Staunton, March 7 – At the end of this year, the five countries of Central Asia will mark their 30th anniversary as independent countries. All too many outsiders still dismiss them as a backwater of the former Soviet space or refer to them collectively and in a dismissive way as “the stans.”
The five – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – are increasingly dissimilar both in terms of their domestic development and foreign policy relations. But despite or perhaps because of them, some in each of the five capitals periodically discuss the formation of some kind of Central Asian Union.
Such a grouping, these people believe, will help the countries help each other and allow them to deal with outside powers like the Russian Federation, China, the United States, Afghanistan and Iran more effectively. Indeed, they argue that the grouping will allow them to highlight both what makes them similar and what makes them different.
But for any such union to take off, it needs the support of the region’s largest country in terms of population – Uzbekistan – and Tashkent is not prepared to back the formation of such a grouping now, although the Uzbek authorities following the death of Islam Karimov four years ago have worked hard to improve bilateral and even multilateral relations in the region.
Sadyk Safayev, the deputy chairman of the upper house of the Uzbekistan legislature, says the five lack the “chief ‘ingredients’” for integration – common principles, common values and common political and economic arrangements (stanradar.com/news/full/43669-v-uzbekistane-zajavili-o-prezhdevremennosti-idei-sozdanija-tsentralnoaziatskogo-sojuza.html).
He says that his countries and the others in the region have become closer in the last five or six years and “the hostility and suspiciousness” among them has dissipated. But he argues that it is still far too soon to be talking about any Central Asian regional grouping. That requires more than has been achieved and apparently more than can be achieved anytime soon.
Safayev adds that “until we have completed the process of the delimitation and demarcation of borders, it is even too soon to talk about the completion of the establishment of an independent state in Uzbekistan or the completion of the transition period.”
And he says that Uzbekistan and its four neighbors must resolve the issue of dividing up water resources. This is “a question of life and death.” Compromises need to be made if the countries of the region and the region as a whole are to advance.