Who will head the future Central Asian alliance?
Kazakhstan was the source of all political news in the post-Soviet zone last week. Scandalous as it is, "Rahat Aliyev's affair" seemed to push all other news into the background. In the meantime, Kazakhstan's aspirations for regional leadership are undeniably more important. Moreover, President Nursultan Nazarbayev's idea of a Central Asian alliance was seconded by his counterparts in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. This support of the idea was essentially bought. Nazarbayev promised economic assistance to Bishkek and help in overcoming international isolation to Ashkhabad.
Tajikistan's support will be secured next, it is just a matter of time. Nazarbayev has already phoned Emomali Rakhmon. He intends to visit Dushanbe soon. Nobody actually doubts Nazarbayev's ability to find valid arguments for his Tajik opposite number.
Dealing with Uzbekistan will be much more difficult. Aspiring for the role of the regional leader too, Tashkent claims authorship of integration ideas for its own. It was to be expected. President Islam Karimov suggested all sorts of "alliances" too before his relations with the United States soured. Moreover, he counted on Washington's support but the events in Andijan disrupted all plans. Experts even recall how enthusiastically Uzbekistan supported the idea of a Turkic-speaking community of states suggested by the late President of Turkey Turgut Ozal. It was his untimely demise that thwarted all these plans. Karimov once tried to reanimate the idea and published a book titled "Turkmenistan - Our Home".
What Karimov suggests doesn't really differ from the ideas entertained by Nazarbayev with only one distinction. Uzbekistan perceives itself as the regional leader. That is why Tashkent is so critical of the Central Asian alliance idea.
Saifiddin Jurayev, Director of the Regional Politics Foundation, appraises Astana's initiative as inconsiderate. Attempts to establish something like that were made already, and more than once. Central Asian Economic Community was barely set up when it became transformed into the Central Asian Cooperation and later into the Organization of Central Asian Cooperation. All of that was but a waste of time and effort because participants of the structure had no strategy or program.
"Kazakhstan is a powerful state with a rapidly developing economy indeed. Its ambitions to promote integrationist processes should be hailed," Konstantin Syroyezhkin of the Kazakh Presidential Institute of Strategic Studies said. "On the other hand, there are other states with ambitions of their own. Uzbekistan, for example, refuses to pool efforts with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in oil and gas matters. It is convinced that economic issues may be settled in Central Asia without any additional integration."
There is more to it than oil and gas. For instance, how will regional projects be realized without a common system of tariffs or harmonious customs regulations? There are other nuances that should be addressed before the Central Asian alliance may be established. What really counts is that economic benefits of the alliance should be clearly understood. Economic considerations should take precedence over political.
* * *
Victoria Panfilova, Chief of the Department for Nearby Foreign Countries Policy
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 4, 2007, p. 12
Translated by Ferghana.Ru