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Central Asia

The less explored foreign policy options & the connection between TAPI-CPEC and Afghanistan

Nasurullah Brohi

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After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Central Asia Republics (CARs), the countries with their huge economic potential have been less explored foreign policy options of Pakistan. Despite the fact that being located in the same region and exceptionally sharing common characteristics, the geo-political and geo-economic importance of Pakistan and CARs could naturally stimulate the two sides to reach out to each though.

Pakistan has always sustained a hope to become a gateway to the Central Asia but the occasional efforts, the two sides have not been so successful to forge closer political and economic relations and even after a period of three decades, Pakistan is yet to make any breakthrough into the Central Asian region. Even though their immense richness in term of energy and other natural resources, Pakistan could not benefit at the required levels at least to address its energy issues through the bilateral relations with these countries. The gas fields of the Uzbekistan are also overlooked whereas if the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) connected with the CPEC, the region can linkup the natural gas resources of Uzbekistan that could easily overcome the Pakistan’s energy crisis and would help boosting the ties of the country with all the states in Central Asian region. The Central Asian region vastly rich in untapped natural resources and being landlocked-having no sailing route and sea connection with the rest of the world is actually one of the foremost drawbacks that also decrease the chances of the trade and exports the resources from this region. Even located at the immediate neighborhood, the South Asian region is colossally energy-starved.

However, together with the Gwadar Port of Pakistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project there is incomparable potential to spectacularly make over the regional dynamics in terms of trade and investment and the development. It would be without any exaggeration to actually call it a game changer that would of course uplift the lives of about 3 billion people across China, Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. The Gwadar and the CPEC have outstandingly brought the strategic and economic moments in favor of Pakistan and has twisted a wide range of opportunities for the country where it has assumed the position of economic pivot for the whole region.

The Central Asian States also utter enthusiasm of a regional linkage and eagerly are desirous to benefit from the projects that will remarkably assist in connecting the Central Asian countries for trading and exporting their energy resources to the European markets. Moreover, with the advent of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the regional geopolitics has also assumed new characteristics where the region and their people are going to be better connected than ever before. Notably, during the recent visit of Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in March 2016, the two sides keenly agreed to overcome their detachment and explore the options on enhancing trade, economic relations, energy sharing, people-to-people contacts and the tourism. The particular focus also remained on the timely completion of the projects of extraordinary importance ranging from the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline to Dushanbe’s potential linkup with the CPEC. Moreover, the unique geo-economic and geo-political significance of both sides, Pakistan and Turkmenistan decided to pay special attention to establishing air, road and rail links on a priority basis.

The greater interests of the two sides link with the TAPI and the CPEC that would further move forward to improve the regional connectivity and serve the economic activity. The emergence of the CPEC is unusually an incomparable trade route to discover the potential or the region besides; Pakistan’s accession to the TIR (international road transport) convention is another surplus opportunity whereas; the TAPI could provide crucial linkage to CPEC. Nevertheless, with the initiation of the CPEC Project, the manifold options have increased the optimism about Pakistan benefitting from lucrative foreign trade and investment whereas, the Central Asian states into jumping aboard as well.

Finally, to make the long cherished dreams resounding success, the reality lies with the facts of regional peace and stability. Nevertheless, the chaotic security situation in Afghanistan is purely a factor that could seriously undermine and hinge the linkage between Pakistan and the Central Asian States. The instable political and security situation in Afghanistan has gloomy repercussions for the rest of the region and the main reason for the delay in timely execution TAPI project conceived since 1990s. Aware of its importance Pakistan considers the TAPI project a ‘trailblazing project’ that enables the region to become an energy hub and source of diplomatic networking but however, all possible efforts should be made to address the Afghan issue at priority basis. The region’s economic development mainly depends on the fact that TAPI will only work if there is peace and stability in Afghanistan since the pipeline will pass through northeastern part of the Afghanistan.

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Central Asia

Preventing Violent Extremism through Education in Central Asia

MD Staff

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photo: UNESCO

The UNESCO Almaty Cluster Office in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and UNESCO Headquarters, in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), held a Sub-regional workshop on the prevention of violent extremism through education on 13-15 November in Almaty.

UNESCO’s approach to preventing violent extremism through education is related to its work on Global Citizenship Education (GСED). Based on its long-standing commitment to peace and human rights education, the GCED strives to foster respect for all, create a sense of belonging to humanity and help students become responsible and active citizens. Thus, the GCED creates conditions for strengthening students’ commitment to renouncing violence and peace and creating conditions for protection from hatred, discrimination and violent extremism.

The workshop was organized within the framework of the partnership of UNESCO and UNODC on “Education in the spirit of global citizenship in support of the rule of law”. It strengthened the capacity of education stakeholders to implement educational measures and approaches to prevent violent extremism in an effective and appropriate manner. More specifically, the workshop provided a common discussion platform for a clearer understanding of the issues of violent extremism in the Central Asian region, as well as discussed new tools and innovative approaches and drew up a plan for further action to prevent violent extremism through education in Central Asia.

During the workshop, the participants also had a chance to visit the Nazarbayev Intellectual School and Almaty State College of Tourism and Hospitality Industry and observe open classes on global citizenship education and values.

The workshop brought together education stakeholders from all over Central Asia, including representatives from the ministries of education and community development, universities and research institutes, as well as youth organizations and civil society. International experts from France, UNODC, UNESCO as well as other UN agencies and international organizations also took part in the event.

UNESCO

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Developing the IT sector will make Central Asia more united and independent

Anatoly Motkin

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This September marked the second anniversary of the death of Islam Karimov, the former President of Uzbekistan, and the de-facto accession to power of Shavkat Mirziyoyev (who was later officially elected to the presidency in December 2016).

In record-breaking time President Mirziyoyev solved border disputes with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – which had previously been considered unsolvable, significantly strengthened relations with Kazakhstan, conducted sweeping economic reforms, and opened Uzbekistan to foreign investments.

The activity of the new reformist president led to positive changes not only in Uzbekistan itself, but in the region as a whole. The change of power in Uzbekistan – the most highly populated Central Asian country, located right in the middle of the region – marked the beginning of the Central Asian Spring, which, in contrast to the Arab Spring, has been characterized by gradual reforms and, above all, economic liberalization.

In March 2018, for the first time since the beginning of the 2000’s, a summit of the Central Asian countries’ leaders took place in Astana, Kazakhstan. It was attended by presidents of every country in the region (except Turkmenistan which was represented by the Chair of the country’s parliament). This summit, along with a notable strengthening of connections between the two most prominent countries of the region – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – laid the ground for talks regarding the creation of a new regional union, the goal of which would be to strengthen the economic independence of the Central Asian region, and later its political independence as well.

The first attempts at economic unification of Central Asian countries date back to the mid-1990’s, and were being undertaken as late as the mid-2000’s. However, each time those attempts were beset with insurmountable obstacles – the position of the late Uzbek president Islam Karimov who basically isolated Uzbekistan from any foreign influence, the border conflicts between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and the personal ambitions of the Central Asian countries’ leaders.

It is rather ironic that Uzbekistan – which for а long time halted the process of regional integration – is today, along with Kazakhstan, its primary moving force. Riding the wave of “the Uzbek thaw,” and highlighted against the backdrop of problems associated with the functioning of the Eurasian economic Union, for the first time in many years the conditions for the creation of a regional union are favorable.

For now, the countries of the region are treading very carefully when it comes to this idea. There have been too many unsuccessful attempts at unification in the past, and interstate contradictions are still too strong, as well as the differences in the countries’ approach to issues. Besides, such unification may not be well liked by the “Big Neighbors” of the region – Russia and China – who may put forth efforts to prevent the emergence of a strong and independent regional player.

The geographic location of Central Asia also provides its opponents with an advantage: each country individually (and the region as a whole) is landlocked, and as a consequence the operation of logistical and energy chains is fully dependent on the goodwill of the “Big Neighbors.” Only fundamental changes to the very structure of the regions’ economy can help overcome this dependence. Such changes are now underway.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are striving to abandon the natural resource-dependent model and develop innovations. An example of that is the “Astana Hub” – a financial and technological center which has the capabilities to speed up the technological upgrading not just of Kazakhstan alone, but the entire Central Asian region.

The simultaneous development of an IT ecosystem of innovations in the countries of Central Asia will create new possibilities for regional collaboration, as well as for collaboration of the Central Asian IT sector with global centers of the IT industry.

Central Asia’s old economic model relied on each of the countries having different and separate economic relations with its “Big Neighbors” and – facilitated by those “Big Neighbors” acting as intermediaries – with countries of the West. The new Central Asian model envisions the five countries – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan – being integrated into a common economic market and having direct connections with Western markets, bypassing the intermediary function of the “Big Neighbors.” As shown through the success of the European Bank’s ‘Investing in Central Asia’ forum which aimed to highlight opportunities for business expansion into the region, Central Asian countries will become integrated into the world ecosystem both in the information and economic realms.

However, in order to implement this plan both the Western business world and the political decision makers have lots of work ahead of them. As the new “IT tiger,” Central Asia may be interesting to the world industry’s giants only as a united region, and they must view it as such already, by extending a certain credibility to the new economic initiatives originating in that region. This means opening regional offices in the local IT clusters and entrusting them first with outsourcing and then with R&D, serving as evangelists of the new economy in contacts with representatives of the Central Asian countries’ governments, and considering the possibilities of investing into local startups jointly with governments. Western policymakers will need to get ready to provide the most favorable environment to the IT industry for any trade and economic relations with countries of the region.

As energy exports are the foundation of economic well-being for the majority of the region’s countries, it places those countries in the position of competitors who are dependent on their neighboring states, above all Russia and China. Developing advanced technologies, attracting Western investments and Western experience, and creating a Central Asian IT market will serve a dual purpose: in reducing the Central Asian countries’ dependence on their neighbors, and in becoming the catalyst for unification processes in the region.

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Central Asia

Turkmenistan, the heart of the Silk Road

Batyr Niyazliev

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Over 140 years have passed since Ferdinand von Richthofen, a German geologist, geographer and traveler and the president of the Berlin Geographical Society, coined the term Silk Road. Several more decades had passed before scholars in different countries became seriously interested in this phenomenon of the antique and medieval world and began to study specific routes of caravan trade where Turkmen land had an important place. The Silk Road era, which lasted for more than 15 centuries, has left thousands of monuments and landmarks along the entire route from the Mediterranean to the Far East. Many of them are located on the territory of Turkmenistan.

In the modern era, the legendary route is being restored in a new quality, carrying the idea of revitalizing and strengthening trade, economic, humanitarian, and cultural ties between states and peoples. In his book, “Turkmenistan, the Heart of the Silk Road,” Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, citing facts of national history, ancient tales and legends, as well as events and developments from the country’s modern life, notes that a fundamental role in the evolution and active use of the Silk Road, each of its branches being on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites, belongs to, among others, the Turkmen people.

Thus, as our state carries out major transport projects of the century, a modern history is being written and the idea of restoring the Silk Road – the heart of which is independent and neutral Turkmenistan – is being revisited.

The Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran transnational railway line that has been put into operation can carry up to 10-12 million tons of cargo and makes it possible to connect to transport infrastructure in the east and south, gaining access to dynamically developing markets. Turkmenistan believes it is essential to focus efforts on ensuring that the opportunities for Central Asian and Caspian states arising in connection with these major transit projects be used to the maximum degree possible.

Convenient and safe international corridors using rail, motor, air, and water transport ensure the sustainable development of the entire region, foster neighborly relations between nations, strengthen cooperation, expand the volumes of trade turnover and help address a number of social issues. As a strategic goal defining the contours of a new, large-scale format of cooperation on the continent, they help create wide-ranging and promising geoeconomic configurations. In this context, it is important to note that an international sea port in the city of Turkmenbashi is due to be put into operation in the very near future.

The state invests heavily in modernizing the material and technical base of the transport sector and improving management through modern technology. High priority is given to developing sea and river transport infrastructure. Active work is under way to improve passenger and cargo transportation, develop ports and port facilities, and streamline state oversight over the safety of shipping and navigation.

Central and South Asia is a space for active international cooperation. Ancient trade routes passed across these territories for centuries, bringing Asia and Europe closer together. At present, countries in these regions play an important role in expanding global economic partnership. The implementation of projects in these areas opens up great prospects for the optimization of transport, energy and cultural ties in the Eurasian space. Therefore, as Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov noted, our region is emerging as a major link in the formation of a new trade and economic partnership model on the continent, which, in turn, opens up opportunities for creating a platform for more wide-ranging cooperation. This is a vivid example of deeply innovative thinking in the global geoeconomic configuration and a vision of strategic perspectives for its development.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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