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Looking Ahead to 2014: The OSCE’s Role in Central Asia and with regard to Afghanistan

Stephanie Liechtenstein
Analysis 18 March 2013

On 12 March, the OSCE held a “Security Day” meeting devoted to the international community’s engagement with Afghanistan and Central Asia, with a special focus on the OSCE’s role in the region. The meeting brought together a wide range of representatives of participating States as well as participants from international organizations and academic institutions. Afghanistan and all Central Asian states were represented at the meeting, except for Uzbekistan. The one-day meeting discussed the views of international organizations and academic institutions on the region’s emerging trends and challenges as well as Central Asian and Afghan perspectives. Although the meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule, discussions unfortunately remained relatively formal with speakers keeping mainly to their prepared speeches. However, a number of good suggestions were made that will be summarized here.

There is wide recognition that the security of Afghanistan is interconnected with the security of Central Asia and the wider region. This viewpoint was reflected by the initiation of the so-called Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for a Secure and Stable Afghanistan, adopted in November 2011 at the Istanbul Conference on Afghanistan. The declaration was agreed to by Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates. In this declaration, the states recognized “Afghanistan’s role as the land bridge in the ‘Heart of Asia’, connecting South Asia, Central Asia, Eurasia and the Middle East […].” This recognition makes the region of Central Asia ever more important and puts the OSCE at the forefront, given the Organization’s presence on the ground since the beginning of the 1990s.

The discussion also revolved around the different scenarios that could emerge post-2014. A number of participants provided a positive outlook; others painted more negative scenarios. The NATO Chicago Summit in May 2012 endorsed a timetable for withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan. Full handover of command to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is planned for mid-2013. From this point onwards, the NATO-led ISAF force will shift from a combat to a support role, focusing on advising and training ANSF before withdrawing most of its troops by the end of 2014 (an estimated 8000 to 12000 troops will probably remain in Afghanistan post-2014 with a supporting and advisory function). The international community cannot and should not drop Afghanistan overnight. By the end of 2014, a clear division of tasks among international organizations should exist as to the different areas of support. Pledges made at the 2012 Chicago and Tokyo conferences go beyond 2014 and send a strong message regarding the international community’s long-term commitment.

Another major topic at the meeting was the specific role that the OSCE plays in the region and what future tasks the Organization could take on. Afghanistan became an OSCE Partner for Cooperation in 2003. Given the fact that Afghanistan is not an OSCE participating State, OSCE activities cannot take place on the territory of Afghanistan but only within the OSCE region; that is on the territory of an OSCE participating State. In 2007, voices within the OSCE community (especially that of the United States) became louder, requesting a stronger engagement by the OSCE in Afghanistan. Consultations were held among participating States, the OSCE Secretary General and OSCE executive structures. As a result, the OSCE Ministerial Council adopted decisions on Afghanistan in 2007 (MC.DEC/4/11) and again in 2011 (MC.DEC/4/11), expressing, inter alia, the commitment to include Afghanistan in existing and relevant projects.

Among the most important projects is the OSCE’s Border Management Staff College (BMSC), established in Dushanbe in 2009 to provide training to senior border officials from OSCE participating States and recently also from Afghanistan. In addition, the OSCE’s Patrol Programming and Leadership Project provides training to border troops from Tajikistan but also from Afghanistan.

OSCE police training activities are also important to mention in this regard. The OSCE provides training to police on a number of issues, especially on countering terrorism and organized crime. In this context, one participant suggested the establishment of an OSCE Center for Police Experts in the Central Asian region to coordinate all police related activities. Border and police training are of special importance in the fight against drug trafficking from Afghanistan and should therefore be further enhanced in the future.

Another participant suggested making better use of the OSCE Academy in Bishkek and introducing a special research focus at the Academy on Afghanistan. Given the many different Afghanistan-related OSCE projects and the fact that the international community will have to continue its engagement in the country post-2014, one participant suggested creating the post of a Special OSCE Coordinator on Afghanistan. This is of course politically difficult, given the fact that Afghanistan is not an OSCE participating State (see above).

Finally, the planned presidential elections for April 2014 will be a test for Afghanistan and will give the international community a better idea of whether Afghanistan will be able to deal with the security situation after the withdrawal of the foreign troops at the end of 2014. Building on ODIHR’s past experience in Afghanistan (the Office deployed Election Support Teams to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010), it is essential that ODIHR again offers its assistance during the elections.

Finally, a word should be said about the conduct of meetings, such as the OSCE Security Day. Although it is important to hold thematic meetings that include all relevant players, it would be advisable in the future to reduce the number of participants, as this usually also helps to focus the debate and motivates people to speak more freely. This could also help to generate concrete suggestions as to how cooperation among international organizations in the region can be improved. “Increasing cooperation” and “avoiding duplication” are buzzwords that can be heard at many conferences, but very rarely are there any concrete suggestions as to how this can be achieved.

To view the webpage of the 2013 OSCE Security Day, click here.

To view the 2007 OSCE Ministerial Council decision on Afghanistan, click here.

To view the 2011 OSCE Ministerial Council decision on Afghanistan, click here.

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