28 september 2020

Central Asia news

Gubernatorial meeting in Ferghana: timid attempt of international dialogue at the regional level

20.07.2007 18:27 msk

Bobur Mirzoyev

Ferghana Valley Uzbekistan

Ferghana Valley as seen from outer space. No borders. Photo by Maps.Google.Com

Leaders of six regions comprising the Ferghana Valley met on July 7, 2007. Three 7s is a once-a-century occasion but governor of the Sogdi region of Tajikistan missed the meeting. He would have become the seventh, adding another 7. In any case, leaders of six regions of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan had decided to organize their own informal Ferghana summit. What is it about and what is it worth?

Firstly, initiators of the summit aimed at alignment of the interests of all three countries in the Ferghana Valley but the Tajiks' absence slurred the importance of the meeting (and that is putting it mildly). Matters like state borders, joint use of water resources and railroads, energy resources export and import are too serious to be handled with one of the directly involved parties absent. Tajiks' absence from the Ferghana summit is open to interpretation, but most specialists attribute it to what is an undeniable motive - problematic Tajik-Uzbek relations.

Preparations for the summit took a year. The meeting was attended by Kyrgyz assistant ambassador and deputy minister of economic development and integration of Uzbekistan. Ferghana governors' second conference will take place in Osh come autumn. Asked to become the meeting coordinator, Satybaldayev said he would personally ask governor of the Sogdi region of Tajikistan to attend. The next summit will be centered around the problems of pastures and water resources.
There is another nuance to be taken into account. The Uzbeks treated this Kyrgyz initiative with unprecedented caution. No Uzbek media outlet so much as mentioned the very fact of the meeting. Neither before the so called Ferghana summit nor afterwards. Moreover, Uzbek hokims or governors had their Kyrgyz counterparts travel to the site of the summit without the usual journalistic retinue. As a matter of fact, the summit was all but convened right in the van ferrying Uzbek and Kyrgyz governors to Ferghana i.e. literally behind the closed doors. Again, on the Uzbeks' insistence. Governor of the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan missed this "mobile summit" altogether because he was travelling individually. The rest of the summit came down to tours of the portentous objects (doubly so against the background of the impoverished population of Uzbekistan) that left the Kyrgyzes, economically less advanced, quite envious. Needless to say, actual everyday life of the population of the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley was not something the guests were shown.

Uzbek hokims' reticence leaves the impression that their consent to meet and talk was a good will gesture rather than an indication of eagerness for an open and close interaction. Their attitude and behavior was a clear message that "We are not enemies, after all. Sure, let's meet and talk if that will make you happy. But no more than that because we do not make decisions over here." One of the Kyrgyz governors said afterwards that Uzbek officials never answered most questions and merely gestured to show that it was beyond their jurisdiction. This tight-lipped attitude may be ascribed to the stiff power vertical established in Uzbekistan or to certain features of the "travelling conference hall" not exactly envisaged by the designers. To numerous bugs, in other words.

It may be added that information on the outcome of the gubernatorial summit in Ferghana was mostly broadcast by Kyrgyz media outlets quoting deputy governor of Jalalabad who had represented Jalalabad (his boss was absent, on a vacation). Even other Kyrgyz governors were fairly taciturn. Again, it may be attributed to a request from their Uzbek colleagues notoriously reluctant to share anything with journalists if they can help it.

Men who know what they are talking about whisper that the relations between Kobyljon Obidov (Hero of Uzbekistan and the already former Andijan hokim) and President Islam Karimov definitely soured after the first analogous meeting with the Kyrgyzes. One of the guests from Kyrgyzstan had had the temerity to pay a thoroughly "undiplomatic" compliment to Obidov and say that "we see you as the next president of Uzbekistan." The flattery cost Obidov who was immediately sacked and barely escaped imprisonment. (The truth is that it was not the only motive of Karimov's wrath.)

As a matter of fact, Kyrgyz governors first approached hokims of Andijan, Namangan, and Ferghana regions of Uzbekistan with the let-us-meet idea in 2006. The governors know and understand each other, they are ever ready for a meeting but the Uzbek hokims' hands are tied by the big-time policy promoted by official Tashkent. Even the recent meeting was made possible only by the labors of Osh Governor Jantoro Satybaldayev (Kyrgyzstan) and efforts of the Kyrgyz Embassy in Tashkent.

And here is the third factor, probably the most important one, that may seal the fate of this informal gubernatorial summit. It comes down to complicated international relations between the countries of the region. Kyrgyz and Uzbek secret services do pool efforts against terrorism (they have already mounted some joint operations and eliminated several suspects on the territory of Kyrgyzstan), but bilateral relations between their respective countries are not what is normally known a friendly. Uzbekistan has always treated Kyrgyzstan as a younger brother that must be taught. It frequently perceived this small country as a threat to its security. Karimov never bothers with court verdicts and always claims that the terrorists (ever since the first terrorist acts in Tashkent in the late 1990s) have been trained on the territory of Kyrgyzstan.

Karimov reiterated this thesis even after the tragic events in Andijan and execution of Qorasuv mosque Imam Muhammadrafik Kamalov. Viewing Kamalov as ideologist of Islamic extremism, Uzbek secret services had hunted the imam for years. The manhunt ended when the Kyrgyz leadership decided to sacrifice Kamalov in the name of rapprochement with Uzbekistan. The imam was riddled with bullets together with two suspected gunmen in a special operation run by Kyrgyz and Uzbek secret services.

Kyrgyzstan in its turn views Uzbekistan as a danger to its security too. The tragedy in Andijan shows that the colossal protest potential in the country across the border does pose a threat to Kyrgyzstan which is wholly unable to cope with the refugees who will certainly stampede for safety in Kyrgyzstan should the events in Andijan reoccur anywhere else in Uzbekistan.

The recently adopted law "On citizenship of the Kyrgyz Republic" permits dual citizenship in theory but only for foreigners. Citizens of Kyrgyzstan are not supposed to have it. The parliament of Kyrgyzstan ascribes it to "national security considerations", of course.

This is the so called "factor of peace" official Bishkek is morbidly afraid of. In other words, the matter concerns nearly 1,000,000 ethnic Uzbeks populating the southern part of Kyrgyzstan. Once the "ethnic cordon" set up and maintained by Karimov's isolationist policy is done away with, their influence may boost. The Uzbek dictator does not encourage contacts between Uzbeks in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (fear of the Kyrgyz democracy that totters on the brink of anarchy, no doubt) and actually views the latter as a different ethnic group.

No need to elaborate here on adverse consequences of the subversion of the once common Central Asian energy complex and the problems stemming from it. The Uzbek-Tajik relations are a wholly different matter that does not exactly check with regional summits.

Moreover, the six governors primed the Ferghana summit for a means of "strengthening of regional friendship and stability", not to mention "advancement of industrial and agricultural interaction between the two countries." Unfortunately, success of events such as this is automatically jeopardized by the very nature of the relations in the region where every problem from gas export to territorial claims becomes a subject of political deal-making process in no time at all.

The meeting in Ferghana was but a meek attempt at an international dialogue at the local level while the very future of the dialogue will be decided by the interests of economically robust Uzbekistan and geopolitical interests of world powers. The impression is that Central Asian leaders (some of them still obsessed with the idea of becoming regional leaders and others still lacking the economic leverage to advise their neighbors to hold their horses) remain sadly unaware of the true importance of regional integration. To be more exact, they are still unable to recognize priority of regional security and economic prosperity over their own egos.

Businessmen and officials from the Ferghana Valley did meet in Bishkek in May 2003 and tried to work out a plan of measures to make the region attractive for trade and to better the dialogue. The idea was to establish the Ferghana Coordinating Committee comprising representatives of regional administrations, fiscal structures, and business associations. Neither it nor other projects initiated by international organizations aiming to stabilize one of the potentially most volatile regions of the world succeeded.

Time alone will answer questions on the next Ferghana summit scheduled for late July in Jalalabad (Kyrgyzstan) or on what Kyrgyz initiatives will end in. Practice shows, however, that Central Asian rulers do not hold time in high esteem.