Date first published: 10/8/2021

Key sectors: all

Key risks: border clashes; terrorism; humanitarian crisis


Risk development

Taliban militants have made significant territorial gains since 1 May 2021, the initial date for the withdrawal of international troops as agreed under the United States (US)-Taliban deal of February 2020. Many of these gains have occurred in areas bordering Central Asia, with militants overrunning government border posts in locations neighbouring Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Why it matters

The Central Asian states face three broad risks of varying likelihood and severity: violent conflict, terrorism and humanitarian crises. While the group’s strategy in seizing border posts has been debated, the deployment of Taliban militants to the outer edges of the country has raised fears that the conflict will spill over into neighbouring states. However, it is unclear precisely what form this could take.


The likelihood of Taliban militants making territorial incursions into Central Asian states is low. The group’s territorial aims have historically always been confined to Afghanistan, and political leadership is seeking to minimise friction with Ashgabat, Tashkent and Dushanbe, which have shown signs of willingness to accommodate the Taliban and thus bolster its international credibility for mediation. Yet, crossfire from intra-Afghan clashes regularly reaches Tajikistan, and weak Taliban command and control means that sporadic incidents cannot be ruled out. The northern border also continues to be used for a range of smuggling activities, while Afghan security forces have fled across it into all three states amid recent Taliban advances.

International terror organisations continue to operate in Afghanistan, including those which have a predominantly Central Asian membership. Ethnic Uzbek and Tajik factions of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan exist in the north of the country, as do the Tajik Jamaat Ansarullah and the predominantly Central Asian Islamic Jihad Group and Khatiba Imam al-Bukhari. Reports indicate that there is some support for unifying Central Asian militants in the country into one umbrella movement. An increasingly powerful Taliban is less likely to fear international reprisals for harbouring terror groups and could – passively or actively – allow Central Asian extremists more operational autonomy, potentially paving the way for attacks in militants’ homelands. Regional security services continue to report detentions of Islamist extremists in their own jurisdictions, including those who have allegedly fought in Afghanistan. The Uighur separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement – which has come to prominence as observers ponder potential Chinese engagement in Afghanistan following the US departure – also poses a distinct threat to Chinese assets in Central Asia.

Central Asian states also face security threats from humanitarian crises. On 20 June a regional official from Tajikistan warned that the US troop withdrawal could presage a significant refugee influx; two days later, 134 security force personnel fled Afghanistan to Tajikistan as Taliban militants captured nearby territory. Thousands more soldiers and hundreds of civilians have fled since then. A refugee camp has also been set up near Termez in Uzbekistan, although all three states are wary of social upheaval and have shown no hesitation in returning refugees to Afghanistan.

Risk outlook

The risk of violence ‘spilling over’ onto Central Asian soil is low, though Afghanistan’s northern border will remain porous. However, the environment created by a resurgent Taliban could bolster Central Asian-populated extremist groups aiming to plan and execute attacks in the Central Asian states. The Taliban’s rise has also precipitated a minor refugee crisis, which could escalate in the coming months and generate insecurity in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.