When NATO representatives meet with their Afghan and Central Asian counterparts in Istanbul on November 2 to discuss the “New Silk Road” project, they will try to play up its mutual economic benefits. But in order to have any chance of realizing those benefits, plan promoters must address the “rent-seeking” mindset of Central Asian leaders, especially that of Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov.
At the heart of Washington’s Silk Road vision is free trade, or, at least, freer trade. But Uzbekistan, which has emerged as an important Central Asian transit hub, has exhibited in recent years a demonstrable preference for higher trade barriers. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan is casting its lot with a new economic grouping, a Moscow-led customs union known as the Eurasian Economic Community, which, while wanting to eliminate tariffs among participating states, intends to maintain firm trade walls to the outside.
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Matthew Stourbridge is the pseudonym for a journalist specializing in Central Asian affairs.