO summit in Chicago on Monday.
The summit officially agreed upon a U.S.-supported plan for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force to withdraw by 2014 and hand over full combat command to Afghanistan’s military by the middle of 2013.
However, the issue of supply routes into and out of Afghanistan has yet to be resolved.
NATO diplomats speaking with the Reuters news agency said the aim is now to sign a deal with Uzbekistan to allow “reverse transit” of ISAF troops and materiel.
“Countries in the region should also help our efforts for taking people back, together with the materials and other equipment,” Turkey’s NATO liaison Mehmet Fatih Ceylan told Reuters.
“It’s a big challenge...and this is a new dimension people are focusing on now – how to take them safe and secure back home.”
ISAF forces had been heavily reliant on routes in Pakistan. But after a U.S. drone attack accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011, Pakistan abruptly closed routes to NATO partners, forcing ISAF to reroute imports and exports through Uzbekistan and other regional states.
The country is also severely increasing fees for allowing goods and individuals to pass through Pakistan by 2000 percent (to $5,000 a truck), a move met with consternation by U.S. President Barack Obama since the U.S. already provides Pakistan with a significant aid package.
No Central Asian leader is in attendance at the NATO summit, though all had been invited. Foreign ministers from each of the states attended the summit instead. U.S. Defense Minister Leon Panetta was expected to meet with representatives from each Central Asian state to underline the importance of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN).
Summit participants, which included leaders from 28 NATO member states, are unsure however that Afghanistan’s security forces will be able to contain the Taliban.
“It is unrealistic to assume that Afghanistan is going to be completely secure and there is no possibility of a terrorist threat re-emerging,” Reuters quoted a senior British official as saying.