Director The Diplomat in Spain
Eight hundred experts from around the world gather in Tashkent. The stability and development of Central Asia as objectives. The international conference ‘Central Asia Connectivity: Challenges and New Opportunities’ opens. At the center of the debate Afghanistan, the main problem and the chessboard where all the players, and there are many, move their pieces. Is there a solution?
The president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, must be sure that there is. Or at least he is willing to try. Since he was elected on December 4, 2016, he has been weaving a complex network of political and economic complicity with his neighbours -Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan- that at the time of his predecessor, the revered Islam Karimov, would have been unthinkable.
The objective of this incipient regional alliance is to find a solution to the Afghan conflict. On Tuesday, at the opening of the conference, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov said that “peace in Afghanistan is an integral part of our region”. Without it, the entire area is unstable and its economic development impossible. However, the big question is up in the air: will these five countries be able to find and implement the desired solution on their own?
During the conference, which did not call for governmental officials but for independent experts, it became clear that the traditional big powers around the region are not willing to give up their areas of influence. And it is curious that it was the experts themselves -mainly responsible for think-tanks and academics from countries like Russia, Iran, Turkey or Pakistan- who acted as apologists for their own governments.
Summing up the positions of each one, the Russian delegation did not take time to emphasize, with extreme seriousness, even hardness, that Moscow will participate actively in any process. Iranians also claimed bluntly their right because “Iran is also part of the region.” Representatives of India and Pakistan warned that they will not sit down watching as long as what is decided affects their conflict in Kachemira. Turkey didn’t lay down either, implying that it will not give up an iota of its influence in the area. And China? Their representatives were the least vehement and applied themselves in maintaining a moderate but firm profile with respect to their main objective: security for their Belt and Road Initiative.
Also attended representatives of the United States -the major country involved in a military intervention that does not see any end or revenues- such as RAND Corporation, although, as in the case of China, they maintained a prudent ‘wait and see’. In the meantime, astonished European experts -among them the Spaniards Irene Martínez, of the Blanquerna University of Barcelona, and Antonio Alonso, of the CEU-San Pablo University of Madrid- tried to contribute constructive proposals that, hopefully, will not fall on deaf ears.
Finally, the presence of the UN and other multilateral financial organizations (World Bank, European Investment Bank), gives some hope to those who are committed to the path of regional cooperation, which, as the Special Representative of UN Secretary General Natalia Gherman said, “is key to a lasting peace that opens the way to security and development in Central Asia”.
In mid-April, at the summit called by Mirziyoyev to firm the five-way cooperation up, it will be seen how much they can move forward. What is undeniable is that, at least, Uzbekistan is promoting an unprecedented initiative so far: that the region itself tries to solve its problems. Although, it is foreseeable that the proposal collides with the vision of ‘backyard’ that its large neighbours have of Central Asia.
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