Three Central Asian states – Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – border the northern regions of Afghanistan, where ethnic groups of Tajiks, Turkmens and Uzbeks live. These countries have developed cultural, historical and commercial ties with each other and are interested in sustainable cross-border international relations.
The largest river in Central Asia, the Amu Darya originates in the Pamir and Hindu Kush high mountains in Tajikistan (Pamir River) and Afghanistan (Wakhan River) and flows over 1000 km along the Afghan border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. . Shared water and natural resources in the Amu Darya basin, the river’s function as a border, and joint transport and energy projects are important factors in the development of relations.
Central Asian countries have reacted differently to the change in the power structure and balance in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021. Initially, many relationships were severed and cooperation was temporarily suspended. Later, representatives of the new de facto authorities of the “Islamic Emirate” of Afghanistan visited Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and representatives of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan visited Kabul. Tajikistan refused to negotiate and did not recognize the new authorities in Afghanistan, while the Taliban-led government was not recognized internationally.
In the 1.5 years since the Taliban takeover, Central Asian countries have experienced no insecurity or refugee flows, but the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan in 2022-2023 remains dire and armed terrorist groups pose security risks. And the country’s isolation adds to the misery.
Afghanistan shares borders with six countries. Like the Central Asian states, Afghanistan’s other neighbors have ties and influence, particularly Pakistan, with whom it shares a 2,640-kilometer border, promoting trade and supporting Pashtun-speaking groups. Iran shares a 920-kilometer border with Afghanistan and is interested in the security and coordinated management of water resources in the Helmand River, the support of Farsi-speaking and Shiite groups, and energy ties. China has the shortest border with Afghanistan (75 km in the Wakhan Valley), but is actively developing ties and presence, including industrial projects.
In July 2022, an international conference on Afghanistan was held in Tashkent to discuss options, plans and assistance programs. In November 2022, the 10th “Herat Security Dialogue” was held in Dushanbe to discuss how to bring about an inclusive Afghan government. Central Asian countries continue to provide electricity, food and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
In addition to the security risks emanating from Afghanistan, the southern regions of Central Asia bordering Afghanistan are vulnerable to natural disasters and the impacts of a changing climate such as melting glaciers, landslides, floods, dust storms, droughts and locust attacks. In Afghanistan.
On top of the Afghan crisis, in 2022, the conflict in Ukraine affected Central Asia indirectly through rising food and rent prices, inflation, and job insecurity for migrant workers. Households in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan spend about half of their total income on food (according to data from the Statistics Agency of Uzbekistan and the Central Bank of Uzbekistan), making their poor people particularly vulnerable to inflation, energy crises and shocks. Climate change disasters.
Water is the most valuable natural resource in Central Asia, as much of the population and economy of the southern regions depend on irrigation. The main problem is the significant loss of water due to seepage and evaporation in canals. After irrigating the fields, the drainage runoff water either flows into deserts or rivers, causing mineralization and pollution of fresh water.
Irrigation-related water losses are high, many water canals and pipelines are in poor condition, while cold winters (including winter 2022-2023) demonstrate the increasing vulnerability of energy systems as populations and their demands grow.
In 2009-2010, under the Environment and Security (ENVSEC) Initiative, the OSCE participated in the ENVSEC assessment of the Amu Darya River, examining the region’s water challenges in the context of climate change, energy and food nexus.
In 2014-2016, jointly with international partners and Central Asian countries, the OSCE conducted an assessment of the relationship between climate change and security. The Tajik-Afghan and Turkmen-Afghan border regions – the southern regions of Central Asia – have been flagged as areas of concern. Here, according to expert judgments and climate change projections, already high temperatures will continue to rise, rainfall will decrease and extreme weather events such as droughts, dust storms and pest infestations may lead to food insecurity. Options for mitigating climate stress in the region are limited due to poor public awareness, lack of alternative sources of income and technologies, and limited access to water and energy in remote areas.
Mountainous areas are most vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters. This factor, the rapid melting of snow and glaciers due to climate warming, increases the risk of landslides and avalanches and increases the cost of repairing and maintaining socially and strategically important infrastructure: roads, power lines, water supply canals and pipelines.
These factors are compounded by risks arising from instability in Afghanistan, water in the Amu Darya basin, and difficulty in sharing weather and climate data and disaster warnings.
Other factors include ecologically and economically valuable resources, such as shared water resources, which include natural forests and pastures, migratory and endangered birds, fish, animals, medicinal plants, and crop wild relatives. There are several nature reserves, national parks and state forest reserves near the border to protect rare flora, fauna and ecosystems, and the Amu Darya River itself includes important floodplain forests (Tugai) and unique fish habitats. Rational use of nature and restoration of degraded forests and pastures can reduce poverty, generate additional sources of income for the population, and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. This paper makes specific recommendations.