On October 19, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin visited Uzbekistan. According to media reports, Moscow and Tashkent focused on “prospects for further strategic partnership,” cooperation in military technology, and economic ties between the two countries. Moscow is investing billions of dollars and is planning to open more branches of top Russian universities in Uzbekistan. On the same days, October 17-19, Tashkent played host to the VIII Central Asian Trade Forum, organized by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). As they spoke at the event, the US representatives announced Washington’s interest in providing duty-free access to its domestic market for several thousand products from Central Asian states. This approach reflects the policy of bilateral cooperation which the two parties agreed upon during a visit of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to the United States in May this year, which resulted in $ 4.8 billion contracts.
Central Asia has been a zone of geopolitical rivalry between the world’s top players for centuries. Even when the main part of this territory was part of the USSR, the USA, China and other countries tried to influence the Soviet “soft underbelly”. After 1991, the region quickly moved to the sidelines of the military-strategic interests of Moscow, Beijing and Washington . At present, the three powers are concerned about the threat of Islamic extremism and an increase in drug trafficking in the region. While sharing the same concerns, the parties interpret the causes of these threats in different ways. In general, regional competition of external powers is moderate, being visible mainly in the economic sphere. For now, two integration projects are developing at fast pace in Central Asia – the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), promoted by the Russian Federation, whose members are Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and the Chinese Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), targeted at all Central Asian countries. In the mid-2010s, the United States unveiled its conceptual vision of the future of the region — the New Silk Road Initiative, which, however, has not yet seen any substantial progress.
At present, countries of the region are pursuing the policy of building secular national states. Searches for national identity in the values of Islam or Pan-Turkism is a thing of the past. Meanwhile, for a part of the population, religious principles still prevail over the national and civil ones. Also, there are a number of other challenges to the stability and security of the region. Russian International Affairs Council experts say that political institutions are weak, the economy is poorly diversified, heavily corrupt, hinging largely on “shadow” schemes and smuggling. Social and economic problems, disputes over the distribution of water resources, and inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflicts are acute. On top of all this comes the rapidly aggravating problem of uneven economic development of countries. The main external threats are proximity to Afghanistan and the Middle East with a high degree of border penetrability.
In general, the ruling circles of the states of the region are trying to maintain power and property and evade serious socio-economic upheavals. The financial and economic interests of the elite are largely oriented at the West. However, the current challenges to domestic and regional stability, as well as the nature of the existing regimes, are what scares Western investors the most. As a result, countries of Central Asia are drifting between globalization and regionalization, between economic projects that benefit primarily the elites themselves, and the need to guarantee an increase in the living standards of wide sections of society, “between efforts to preserve a niche in the “old” world economy and secure niches in the “new” one”.
Over the past few years, Russia has been promoting its interests in the region within the framework of the CSTO, the EAEU and the Customs Union. Until recently, the majority of projects with the participation of Russian investors were concentrated in the oil and gas sector. Meanwhile, representatives of local elites and business communities would prefer to see Russian investments in the energy sector, in the creation of cross-border “transit transport routes.” There is a high demand for projects that would develop interstate economic cooperation within the framework of the EEU, and projects whose products would be oriented at markets beyond the post-Soviet space. These areas include the military industry, the mining sector, and the supply of agricultural products. At the same time, experts point out “excessive” “coordination and regulation of economic relations” within Russian regional initiatives.
Nevertheless, Russia maintains a significant potential to secure its economic influence in the region. Most enterprises and agricultural facilities in Central Asia date back to the Soviet days and most of the infrastructure, railways and highways are focused on Russia. The Russian media are popular in the region, supporting the idea of stability and sovereignty. Until early 2010s, the “Soviet legacy” enabled the Russian Federation to remain a major economic partner for all the Central Asian countries. However, in recent years, Moscow has been losing its leading economic position to China, mainly, for lack of investment.
China’s rapidly growing economy requires more and more resources. Given that Central Asia is rich in oil, gas, minerals and cotton, Beijing has been trying to promote economic projects in the region since the early 2000s. At the end of 2017, trade turnover between China and countries of Central Asia reached $ 30 billion, whereas trade between Russia and the region was less than two thirds of this figure. China overtook Russia in trade with all countries in the region, except Kazakhstan. Now, China is pursuing multibillion-dollar projects in transport and pipeline infrastructure as part of the strategy of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), and is increasing investment in industrial facilities and joint ventures. There are plans to build three railway corridors: between the Chinese port of Lianyungang and Kazakh Almaty, and two between the south of China and Central Asia. By the end of 2017, the Chinese investments in Central Asia had exceeded $ 100 billion. Investment plans until 2030 are estimated at several hundred billion dollars.
Meanwhile, according to most Western analysts, Russia and China have been pursuing a coordinated and well-balanced policy of extensive cooperation in Central Asia. China has been focusing on economic projects in the region, while Russia, besides the economic sphere, has taken the lead in ensuring military and anti-terrorism security and regional stability. According to Western estimates, Central Asia has been picked by Moscow and Beijing as number one site to practice strategic interaction, which can then be used in other parts of Eurasia. This cooperation hinges on an agreement reached by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China at top level in 2015 on integration between the EAEU and the SREB. The economic role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is also expected to increase after Kyrgyzstan assumes the SCO presidency in 2019. Both countries are fully aware of the strategic mutual benefit from participation in these projects and neither pursues economic or regional security initiatives that could be detrimental to the other party.
In 2011, Washington launched the New Silk Road Strategy (NSR), which initially focused on the economic revival of Afghanistan through its integration into regional development projects. In autumn 2015, as the US Secretary of State, visited all five Central Asian countries in the course of his first tour, the Samarkand Declaration was adopted to promote the New Silk Road, which declared the widest possible range of areas of cooperation between the United States and countries of the region. Gradually, the United States began to shift from the still idealism-ridden policy of supporting the “development of democracy” in Central Asia towards a more pragmatic course, aimed at reducing the influence of the Russian Federation while simultaneously moderating the presence of China.
So far, the extent of the Trump administration’s interest in Central Asia is uncertain. It looks like the United States is ready to encourage local authorities to “soften” domestic policies, including on the expansion of international contacts, by boosting economic assistance and cementing ties between representatives of the business community. In particular, moves of this kind have been reported to come from the USA in the direction of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. USAID enjoys a significant influence on public associations in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. As for region-wide economic projects under the patronage of the United States, most of them are stalling, because they are made dependent, to this or that extent, on stabilization in Afghanistan.
Another important tool for strengthening the US positions in the region after 2001 is the promotion of a counter-terrorism agenda, a military presence, primarily in Afghanistan, and the development of military and defense ties with the Central Asian states. Preventing the spread of radical movements in Central Asia meets the interests of both Washington and all countries of the region.
In the meantime, the interests of Central Asian countries spread beyond the bounds of financial assistance and economic cooperation as they are unequivocally making it to understand that they are looking for new partners and security guarantors capable of balancing the United States, Russia and China.
This encourages countries of Central Asia to develop contacts with a whole range of external players that have noticeable interests in the region. The influence of the European Union in Central Asia decreased, after the promising projects of the previous decades fell through. EU experts argue that the Union lacks the resources to compete with Russia and China. Therefore, they call for “focusing on specific projects” that would contribute to raising the living standards across a wide section of society. As for China’s SREB initiative, the EU sees it as a significant destabilizer, given the insufficient involvement of local, particularly human, resources, and a dramatic increase in Central Asia’s political and debt dependence on Beijing. Therefore, the EU is seeking to “fit” “into the current situation with a view to influence further developments from within.”
Since 2012, Japan has been stepping up its political efforts in Central Asia. As he visited the region in 2015, Prime Minister Abe signed $ 27 billion agreements, including on cooperation in the fuel and energy sector, in infrastructure projects, and in measures to combat terrorism and extremism. While doing this, Japan reiterates its readiness to maintain extensive ties with other powers, including Russia, China and Turkey. The latter persists in its claims to play a leading role in Central Asia, nurturing ambitions to become the leader of the Turkic world. However, Ankara’s positions have suffered a blow in recent years. President Erdogan has faced a lot of criticism for not providing enough support for the Turkic communities in Russia and in the west of China.
Thus, the leading circles of the Central Asian countries are pursuing a “purely pragmatic” policy. Among the priorities are structural economic reforms, attracting more investments, primarily to the production sector and high-tech industries, and the development of “human capital.” As global players demonstrate renewed interest in the region, Central Asia has an option to pursue an increasingly varying and multi-vector policy. In spring this year, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan made a bid to form a community of five Central Asian states without participation of external powers. At last, the transformation of Central Asia is taking place against the background of the arrival of a relatively new generation of leaders, fewer and fewer of whom see Moscow as a major historical partner. Given these conditions, Russia, if it wants to maintain its positions in Central Asia, ought to devise new approaches to regional policy. In our opinion, a strategy that should take center stage in Central Asia in the near future is one that would provide countries of the region with an economic cooperation agenda that does not require a clear geopolitical choice.
First published in our partner International Affairs
From Disintegration to Cooperation: Kazakhstan’s perspective in Central Asian Integration
The Russia-Ukraine war has underscored the significance of regional integration among the Central Asian states. A cohesive Central Asia could serve as a counterweight to the assertive policies of Russia and the growing influence of China, which regards the region as its sphere of influence. The future of the region hinges on the roles and relations of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has undergone a remarkable transformation in its foreign policy, shifting from isolationism and authoritarianism to openness and constructive engagement in Central Asia integration. Kazakhstan, on the other hand, has demonstrated a relative indifference towards integration initiatives. Yet, the unity of Central Asia is vital important for the national security of Kazakhstan.
Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian nations made numerous attempts to establish a cohesive and integrated framework within the region. However, these endeavors proved to be unsuccessful, yielding no tangible outcomes. The failure of Central Asian integration can be attributed to the allure of external actors, most notably Russia, whose involvement has resulted in regional fragmentation. Russia has always opposed the emergence of a centralized and integrated Central Asia. Whenever the Central Asian countries attempted to form an association, Russia either tried to join it or proposed an alternative organization to undermine it. For instance, The Central Asian Economic Community (CAEC) was established in 1993 with the participation of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, and expanded to include Tajikistan in 1998. In 2002, the CAEC transformed into the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO), which admitted Russia as an extra-regional member in 2004, altering the balance of power in the organization. During that period, the member states of the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO) concurrently held membership in the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC), which was under the leadership of Moscow. Subsequently, in 2005, the integration efforts among the Central Asian countries, independent from Russia, were terminated under the pretext of duplicated tasks between the two organizations. This development not only paved the way for future challenges but also contributed to disunity within the region. Furthermore, Russia’s strategic maneuvering presented Kazakhstan with irresistible economic and political incentives that overshadowed the potential advantages of intra-regional collaboration. Consequently, Kazakhstan opted to align itself more closely with Russia rather than its neighboring states within Central Asia. As a result of this decision, the other countries in Central Asia gave up their own plans for regional cooperation.
The implementation of this particular policy by Russia has yielded significant outcomes. It is evident that all nations within Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, have become increasingly dependent on Russia. The most critical aspect of this dependence is the import of food products. After Western countries imposed sanctions against Russia, import has dropped slightly: certain goods will now have to be imported from elsewhere. But there are categories of supplies that simply cannot be replaced. On the other hand, Kazakhstan is highly reliant on Russia for its export sector, with 80 per cent of its oil exports passing through the Russian pipeline network. Furthermore, according to experts from Caravan, a Kazakhstani news agency, Russia is the main transit country for the cargo that reaches Kazakhstan. They estimate that more than 70 percent of all cargo that goes to Kazakhstan passes through the territory of Russia. Another 20 percent comes from China. In addition, reliance Kazakhstan’s tenge on Russian ruble is very high. In the first two weeks of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Kazakhstan’s tenge lost 20 percent of its value as the ruble fell against the dollar. In 2022, inflation increased mainly in Kazakhstan. In February 2023, it reached 21.3%.
Indeed, the war in Ukraine has had a significant impact on the perception of Russia in neighboring countries, including Kazakhstan. As Kazakhstan shares a long border with Russia, the deteriorating perception of Russia has raised concerns among the political elite. Additionally, the expanding influence of China in the region poses a serious challenge to the security of Central Asia.
In light of these challenges, Kazakhstan should prioritize the integration of Central Asia in its foreign policy. By forming a united front, Central Asian countries can act as a coherent actor in international relations. The following outlines the upcoming trends in the integration process.
Firstly, the establishment of a robust and autonomous institution, free from the influence of Russia and China, is of utmost importance. This institution should serve as a platform for fostering consistent communication and facilitating cooperation between interstate, intergovernmental, NGOs and SMEs. The current state of mutual collaboration on security issues among Central Asian countries is remarkably limited, resulting in divergent positions on regional security matters, or even an absence of any definitive position. For instance, the countries’ perspectives on the Ukrainian conflict displayed slight variances. Additionally, during the May 2023 summit between China and Central Asian nations held in Xian, China explicitly expressed its desire to improve law enforcement, security and defense capability construction and act as a guarantor against potential threats in the region, yet no official response was conveyed by any of the Central Asian countries. Consequently, it is imperative for Central Asian nations to develop a unified strategy in challenging external pressures posed by Russia, China, and other potential adversaries while asserting their individual sovereignties. By adopting a mutually collective approach, Central Asia can effectively balance and mitigate the risks originating from external sources.
Secondly, intra-regional trade plays a pivotal role in the integration process. Central Asia may not present significant economic attractiveness for Kazakhstan at the moment comparing to EUEA, but in the long term, the region may offer valuable opportunities for Kazakhstan’s development. The development of a common customs tariff among countries can enable them to engage more actively in trade activities. Mutual trade between Central Asian countries has shown positive changes in recent years. Between 2018 and 2022, intra-regional trade grew by 73.4%, rising from $5.8 billion to $10 billion. Kazakhstan is still the leading country in Central Asia in terms of trade, accounting for 80% of the region’s total volume of mutual trade.
Thirdly, the relations between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are crucial for the region’s long-term growth prospects as they shape the regional climate. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have complementary economies. Kazakhstan, with its well-developed industrial sectors, can provide technological expertise and investment opportunities for Uzbekistan, which has a strong agricultural base. On the other hand, Kazakhstan has the opportunity to serve as the primary export market for growing Uzbekistan’s manufacturing products, thereby fostering mutual complementarity in terms of labor supply and demand. By sharing knowledge, resources, and technology, they can promote economic diversification and reduce reliance on a single sector, ensuring sustainable growth for the region. Moreover, the cooperation between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan sets a precedent for other countries in the region. Their ability to work together and find common ground serves as an example for neighboring nations, encouraging them to engage in cooperative efforts as well. Further, this collaboration holds the potential to address regional challenges like water and energy security jointly, establish shared foreign policy positions, particularly towards China and Russia.
Finally, the integration process is significantly influenced by the advancement of transportation and communication systems. Without addressing these problems and establishing mutual access between Central Asian states, efforts for collaboration will prove ineffective. Hence, the countries in the Central Asian region must focus on modernizing their existing transportation infrastructure, including roads and railways. Moreover, they should also prioritize the establishment of new transportation branches such as roadside services, container systems for transportation, and air and rail transport. Additionally, it is essential to develop common points of access to the sea for the Central Asian countries, along with the creation of electronic access infrastructure to facilitate the movement of people and goods.
In summary, the war between Ukraine and Russia has highlighted the need for a shift in the stance of Central Asian countries, particularly Kazakhstan. The deteriorating perception of Russia and the expanding influence of China have raised concerns about the region’s security. Therefore, prioritizing the unity and interests of Central Asia itself is crucial in order to have a stronger presence in international relations and resist assimilation by external powers.
Navigating Kazakhstan’s New Economic Landscape for Foreign Investment
In his recent state-of-the-nation address, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan unveiled a comprehensive plan focused on economic reforms and the new economic course for the country. These reforms have vast implications for foreign investment and Kazakhstan’s economic relations with other countries. Among the key points were industrialization, diversification, a move toward green energy, simplification of tax codes, and a focus on transparency and fairness in governance. Collectively, these reform measures signal a proactive approach by Kazakhstan to attract foreign investment and enhance economic ties globally.
The President has wisely understood the necessity of diversification and self-sufficiency. By setting an ambitious task of developing areas like deep processing of metals, oil, gas and coal chemistry, and heavy engineering, Kazakhstan is setting itself up as a lucrative destination for sector-specific investments. At the same time, the stress on accelerating development in the manufacturing sector augments well with global trends where manufacturing is making a strong comeback in the post-COVID period.
Another significant reform targeted at ease of doing business is the simplification of the state procurement process. The focus on the principle of the quality of goods over price and the push toward full automation of procedures will likely reduce red tape and increase transparency, thereby encouraging foreign businesses to participate in state tenders. Simplifying these bureaucratic processes makes Kazakhstan more investor-friendly, a factor often considered by foreign enterprises before venturing into new markets.
The President’s focus on stable economic growth of 6-7 percent with the aim to double the volume of the national economy to $450 billion by 2029 is ambitious but signals a strong commitment to macroeconomic stability, another key indicator scrutinized by foreign investors. Moreover, the proposal to solve the problem of insufficient corporate lending and to unfreeze approximately $5 billion in bank assets for economic turnover indicates a positive move toward increasing the liquidity in the market, which is often a green flag for investors.
Tax reforms aimed at digitalization and simplification, coupled with a reduction in the number of tax types, offer a more straightforward and less cumbersome tax environment. The transition to a service model of interaction between fiscal authorities and taxpayers and the progressive taxation model are steps that align well with the international norms. These adjustments are crucial in creating a conducive environment for foreign investors, who often seek regulatory simplicity and clarity.
Equally crucial is Kazakhstan’s nod toward green and sustainable development. With a focus on renewable energy and even opening up the possibility of a nuclear power plant through a national referendum, Kazakhstan is paving the way for massive investments in sustainable technologies. This is a smart move considering the global trend toward sustainability and the increase in green funds looking for responsible investment opportunities.
Additionally, Kazakhstan’s strategic location as a significant transit hub between Asia and Europe presents an invaluable proposition for foreign investors. The plans to develop the Trans-Caspian route and the North-South Corridor not only help its internal logistics but make it an attractive destination for international companies looking to improve their supply chain efficiencies.
Furthermore, the country’s approach to digitization, with goals to transform into an IT nation, aims to attract high-value foreign investments in technology. The country is looking to increase the export of IT services to $1 billion by 2026 and aims to become a platform for selling computing power to global players. This could attract significant FDI flows into Kazakhstan, especially from countries that are leaders in technology.
To sum up, President Tokayev’s address lays down a blueprint that not only aims for self-sufficiency but also aligns Kazakhstan well with global economic trends. It focuses on making the business environment more straightforward, more transparent, and thereby more attractive to foreign investors. These reforms could very well be a game-changer for Kazakhstan, positioning it as a hotspot for diversified foreign investments and as a key player in regional and global economic alliances.
Navigating Water Conflict in Central Asia: The Amu Darya River and the Qosha Tepa Canal Project
In the post-Soviet era, Central Asia experienced a pronounced upsurge in geopolitical tensions, significantly shifting the focus toward the pressing matter of the water conflict between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. At the crux of this contentious issue lies the Amu Darya River, a pivotal water resource shared by both nations, thereby engendering profound environmental and geopolitical ramifications. The origins of this protracted conflict can be traced back to the historical legacy of centralized water management during the Soviet period, which resulted in disproportionate repercussions for downstream countries. The subsequent emergence of independent nations following the Soviet Union’s dissolution further complicated the situation as each sought to assert sovereignty over water resources, exacerbating existing complexities. The intricate nature of the dispute is compounded by the shrinking of the Aral Sea, divergent irrigation practices, and conflicting plans for hydropower development. These multifaceted factors underscore the urgent imperative to seek a resolution and necessitate heightened international collaboration and diplomatic endeavors between Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.
The Amu Darya, the longest river in Central Asia, originates from the Hindu Kush and Wakhan regions in the Pamir Highlands of Afghanistan. Spanning an impressive 2,540 kilometers, it courses its way to the Aral Sea, traversing through Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan before finally reaching its destination. The section of the Amu Darya Basin above its confluence with the Pamir River is known as Panj. The Panj River meets with the Vakhsh River, which originates in Kyrgyzstan’s Alai region, to form the Amu Darya.
Running along the northern borders of Afghanistan and its neighboring countries, the Amu Darya stretches approximately 1800 kilometers from Zor-Kul to Khamaab. This river serves as a vital water source for agriculture in the region, especially in Afghanistan. It’s estimated that around 6 million hectares of land in total are irrigated by the Amu Darya. Of this, Afghanistan upstream utilizes 1.15 million hectares for agriculture. Downstream, Turkmenistan holds the largest irrigation territory, using the waters of the Amu Darya to irrigate 1.7 million hectares of land, followed by Uzbekistan with 2.3 million hectares. While the Amu Darya plays a crucial role in providing water for agricultural purposes, its drainage varies among the countries it flows through. In Tajikistan, the river drains approximately 0.5 million hectares of land upstream, whereas, in the Kyrgyz Republic, this figure is significantly lower, at just 0.1 million hectares. Overall, the Amu Darya stands as a lifeline for the region, supporting livelihoods and economic activities through its extensive network of irrigation and contributing significantly to the prosperity of Afghanistan and its neighboring nations.
The water distribution from the Amu Darya River, stemming from regulations during the Soviet era, primarily focuses on meeting agricultural demands. A crucial development in this regard was the ratification of Protocol 566 by the former USSR, which outlined the allocation of water among the four Central Asian Republics (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the Kyrgyz Republic). Following their independence in 1991, these republics signed a subsequent agreement known as the Almaty Agreement, which retained the water allocation quotas specified in Protocol 566. To manage the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya rivers, the Central Asian Republics (CARs) established several organizations and institutions.
However, it’s important to highlight that Afghanistan was not part of these regional agreements at that time. The exclusion of Afghanistan from these agreements posed a challenge to achieving comprehensive water management in the region, given its significant stake in the Amu Darya basin. As a vital stakeholder, Afghanistan’s involvement in water allocation and management decisions is crucial for ensuring equitable and sustainable water usage across the region. On March 30, 2022, Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy prime minister of the current Afghan government, made an official announcement regarding the commencement of the Qosh Tepeh Canal’s construction. The Qosh Tepa canal is being built in Balkh province and will draw water from the Amu Darya. The construction of the canal is planned to be carried out in three phases, spanning a period of five years. Covering a distance of 285 kilometers, the canal will have a width of 152 meters and a depth of 8.5 meters.
As Afghanistan embarks on developing the Qosh Tepeh Canal to enhance its water infrastructure, concerns arise not only about the potential impacts on the country’s water supply and irrigation but also about the implications for neighboring countries that rely on the waters of the Amu Darya River. The project’s scale and its potential effects on regional water flow and availability are areas of particular attention for both Afghanistan and its neighboring nations, as they strive to strike a balance between their development needs and the responsible management of shared water resources.
The Taliban has set forth a plan to transform an extensive 550,000 hectares of arid desert into fertile farmland to address the pressing need for agricultural resources in Afghanistan. Currently, Kabul receives a significant 7 cubic kilometers of water from the Amu Darya basin, but they aspire to increase this amount to a total of 17 cubic kilometers. However, this ambition comes with potential consequences for neighboring countries, particularly Uzbekistan, whose water supply is predicted to decrease by around 10% to 15%. While Tajikistan may not experience a substantial impact on its primary water source, the implications for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are undeniable. In a worst-case scenario, the lower regions of the river, such as Karakalpakstan and Khorezm, could face severe hardships.
Uzbekistan’s water availability is already diminishing due to the combined pressures of climate change and widespread drought, resulting in an unfortunate 15% water loss. If the proposed canal exacerbates this situation, Uzbekistan might encounter an additional 10% reduction, leading to a concerning total loss of 25% of their water resources. As such, the project’s potential consequences raise serious concerns about the delicate balance of water resources in the region and the need for careful consideration and collaboration among all stakeholders to ensure sustainable water management.
Although Afghanistan has made rapid progress in creating the canal, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have decided to keep silent about it and have not yet made any public statements. A group from Uzbekistan visited Afghanistan on March 22, 2023, with the aim to discuss problems pertaining to the two countries’ economic relationship. The “Trans-Afghan project,” which includes building the Termez-Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railroad and installing an electrical line along the Surkhan-Puli Khumri route, was at the center of the negotiations. Although the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a formal statement noting the negotiations discussing collaboration in the water-related and energy industries, no specific comments regarding the building of the canal were mentioned in the official statement.
Consequently, Uzbekistan wishes to keep its interactions with the Taliban peaceful for the time being. However, Farkhod Tolipov, a political analyst based in Tashkent, warned in the Eurasianet that if a dangerous scenario emerged in relation to the canal’s development, Uzbekistan would undoubtedly defend its national objectives. Furthermore, The World Bank has stated that if no action takes place, severe droughts and storms in Central Asia are predicted to cause economic losses of up to 1.3 percent of its gross domestic product annually, while the yields of crops are anticipated to decline by 30 percent by 2050, resulting in approximately 5.1 million climate migrants by that point in time.
It’s important to keep in mind that geopolitical dynamics may be complicated and that nations frequently take into account a variety of considerations when determining how to react to developments in their region. It is possible to understand Uzbekistan’s negligent attitude toward the construction of the Qosha Tepa Channel in Afghanistan by carefully examining the many factors that influence the country’s actions. Diplomatic, geopolitical, and domestic issues are among the numerous variables that influence Uzbekistan’s attitude toward this cross-border development project and are interconnected with one another.
Amid a widespread consensus among experts about the paramount importance of water as a crucial resource for the future, there is growing concern and speculation about its potential use as a potent political tool. An alarming report from the reputable “Global Water Intelligence” magazine underscores the significance of water in today’s world by revealing that the financial gains within the water market over a single year can rival the staggering sums allocated to military expenses. As global water scarcity and competition for this finite resource intensify, countries with abundant water resources, like Uzbekistan, find themselves increasingly cognizant of the geopolitical implications and potential vulnerabilities surrounding water management.
Additionally, complaints about infrastructure and water supplies are only two examples of international problems that are best handled through diplomatic channels. To prevent worsening relations with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan may decide without making a public statement about the development of the Qosha Tepa Channel. As a result, they may favor undercover diplomacy to have a productive conversation with Afghan officials. Uzbekistan can express its worries about potential effects on shared water supplies, environmental effects, and any violations of earlier agreements about water consumption and administration through diplomatic measures. Maintaining diplomatic channels may promote goodwill and develop an environment favorable to conflict settlement.
Furthermore, given the intricate geopolitical landscape and delicate inter-state relations in Central Asia, Uzbekistan finds itself treading a careful and nuanced path to ensure that its response to the construction of the Qosha Tepa Channel in Afghanistan does not inadvertently give rise to perceptions of interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Uzbekistan is keenly aware that any misstep or overly assertive reaction could potentially strain diplomatic relations and undermine the fragile equilibrium in the region. Striking a delicate balance between voicing justifiable concerns about the channel’s implications and upholding Afghanistan’s sovereignty and independence becomes paramount for Uzbekistan’s foreign policy objectives in the context of regional peace and cooperation initiatives.
Another assumption in the context of the situation might be the fact that the country must carefully assess the significance of the Qosha Tepa Channel project in comparison to its ongoing domestic issues to determine the order in which national objectives should take precedence, as Uzbekistan faces lots of pressing challenges and national priorities. Although the project’s potential effects should not be discounted seriously, Uzbekistan may give priority to domestic infrastructure, welfare programs, and economic development initiatives that directly benefit its inhabitants. For sustaining internal equilibrium and taking care of critical requirements within its own boundaries, this practical approach is crucial.
In conclusion, the fate of Central Asia and its water resources lies in the hands of its nations, united in their pursuit of sustainable cooperation. By engaging in comprehensive discussions that transcend borders and political boundaries, Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, can demonstrate their commitment to a shared vision of prosperity and harmony. Embracing the principles of transparency, fairness, and equitable water management, they can unleash the true potential of these vital waterways, transforming them from potential flashpoints into enduring symbols of regional unity. This transformative endeavor is a testament to the power of collaboration as Central Asia forges ahead, hand in hand, towards a future where water resources flow not as causes of discord but as conduits of shared progress and prosperity for generations to come.
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