Politics

 

Central Asia’s new political momentum: prospects and challenges



01.11.2017 18:47:55 - Rustam Khuramov, research fellow of the Institute for Strategic and Regional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan

(live-PR.com) - Modern Central Asia is not only a geographical and geopolitical region, but also a single cultural and unique space. In this sense, proceeding 2017 will be marked in history as a year of beginning of a new era in interstate relations of regional countries. Because of the political will and active strategic actions taken by the political elites of these

 

neighboring states, the region started exhibiting a new signs of political life.

International experts assessing the dynamics of latest developments in the region argued that the level of political confidence had significantly increased among countries of Central Asia. Moreover, in a very short period of time absolutely “new political atmosphere” was created in the region, which contributes to strengthening the contacts in all areas and reducing the conflict potential in the region. Simple interdependence and not very friendly relations among the states of the region, which was lasted more than 25 years after the countries Central Asia gained their independence, are becoming complex interdependence, binding the economic ties and hence the political interests of states ever more tightly together.

Dwelling on the essence and content of active regional dialogue in Central Asia Ilan Berman, the Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council argued that the main drivers of current change taking place in the region, “are the peaceful transition of power in Uzbekistan in 2016, also new vast economic reforms launched in the country by Shavkat Mirziyoyev, newly elected President of the state, and also his declaring to recalibrate Tashkent’s foreign policy toward the neighboring countries”. It should be noted that Uzbekistan's key role in ensuring stability and sustainable development of the region is determined by a number of important factors. First of all, Uzbekistan is situated in the heart of Central Asia and borders with all countries of the region. Moreover, today the population of Uzbekistan is estimated more than 32.5 million that is half of population of whole Central Asia. In a word, every second inhabitant of the region is a citizen of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

During his inaugural speech to the parliament, Sh.Mirziyoyev after he was elected as a president in December 2016, gave a strong signal on his readiness to take a new approach toward regional issues, saying his commitment to “an open, friendly, and pragmatic position” towards the Central Asian states. Uzbekistan, having a common border with all the countries of the region, is interested in turning the space into a zone of stability, sustainable development and good-neighborliness.

In 2017, by the initiative of President Mirziyoyev and following the results of the nationwide discussion, Uzbekistan for the first time in history adopted the Strategy of Actions on the five priority directions of the development of the country in 2017-2021, which identifies the major tasks of modernizing public administration, democratizing society, ensuring the rule of law, liberalization of the economy, strengthening the social protection of the population and, conducting active and initiative foreign policy. The main slogan of these reforms is “the people must not serve the government bodies, rather the government bodies must serve the people”.

Special attention in the Strategy paid to strengthening the independence and sovereignty of the state, increasing the role of the country as a full-fledged member of international relations, entering into the number of developed democratic states, creating a belt of security, stability and prosperity around Uzbekistan. In this regard, Helena Fraser, UN Resident Coordinator in Uzbekistan, noted that the Strategy and new foreign policy approach implemented on its basis on strengthening ties with neighboring countries is the guarantee of future prosperity and stable development of not only Uzbekistan, but also of all the Central Asia.

In his UN’s General Assembly Address in September, 2017 Sh.Mirziyoyev, describing the core directions of Uzbekistan’s modern foreign policy, once again confirmed that the region of Central Asia is a main priority and named it to be “a conscious choice”. He stated that “a peaceful and economically prosperous Central Asia is our most important goal and key task”. Moreover, President emphasizing the intensification of the interstate contacts, initiated organizing the summit of heads of Central Asian states. As he mentioned, “holding the regular consultation meetings” of presidents would promote consolidation of the trend towards rapprochement with neighbors.

Confirming above mentioned notions, from the first days of his presidency Sh.Mirziyoyev took decisive and concrete steps aimed at developing mutually beneficial relations with neighbors, establishing trustful contacts with all the leaders of the Central Asian states. During the last 10 months, president of Uzbekistan met with the leaders of the regional states 15 times, 3 state and 2 working visits were paid to Central Asian countries.

Cooperation of Uzbekistan with regional states is noticeably developing in trade, transport and investment fields. During a very short of time, the volume of trade turnover between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan increased by 69%, with Tajikistan 22%, Kazakhstan 11%.

A new level of political confidence in the region gave a powerful impetus to the development of institutions of public diplomacy, cultural ties, expanded contacts between bordering provinces, parliamentarians, public organizations and citizens. On this subject, experts argue that Central Asia’s ills (its economic ills, at least), some argue, could be cured by greater regional cooperation.
American expert Ilan Berman underscored that “nearby states are taking notice, and there is growing approval in capitals around the region of this new good-neighbor policy”.

In this regard, visits of the President of Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan opened a new page of cooperation, also solid package of documents were signed, including agreement on Strategic Partnership. Moreover, the parties agreed to build, an important part of the international transport-communication route “Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman”. The meetings of the leaders of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have become unprecedented because of their results. The Joint Declaration on further deepening of the strategic partnership and strengthening of good-neighborliness, the Roadmap for all areas of joint activities, the Strategy for Economic Cooperation, and agreements on the implementation of joint economic projects have been signed. For the first time in history was held a business forum between two countries.

The official visit of the President of Uzbekistan Sh.Mirziyoyev to Kyrgyzstan became truly historic, radically changed the bilateral relations of Tashkent and Bishkek. Thanks to the political will of heads of the states for the first time in 26 years, was signed the Treaty on the State Border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The parties agreed on delimitating more than 85% of the border, which was a real breakthrough in resolving problematic issues between the two countries. The deal was followed by the opening of checkpoints and the removal of many restrictions on movement. Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal analyst concluded that this was huge milestone given, because only a few years ago there were clashes between Uzbek and Kyrgyz border guards. We are also witnessing the warming of relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Edward Lemon, expert on Central Asian affairs argued that “the resumption of transport air links and easing of visa regulations would certainly improve the lives of border communities, and benefit Tajikistan’s economy in particular”. Zachary Witlin, an analyst for the Eurasia Group in Washington said that “few could have expected so quickly revive Uzbekistan's foreign relations with the rest of Central Asia and beyond and to do it so quickly raises hopes for political reforms”. Moreover according to foreign experts, “these developments and others and suggest a degree of political consolidation and innovation that was unthinkable even ten years ago”.

The head of the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia Petko Draganov in his speech, at the conference which was held on August 11, 2017 in Tashkent titled “Central Asia – the main priority of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy” confirmed that all the forwarded initiatives of the leadership
of Uzbekistan aimed at bringing all the countries of Central Asia closer for common development and progress are fully conformable to the fundamental purposes and goals of the UN.

Catherine Putz, analyst on Central Asian issues at “The Diplomat”, wrote that repairing bilateral relationships is just one piece of this puzzle, a second is Tashkent’s emerging embrace of multilateral cooperation. Confirming this in November 2017, ancient city of Uzbekistan, Samarkand will host to international conference on Security and Sustainable Development in Central Asia under the aegis of UN. Agenda of the forum, titled “Central Asia: Shared Past and
a Common Future, Cooperation for Sustainable Development and Mutual Prosperity”. It will include topical issues of strengthening peace and stability in Central Asia, development of regional cooperation, as well as the contribution of international structures, primarily UN, to the implementation of sustainable development projects. At the end of the conference, will be adopted a joint communiqué calling on the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution on ensuring peace, security and sustainable development in Central Asia.

Summarizing all it should be noted that these dramatic changes create a strong and reliable foundation for regional cooperation. Nevertheless, there are some key trends and challenges those will directly or indirectly impact the regional security and sustainable development and booming ties in Central Asia.

First of all, the growing geopolitical confrontation and the escalating tensions in a number of key regions of the world may have a challenging affects to the emerging tendencies in Central Asia. In these conditions, the fundamental condition for ensuring regional security is the preservation of the geopolitical balance and pluralism in Central Asia.

Secondly, one of the major sources of threat to regional and international security remains the ongoing war in Afghanistan for more than 35 years. Unfortunately, the current military and political situation in the country is largely uncertain and difficult to predict. This trend, especially in the backdrop of events in the Middle East, causes the concern of the world community in the context of actualization of challenges and threats of extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking that affect the stability and security of not only Central Asia but also another regions of the world. On this issue Abdulaziz Kamilov, Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan said that “peace in Afghanistan will bring to all countries of the Eurasian continent the colossal and tangible benefit.

The sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan will stimulate the construction of motorways and railroads, development of regional and trans-regional commerce and laying the pipelines in all directions”. He underlined that “the international community should start looking at Afghanistan not as a source of regional problems, threats and challenges, but rather a unique strategic opportunity capable to break the established status quo once and for all, shape the fundamental and solid grounds for a multilateral interaction, which will serve the goals of our common prosperity and well-being”.

Obviously, these tendencies have huge negative impacts not only countries of Central Asia, but also a wider space, including Europe. Today, no one doubts that the problem of the indivisibility of security assumes special significance for developing common approaches and adequate responses to the challenges and threats to regional and global security. The actualization of this problem is evidenced by the phenomenon of the “ISIL”, whose ranks are filled by not only citizens of Asian states, but also by immigrants from the EU countries.

Complex negative trends in the global financial and economic system also affects the solution of priority tasks for ensuring sustainable development of Central Asian countries. The preservation of high growth rates of national economies and the progressive improvement of the welfare of the population of the countries depends on the following constraints.

First, the lack of a reliable of transport and communication corridors system, ensuring a stable access of Central Asian countries to the largest markets in Europe and Asia. This hampers their full integration into the structure of the world economic relations, increasing vulnerability to external challenges and threats.

Moreover, one-sided development of the economies of most countries of the region strongly binds them to the conjuncture of the world commodity market, which limits their efforts in modernizing and diversifying their economies. In modern conditions, the diversified structure of the economy
is one of the main conditions for not only sustainable development, but also for social and political stability. This is not only economic imperative, but also a geopolitical condition in terms of further strengthening the sovereignty of the Central Asian states, strengthening their internal immunity to external challenges and threats.

In this regard, addressing all vital issues of the regional development – from border security to developed system of transport routes are linked with the further sustainable development of the region. Moreover, leaders of Central Asia came to conclusion that only strengthening the ties within the region, they can achieve economic and political goals. So far, they tested the “colorful contacts” with different actors, without paying enough attention to regional cooperation.

But today stable and economically prosperous Central Asia is an absolute imperative for all countries of the region. Any major regional projects in the spheres of transport, communication and energy cannot be realized without active interaction of the regional states, without ensuring a high level of their mutually political confidence and beneficial cooperation.


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