Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests *

By Nichol, Jim | Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia, April 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests *


Nichol, Jim, Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia


MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Krol and the Senior Advisor to the U.S. Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Daniel Stein visited Turkmenistan on November 16-17. Stein reportedly stated that the United States offered to mediate the Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan dispute over the ownership of oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea to facilitate a settlement that would permit the construction of trans-Caspian oil and gas pipelines. Krol visited Uzbekistan on November 18-19 to reportedly discuss regional security issues and military-technical cooperation. Just a few days earlier, Assistant Secretary Robert Blake visited Uzbekistan. He stated that his visit was -a reflection of the determination of President Obama and Secretary Clinton to strengthen ties between the United States and Uzbekistan." He proposed that the two countries set up high-level annual consultations to -build our partnership across a wide range of areas. These include trade and development, border security, cooperation on narcotics, the development of civil society, and individual rights." [1]

On November 13, 2009, Kazakhstan's President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, asserted that his country would represent the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS; group of former Soviet republics headed by Russia) during its 2010 presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). He appeared to warn that during its presidency, Kazakhstan would urge that the OSCE end its -over the top" criticism of human rights conditions in some CIS states, and that Kazakhstan would propose that the OSCE instead take the -mentality of the people" and a -nation's path" into account in assessing progress in democratization and respect for human rights. He also stated that Kazakhstan will urge the OSCE to play a greater role in addressing security threats, including in regard to Afghanistan [2]

According to the U.S.-based publication Eurasia Insight, in early November 2009, the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington, DC, issued a statement that a congressional condition that Kazakhstan make progress in democratization and respect for human rights in order to receive governmentto-government foreign assistance was -arbitrary and unfair" and should be dropped [3]

Uzbekistan's People's Democratic Party, founded by President Islam Karimov and which has 31 members in its faction in the Legislative Chamber (the lower legislative chamber), declared in November 2009 that it is the -minority opposition" party, and that the Liberal Democratic Party (which is also pro-Karimov and has 39 members in its faction) is the chamber's majority party. The latter party is the leader of a -majority democratic bloc" in the legislature that includes two other pro-Karimov parties. New legislative elections are scheduled to be held on December 27, 2009.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization's new rapid reaction force held a counter-terrorism exercise in Kazakhstan in mid-October 2009 with the participation of military units from six member-states (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan; Uzbekistan did not participate). The exercise involved neutralizing a terrorist group that had occupied a town and taken hostages. The Russian Defense Ministry reported that the troops from the other countries were in -shock and awe" of the fighting of the Russian troops and were -amazed" by their equipment. On October 28, 2009, a Russian official urged that Tajikistan request the services of the rapid reaction forces to combat drug trafficking and stated that he considered that Russia's border security assistance to Tajikistan should become like that provided by the European Union.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Central Asia consists of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan; it borders Russia, China, the Middle East, and South Asia. The major peoples of all but Tajikistan speak Turkic languages (the Tajiks speak an Iranian language), and most are Sunni Muslims (some Tajiks are Shiia Muslims). …

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