The diplomatic love-in breaking out across Central Asia has forged ahead unabated this week with a visit by the president of Kyrgyzstan to neighboring Uzbekistan.
President Almazbek Atambayev’s stay in Tashkent culminated on October 5 with the inking of a landmark Declaration of Strategic Partnership.
The enormously wide-ranging document commits the two nations to deepening political dialogue, boosting cross-border and regional security cooperation, and creating forums for the enhancement of economic and trade ties.
This has been a record year for bilateral encounters among the region’s heads of state, and the partnership agreement spells out in clear terms that this should serve as the model going forward.
“In the interests of strengthening political dialogue … the heads of state [of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan] will hold bilateral meetings no less than once a year,” the opening statement of the political section of the agreement states.
Those lines of communication will be intensified all the way down the country’s respective levels of government.
On security, the document noted with approval that the process of completing the formal delimitation of the countries’ borders are in line with the “fundamental interests of our two brother nations.” There is the usual boilerplate language about cooperation in the fight against terrorism and drug-trafficking, but it is the progress in making crossing borders easier for regular people that will truly represent a breakthrough.
“The sides express the certainty that the further resolution of issues on the function of border crossings … will enable the creation of conditions for more trade and economic, and cultural and humanitarian cooperation and the broadening of the entire region’s transit potential,” the agreement read.
The goal for the next couple of years is to ramp up annual bilateral trade turnover to $500 million, as Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev stated during his own visit to Kyrgyzstan in September. Reports last month asserted that two-way trade in the first half of 2017 was double what it was over the same period a year earlier. The anticipated level of trade for the whole year is $280 million.
Developing transportation links is also a top priority. The partnership agreement underlined both sides’ eagerness to see the completion of the long-deferred China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway route. There are also ambitions to see the further development of roads linking Kashgar and Irkeshtam, in western China, to Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan, to Andijan and Tashkent, in Uzbekistan. On the aviation front, there are plans to start up flights between Tashkent and Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul region, a popular tourist destination.
Water resources have historically served as a point of contention between Kyrgyzstan, an upstream nation, and Uzbekistan, whose agricultural sector is intensely reliant on irrigation water coursing down the mountains. Again, it is lack of a clear line of communication that has created most trouble, and the planned meetings of a Joint Bilateral Water Commission is intended to improve collective management of water resources.
One of the dozen or so agreements signed along with the partnership document addressed the status of the near-border Kasan-sai reservoir, which has long been claimed by Uzbekistan despite lying several kilometers inside Kyrgyzstan. Disagreements over this reservoir, which is managed by Uzbek technicians, escalated into a tense standoff late last summer. This agreement lays down the terms under which Uzbekistan is able to use water from the site.
Even more contentious diplomatic differences have arisen from plans by upstream countries like Kyrgyzstan and neighboring Tajikistan to build hydropower dams that Uzbekistan has long complained would limit its control over irrigation water. The Kyrgyz-Uzbek agreement appears to temporarily defuse this issue by stating, in noncommittal terms, that the countries will cooperate on “energy issues, including in the implementation of joint projects in the hydropower industry.”
The partnership deal also dwells on the more symbolic area of cultural exchange. One area, however, has potentially firm and encouraging implications for Kyrgyzstan’s embattled ethnic Uzbek minority.
“The parties will expand full-fledged cooperation in the development of Uzbek language and culture in Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyz language and culture in Uzbekistan,” the document reads.