While hostilities between the United States and the Taliban could rock Tajikistan and other states bordering Afghanistan, Kazakhstan faces more muted challenges arising from the US-led anti-terrorism campaign. Kazakhstan shares no border with Afghanistan, which the Taliban militia largely controls, but President Nursultan Nazarbayev nonetheless announced on September 24 that he would "positively" receive US requests for use of its airspace.
Nazarbayev's statement indicates that Kazakhstan is keen to maintain good relations with the United States. Unlike Uzbekistan, which does border Afghanistan and which is not a member of the CIS Security Treaty, Kazakhstan is not allowed under its treaty obligations to host US or NATO forces on its territory without prior consultations with Russia and other member states.
Russia has evidently blessed Kazakhstan's outspoken support for a US military offensive against Afghanistan. After talks with Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo on September 18, Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov declared Kazakhstan ready for "the strongest possible cooperation with the US and the world community in combating international terrorism," according to Interfax.
But not all Kazakhs are enthusiastic about the potential use of force against the Taliban. Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Kairat Abuseitov, speaking at the international conference "Cooperation for Providing Security in Central Asia" in Almaty on September 20, stated that the government stands by previous suggestions to solve the Afghanistan problem through negotiations between the opposing parties under UN auspices. Abuseitov emphasized that toughening actions against the Taliban would negatively reflect on the negotiation process. And some citizens appear determined to wait things out. The influential magazine Novoye Pokolenye recently ran an editorial titled "This is Not Our War."
A primary concern for many Kazakhs is that large-scale military operations against Afghanistan will create a refugee crisis. Kazakhstan's infrastructure is unable to accommodate a large influx of refugees.
The Novoye Pokolenye editorial said that, leaving aside the other uncertainties and tragedies of war, US military action could end up destabilizing Kazakhstan. Roughly 200,000 ethnic Kazakhs now live in Afghanistan. If they seek refuge from a war at home, the country could find itself contending with sharp increases in poverty.
Already, the Kazakh government has introduced new steps to manage migration. The government disclosed to Kazakhstan Today on September 24 that it would unilaterally impose a visa requirement for citizens of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan "due to the deteriorating situation in the region."
Meanwhile, Tajik refugees living in Kyrgyzstan have formally protested their expulsion from Kazakhstan at the Kazakh embassy in Bishkek on September 24. Kazakh authorities reportedly detained 113 Tajik citizens in Jambyl Province on September 23 and expelled them to Kyrgyzstan. They were heading from Bishkek to Moscow by train, apparently in search of jobs.
A Kazakh Embassy official in Kyrgyzstan cited security consideration in explaining Kazakhstan's decision not to restrict entry by Tajik citizens. The official added that about 100 Afghan citizens were detained recently on the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border and sent back to Kyrgyzstan.
Before the outbreak of the anti-terrorism crisis, Kazakhstan appeared poised to make a significant economic leap. The country boasts a fast-developing financial system, supported by vast energy resources. It appears that Nazarbayev feels the keys to preserving the country's status as Central Asia's most prosperous country are maintaining the goodwill of the United States and taking a cautious stance on the acceptance of refugees.
Alima Bisenova is a freelance journalist, based in Astana, Kazakhstan.