Central Asia Moves Towards Greater Regional Cooperation After Successful Third Consultative Meeting
The third consultative meeting of heads of Central Asian countries was held on August 6 in Turkmenistan. The previous Second Consultative Meeting of Leaders of Central Asian States was held in November 2019 in Tashkent.
The meeting scheduled for 2020 was canceled and postponed due to the pandemic. There has been a long delay. This is why great attention has been paid to this meeting both inside and outside the region. Most observers were primarily concerned about how the extended hiatus would affect the pace of regional cooperation. But what are the prospects for further integration in Central Asia and what is the expected outcome of the meeting?
The results of the summit, if evaluated fairly, are largely successful. A substantive dialogue was held on a wide range of regional issues. Then, a joint declaration was adopted by the leaders of the Central Asian countries, explaining their planned efforts to increase cooperation on a five-part basis and priority areas for further joint work were defined. In addition to the meetings held in the five-party format, a number of bilateral meetings between the leaders of the region were held on the sidelines of the summit, providing an opportunity to discuss the implementation of the agreements reached between the countries during the previous months. Of note, the meeting was held in Turkmenistan, a country that values its neutrality on the international stage and maintains a detachment position vis-à-vis the integration of Central Asia, before the coming to power of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.
The positive and constructive atmosphere of the meeting is remarkable. Given the state of relations between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan after the recent armed clash at the border, there were fears that the consultative meeting would be stuck on one or even two legs all the time. However, it can be seen that the tense situation at the border did not become an obstacle to participation and communication between the leaders of the two countries during the meeting. This can be called an encouraging sign, indicating, in general, the importance of the meeting for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the willingness of both countries to continue negotiations to resolve the conflict situation, in particular.
This circumstance is important to me, because in the near future the Central Asian States will have to jointly solve pressing regional problems. Among them, the situation in neighboring Afghanistan and the appearance of the Taliban at the southern borders of the region. There are also various aspects of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and melting glaciers, the efficient and shared use of water and energy resources, the transfer of national economies to a digital platform. innovative and other topics to consider.
In thirty years of independent development, the countries of Central Asia have come a long way of political and economic transformation. Major state projects have been implemented to ensure the economic and energy security of each country, as well as the development of commercial, industrial, transit and transport potential. New regional and interregional infrastructure development projects are underway or underway. It is time to reflect on the compatibility of national approaches and the importance of their coordination at the regional level for the benefit of all Central Asian countries. The thesis of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s speech at the summit must be interpreted in this context. The president called on other countries in the region “not to promote unnecessary competition with each other”.
A review of the decisions taken by the heads of state of Central Asia shows that the long pause between meetings, contrary to fears, did not adversely affect the dynamics of regional cooperation. It is clear that regional economic cooperation should deepen further. The general trend towards economic convergence has been confirmed. Compared to previous years, there is a greater willingness to discuss competing transport and communication projects, a desire to improve cooperation in the labor market and to expand educational and scientific links.
It emerges from the text of the Joint Declaration that the countries of the region have put at the top of their agenda the question of the creation of regional structures in a certain number of fields, in order to better systematize their efforts. To this end, the Dialogue on Security and Cooperation, the Meeting on Transport and Communications and the Forum for Cultural Dialogue in Central Asia were established and promoted. In addition, the provision for a single symbol for consultative meetings was approved. The document also mentions the need to intensify the consolidated activities of countries on the international scene. In addition, and most importantly, a treaty on friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation for the development of Central Asia in the 21st century is in preparation and its signature is expected at the next consultative meeting.
It is noteworthy that when describing regional cooperation, Central Asian heads of state deliberately avoid loud statements, expressing well-targeted and politically balanced assessments. The consultative meeting as a format for cooperation and interaction is currently suitable for all leaders in Central Asia.
At the same time, it must be admitted that if implemented, all these measures and initiatives described in the joint declaration show us a future of greater regional cooperation. In the future, these initiatives are likely to lead to the institutionalization of regional cooperation and to the strengthening of the coordination of actions of the countries of Central Asia in a number of important areas of international affairs. However, for such an implementation, it is important not to take the lead and not to speculate on geopolitical concerns, but to focus on solving the primary and pressing issues of regional development, focusing primarily on a dialogue based on trust and mutually beneficial economic cooperation.
The author is Askar Nursha, political analyst, doctor of history.