Analytical materials / Kazakhstan

Rustam Burnashev: Relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

30.04.2015

“In the bilateral relations, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan rely on key Westphalian norms – non-interference in internal affairs, and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of frontiers”, said Rustam Burnashev, professor of the Kazakh-German University (Kazakhstan Almaty), in an article written exclusively for CABAR.asia.
Since the early 1990s, relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are arranged in two main formats: regional and bilateral. A wider format of relations in the framework of various international organizations, forming a number of significant background moments, remains minor.
1. Regional format of relations
Consideration of the regionalization of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the format of “Central Asia” remained dominant throughout the 1990s. Its institutionalization has gone through a number of structures: first, the Common Economic Space [1], then – the Central Asian Economic Community [2] and, finally, the Organization “Central Asian Cooperation”, which in 2002 was transformed into the Central Asian Economic Community [3].
However, at this time, it was clear that the regionalization within the project “Central Asia” faced serious difficulties and was primarily ideological in nature:
1. From an economic point of view, Central Asia could not be considered as a single entity, because it included the republics which were within the Soviet Union in two different economic regions: Kazakhstan (Kazakh SSR) and Central Asia (Kirghiz SSR, Tajik SSR, Turkmen SSR and Uzbek SSR). It must be borne in mind that the economic regions in the Soviet Union were economically integral parts of the country, selected on the basis of technical and economic feasibility of integration of production, as well as the specifics of the level of production, forms of social economy, territorial division of labor, administrative structure and the natural environment. This net of economic zones existing at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union was established in 1966. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the specification of the countries of Central Asia only grew, both because of the desire to provide for its economic independence, and according to the choice of different models of economic reform.
2. From the point of view of security in the countries included in Central Asia, securitization of a number of key issues was carried out differently. First of all, it refers to issues such as the civil war in Tajikistan in 1992-1997; the situation in Afghanistan in the second half of the 1990s and the attitude to “Northern Alliance” and the movement of “Taliban” operating in this country; the attitude of the states to a number of internal political, economic and societal issues. Thus, the involvement of Uzbekistan in resolving the crisis in Tajikistan and Afghanistan was significantly higher than in Kazakhstan. Thus, Central Asia, in terms of international security, has not developed as a regional security complex.

In parallel with the regional projects, there existed equally strong constructs that go beyond the five republics – such as the “Shanghai Five” and the Collective Security Treaty. Equally important is the concept of an “extended” region, built on the idea of ​​”Eurasian reintegration” and the Eurasian Union proposed by Nazarbayev on March 29, 1994. The Eurasian Economic Community consisting of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan was established in 2000 on its basis. [4] Put together, these initiatives clearly demonstrate the dominant importance for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan [5] of relations beyond “Central Asia”.

Thus, the structural conditions for the regionalization of Central Asia were absent. Moreover, the countries demonstrated their unwillingness to design them.

Taken together, the above had led to the fact that by the 2000s, the final format of regionalization has not happened in Central Asia. Communications of the five countries that are attributable to Central Asia with external actors, first of all, with Russia, remained too strong to be able to talk about the formation of an independent region. Moreover, On October 18, 2004, Russia joined the Organization “Central Asian Cooperation” [6]. In 2006, in connection with the accession of Uzbekistan to the Eurasian Economic Community [7], there was a merger of the two organizations [8], which de facto meant the elimination of the “Central Asian Cooperation”.

In the second half of the 2000s, there was an attempt to revive the Central Asian project in a Central Asian Union idea expressed by the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. But this initiative could not be supported on a practical level. Moreover, for example, the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, in response to this initiative, pointed to the impossibility of this initiative in the format of Union of Central Asia, since the potential of its members “must be somehow comparable”, “policy and directions, in which state leaders are involved, must be comparable, but not contradictory, especially when it comes to reform and vision for the development” [9]

In 2009, Uzbekistan announced its withdrawal from the United Energy System of Central Asia – almost the last structure uniting Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the “regional” format. The final departure from the concept of Central Asia can be linked with the launch of the mechanism of a single customs space within the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia in 2010 [10], clearly fixing the orientation of Kazakhstan as an economic region outside the economic space of Central Asia and in the future, as a full Kazakhstan’s withdrawal from this space.
* * *
Despite the fact that the idea of ​​the unity of Central Asia has not been implemented, it has been an effective political and ideological factor in the 1990s. This concept remains such a factor now, however, instead of positive functions (psychological compensation for the collapse of the Soviet Union and a regular dialogue platform), it begins to fulfill rather negative functions, rather constraining the transformation and development of appropriate political, economic and social space, including from the security standpoint.
In understanding the relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the project “Central Asia” has entrenched through a simulacrum “regional rivalry”, which refers to the struggle between the two countries for dominance in Central Asia. However, either the term “struggle” or the term “dominance”, as a rule, do not get any decryption, in other words, they are taken for granted. Understanding the relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan through the prism of competition is preserved in the present. [11]
2. Bilateral relations format

Diplomatic relations between the Republic of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were established November 23, 1992. The basic principles of bilateral relations were originally recorded in the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Republic of Uzbekistan dated June 24, 1992. Subsequently, they were reinforced by the Treaty of eternal friendship of October 31, 1998. However, in the 1990s – early 2000s, bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were interpreted through the prism of the concept of “Central Asia”. So in the monograph “Sovereign Kazakhstan at the turn of Millennium” [12], published by Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies in 2001, it is stated that “the development of bilateral relations with Uzbekistan is one of the main directions of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy in the Central Asian region”.

In addition to the regional component, a partnership of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan at this time was justified by reference to the historical and cultural closeness of the two peoples. Also it was indicated that one of the key aspects that determine the importance of the Kazakh-Uzbek relations was the need for cooperation in ensuring stability and security in Central Asia. In this case, the reference is made to a fixed list of tasks, the resolution of which was thought to be impossible only within national boundaries: the spread of religious extremism and terrorism, increase in the scale of drug trafficking.

It is obvious that in addition to working in the field of “regional ideologeme”, the cooperation between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan affected the attempts to solve real problems. Those may include:

1. The issue of delimitation and demarcation of borders, actualized at the turn of the 1990s – 2000s (the first round of negotiations of the governmental delegations of the two countries to harmonize the line of the joint border was held in February 2000 in Tashkent) in connection with the crisis of the Central Asian regionalization caused by Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the WTO, as well as with the activation of illegal armed and terrorist groups. Despite the fact that the parties were guided by the recognition that the “border disputes” in the form of mutual territorial claims, capture or illegal possession of alien territory did not exist between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the process of delimitation and demarcation was rather long and often painful.

2. The question of forming a system of sharing of transboundary water resources of the Aral Sea. The question is getting more topical because of the absence of standards, mechanisms and traditions of resolving the issues of transboundary water resources adopted both globally and across Central Asia. Despite the availability of working arrangements of declarative nature (e.g., Nukus Declaration of Central Asian states and international organizations on issues of sustainable development of the Aral Sea basin of September 20, 1995), practical solutions for water and energy issues in Central Asia are accepted on situational (ad hoc) basis.

In addition, the environmental problems in the region have been actively discussed, including the man-made disasters, as well as the issues of development of cooperation in the field of transit.

The need to solve these problems (except the issue of border delimitation, which has already been completed) remained at the present stage of bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which began in 2008. The starting point of this phase was quite a tough statement by the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov during his visit to Kazakhstan on the impossibility of creating a Central Asian Union, the idea of which was actively promoted by Kazakhstan in the mid-2000s [13]. It is significant that the refusal of regional cooperation became a stimulus for the development of bilateral contacts. During the same visit, an agreement was reached between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on a free trade zone between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, opening of business centers and trade representatives on a parity basis, enhancing cooperation in the oil and gas industry.

A year after this statement, bilateral contacts between the Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were on a regular basis in the form of annual summits:
– Visit of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev to Uzbekistan on March 16-17, 2010;
– Visit of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov to Kazakhstan on September 6-7, 2012;
– Visit of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev to Uzbekistan on June 13-14, 2013.
– Visit of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov to Kazakhstan on November 24-25, 2014.

Legal consolidation of intensification of bilateral interactions occurred in 2013 in the form of the signing of a Treaty on strategic partnership between the two countries.

Increasing importance of bilateral relations at present only affects the level of political cooperation between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as well as some traditional “Central Asia” issues – above all, the topics of security, counter terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking. However, in practice, the challenges posed by terrorism and extremism in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are mostly internal, and the depth of cooperation in this area is still rather limited. The degree of cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking is higher, including through multilateral structures, such as the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre for combating illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors (CARICC).

Particular attention is paid to the problem of transboundary water resources, which also became a central theme of all visits. Moreover, the severity of this issue is so great that in 2012, the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov specifically stated: “Water resources can be a problem around which relations in Central Asia can become particularly tense. Things can get so worse that it can cause not just religious confrontation but war” [14] For all of these issues, the two leaders showed close positions.

“Technical” line relationships, including economic, remain underdeveloped. In economic terms, the positive dynamics of bilateral trade between the two countries does not fully reflect the existing potential and is about 2 billion dollars. [15] 118 joint enterprises with the Uzbek side operate in Kazakhstan, while the number of companies with Kazakhstan’s participation in Uzbekistan is 173 (including 48 – joint), which cannot be regarded as a sufficient depth of mutual economic penetration either. According to observers, issues like border and customs regime on the Kazakh-Uzbek border, investment protection and protectionist measures taken by countries in relation to each other remain untouched [16] Also, the question of labor migration remains silent at the leadership level.

Understanding the bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also is influenced by the idea of ​​competition. Thus, a number of observers evaluate the fact that the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov did not participate in the OSCE summit in Astana, held on December 1-2, 2010, through the prism of competition. Maybe that’s why in 2013, Uzbek President specifically stated that “if we talk about Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, there is no competition and will not be in the near future, because we have completely different conditions, completely different minerals, and completely different natural and other resources “[17].

3. International Context

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan together are members of a number of international organizations of global and regional nature, such as the UN, OSCE and SCO. In this respect, they share relevant regulatory and ideological attitudes and practices. However, in this article, it is more important that both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are restricted by international law in two respects:

– On the one hand, both countries clearly state that they remain committed to the Westphalian norms of international law, such as the principle of sovereignty and non-interference, the inviolability of borders;

– On the other hand, the Westphalian norms of international law protect Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan from traditional security threats (“territorial disappearance”).

The same position is taken by other countries, traditionally assigned to Central Asia.

Taken together, this leads to the fact that almost no conflict here did not go beyond national borders and did not acquire the interstate dimension. Most significant in this case is the conflict in June 2010 in the southern regions of Kyrgyzstan, when even Uzbekistan, who had every reason to intervene, distanced itself from the conflict and only limited itself with temporary reception of refugees.

Conclusion

Cooperation between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan at the state level currently has no serious potential for conflict, due to both the resolution of most obvious issues (delimitation and demarcation of borders) and the weakening of the economic and social ties between the two countries. In the bilateral relations, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan rely on key Westphalian norms – non-interference in internal affairs, and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of frontiers.

The main level of bilateral cooperation is political, which recorded the strategic partnership of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The key lines of convergence of interests (at least at the level of political declarations) are the (1) opposition to the so-called “new security challenges” – terrorism, extremism, illegal distribution of drugs; (2) the desire to cooperate in the use of water and energy resources of the Aral Sea basin. However, the transition in these areas to deeper cooperation has a number of structural constraints associated primarily with the fact that the key threats to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are internal, and there is no need for international cooperation to solve them. Moreover, there is no reason to expect that any destabilization in Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan may acquire an interstate character.

Interaction at a practical level is declarative and does not receive implementation, primarily because of differences in economic and socio-economic development models of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, as well as because of Kazakhstan’s orientation to the Customs Union and the EEU.

Rustam Burnashev, professor of the Kazakh-German University

Opinion of the author may not necessarily represent those of CABAR.asia

[1] The agreement of January 10, 1994, on the establishment of a common economic space between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Republic of Uzbekistan; Treaty of April 30,1994, on the establishment of a common economic space between the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Uzbekistan; Protocol of March 26, 1998, on the accession of the Republic of Tajikistan to the Agreement of April 30, 1994, on the establishment of a common economic space between the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan.
[2] The new name of the regional association is the Central Asian Economic Community, which was taken at a meeting of the Interstate Council of the Common Economic Space on July 17-18, 1998.
[3] The agreement dated February 28, 2002, between the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on the establishment of the “Central Asian Cooperation”.
[4] The agreement of October 10, 2000, on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Community.
[5] Because of neutrality of Turkmenistan, it is not considered in this context.
[6] The Protocol of February 28, 2002, on the Accession of the Russian Federation to the Agreement between the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on the establishment of the “Central Asian Cooperation”.
[7] Protocol of January 25, 2006, on the Accession of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the Agreement of October 10, 2000, on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Community.
[8] Protocol of June 23, 2006, on the integration of the “Central Asian Cooperation” into the Eurasian Economic Community.
[9] A. Dubnov. Karimov skazal Nazarbaevu “raz i navsegda” [Karimov said to Nazarbayev “once and for all”] // Vremya novostei. – 2008. – April 23
[10] Agreement of November 27, 2009, on the Customs Code of the Customs Union.
[11] See. For example, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan: allies or irreconcilable opponents in Asia // Birjevoi Leader. – 2013 – July 7 // http://www.profi-forex.org/novosti-mira/novosti-sng/kazakhstan/entry1008170879.html
[12] Sovereign Kazakhstan at the turn of the millennium. – Almaty: KISR under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 2001.
[13] A. Dubnov. Karimov skazal Nazarbaevu “raz i navsegda” [Karimov said to Nazarbayev “once and for all”] // Vremya novostei. – 2008. – April 23
[14] The President of Uzbekistan strongly opposed the construction of Kambarata and Rogun HPP// Ferghana.ru. – 2012. – September 7 // http://www.fergananews.com/news/19412
[15] Bilateral trade and cooperation between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan // http://export.gov.kz/ru/page-338-dvustoronnyaya_torgovlya_i_sotrudnichestvo_kazahstana_i_uzbekistana
[16] R. Dovlatov R. The truth is somewhere near // Expert-Kazakhstan. – 2013 – June 24 // http://expertonline.kz/a11211/
[17] Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan signed an Agreement on strategic partnership // UzDaily. – 2013 – June 14 // http://www.uzdaily.uz/articles-id-16018.htm

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