The economic stake
The immediate economic stake is access to the world's largest sources of oil and natural gas outside of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Since economic interest rather than ideological alignment is the main force underlying the rivalry alignments can be fluid. Iran and Russia are allied in their approach to Caspian and Central Asian oil, favoring Iran as the main southerly route, while Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. favor an alternate route through Afghanistan. While the Central Asian states have different international orientations, in particular toward Russia, their attitudes toward the conflict over pipeline routes are essentially pragmatic they stand to benefit from any southern export route and they have not lined up clearly on one side or the other.
In one respect however faint echoes of the Cold War can be heard. As Uzbekistan distances itself from Russia the U.S. has become an alternative patron. But as many countries have learned from experience, dealing with the U.S. involves trying to read contradictory signals. Security concerns and economic interests become intermingled with suggestions that a liberal government, mindful of human rights would get more respect and help from Washington. American engagement brings with it some notions of human rights and political liberalization but an here are the Cold War echoes American assurances give regimes the idea that they can resume patterns of repression.
No aspect of international relations had greater importance than economics. The collapse of the USSR meant the loss of budgetary subsidies which ranged from around 20 percent for energy rich Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to as high as 50 percent for Tajikistan. The republics also sources of raw materials and markets for their industries, which produced mostly intermediate goods, especially for the vast Soviet defense establishment. They hoped that they could make up of these losses by selling oil and natural gas to foreign markets and by attracting foreign investment to revitalize their industries and rebuild their infrastructure.
Security also posed a major problem. Portions if the former Soviet military and security forces remained in each of these states. In a clear demonstration of the sheer newness of the situation in Central Asia, political leaders in power and in opposition could sincerely say that they did not know whether the Russians should be viewed as their allies or as the principal threat to their national security. All joined the Common wealth of Independent States though Turkmenistan has announced a doctrine neutrality and therefore declined to participate in CIS joint military activates and Uzbekistan has sought to balance Russian power with a strong relations t the U.S. All but Tajikistan still torn by a civil war also joined NATO's Partnership for Peace.
Furthermore as long as they republics of the USSR these states external borders were closed and the region to which they belonged well defined. Today the five former Soviet Central Asian republics are not simply part of the Post Soviet space they are also becoming part of a new enlarged area of international interaction. On issues of security and economics their relations with Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China are key. The events in Afghanistan for instance were triggered in part by the Pakistan Iran rivalry, thus leading to major changes in Central Asia's security and economies. And not only did Chinese pressure lead to restrictions on the activates of Uighur activists but China is quietly becoming one of the largest sources of foreign investment and trade in the region outside of the energy sector.
Finally the domestic challenge of statehood has meant establishing a definition of citizenship defining the role of ethnicity or nationality in a particular state and creating new institutions of authority governance, and participation. Here, too, different tendencies have emerged though strong presidencies with few checks on their powers are a regional trend. The protection of political rights and civil liberties remains precarious in the region. Threats of ethnic and religious strife pressure from neighboring countries and the need for stability in times of economic transformation are often cited as reasons for limits on political activity and even for violent repression.