Serious approach towards mission
It is noteworthy that both Russia and the USA, whose co-operation helped forge the current ceasefire in Syria, have repeatedly emphasised the Islamic State’s expansion beyond the Middle East as a matter of growing concern
It is noteworthy that both Russia and the USA, whose co-operation helped forge the current ceasefire in Syria, have repeatedly emphasised the Islamic State’s expansion beyond the Middle East as a matter of growing concern. Washington has been increasingly drawing attention to Libya, where the post-Gaddafi civil war created a safe haven and battleground for extremists and terrorists of all kinds. Meanwhile, Moscow has been underlining the growing IS threat in Afghanistan, since at least October 2015. By the end of 2015, Russia had entered into direct negotiations with the Taliban on the issue of countering IS in the region, sparking dissent in official Kabul.
As Russian warplanes were flying from Khmeimim airbase in Syria back to Russian territory, another formation (including Tu-95 strategic bombers) were directed towards Tajikistan to take part in major drills along the border with Afghanistan.
Bilateral joint exercises aim to hone the two countries’ military activities, in readiness for a jihadist offensive from Afghan territory northwards. For the first time in many years, drills have involved not just the 201st base regiment (permanently positioned in Tajikistan), but also troops from Russia’s Central Federal Command.
After all, IS manpower in Afghanistan, according to various assessments, does not exceed 3,000 fighters and its further expansion is contained by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, the Taliban remains a predominantly Pashto nationalist movement incapable of and unwilling to project force beyond Afghanistan’s northern borders.
The level of potential interstate tension in the region should not be underestimated. Beijing sees Central Asia as a region of vital interest, both for economic and security reasons. China’s huge investments in Central Asia aim at securing access to the region’s vast energy (and other) resources, as well as stabilising the area to prevent the spread of extremism to the mainland Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. China’s positioning, however, has met little enthusiasm from Russia, which sees the Central Asian CSTO countries as its sphere of exclusive interest. But unlike Beijing, Moscow is unable to invest considerable financial resources to boost region’s development.
Back in 2014, some Russian analysts and commentators underlined that the next Ukraine-like crisis in the Post-Soviet space would emerge in Central Asia. The situation is complicated by numerous religious and ethnic divides, as well as the often conflicting regional interests of Iran, the United States, Japan, India and Pakistan.
Amidst this mess, Belarus has become more involved in Central Asian affairs by appointing a new Ambassador to Tajikistan with concurrent accreditation to Afghanistan. Speaking to the appointee, President Alexander Lukashenko underlined the need for a serious approach. Although the emphasis was put on promoting economic co-operation, it is obvious that Minsk is preparing for a wider political role in regional diplomacy.