Central Asian integration: winners no losers
Is the Central Asian integration possible or is it just a pipe dream? What kind of a player would Central Asia be as a union? And finally, what is holding the five Central Asian countries up from uniting?
With the new leader in power, Uzbekistan is showing the first signs of changing the course of its foreign policy, first of all, towards its neighbors. Tajikistan is opening up to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as the country is reviewing the possibility of joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Kazakhstan, has been always playing the mediator role, not only in the region but globally. For now, only Turkmenistan is keeping some distance from the regional neighbors but is not completely closed and is maintaining the “brotherly” ties with all the five countries in Central Asia. Turkmenistan’s wise, observing policy, however, is not crucial as the integration of even four states could empower the region to a new level and solve numerous issues for each country.
All five states have some things in common: cultures, traditions, some have similar languages and, of course, the Soviet past. Kazakhstan had always played a neutral and a uniting role the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union, however the attempts to unite the region were futile. The are a few reasons for that: the ongoing debates of water issues, inter-ethnic conflicts, border problems between some states and obviously the mutual competition, which, by the way, can be rightfully justified.
Another serious problem is the geographical location between the North Caucasus, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China and, of course, Afghanistan. All these regions are engulfed, one way or another, in conflicts posing such threats as the expansion of religious fundamentalism or terrorism, for instance, uncontrolled migration and drug trafficking or smuggling of drugs and weapons. And what’s worse – the Central Asian states can’t agree on preventive measures to combat these threats, which adds up to the existing problem.
However, if united, the states could turn the geographical location into a huge privilege instead. Central Asia is at the crossroads of key transport corridors in Eurasia – by removing costs and some restrictions on the borders the estimated transit time could be significantly shortened, which could make Central Asia a preferable land route to the sea alternative.
Besides, the region is abundant with natural resources and has huge reserves of water. If united the region could become completely independent from foreign players.
According to the UN, such a union could at least double the region’s GDP in just a decade.
Experts, who realize the regional potential, are only hoping for such an integration in the future, and, perhaps, the change in the Uzbek foreign policy and Tajikistan’s interest in accession to the EAEU are the first steps toward a new potential union.