NATO is holding its first conference in Kazakhstan, a central Asian state traditionally within Russia’s sphere of influence.The forum, being held under the auspices of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, is focusing on the war in Afghanistan, drug-trafficking and energy. The outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that the opening of borders in the region eased the flow of aid and trade, but also benefited criminal gangs. “Money-laundering, human-trafficking…even missile components and fissile materials can all be exported everywhere,” he said. Central Asia has become increasingly important to the US, particularly because of the conflict in Afghanistan and its energy and mineral resources. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has approved a decision to let America continue using a military base on its territory to support operations in Afghanistan. It had previously asked Washington to withrdaw from the facility. The turnaround has alarmed Russia, which resents what it sees as America’s creeping influence in the region.