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James Appathurai, the NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy, on how Central Asian partnerships relate to the Afghanistan mission

16 March 2012

http://www.atlantic-community.org of 3/16/2012      

Question: How does cooperation with NATO contribute to security and stability in Central Asia? What is the proper role for the Alliance in that region?

James Appathurai: It's a good question, and coming from Russia an even better question. Because there are many who look at Central Asia as a sort of battleground between the West and Russia. An area in which we are competing for influence. And I would quite strongly reject that analogy or that assessment.

We have common interests in Central Asia. And I mean common with the Central Asian countries and NATO, and common between all three if we include Russia as well. And I could list them for you.

First, is stability in Afghanistan. It is vital for all of us that Afghanistan does not once again begin exporting terrorism, extremism, or continue to export drugs, which of course hit Russia but hit all of us as well. So we have an interest in stabilizing Afghanistan, shared by all of us. And the best way to do that is to cooperate. We do that. NATO, Russia, and Central Asia for example train together our counter narcotic officials, particularly Central Asian, Afghan but also now Pakistani. Russia plays a very important role in this joint project with NATO allies. And it works very well. It's not solving the drug problem, and we're doing our best to help that to happen. But it is at least helping to mitigate, to restrain the flow of drugs out of Afghanistan.

But we have a larger interest in cooperation with Central Asia. And that is to help the Central Asian countries reach their full potential. Including as transit areas for trade, as production and transit areas for energy. That's a mutual interest for everybody.

And finally, let me also say that the Allies do encourage the process that was put in place recently in Istanbul and in Bonn, and that is to promote economic cooperation between the Central Asian countries, and Afghanistan, and other regional parties.

In the end, the strongest incentive for peace and stability in Afghanistan will be economic cooperation and interdependence. Look at the EU. The EU is the ultimate example of how economic interdependence breeds cooperation and peace. So we're very happy to see that the Central Asians are embracing this concept through the processes that I have mentioned, and NATO will be there. I am committed to this, not only personally, but professionally as NATO's Special Representative to Central Asia.

Question: Should Central Asian states do more to bring about stability to Afghanistan? Should their role increase after the Alliance's withdrawal?

James Appathurai: I sort of addressed this in the last question. But let me make another couple of points. The Central Asian countries are concerned that when 2014 arrives and the Alliance has a much smaller and different presence in Afghanistan, that they will be left with a problem or a growing problem of instability, and terrorism, and extremism, and drugs.

So it's very important that the Alliance is clear with them, including me, that we will have a presence beyond the end of the combat mission. That we are committed for the long term to Afghanistan's stability. And committed not just rhetorically or politically, we will have people on the ground doing work to help the Afghans stabilize their own country.

But we will also work with the Central Asian countries so that they can protect themselves better, fight against and defend against these many threats. So we're going to offer them more consultation, more exercises, more joint training to help them beef up their own capacity to handle these problems. And in doing that, we want to create a situation where the Central Asian countries can engage productively with Afghanistan, and they are trying to do that to help Afghanistan find its own feet. We don't want to return to a situation that we hand in the past where, for reasons of insecurity, individual nations of the region took individual approaches to Afghanistan, which didn't do anybody in the end any good.