Op-Ed: United Central Asia – stronger Central Asia
The Central Asia countries are developing a similar to the Schengen zone visa system, according to Kazakhstani Senator, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Defense and Security Dariga Nazarbayeva. She believes the prospected Silk-visa zone will attract foreign tourists to the Central Asian region.
Kazakhstani mass media quickly circulated the news, however, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Tajik also followed the suit. Practically all comments under these articles from internet users are positive; and this is not surprising as the potential of the Central Asian countries is growing every year, and not only in tourism.
Certainly, such a proposal would not have been voiced, if the countries of this region had sour relations, or had strong disagreements that could interfere in their cooperation. And this cooperation develops not only because of the economic needs of the states.
First of all, the Central Asian countries have similar cultures, traditions, mentality and languages. And living in accord with each other in a common and understandable language environment makes it easier to come to a consensus.
So tourism is one of the essential areas for cooperation but not the most important. Uzbekistan, which previously actively opposed any integration, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and all of the Central Asian states will now only benefit by uniting efforts.
And most importantly, not even for financial need, but for security. Especially today, when the issue of countering the development and spread of religious extremist organizations is becoming urgent, in addition to this, the issue of combating drug trafficking from Afghanistan is no less important.
The last point is one of the most painful for the countries of Central Asia, there are several drug trafficking routes, but almost all of them run through the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries: through the Afghan-Uzbek border, the Afghan-Turkmen border to Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan and further to Russia. And this problem can be solved only by joint efforts, because even if one state in this link will weaken its work, it will automatically downgrade the efforts of all others. However, common goals and efforts are needed not only in the struggle for regional security.
Lest we forget the countries of Central Asia together is a huge market of about 70 million people. For example, Bishkek and Astana are planning to increase mutual trade to $1 billion US dollars. And the trade turnover between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2016 was only $169 million US dollars, before the end of this year, the authorities of the two countries intend to bring these figures to half a million US dollars. Uzbekistan is eager to expand cooperation within Central Asia.
And here is just one example: Tashkent has adopted a program for the development of leather and caracul industries, and the market for the countries of the Central Asian region is the main market for the produce. The Central Asian countries are gradually opening borders and facilitating labor for the neighboring citizens.
In March this year, the first consultative meeting of the heads of Central Asian states was held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. At the meeting, the presidents stated that Central Asia is not only a geographical and geopolitical, but also a single cultural space. An important part of such cooperation is also the future interconnection of the transport and communication policy of the two countries.
In March, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Speaker of the Mejlis Akja Nurberdiyeva, representing Turkmenistan at the meeting, considered the agreement on the point of junction of the state borders of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, this issue, by the way, could not find a solution for many years, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan reached an agreement on 85 percent of the border. And Mirziyoyev, at this meeting, encouraged his colleagues to hold regular meetings. The idea was supported unanimously; the next meeting will be held in Tashkent in 2019.
Mirziyoyev was first to propose to hold such a summit, he announced it in September 2017 - at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly. After all, from the very first days after he assumed leadership in Uzbekistan, he stated that the foreign policy of the country will be focused on strengthening all-round cooperation with the neighboring countries.
Director of the Institute for Regional Problems Dmitry Zhuravlyov in an interview with the Tajik media noted that “for Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, communication with each other is now based on the scheme -- all for one -- and not -- everyone for himself.”
This scheme should be applied as soon as possible, both world and Central Asian politicians and experts agree. UN experts published the results of research: over the past 10 years, the average GDP growth of the Central Asian countries as a whole was 6.2%, when the whole world developed at a rate of 2.6%. There is a sharp increase in turnover, which doubled in 10 years - from $1.6 billion to $3.1 billion US dollars.
The the heads of state pay special attention to the transit potential, therefore the system of transportation of goods will be simplified, transport and road infrastructure will develop.
President of Kazakhstan urged his colleagues to solve the problem jointly, without political bargaining, putting forward the needs of their countries. After all, only in such conditions -- open and friendly -- the unification of the potential of the countries of Central Asia will give the maximum results.
Furthermore, of the most important issues on the agenda for Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan is the water resource, and this key question may hit the economy of all countries, but also can affect the lives of the people of all the five states and escalate into a regional water crisis.
Political will of the leaders of the countries and the desire to solve the problem is the main driver. And it seems that the Presidents of the Central Asian states decided to cooperate, focusing on the result, which would satisfy the interests of all the five nations.