Political Developments - April 2018

Leaders of five Central Asian countries—four presidents and head of Turkmenistan’s parliament—met in Astana, Kazakhstan to discuss cooperation and integration. Tone of meeting was set by Kazakh President who declared that “in order to solve problems of Central Asia, we do not need any third persons. We ourselves can resolve all questions.” Meeting could represent a turning point for the region. Nazarbayev emphasised that this was happening primarily because of new president of Uzbekistan. Nazarbayev stressed result of “enormous work” by Uzbek President who suggested that meeting be held in Astana.

Former President Almazbek Atambaev's outbursts during last months of his Presidency last year had rankled many inside and outside the country. He kept a relatively low profile after demitting office on November 24, 2017, but after his election as head of ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) on March 31, 2018, he returned to making controversial and disparaging comments particularly about his successor Sooronbai Jeenbekov. Atambayev had worked hard to get Jeenbekov elected as president. Atambayev appears to have been deeply incensed because Jeenbekov has purged high ranking security officials who were considered close to Atambayev, and also, because Jeenbekov has launched a crusade against corruption, which is an area where Atambayev prided his achievements.

In a symbolic move, Serdar Berdymukhamedov (SB), son of President of Turkmenistan, who worked as a diplomat before becoming an MP in 2016, attended a summit of Central Asian leaders in Kazakhstan and met President Nazarbayev. Speaker of Turkmen Parliament also attended the Summit in place of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. Some observers predict that SB, 36, would eventually become speaker and succeed his father. On his return from Kazakhstan, SB was appointed as Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan.

Uzbek President launched a major reorganization of powerful National Security Service (SNB) in one of most ambitious reforms since he took power in December, 2016. He issued a decree slashing powers of intelligence agency, long seen as a repressive secret police. Mirziyoyev’s decree transferred responsibility for a range of issues, including security of state institutions, from SNB to the Interior Ministry. Other tasks, including building and maintaining security installations, will be transferred to ministry of defence. Recent removal of SNB Chief Inoyatov was particularly significant as he was one of Uzbekistan’s most powerful officials during regime of former president Islam Karimov.

Iran decided to resume gas swap arrangements with Turkmenistan starting March 28, 2018 following negotiations during visit of Iranian President Rouhani to Ashgabat. Iran had stopped importing gas from Turkmenistan because of a payment dispute. Iran received Turkmenistan's proposal to develop three gas fields in the Caspian Sea. The two countries signed 13 agreements related to cultural and youth affairs, science, trade, industry, agriculture, exchange of electronic customs information, and aviation.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stated that total number of Daesh sympathizers and foreign combatants in Afghanistan is less than 2,000. Between 3,000 - 4,000 fighters of Daesh had been killed in offensives conducted by Afghan and US-led troops in past few years. They do not pose a threat to Afghanistan and the region. An Afghan Defence Ministry representative said "we know for sure that the group is not as active and strong as it is rumoured to be.” President Ghani's chief spokesman stated that "majority of Daesh elements in Afghanistan are Pakistani nationals.’’

A US strategic analyst has stated that Russia first established contacts with Taliban in 2007 to discuss drug trafficking through Central Asian countries. Moscow is again in contact with Taliban but this time, contacts are not limited to drug trafficking. Analysts say that Russia realizes that US policies in Afghanistan have failed, and therefore appears keen to re-enter the scene in a big way. Russia fears that Afghanistan may become another safe haven for Islamic State after Iraq and Syria. Moscow wants to make sure that doesn't happen anywhere near to Central Asia. Taliban appears to have assured Russia and Central Asian countries that it would not allow any group, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, to use Afghan soil against any foreign state.

Uzbekistan signed an agreement with Russia to purchase more than ten Mi-35M military helicopters. This sale is notable because under former President Karimov, Uzbekistan kept its distance from Russia. Also, it makes Uzbekistan the only post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) country to receive weapons from Moscow at domestic Russian prices. Uzbekistan remains outside the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union.

During visit of Kyrgyz President to Ankara, Turkish President Erdogan urged Kyrgyzstan to take stronger action against the group blamed for a failed July 2016 coup. Erdogan’s relations with former Kyrgyz President were strained as Erdogan accused Atambayev of failing to take tough action against Gulen’s party.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Kazakhstan’s decision of visa-free entry to U.S. citizens would require approval of Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), comprising Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. Lavrov’s comment surprised many, particularly authorities in Kazakhstan. It was another reminder that balancing of relations that Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbaev, has so deftly managed with the country’s neighbours for more than two decades has become more complicated lately. Kazakh Foreign Ministry said the introduction or cancellation of visa regime for foreign citizens is the right of any sovereign country.


April 30, 2018

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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.