Political Developments - July 2017

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani visited Turkmenistan on 3rd July and held discussions with his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov on trade and investment, the Turkmenistan-Afghan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, regional safety and bilateral cooperation. Another important project discussed was railway from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan. The leaders agreed to continue cooperation to combat international terrorism, extremism, illegal drug trafficking, trans-boundary crime etc. Supply of Turkmen electrical energy to Afghanistan was an important subject of negotiations. Several Agreements on infrastructure, railway communication, manufacturing etc were signed. Ashgabat will host the 7th Regional Economic Conference on Afghanistan from November 14-15, 2017.  

A forum on security and development of Central Asia, Caucasus, Afghanistan, Mongolia was held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan with the support of Rumsfeld Foundation. Representatives discussed a range of issues, including settlement of regional conflicts, development of transport corridors, mutual support to entrepreneurship and trade, joint struggle against terrorism.

Russian and Uzbek militaries will hold joint tactical exercises at the Forish ground in October 2017. These will be the first Joint Exercises that militaries of the two countries will conduct since 2005. Uzbekistan has however denied any intention of re-joining the Russia led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). 

Bilateral consultations between Defense Ministries of Kazakhstan and the United States were held in Washington, followed by signing of a new five-year cooperation plan defining areas of cooperation for years 2018-2022. 

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that Kazakhstan will continue to provide a platform for international actors to meet to help resolve the Syrian conflict. He said that Astana talks have already proved their effectiveness.

Kazakh capital Astana hosted the fifth round of Syria Peace Talks on 4-5 July with participation of Assad regime and the armed opposition. At the fourth meeting on May 4, the three guarantor countries - Russia, Turkey and Iran - signed a deal to establish de-escalation zones in Syria. 

The Respublika party congress unanimously nominated leader of Kyrgyz parliamentary opposition, ex-prime minister, Omurbek Babanov, as presidential candidate. Babanov said that he wants the people to live better right now, and not in 20 years. Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov has been nominated for president by the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK). Jeenbekov said he is ready to work for Kyrgyzstan and praised President Almazbek Atambayev in bringing back peace to the country. Kyrgyzstan’s outgoing President Atambayev has said he would “remain in politics” to lead a reorganization of ruling SDPK. 

Uzbek President Mirziyoyev deserves credit for acting on his promise to improve ties with the neighbours. Six months into his tenure, Uzbekistan's relations with its neighbouring states are already better than they were during the last 10 or 15 years under Karimov. Most agreements he has reached with Uzbekistan’s neighbours consist of efforts to address short-term political necessities.

China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is making some leaders in Central Asia nervous as they welcome economic engagement with Beijing but remain wary of potential problems the project could unleash. Russia is not fully satisfied or comfortable either. Central Asia remains suspicious about China's real intentions, which seem focused on region's natural resources and connectivity potential. Beijing's policies are likely to benefit regional elites rather than ordinary people leading to social discontent that could impede the BRI. 

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Deputy Chairman of Turkmen Cabinet of Ministers, Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov met in Dushanbe and discussed bilateral cooperation in economy, trade, energy, TAPI, joint projects in road transport, direct flights between the two countries, construction of regional railways, greater interaction in science, education, culture and healthcare, security, combating international terrorism and extremism, illegal drug trafficking and situation in Afghanistan.

Relations of Tajikistan with Iran have declined while those between Tajikistan and Saudi Arabia are prospering principally because of financial support being provided by the latter. Saudi Arabia contributed $35 million to build 30 middle schools in Tajikistan. Tajik government has restricted activities of Iranian companies and forced some of them to shut down. Iran has said that bilateral issues with Tajikistan can be settled through negotiations.

Amid a stand-off in the Sikkim sector with Chinese troops, India attended an SCO meeting in China to enhance anti-terrorism and border control mechanisms among member nations. 
Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry affirmed its position that Kazakhstan will not send Kazakh troops to fight in Syria.

Kazakhstan's new religious policy requires religious associations to be financially transparent, and that preaching does not promote extremism, incite violence, or inspire hatred. Nazarbayev has been harshly critical of movements and ideologies originating outside the region. Kazakhstan has taken steps over the years to ban a number of them, including Al Nusra Front, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda-affiliated Jama'at al-Muslimin, popularly known as Takfir wal Hijra. State policy is looking to prohibit radical religious groups promoting Wahhabism, Takfirism or persons being financed from outside the country.

Kazakhstan is discussing legislation that would ban Arab-styled black clothing for women and growing beards for men. 

South Korea and five Central Asian countries launched an office in Seoul to facilitate diplomatic, business and people-to-people cooperation through high-level dialogue, exchanges of working-level public officials and cultural festivals. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Seoul and the five states of Central Asia. Several Korean companies including Samsung, LG and Hyundai Engineering have been building power and chemical plants, renovating refining facilities in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Some 500,000 ethnic Koreans live across Central Asia, about 200,000 of which are in Uzbekistan.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid a three day visit to Kazakhstan from 11th July, 2017. He hailed Kazakhstan as an "anchor of stability" in the often turbulent region of Central Asia. Steinmeier and Nazarbayev expressed interest in expanding bilateral ties in all areas. Nazarbayev said that Germany is Kazakhstan’s reliable friend and key economic partner. Steinmeier, however, also noted room for improvement in Kazakhstan's rule of law and building trust. Steinmeier’s visit was connected to EXPO 17 in Astana dedicated to Clean Energy. 

Russia is pushing its allies to join the fight in Syria in hope of broadening its influence in the Middle East. Senior parliamentary officials said that Moscow was in talks with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan about deploying their forces in Syria to help monitor the conflict.

There appears to be growing anger among Kazakhs having relatives in China over Chinese Communist Party's apparent crackdown on the minority ethnic group within its borders. A group of state scientists and scholars have hit out at "persecution" of ethnic Kazakhs by Chinese authorities, and called on Astana to put pressure on Beijing. 

Security forces from Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and U.S., as well as observers from Kazakhstan, conducted the multinational annual Regional Cooperation (RC) 2017 command-post exercise in Dushanbe, Tajikistan from July 10 to 23, 2017.

 

July 31, 2017

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About the Author

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.