The official end of the West’s military campaign in Afghanistan has been followed by the start of another mission in the country, which held presidential elections in 2014 but where the situation seems to be deteriorating ever faster. Other actors are becoming more visible and seem strong enough to shatter not only Afghanistan but also Central Asia’s inherently fragile states. At the same time, these countries and regional organizations may acquire a platform to join forces for the sake of peace and security in the aftermath of the Afghanistan war.
Recently, Russia, China and the Central Asian states have displayed increasing concern over Afghanistan since developments there directly affect regional security. The Afghan conundrum is so intricate that untangling it seems barely possible on a bilateral or even trilateral level, suggesting the need for pan-regional engagement.
Regional cooperation on Afghanistan has been discussed both by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), whose leaders, Russia and China, are political heavyweights that are in a position to unite regional forces for a future Afghanistan settlement. After the official end of the ISAF mission, Afghanistan’s recent trajectory is upsetting the regional political equilibrium. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan seem most vulnerable, especially in those areas closest to Afghanistan, which are plagued by narcotrafficking, illegal migration, and extremist activity focused on the post-Soviet space.
Due to poor governance  in almost all the Central Asian countries , interethnic tensions , economic problems, corruption, clan structures, an emasculated Western contingent is not likely to quash the threats of extremism and terrorism that emanate from Afghanistan.
Several Possible Lines of Regional Cooperation
First, in order to counter threats of terrorism, illegal migration, narco-trafficking and illicit arms trade posed by Afghanistan to the fragile Central Asian states’ stability, the CSTO, which boasts a Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF) and is conducting the Kanal and Nelegal operations, is in a position to both negotiate and act to resolve regional matters.
At their meeting in Dushanbe last April 2, CSTO foreign ministers discussed implementation of the CSTO Sochi summit resolution of September 23, 2013 “On Assistance to the Republic of Tajikistan for Strengthening the Tajik-Afghan Border”. The resolution specified support rendered in two stages, first upgrading Tajik border guards’ weaponry, providing them with special equipment and other hardware, and then boosting the development of border infrastructure, including through an intergovernmental targeted program.
Since Afghanistan is fundamentally instable, CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha is focused on stopping the extremists at the Afghan border – before they penetrate Central Asia.
Consequently, the CSTO foreign ministers' resolution covers military-technical emergency assistance to Tajik border guards on the Afghan frontier. Dushanbe also hosts Russian Military Base 201, which could be engaged in stabilization initiatives if the situation deteriorates and the Tajik government were to request support. In fact, the deployment of Base 201 has been extended until 2042 .
In mid-May some CRRF contingents were deployed to the Tajik-Afghan border for exercises that involved the participation of the CSTO Collective Air Force. Although presented as a snap readiness check, this clearly indicates that the environment is troubled, and the military is ready to support Dushanbe in its efforts to counter the threats posed by its southern neighbor.
Second, the SCO is acting under a protocol on cooperation with Afghanistan on countering extremism and separatism signed last May 29 by Deputy Foreign Minister Khalil Hekmat Karzai. Afghanistan would like to swap its SCO observer status for full membership, as not only Kabul but also Afghan society, especially young people, seem to support the move. On May 31, 2015, i.e. several weeks before the SCO summit in Ufa, Mazar-e-Sharif hosted a students’ rally in favor of joining the SCO, while President Ashraf Ghani took part in the recent SCO summit.
Crucially China, a major SCO player, spoke out in favor of continued talks between Kabul and the Taliban, even offering to mediate between the two parties, which carried particular resonance because Beijing has invested heavily in Afghan oil, copper and other projects but cannot commence its business activities there due to the general insecurity, especially if the situation in Xinjiang is taken into account.
Besides, the Ufa summit has set out the procedure for admitting India and Pakistan, which until recently were observers. If not revolutionary, the step is vitally important for security in the region and beyond because intra-SCO cooperation will unite Russia, China, India and Pakistan, all of which are nuclear powers. Moreover, India and Pakistan’s membership will definitely increase the SCO’s importance as far as economic and political dimensions are concerned.
Third, dialogue with NATO should be on the agenda, since Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has plans for the alliance to stay in Afghanistan after the expiration of the ISAF mission. Uzbekistan is no longer inside the CSTO, and in 2014 invited NATO to open its regional representation in Tashkent. This development may help advance dialogue with NATO and expand bilateral cooperation. Besides, the Uzbek city of Termez on the Afghan border still has a German airbase under an intergovernmental agreement.
Although the West is most likely to reject cooperation with Russia on Afghanistan because of the situation in Ukraine and will instead attempt to shore up stability alone, Russia and other countries in the region continue to face the same Afghanistan-related challenges, including drugs, illegal migration, infiltration of combatants into Central Asia, etc. after all the Western military and nonmilitary missions have concluded. Russia seems capable of ensuring security in border areas either via the CSTO platform or within other formats, for example the SCO. What appears to be of critical importance is that there is a degree of reciprocity on behalf of the West and regional organizations and states, because, in the absence of real interaction, all attempts to restore peace will be doomed to failure.
Meanwhile, NATO’s mission Resolute Support (13,199 servicemen from 42 countries) launched in January 2015 and is aimed at training the Afghan army and police to counter terrorist attacks and maintaining order on their own.
Brussels seems aware of the threats posed by Taliban and the self-declared ‘Islamic State’ (IS), as well as of the vulnerability and poor efficiency of Afghan security forces. NATO fears a repeat of the Iraq scenario, when after the eight-year-long military campaign, foreign forces had to reenter the country to help the Iraqis defend their territory.
In fact, IS is a powerful, well financed entity not a political organization. Historically funded in part by Qatar and other actors in the Arab world, it is trying to establish a state in the territory of other countries using al-Qaeda-esque methods, i.e. recruiting supporters, using intimidation, attacks, seizing cities, training combatants, propaganda through media, etc. It appears to have replaced al-Qaeda some time ago an omnipotent structure, and al-Qaeda has in many respects been sidelined, at least in terms of international headlines. In several years IS might follow suit and be replaced by another radical group with similar goals, but this by no means diminishes the very real need to counter the threat IS poses. The establishment of a new “Islamic state”, however radical or moderate, involves bureaucratic procedures, the creation of institutions and infrastructure, etc., while IS chiefly comprises soldiers of fortune who are good for war but less strong at establishing mechanisms of state governance. Hence, IS should be countered before the need arises to negotiate, as was the case with the Taliban, which remains intransigent. Although IS has not yet attempted to establish a practical dialogue, the international community should not delay the mobilization of resources to halt this organization. If IS attempts to engage in a dialogue, it would mean its movement onto the political stage, signaling its readiness to position itself as a political power. Its incoming financial flows appear solid, but global practice shows that unity of such organizations is relative. It may well split into a myriad of factions and cells (similar to the nodal existence of al-Qaeda) which can be countered by the world community, rather than a single entity.
Even a small foreign contingent on Afghan territory will deter both the Taliban and IS. A sharp rise in extremism in Central Asia seems unlikely any time soon, although individual attacks may be expected, posing grave risks of destabilization for the countries involved. Due to the poor governance in the post-Soviet space, Russia will also suffer from the aftereffects emanating from any disturbance on the borders with its Central Asian underbelly.
As of now, one way out appears to lie in SCO-based cooperation, military-technical assistance to former Soviet republics via the CSTO, and interaction with Western forces in Afghanistan in order to ensure a effective response to extremist provocation and to prevent terrorism spreading beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Moreover, the SCO and CSTO would only gain from making a joint statement on cooperation and assistance to Afghanistan. Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan enjoy membership in both organizations, which makes cooperation on Afghanistan much easier through the joint engagement of both mechanisms.
In a nutshell, coordination of CSTO and SCO efforts and the development of a joint strategy to counter Afghan threats would enormously enhance security in the region, while disunity would only fuel havoc.
 Presidential elections in Uzbekistan on March 29, 2015 essentially demonstrated the entrenched stability of the country as ruled by Islam Karimov during 25 years. Karimov has long taken a harsh stance on the opposition, ruthlessly suppressing any sort of radical Islamist groups that could threaten his position of power. However, this kind of stability can hardly be relied on in a post-Karimov future. The country may well plunge into a political-economic crisis, which would have the potential to wreak havoc on both Uzbekistan and its frail neighbors.
 Revolutions and regime change in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2010.
 Clashes in Aktau, Shelek, Fergana Valley, Osh, etc.
 The time limits for Base 201’s deployment in Dushanbe are specified in a 2012 agreement between the presidents of Russia and Tajikistan. http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/16605