After apparently losing Kyrgyzstan in a bidding war with Moscow, the US has established new supply lines to Afghanistan with two other former Soviet republics. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have agreed to allow NATO to transit troops and materiel into the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda:
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will allow the transit by land of non-military NATO cargo to Afghanistan, a U.S. commander said on Friday, as Washington seeks alternative supply routes for its troops there.
Rear Admiral Mark Harnitchek of the U.S. Transportation Command said the United States planned to send 50 to 200 containers a week to Afghanistan through the two countries.
The announcement follows a decision by pro-Moscow Kyrgyzstan to close the only U.S. air base in Central Asia, accusing Washington of refusing to pay more rent for the base.
It sent a formal notice to the U.S. ambassador in the capital Bishkek on Friday, giving U.S. troops 180 days to leave.
The Obama administration says that they can still work out a deal with Bishkek on Manas AFB, but the new deal suggests that they know they’ve lost out to Vladimir Putin. Kyrgyz PM Bakiyev announced the Russian partnership over two weeks ago, and it appears that the US did nothing to outbid Moscow for the transit rights. The Kyrgyz parliament voted two days ago to evict the US, with its members openly complaining that they had to take the best deal offered — and that the US hadn’t bothered to bid.
The routes through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan might be better, as long as they last, but they will be more problematic. There is some unrest among Uzbeks anyway, with an Islamist militancy providing most of the trouble — which certainly will not welcome a US or NATO presence. The Uzbeks have an economic alliance with Putin as well, and have at one time frozen assets of American corporations, accusing them of tax fraud. The Uzbeks seem rather unsteady allies for supply lines of significance.
Tajikistan is better story. It has a more stable democracy, less internal strife, and already has reached out to NATO in the latter’s Partnership for Peace program. They want to look West rather than East. They have more poverty than the other independent republics in the area and have already proven welcoming of Western investment. However, as a map indicates, they are dominated by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China on its borders. If the Uzbeks suspend overflight privileges, the Tajik assistance won’t be worth much.
And that’s their positions today. As we speak, I imagine that Putin has already called Tashkent and Dushanbe to have a word with the heads of state on how he can outbid the Obama administration. As the past couple of weeks have shown, he won’t be bluffing.