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Central Asia news

Karimov's «once and for all» for Nazarbayev

23.04.2008 12:44 msk

Vremya Novostei

Politics Kazakhstan

Presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan have known each other for years, since the Soviet past. Both are veterans of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the erstwhile CPSU. Nazarbayev and Karimov are the only leaders to have retained supreme power in their respective republics in these nearly two decades. That is why the Uzbek president's two-day official visit to Astana yesterday began without preliminaries. In fact, it began with a tete-a-tete meeting between the presidents themselves.

What was said for protocol's sake before the meeting confirmed what had been known already. Relations between the two states and their leaders (these latter vied for the title of the Central Asian Tiger only recently) are not what is traditionally described as "brotherly". In any event, both Nazarbayev and Karimov were careful not to use any such terms during the meeting yesterday. Unlike the president of Kyrgyzstan who had visited Astana the other day, Karimov was all business. "There are lots of issues where Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan need each other," he said. "The regional situation itself necessitates another meeting to define our priorities and address bilateral and international issues."

Nazarbayev in his turn refused to second his guest's sentiments concerning the regional situation. The situation is complicated indeed but has it ever been different? "We like it that trade between our countries doubled since my latest visit [$1.4 billion in 2007 - Vremya Novostei]," was all the Kazakh president said.

It was when the two leaders emerged from the tete-a-tete meeting to face TV cameras that it became patently clear that practically every issue on the agenda must have been like a moment of truth in the relations between Astana and Tashkent. For example, Karimov delivered a serious blow at Nazarbayev's aspirations to become number one integrator in the Central Asian part of the former Soviet Union. The Uzbek president in his typical categorical manner pronounced "unacceptable" his host's pet idea of a Central Asian union (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan). "We've been through it already," Karimov said. "And I'm saying it once again, once and for all, to preclude any future speculations on the subject..."

As far as Karimov is concerned, potentials of member states in unions such as what Nazarbayev promotes should be "comparable at least." Secondly, "the policies and strategic directions promoted by national leaders... should be more or less akin, particularly from the standpoint of the reforms and perception of the future development." What Central Asian neighbors Karimov was talking about is anybody's guess. As for Bishkek's support of the idea, Karimov gave it a carte blanche and said that "this willingness is absolutely voluntary, and involvement of no third countries is a must." Remembering his duties of the host, Nazarbayev wouldn't challenge Karimov or validity of his premises. "Not that anybody expected the Central Asian union to be formed overnight," he said in a placating tone. "That's interaction to all intents and purposes. People communicate, businesses develop..."

Nazarbayev mentioned another apple of discord with the visiting Uzbek opposite number, one concerning water and energy problems of the region. "As for the water consortium, we are stuck for the time being because opinions and approaches differ. Some countries intend to produce electricity and sell it. We on the other hand want this water in the fields. Rapprochement of the interests is what is needed. We all should pool efforts to bring it about," the Kazakh president said. The matter concerns a discord between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on the one hand (the countries that are out to convert water resources into electricity and export this latter) and Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on the other (as users and potential buyers).

Regnum news agency covering a regional seminar in Dushanbe organized with OSCE's help on April 22 reported Tajik Energy and Industry Deputy Minister Pulod Muhiddinov as saying, "Tajikistan is not going to wait for consent from its neighbors and particularly Uzbekistan for construction of hydroelectric power plants, the Rogun one included, on its own territory." The report confirms existence of a considerable rift in the region over the matter. Clearly expecting something like that, Uzbekistan had sent no representatives to the Dushanbe seminar. Nazarbayev could only count on the neighbors' good will. "We'd appreciate consultations on the matter in accordance with the international practice," he said. By and large, the "water truce" issue seems to be the only one Astana and Tashkent agree on.

In fact, Karimov announced all of a sudden that "international rating agencies place Uzbekistan above Kazakhstan from the standpoint of businesses... Small businesses in Uzbekistan account for 49% of the GDP these days." Apparently carried away, Karimov stunned everyone with his statement to the effect that "no other post-Soviet country could match the preferences businesses enjoy in Uzbekistan." Nazarbayev took it in stride. He has listened to his share of nutty statements in his life and learned self-control.

Vremya Novostei, No 70, April 23, 2008, p. 5. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru