On Tuesday, President Obama announced plans to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 until withdrawal in 2016. He made these remarks in preparation for a major speech to be delivered today on the recalibration of American foreign policy and countering criticism. Ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan, he argued, will give the US more flexibility to respond to terrorism threats from extremist groups, mentioning specifically the Middle East and North Africa. This plan, however, still hinges on the next Afghan president’s signing the Bilateral Security Agreement, which has a long and tortured history with outgoing President Hamid Karzai. Both frontrunners Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have publicly stated that they will sign the BSA if elected, a hopeful sign for US interests. Karzai had refused to sign the BSA out of principle and was confronted several times by General Martin Dempsey, and Ambassador Jim Cunningham over his decision which has strained relations between the two parties to the breaking point.
With the runoff election scheduled next month, and the swearing in of the new president expected later in the summer, this leaves a reasonable amount of time for the administration’s foreign policy team to seal an agreement with the president-elect. Presidents Obama and Karzai agreed on this, according to statements from the White House, yesterday – although recent behavior suggests that relations between the two are still remarkably strained with Karzai not meeting Obama at Bagram Air Base for his visit to the troops over Memorial Day.
Compared to the 23,000 NATO troops currently in Afghanistan, the 9,800 offered by the President still represents a significant draw down. Many critics point to the spillover of violence to nearby groups such as the IMU in Uzbekistan or drug trafficking in Tajikistan and the necessity of US troops staying in Afghanistan to hold the country and potentially the region together.
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- Violence along the Turkmen-Afghan border culminated in the death of three Turkmen border guards. The killings have been attributed to Afghan insurgents operating along the border, and are presumed to have wandered into Turkmen territory, where the shootings took place. Turkmenistan has yet to comment on the incident, though Afghan authorities have confirmed the shooting.
- A column in China Daily comments on the Chinese government’s purported stance with regards to its troubled western province of Xinjiang. Labeling the area a “lasting priority,” the report posits that the Chinese government will seek to develop the region with the hopes of making it more egalitarian. These reports belie what appears to be the reality of the situation, as violence, mass arrests and ambiguous anti-terror laws. Dissent in the region shows no sign of lessening, and separatist groups have stepped up efforts to make known what they allege is preferential treatment doled out to ethnic Han Chinese. The Chinese government has answered these accusations with a statement affirming that their policies towards the region are “completely right.”
- Ukraine and the EU have come to terms on a gas deal that would save Kiev from defaulting on its loans to Russia-based gas giant Gazprom, and thereby prevent gas cutoffs. The terms of the deal indicate that Ukraine’s state-run energy company NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy will pay Gazprom $2 billion by the end of this month, and an additional $500 million by the end of the first week in June. The deal is expected to ally fears on both sides of the Ukraine-Russia border, though could be little more than a temporary fix for a lasting issue.
- The Uzbek region of Dzizak, a special area that the country has labeled its “industrial zone,” has garnered interest from foreign countries, most notably China, that are interested in implementing their own textile factories in the region. Chinese investors have already invested in six separate projects in Uzbekistan which will allow for the manufacturing of up to 30 million square meters of cotton fabrics per year.