Changing Balances in Central Asia and Increasing need for Permanent Peace

As the Soviet Union collapsed, controversial borders, un-shared water resources and ethnic problems were inherited in the Central Asian region. The region where this “unwanted” heritage is seen intensely is the Fergana Valley. Although there were conflicts in various periods due to its existing features, the tension in the region was generally kept under control. However, the different demands of the countries in the region make the ceasefire situation fragile. Due to its current characteristics, the Fergana Valley offers a great opportunity for non-regional actors who want to intervene in Central Asia.

However, it is possible to talk about a change in the foreign policies of some Central Asian countries recently. The competition between Russia, China and the USA within the framework of the “New Big Game” has pushed the countries in question to adopt this change. The change in question is basically the adoption of a pragmatic and reconciliation policy that balances global actors with multilateral relations and takes into account the interests.

Under Nursultan Nazarbayev and then Kasım Cömert Tokayev, Kazakhstan has been following a balancing and pragmatic foreign policy for a long time; On the other hand, President of Uzbekistan Shevket Mirziyoyev has been prioritizing global cooperation and regional reconciliation by opening his country to the outside recently. Sadır Caparov, who came to power after the latest developments in Kyrgyzstan, also implements a similar policy to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. After all, Nur-Sultan, Tashkent and Bishkek aim to maximize the benefits of competition between global actors and to limit the intervention of non-regional actors through regional cooperation.

The tension between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has increased on April 28, 2021. The attack of civilian citizens to each other in Batken caused a conflict between the armies. However, the moderate attitude of the Kyrgyz and Tajik leaders during the conflict prevented the process from turning into war. A ceasefire decision was taken in a short time and it was decided to establish a working group for negotiations. As a result of the developments, Caparov’s announcement that he will visit Dushanbe and Tajikistan’s positive approach to this summarize the peaceful attitude of the parties.

The clashes that started in the region after the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s visit to Tajikistan on April 26-27, 2021, caused a serious suspicion about the influence of Russia in the background of the issue. Because it is known that Russia sees Central Asia as its backyard due to its strategy of landing to the south and its doctrine of the near environment against China whose influence has increased in Central Asia today and the USA trying to settle in the region. As a matter of fact, it can be predicted that Moscow, which sees the withdrawal of the USA from Afghanistan as an opportunity, will create various crises in the region and try to use them. In this process, the conflict that will take place in a region with geostrategic importance such as the Fergana Valley may offer Russia the opportunity to enter the region under the name of “Peace Force” as in the example of Karabakh. In this context, it can be argued that the legacy left by the Soviet Union serves the interests of Russia.

The intervention of a non-regional actor in the problems in Central Asia may cause the problem to deepen, as well as damage the sovereignty of countries. It will also result in them becoming more dependent on outside. In order to prevent this, regional cooperation and peace should be focused in Central Asia. While achieving peace accelerates economic development; It will also strengthen regional cooperation and integration. Moreover, it will create stability in the domestic politics of the countries. For example, a conflict involving Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will cause instability in the domestic politics of Tajikistan, where 14% of its population is Uzbek. In such a conjuncture, cooperation between the countries of the region, strengthening the integration between them and establishing multilateral relations with different actors will enable them to take more independent decisions and gain maximum profit. As a result, while Central Asian countries provide political and economic stability; they will not be forced to choose among the great powers and make decisions that would harm their sovereignty.

The decision of Kazakhstan to send aid to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to Tajikistan after the conflict indicates that there is a task sharing between the two regional powers. The reason for the attitude of Nur-Sultan and Tashkent to stop the clashes is the elimination of the risk of an external intervention in the region. In addition, Bishkek’s rejection of the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s (CSTO) offer of aid can be interpreted as a declaration of will to prevent Russia from increasing its influence in the region. Similarly, Tajikistan is making important efforts to achieve regional peace and stability. Because the conflicts in the Fergana Valley will not benefit the country in question; on the contrary, it will create a dynamite effect for the whole region in the medium and long term.

In conclusion, ensuring peace and cooperation in Central Asia is the most important option that will serve the interests of the countries in the region. The increase in the influence of a foreign actor in the region will cause the problems to deepen, the countries in the region to become more dependent, their domestic politics to become unstable and to not benefit from the competition between global powers. Lessons learned from the historical process push the countries of the region to act together. In this sense, the border agreement reached between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in March 2021 can be seen as the beginning of a new process in Central Asia. Moreover, the peace and stability to be achieved in the Fergana Valley is not only in Central Asia; It will also positively affect the future of the Caucasus region and Afghanistan.

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Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı