Border Brothers: Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan Continue to Build Strong Ties
Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan held a series of talks on demarcating their border last week. The Joint Uzbek-Kazakh Demarcation Commission met from July 1-5 and signed a protocol agreeing on specific dates for work on parts of the border.
Ambiguous borders have nagged Central Asian statecraft since the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago. Under the USSR, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan jointly administered approximately 1,900 square miles around their shared border, and some of that territory remained in limbo for much of the following decades. The problems continued during the tenure of Uzbekistan’s first president Islam Karimov, whose isolationist tilt precluded cooperation with neighbors on many issues, including border negotiations. However, Karimov’s successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, made borders an early priority when he took office in 2016. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have made significant progress since that time, and the recent series of meetings is one step of many along that path.
Both countries have reaped the benefits of warming relations. For example, labor migration has surged in the last several years. Uzbekistan has become the biggest exporter of labor to Kazakhstan and remittances sent back to Uzbekistan from Kazakhstan increased 1.5 times in 2018. This is due to many factors, stricter labor migrant practices in Russia and loosening ones in Kazakhstan have certainly driven the change, but better border relations are still a part. Kazakhstan is also Uzbekistan’s largest trading partner, and bilateral trade increased by 47 percent to $3 billion in 2018.
They are also planning a joint visa program, the “Silk Visa,” which allows tourists to travel freely between their two territories. The ultimate goal is to include the rest of the region in an “Asian Schengen,” according to Dariga Nazarbayeva, daughter of the former Kazakh President and now Chairwoman of its Senate.
This Kazakh-Uzbek warming shows no sign of slowing. Both leaders are relatively new to their job and indicated early in their fresh tenures that continuing their partnership was a priority. President Mirziyoyev made Kazakhstan his second official visit as President. Then-acting-President of Kazakhstan Qasym Jomart-Toqayev returned the favor in March. Their attitudes give reason to believe that Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will continue to strengthen their ties over the next several years throughout these two leaders’ tenures. Furthermore, as the largest states in the region, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have the potential to use their friendship to further connectivity throughout the region. The Silk Visa could be a sign of things to come in that regard. What is certain is that last week’s border negotiations mark the continued development of a relationship that not just to its members, but to its neighbors as well.
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