WORLD NEWS TOMORROW –  AFGHANISTAN:  The deals cement Central Asia’s strategic importance to military planners and diplomats. It also means that NATO can avoid Pakistan, its previously preferred transit route. Over the last few years, US relations with Pakistan have worsened forcing the Western military alliance into a diplomatic push in former Soviet Central Asia and ultimately into deals with governments criticized for human rights abuses.

Agreements with Uzbekistan, which is accused of using child labor to pick its cotton harvest, have been particularly heavily criticized. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary-general, announced the transit agreements at a press conference in Brussels on Monday. “These agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need,” he said according to the AFP news agency.

NATO has said that it wants to start withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan in 2014 and the Soviet-built railway crossing Central Asia into Russia is now considered the most efficient export route. Britain has been intricately involved in setting up deals with Central Asian governments.

Various senior military officers have visited the region and in February and March Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, and Nick Harvey, the minister for the Armed Forces, traveled to Central Asia to meet governments. Britain’s diplomatic push in the region is underscored by its insistence on maintaining embassies in all five countries in Central Asia.

Despite cuts in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s budget, Britain is one of the only Western countries to keep an embassy in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, and in December it opened an embassy in Kyrgyzstan for the first time.

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