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The battle for Central Asia


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Central Asia is an area that is often unreported in the media. The countries of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are probably among the least known countries in the world.

At the moment however itis within these countries which the major powers are vying for influence: Russia, China and the United States.

This is the view of former Indian ambassador M K Bhadrakumar, whose article ‘A playboy for the Pamirs’ in the Asia Times.

In Tajikistan there was an outbreak of public protest which demanded that the government honour a truce between government forces and Islamic fighters in Gorno-Badakhshan. The protest began last Thursday and by Saturday the Tajik government acquiesced to their demands.

How important is this? Well according to Bhadrakumar Tajikistan is slowly declining into a ‘failed state.’

He says: "In a longer term, questions marks are indeed appearing about Tajikistan's stability and viability as a nation state. 

"There has been an all-round failure of governance and against the overall backdrop of Tajikistan's steady decline as a 'failed state.' Separatist sentiment could well rear its head in Gorno-Badakhshan, which is an isolated, impoverished region of rugged mountains several hundred kilometres from Dushanbe with a sparse population of a quarter of a million people only, but comprises 44% of the country's land mass and connected to the rest of the country by a solitary highway."

Tajikistan has long been within the Russian sphere (being a former member of the Soviet Union), however relations have soured of late, now China and the United States have moved in. China because Tajikistan has large mineral deposits including an estimated 60,000 tons of silver ore, as well as coal and rare metals like strontium. The United States on the other hand sees Tajikistan as part of their new anti-China strategy.

Tajik problems also bring in Uzbekistan as it has a large ethnic Uzbek population. According to Bhadrakumar: "Dushanbe has all along suspected Tashkent as covertly fueling the Uzbek separatist sentiments."

Uzbekistan, despite being ranked as the fifth most corrupt country in the world and having a woeful human rights record, is a long time US ally. Last December restrictions on military aid were removed by Congress, whilst Hilary Clinton claimed that there was ‘progress’ on the human rights front in Uzbekistan. She is visiting both countries in October.

This scramble is not just confined to Central Asia. The US and China have also been vying for control of Africa in different ways. The US through covert wars and China through economic domination (two excellent pieces on this subject are by Nick Turse for TomDispatch and Brendan O’Reilly for the Asia Times).

As the US attempts to intimidate China with its ‘pivot to Asia’ is there a possibility of conflict between the world’s military superpower and economic superpower?

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