THE TASHKENT SUMMIT: A WELCOME NEW DIRECTION IN CENTRAL ASIA
The historic shift from self-isolation to cooperation by the Central Asian states continued when the leaders of the five – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – met at a summit in Tashkent on November 29. For the first quarter-century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, each country, to one degree or another, looked inward to ensure its own independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Perhaps this was inevitable, given their neighbors: Russia to the north, China to the east, Iran to the west, and Afghanistan to the south. Each of the four neighbors presented different but significant problems. However, the joint statement by the leaders at the Tashkent Summit makes clear they have turned a page in the history of the region and intend to cooperate to the fullest extent possible.
The comprehensive and detailed document first emphasizes consensus, equality, and mutual respect among the five and then goes into considerable detail. Of special importance, it calls for increasing intra-regional trade and developing regional transport in the region well-known for its low volume of internal trade and the “you can’t get there from here” problems of traveling within the region. Of special significance, it calls for a regional investment forum to be established. Further, it recognizes the importance of Central Asia’s common security interests, including the threats of extremism and terrorism, the flow of narcotics through the region, and trafficking in persons. Likewise, it calls for establishing peace in Afghanistan and for helping that troubled country with infrastructure projects and regional trade.
The joint statement of the Tashkent Summit concludes with a confirmation that regular meetings of the five heads of state, foreign ministers, and other experts will continue. The United States, the European Union, and other friends of the region like Japan and South Korea should applaud this historic shift in Central Asia and do everything possible to assist in achieving the five countries’ common goals. Working together, instead of alone, the five states will increase the prosperity and security of this strategic region.