Political Developments - February 2018

US President Donald Trump met Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Washington DC. Both leaders agreed to enter into an Enhanced Strategic Partnership. Nazarbayev declared a "new era of relations" between the two countries that will cooperate on supply of U.S. and Afghan militaries. Nazarbayev expressed desire to host talks to find a peaceful solution for North Korean nuclear crisis and asserted that having abandoned its own nukes, Kazakhstan has a moral right to call on Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear programs. U.S. companies signed 20 commercial contracts worth US$7.5 billion.

Nazarbayev spoke about a new format of cooperation between Central Asia and United States termed as "C5+1." He said that region will certainly benefit from American finance and technology. A meeting of foreign ministers of C5+1 will be held in first quarter of 2018. Commenting on US intention to hold such a meeting, Russian Foreign Minister said that Washington’s intention is not aimed at helping economic growth of Central Asia; rather US is pursuing its geopolitical goals and implementing its Greater Central Asia project. Russian strategy is to firmly push back US efforts to expand its influence in Central Asia.

Nazarbayev offered Kazakhstan as venue for talks to solve Ukraine-Russia crisis, which has severely damaged US-Russian relations. The Minsk Process is at a dead end, and the parties — Ukraine, Russia, European countries, and U.S. — need to try new approaches. In response to Belarus's criticism of this suggestion, Kazakhstan said that it does not doubt the importance of Minsk platform, and "respects” the Minsk peace accords. It does not wish to interfere in Minsk process but is ready to offer a new platform for talks if a request came from the warring sides. Nazarbayev stated that the proposal had emerged in response to a suggestion by Trump. Russia said that commitment to Minsk accords is "more important than the venue for negotiations."

As President of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for January, 2018, Kazakhstan chaired the quarterly UNSC open debate on Middle East- Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides were exhorted to avoid unilateral actions that could delay achievement of an early and fair resolution of the conflict.

Speaking at UNSC Meeting on building regional partnership in Afghanistan and Central Asia convened by Kazakhstan as President of UNSC for January, 2018, UN Secretary General (UNSG) said that regional cooperation offers opportunities to address common concerns, including counter-terrorism financing, improving border security, fostering dialogue with religious institutions and leaders, and countering human trafficking and drug smuggling. He said that even “modest” improvements can result in substantial gains and noted recent intensification of cooperation on sharing water resources. He said that "only by addressing the root causes of crisis, including inequality, exclusion and discrimination, will we build peaceful societies resilient to terrorism and violent extremism.’’

Despite an increase in activities of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan stated that all Central Asia countries believe Afghanistan should not be viewed as a threat. Instead, Kazakhstan considered it crucial to integrate Afghanistan’s economy with the region by promoting regional infrastructure, trade, investment, transit and transportation projects.

Russian foreign minister stated that militants are fleeing from Syria to Central Asia, including Northern Afghanistan. He said that Northern Afghanistan is turning into a main base for international terrorism with Afghan wing of Islamic State in the lead. He said that Russia is open for multilateral cooperation on implementation of large-scale economic and infrastructure projects such as TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline and Central Asia-South Asia (CASA-1000) energy bridge.

Speaking at UNSC, Nazarbayev called on North Korea to give up its nukes. He further advocated boosting confidence measures and faster nuclear weapons reductions by P-5, which would encourage other countries not to pursue nuclear weapons. In addition, Nazarbayev called for a UNSC resolution outlining sanctions against countries that move to quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty and obtain nukes.

Kazakh Foreign Minister proposed a code of conduct to achieve a terrorism-free world by 2045. The proposal calls for creation of a broad international coalition of partner countries to counter terrorism.

Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov discussed current state of bilateral relations with his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon during his visit to Dushanbe. They identified priority areas for further cooperation including trade and economy, transport, cultural and humanitarian spheres.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev dismissed chief of Uzbekistan’s National Security Service (NSS) Rustam Inoyatov who held this position since 1995. Mirziyoyev had criticized the leadership of NSS in December, 2017 and called for immediate reforms in the agency. The replacement is important as, since demise of president Islam Karimov in 2016, a power struggle has been evident between Mirzyoyev’s and Inoyatov’s supporters. With replacement of his long-time rival, Mirziyoyev is now in almost full control to pursue his reform agenda, including scrapping internal visas for Uzbeks willing to go abroad, liberalizing media sector, etc.

Foreign Ministers of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan met in Ashgabat and agreed to intensify work of intergovernmental Turkmen-Azerbaijani commission on trade and economic cooperation and to develop relations in energy and transport, logistics, and developing effective mechanisms for car-ferry and rail-ferry services.

Uzbek Foreign Minister visited USA and met top U.S. officials including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has banned women from driving cars. This comes after his decision to ban black vehicles because white cars are luckier. If women are seen driving, they risk losing their license as well as their car. President Berdymukhammedov apparently decided to take action because, according to Turkmen authorities, women drivers are responsible for majority of car accidents.

Governor of Ferghana Province in Uzbekistan has forbidden young men of 20-22 years to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform haj. He also declared that local residents will be forbidden to travel to Russia. He made this announcement after 52 Uzbek nationals died when a bus carrying them to Russia caught fire in Kazakhstan.


February 19, 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.