The agreements signed by Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov over the weekend are unlikely to diminish the traditional rivalry between the two states.
On Saturday(October 31) Nazarbaev and Karimov signed agreements on eternal friendship and increased economic integration for the 1998-2005 period. The two sides agreed to cooperate at the intergovernmental level in the fields of customs and education. Both presidents also agreed that the CIS was in need of major reform, specifically through the creation of free economic zones. The two discussed issues of regional stability, particularly regarding Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Nazarbaev appears to have gained the most from the visit: Karimov agreed that Uzbekistan will supply gas to Kazakhstan’s southern regions until April 1, 1999, decorated Nazarbaev with Uzbekistan’s highest national award, and endorsed Nazarbaev’s candidacy for the early January 10, 1999 presidential elections (Russian agencies, October 31, November 1).
Deep-seated differences remain, however. It is no secret that little love is lost between the two presidents. The countries also compete for regional leadership of Central Asia. They are faced with divergent domestic and foreign policy priorities. Economically, while Kazakhstan has opted for the most ambitious economic liberalization program in Central Asia, Uzbekistan has preferred state-led, gradual reform. With only 11 percent of Central Asia’s total territory, Uzbekistan has 46 percent of that population. Thus, compared to Kazakhstan’s population density of 6 people per square kilometer, Uzbekistan’s 46 people per square kilometer exerts significant pressure on land and water resources (Focus Central Asia [Almaty], October 15). Although, like all post-Soviet leaders, Karimov and Nazarbaev have agreed to honor existing borders, significant ethnic Kazakh and Uzbek diasporas reside in the respective states. Even though the Uzbek diaspora is primarily situated in Kazakhstan’s southern regions, this has previously not stopped Uzbekistan from cutting off gas supplies to southern Kazakhstan as economic leverage. Overall, while common needs and perceived security threats encourage increased cooperation between the two states, enduring political and economic differences impede integration.–SC
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