By Almaz Kumenov
Kazakhstan is seeking to reprise its role as a locomotive for regional integration by calling for a landmark summit of Central Asian leaders to be held in Astana next year.
The proposal was reportedly voiced by Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov in Samarkand on November 10 at a UN-sponsored conference devoted to security and sustainable development in Central Asia.
“Ever since the acquisition of independence more than 25 years ago, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has actively advanced policies of regional integration that accounted for the interests and expectations of all governments in the region. Today this process has been given a new impulse as we are seeing a burst of regional contacts at all levels,” Abdrakhmanov said.
The minister said there were already successful precedents on which to build. Among those he cited the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, collective efforts for maintaining Central Asia as a nuclear-free zone and the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre, an anti-drug trafficking body.
These are largely hollow boasts, however, since achievements in the areas mentioned by Abdrakhmanov are scanty.
After some early abortive attempts at regional integration derailed by the uncompromising demands of national leaders and governments, Central Asia began to fall under the sway of broader geopolitical projects advanced by its larger partners, Russia and China. Accordingly, presidents and heads of government typically meet at events organized by the panoply of political and security groupings that have taken shape over the past quarter century, be it the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization or the Eurasian Economic Union, just to mention a few.
Where Kazakhstan was nominally the most visible promoter of exclusively regional cooperation, Uzbekistan has traditionally played the spoiler.
The new impulse alluded to by Abdrakhmanov is, of course, the policy of good neighborliness adopted by Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has swiftly shed the at-any-cost isolationist policies of his late predecessor, Islam Karimov. The last year has been marked by a dizzying array of breakthroughs in Uzbekistan’s relations with bordering nations with trade deals galore, a flurry of high-level bilateral meetings and long-awaited border delimitation settlements.
Indeed, for all Kazakhstan’s desire to be seen once again leading the regional charge, current developments suggest that it is Uzbekistan that is now best disposed to take up the role. As The Diplomat reported from Samarkand, even as Abdrakhmanov was speaking of the need for the nations of Central Asia to come together, his Kyrgyz counterpart, Yerlan Abdyldayev, complained that an ongoing border dispute between their countries was harming the cause of sustainable development.
All the same, an Astana summit, which Abdrakhmanov has in a gesture of likely purposeful symbolism said could be held around Nowruz — the spring festival of renewal that is celebrated across the region — portends a potentially promising moment.