The countries of Central Asia, as independent parties engaged in international relations, do not want the region to become an arena of multilateral competition in the spirit of the “Great Game”. They have other long-term interests: strengthening the neighbourhood as well as building peaceful, friendly, equal and mutually respectful among themselves and with the outside world, writes Rashid Alimov.
On September 14-15, 2023, the Anniversary Consultative Meeting of the Heads of Five Central Asian States will be held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Five years have passed since the first meeting was convened at the initiative of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, and a mechanism for consultations at the highest level was launched. Today we can say with confidence that the hopes for a “informal club” of regional leaders have been fully justified. Moreover, this is true of all components, including political, economic, cultural and humanitarian ones.
1. Within a fairly short period by historical standards, the leaders of the Central Asian “five” managed to cover what might normally have taken a quarter century. Their speed of movement towards each other after the first meeting (Astana, 2018) was so high, and the initiatives aimed at strengthening regional cooperation were so numerous that during the preparation of each subsequent summit the level and quality of cooperation rose, and the vector of practical interaction steadily expanded. This, first of all, reflected the political will of the heads of state of Central Asia, who decided to put an end to disunity, radically change the atmosphere in the region, and create conditions under which the interests of consolidation, good neighbourliness and friendly relations would become decisive.
2. It was largely possible to solve this problem, despite the change of leaders in some countries of the region, and the painful historical border issues remaining. At the same time, while at one point any outbreak of tension in a particular country in the region could lead to an acute conflict between neighbours, in the end common interest prevailed in looking for and finding the means to solve problems jointly that are difficult or impossible to solve within a national framework of any given country alone. The culture of equal, mutually respectful dialogue has firmly established itself in the region. Based on an objective and balanced approach, and taking into account existing realities, leaders made pragmatic decisions that met the aspirations of their people in the interests of ensuring stability and sustainable development in the region
3. This was clearly evident during the period of “planetary isolation”: at the height of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the governments and peoples of the Central Asian countries extended a helping hand to each other and demonstrated maximum solidarity by opening “green corridors” for humanitarian aid, primarily for vaccines and medicines, medical equipment and food. The economic crisis caused by the pandemic negatively impacted the development of all countries in the region, but it encouraged them to strengthen and deepen regional trade and economic cooperation. Bilateral trade and the region’s economy have revived, business activity has recovered, the number of joint ventures has increased significantly, mutual investments have increased, and new opportunities have been created to improve transport connectivity, as well as the green and digital economies. Exhibitions of commodity producers and economic forums to discuss current problems of joint economic development have become regular. We can say that the leaders of the Central Asian countries have begun the step-by-step establishment of the regional economy of the future, and eventually, perhaps, a single economic space.
4. Relations between scientific and cultural institutions, sports leagues and public organisations have significantly expanded. Intra-regional travel and even mixed marriages have increased significantly. During the preparation and on the eve of the summit in Dushanbe, a whole series of major joint-events took place; the participants included scientists and cultural figures, as well as leaders of the women’s and youth movements of five countries. Forums of scientists and rectors of higher educational institutions, women and youth of Central Asia had a great public impact. Every resident of the region experienced positive changes affecting their daily lives.
5. It has become important for Central Asia to speak with a single voice at international platforms, particularly the UN and SCO, Incidentally, starting from 2021, in official documents of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Central Asia began to be designated as the core of the SCO, which, of course, emphasized the special significance of the region in the global political context. Over the past five years, the states of Central Asia have initiated over twenty resolutions in the UN General Assembly, which cover the most pressing problems facing humanity: from the nuclear non-proliferation regime to youth problems and the need to preserve glaciers. It is noteworthy that, at the initiative of the Five, on July 28, 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a special resolution declaring Central Asia a Zone of Peace, Trust and Cooperation.
6. It is obvious that the creation of the mechanism of Consultative Meetings played a stabilising role in the development of the region, and helped to strengthen centripetal forces and intercountry efforts in the fight against transnational threats and modern challenges. Critically important among them is the Afghan problem, which is complicated in nature. Three Central Asian countries are direct neighbours of Afghanistan, where the Taliban regained power exactly 25 months ago, in August 2021, after the shameful flight of the American military. Since then, the topic of Afghanistan — a country with an unpredictable future, a source of both international terrorism and illicit narcotics — has been under the constant attention of Central Asian leaders.