Central Asia Digest | December 2019

Political Developments

The second Consultative Meeting of Heads of Central Asian States was held in Tashkent under Chairmanship of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Uzbek President noted that the meeting reflected the sincere desire of people of the 5 countries to expand partnership, strengthen friendship and good-neighborliness, and jointly solve common problems. He said that solutions to many complex and controversial issues had been found. All these positive changes were supported by the population of the region and also received high praise in the world. At the same time, the current conditions of the rapidly changing global situation, aggravation of security threats and factors negatively affecting stable development, necessitated the strengthening of partnership based on mutual trust and coordinated efforts. He emphasised the pressing issue of a Common Vision for Multilateral Cooperation in Central Asia and suggested a number of important initiatives including in the area of trade, investment, infrastructure, energy, tourism, water, connectivity and others.  Central Asia, with its rich cultural and historical heritage, has always served as a unique bridge connecting Europe, the Middle East, South and East Asia. Close proximity to major hotbeds of instability pose difficult questions for the countries of the region regarding security, possibility of new challenges and risks and necessitates further cooperation in such conditions. Mirziyoyev said that it was in their common interest to help Afghanistan to firmly embark on the path of peace and development. At the proposal of President of Turkmenistan, leaders of the countries unanimously elected the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev as Honorary Chairman of Consultative Meeting of Heads of State of Central Asia. Nazarbayev proposed concluding a "Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation for development of Central Asia in the XXI century" between the 5 countries. Turkmen President exhorted the Central Asian countries to collaborate in ‘’a consolidated manner’’ in regional security issues. He said that this is even more important today, when phenomena of terrorism, extremism, organized crime continue to pose a real threat to the peace and well-being of entire states and regions. First meeting was held in Kazakhstan in 2018. The next Consultative Meeting of Heads of State of Central Asia will be held in 2020 in Kyrgyzstan.

China is providing the Central Asian countries surveillance technology for free. Benefit for China is that the data gleaned from these technologies goes back to Beijing so that the Chinese government can monitor activity in those countries. Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan have received loans from China as well as surveillance technology for security and policing, largely from Huawei. China’s easy terms for lending money come at the cost of the encroachment by Chinese business and politics as well as erosion of the country’s ownership of its own resources. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, for example, are at risk of debt-distress. China owns 41% of Kyrgyzstan’s debt and 53% of Tajikistan’s debt. Furthermore, Tajikistan and China have had an ongoing conflict over the border but in an effort to allay China’s debt repayments, Tajikistan has given over some border control. Additionally, the relatively porous borders between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Xinjiang province, mean that China’s oppression of the Uyghur people extends to other minorities. There are reportedly 22,000 ethnic Kyrgyz and 10,000 ethnic Kazakhs in China’s so-called re-education camps in Xinjiang. People in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have called upon their governments to get family members out of the detention camps, but their governments do not wish to rub China the wrong way as they are heavily dependent on China’s “munificence.’’

Grouping of electronic warfare systems at Russia’s military base in Tajikistan will be reinforced for the first time with the latest Pole-21 jamming station. This electronic countermeasures station is intended to protect strategically important facilities against cruise missiles, drones and guided air bombs by way of radio suppression of the equipment connected to global satellite and radio-navigation systems.

Kyrgyzstan's former president Almazbek Atambayev was forced to attend his corruption trial but refused to answer questions. Atambayev was detained in August following clashes at his residence between armed supporters and Special Forces that led to the death of an officer. Atambayev refused to answer even rudimentary questions.

Turkmenistan’s Interior Minister who had served as country’s top cop since May 2009 was fired from his position and put in jail for a period of 20-25 years for abusing his position by taking huge bribes and engaging in embezzlement. State television showed footage of items purportedly found during searches of his property which included huge stacks of dollar notes and expensive watches and jewellery. The former head of State Migration Service who was also Head of President Berdymukhamedov’s security was also sentenced to jail as he was found guilty of extorting bribes from businesspeople and using those funds to buy luxury homes and cars. It is however speculated that these two officials were arrested as they were trying to overthrow Berdymukhamedov and seize political power.

Summit of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan with participation of leaders of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. Russian President Putin outlined CSTO's priorities as Russia will be the group's president in 2020. Discussions on securing the Tajik-Afghan border, cooperation with UN on implementing the Global Counterterrorism Strategy, and coordinating the foreign-policy activities of CSTO members were held.

About 2,000 protesters rallied in central Bishkek demanding "punishment" for those at the center of suspected corruption in the country’s customs service and massive outflows of cash from the country. The protesters demanded a "proper" investigation into alleged corruption that has sparked public outcry in recent days. The demonstration was triggered by a whistleblower's claims of massive official corruption.


Economic Developments

At the annual SPECA (UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia) Forum, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan committed to increase cooperation on connectivity through sustainable transport and trade facilitation. The countries agreed to enhance collaboration to promote sub-regional implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The countries adopted the ‘Ashgabat Initiative on reduction of barriers to trade and transport in the region,’ drawing on UN standards and best practice recommendations.

European Union will provide 28 million Euros (about US$31 million) to support three multi-year programs in Central Asia, which aim to promote trade, the rule of law, investment and economic growth in the region. All three programs will start at beginning of 2020, in line with a new EU strategy for Central Asia adopted in June, 2019. EU believes that enhanced regional cooperation will allow Central Asian countries to better manage their interdependence, address their vulnerabilities and shared concerns, unlock economic growth potential, increase influence in international affairs while preserving their independence and identities.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a US$300 million policy-based loan to further strengthen economic management in Uzbekistan which should lead to greater macroeconomic stability and sustained economic growth. This is the second subprogram of ADB’s Economic Management Improvement Program in Uzbekistan, approved in June 2018. It seeks to improve the government’s economic decision making by modernizing the macroeconomic data management systems and helping the government introduce reforms in fiscal and public financial management such as a medium-term budget framework, internal audit, public sector accounting, and procurement to improve the efficiency and transparency of the public sector.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved US$ 10 million grant for tourism development in Tajikistan, the first assistance for tourism sector by ADB in Tajikistan. Tajikistan enjoys considerable advantages for developing tourism with its beautiful mountainous landscape, natural assets, and cultural and historical links to the ancient Silk routes and even earlier eras.

An interstate agreement was signed between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan for the joint construction, ownership and use of the Trans-Caspian Fibre Optic - a fibre-optic communication line between the two countries along the bottom of the Caspian Sea. This trunk line will create the Digital Silk Road between Europe and Asia. It will allow Internet traffic from the European Internet centers through Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.


India-Central Asia Relations 

Home Minister Amit Shah and his Uzbek counterpart signed a pact for further strengthening cooperation in counter-terrorism, human trafficking and organised crime. Issues related to capacity building and training for Uzbek security personnel in Indian institutions, border guarding and disaster management were also discussed.

Indian troops visited Uzbekistan for the first time for the Indo-Uzbek Joint Exercise named ‘Dustlik 2019’. Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh attended the curtain raiser event of this joint exercise along with his Uzbek counterpart. This was a 10-day-long drill conducted near Tashkent. Three Agreements pertaining to military medicine and military education were also signed on the occasion. In his Address to SCO, Raksha Mantri highlighted the significance of this organisation in effectively addressing the challenges facing the region. He said that approaches, which are inclusive, transparent and firmly anchored in multilateralism, are needed. Successful multilateralism also needs adherence to core principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference and mutual cooperation. He added that terrorism continues to disrupt our societies and undermine our developmental endeavors. The only way to fight this scourge is to strengthen and implement, without exceptions or double standards, all existing international laws and mechanisms to combat terrorists & their enablers.

India’s Minister of State for External Affairs met former Uzbek Deputy PM and Chairman of Commerce and Industry and held wide-ranging discussions on promoting trade and investment between the two countries.

India will host the Meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2020. The Meeting will approve the Draft Roadmap on cooperation between research institutions of SCO Member States for the period 2020-’23. India will also host the SCO Forum of Young Scientists and Innovators in 2020.

India will soon renew its pact with Kazakhstan for supply of uranium ore from 2020 to 2024. India sources nearly 80% of its requirement from Kazakhstan.
 
India signed a long term contract with Uzbekistan for supply of 1,100 metric tonnes of natural uranium ore concentrates during 2022 to 2026.

Uzbekistan and India signed several agreements in education, innovation and technology. As part of one MoU, the Gujarat Forensic Sciences University in Gandhinagar would give admission to Uzbek students in different post graduate courses, and train Uzbek officials in different forensic sciences. The Uzbek delegation also visited the International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology (iCreate) near Ahmedabad and signed a MoU on cooperation for promoting start-up ecosystem in Uzbekistan and training entrepreneurs at iCreate.

Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies of Uzbekistan signed a cooperation agreement to expand educational research activities for mutual benefit of both the institutions and to promote oriental studies in Asia. Under terms of cooperation, both institutions would collaborate on exchange of graduate and undergraduate students as well as research and teaching staff besides enabling each other for co-supervision of doctoral research. The Uzbek delegation also visited the MMAJ Academy of International Studies where Uzbek language is taught.

In the Surajkund International Crafts Mela to be held from February 1 to 17, 2020, Uzbekistan will be the “Partner Nation.” Apart from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, the cultural diversity of Samarkand and Bukhara, major cities of Uzbekistan will also be seen in the Craft Mela. 

The Abay Kazakh State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre showcased a recital in Mumbai as part of the National Centre for Performing Arts' Festival, with a production of its masterpiece Chopiniana. 

Bukhara State Medical Institute, one of the leading Institutions in Central Asia is exploring the possibility of starting joint courses, undertaking student and faculty exchanges and other mutually beneficial programmes between various institutes of India and Gujarat. It is particularly looking at promoting Uzbekistan’s traditional medicine and Ayurveda.

In a major boost to start-ups in the state, Gujarat-based company and start-up accelerator, DevX signed an MOU with the Ministry of Innovative Development of Uzbekistan. The MOU will enhance bilateral cooperation among start-ups of the two countries for research and innovation.

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About the Author

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar

Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia; President, Institute of Global Studies and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar belongs to the Indian Foreign Service and has acquitted his responsibilities in the diplomatic service for 34 years. He was Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia and has worked in senior diplomatic positions in Indian Embassies/Missions in Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Geneva, Tehran, Dhaka and Bangkok and also at Headquarters in India. He negotiated for India in the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and in negotiations for India-EU, India-ASEAN and India-Thailand Free Trade Agreements.

He contributed significantly to strengthening strategic ties and promoting cultural cooperation between India and USA, EU, Russia and other countries.Ambassador Sajjanhar worked as head of National Foundation for Communal Harmony to promote amity and understanding between different religions, faiths and beliefs. Ambassador Sajjanhar has been decorated by Governments of Kazakhstan and Latvia with their National Awards and by Universal Peace Federation with Title of ''Ambassador of Peace.'' Currently Ambassador Sajjanhar is President of Institute of Global Studies, New Delhi. He writes, travels and speaks extensively on issues relating to international relations, foreign policy and themes of contemporary relevance and significance. He appears widely on TV panel discussions. Ambassador Sajjanhar is interested in reading, music and travelling. His wife Madhu is an economist and an educationist. They have a son and a daughter both of who are accomplished singers. Their son passed out of Yale University and their daughter is pursuing her PhD at University of Minnesota.