Beacon of Regional Cooperation Amidst the Pandemic
A C5+1 ministerial convened June 30 via video conference to discuss regional cooperation, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The participants were U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, and Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan (Mukhtar Tleuberdi), Kyrgyzstan (Chingiz Aidarbekov), Tajikistan (Sirojidin Mukhriddin), Turkmenistan (Rashid Meredov), and Uzbekistan (Abdulaziz Kamilov).
To combat the spread of COVID-19, the officials discussed strategies to keep their economies afloat. Minister Kamilov proposed that the regional officials work together to promote a stronger digital economy, streamline national transport and agricultural innovation, and strengthen the region’s energy industry. Heightened cooperation among the nations of Central Asia during the global pandemic is necessary to develop new strategies to ensure economic stability.
Minister Tleuberdi remarked that even through the isolating effects of the pandemic, this ministerial format of meeting remains a productive platform to promote the economic cooperation between Central Asian Nations and the United States. He also noted the important sway these meetings have on attracting U.S. investments and technologies to the region. This is especially helpful for Kazakhstan that will be able to use these contributions to help develop the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC).
Another important objective of this ministerial was to discuss security policy about Afghanistan and its ongoing intra-Afghan peace negotiations. U.S. Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) Chief Executive Officer Adam Boehler also took part in the virtual conference. Khalilzad emphasized the critical role Central Asian nations play in Afghanistan’s peace process. The Central Asian nations, he explained, “will benefit from peace with increased regional connectivity, trade, and development.” Furthermore, Khalilzad assured that the DFC is ready to invest in the region’s future. Since U.S. troops are preparing to fully leave Afghanistan by 2021, a continued U.S. presence would be beneficial to Afghanistan with a focus on enhancing the country’s economy, infrastructure, and transport systems. This not only would be helpful in making Afghanistan a more conducive environment for innovation, but it would also better integrate it with its Central Asian neighbors, a natural next step in establishing Afghanistan’s political stability.
The C5+1 Ministerial was overall a success in that it brought together representatives from the United States, Central Asia, and Afghanistan to brainstorm strategies for political and economic cooperation and advancement during uncertain times. This ministerial was also a new step forward because it demonstrated that even though the participants were not able to travel, still they were able to convene virtually. Furthermore, the Ministerial made clear that Afghanistan’s interests are seen as vital to the prosperity of Central Asia. The goal is that all the nations of Central Asia will emerge from the pandemic stronger, with new strategies for advancement, and with a reaffirmation of their connectedness.