Afghanistan and Pakistan are set to receive large boosts in US aid in the upcoming fiscal year, while the rest of Central Asia will see its already meager funding drop, according to Bush administration budget documents released February 5.
Aid to Afghanistan would total $1.07 billion in fiscal year 2008, up from $968 million from the current fiscal year. That includes an 18 percent increase in funding for counter-narcotics programs. It also allocates nearly $700 million for a variety of reconstruction initiatives, including the extension of road and electricity infrastructure and the expansion of Provincial Reconstruction teams, as well as for programs to assist the government in delivering basic services and in paying state employees in a timely manner.
Pakistan's aid would go up to $785 million from $499 million last year. Its package would include $300 million in military assistance, the same amount it has received the past several years. But Pakistan would get more money for economic programs, education reform, health care for women and children and democracy-building programs.
Funding for the five Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union, by contrast, will decline 24 percent compared to the amount of assistance allocated in fiscal year 2006. "Much of the decline comes in Uzbekistan, where the government has worked actively to limit US assistance related to reform, and in Kazakhstan, whose oil wealth lessens the need for our assistance," the State Department said in documents explaining the new budget. "Assistance is instead focused on the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, where there are opportunities to consolidate stability and promote democratization."
Nevertheless, the aid to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan remains very modest. "The rhetoric and the numbers are at odds with one another," said Martha Brill Olcott, senior associate with the Russian & Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Tajikistan is getting about $28.1 million in aid, up from $24.6 million in the 2006 budget. The money will go "to promote democratic and economic reform, fight infectious diseases, combat extremism, improve education, and strengthen Tajikistan's borders in the face of an increasing flow of illegal drugs from Afghanistan," the State Department said.
Kyrgyzstan is getting $26.5 million, a decrease of more than $5 million from two years ago, for similar programs. And Turkmenistan's funding remains steady at roughly $5.8 million. Aid to Turkmenistan could increase during the year if Washington determines that the new government is serious about reform, Olcott said. Turkmenistan is scheduled to hold a special presidential election February 11 to replace Saparmurat Niyazov, the dictator who died suddenly in late December. [For background see the Eurasia Insight].
"We're sending really tiny sums there [to Central Asia]," Olcott said. "The United States has had declining influence in the area and this isn't going to stop it [the decline]."
Olcott suggested the US strategy for assuring stability in Central Asia appeared to overly concentrate aid efforts on Afghanistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. "We're putting all our eggs in one basket and we're not doing a very good job in that basket," Olcott said.
Concerning the Caucasus, the United States is proposing to increase its military aid to Azerbaijan, while decreasing it to Armenia. The budget would include $4.3 million in military aid to Baku and $3 million to Yerevan, despite a law enacted by Congress that mandates equal financing to each country. Armenian organizations in the US protested the aid discrepancy. The Armenian Assembly of America called the budget "fundamentally flawed" and said that it would "undermine stability in the South Caucasus."
The Democrat-controlled Congress can amend the Bush budget before approving it, and the funding to Armenia in particular is likely to change. Economic aid to Armenia, however, dwarfs that to Azerbaijan. Armenia is set to get $95.6 million, while Azerbaijan would get $18 million under the current fiscal year 2008 budget.
Georgia is slated to get $50.5 million "to help consolidate [Tbilisi's] democratic and economic reforms, address rural poverty, increase the country's engagement with separatist regions, and decrease its energy dependence on Russia," the budget documents said. Georgia is also on track to get $67.6 million in the coming year from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which rewards good governance with targeted aid, and $10.8 million in military aid, a slight decrease from previous years.
The budget includes $75 million for a previously announced program for Iran "to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for a democratic and open society by promoting civil society, civic participation, media freedom and freedom of information," according to the State Department.
The State Department also manages the budgets for Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Those services plan to cut back broadcasts in Uzbek and Kazakh, as well as to implement previously proposed decreases in Georgian broadcasts. The services will focus more heavily on broadcasts in Arabic and those targeted to Venezuela and North Korea.
Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.