Presidents Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan, Imomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan, and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan met on May 28 in Astana for the annual summit of the Central Asia Cooperation Organization (CACO).
At Karimov’s initiative, summit leaders invited Russia to join CACO as a full member. Russia’s Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov, attending as an observer, accepted full membership on behalf of President Vladimir Putin, who will attend future CACO summits. Although no link exists between CACO and the CIS, the latter was infrequently mentioned at the meeting. Russia’s accession signifies success in opposing any groups with the CIS that do not include Russia. The GUUAM alliance (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova) is the only group that does not include Russia, which is why the latter has welcomed Uzbekistan’s decision to abandon that group, thereby changing the acronym to GUAM.
Karimov criticized intrusive Western monitoring of the internal situation in Uzbekistan: “There are always more people desiring to monitor, rather than cooperate. This is an ill that we suffer and endure. What can we do if everyone just wants to control us, to teach us democracy, to direct us, and often to govern us?” Not long ago, Karimov was using precisely these terms to rebuff Russia’s ambitions in the region. In his speech to CACO’s summit, the paragraph criticizing the West served as preface to the proposal to invite Russia into the group as full member.
Rahmonov joined Karimov in expressing frustration with the US-led coalition’s policies in Afghanistan. Pointing to the spectacular increase in Afghan heroin production and trafficking in the post-Taliban period, both presidents underscored the resulting security threats to Central Asia. Similarly, Akaev argued that establishing a drug-control agency in Kyrgyzstan — similar to Tajikistan or Uzbekistan — was ineffective, as the drug problem must be tackled at the source in Afghanistan.
According to Rahmonov, “We have questions to ask of the countries in the anti-terrorist coalition in Afghanistan. They say that their mission is to destroy Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, whom they have been unable to catch in three years, and that drug production and smuggling is not their problem. And what does the able-bodied Afghan population do? How many jobs have been created? Nothing is said about this.” Karimov reiterated that concern. “Why, after the Taliban were removed — at least from Afghanistan’s leadership – has drug production not fallen? Who will put this question to those now present in Afghanistan? Can we ask them this question? Pardon me, gentlemen, you try to carry out peaceful reconstruction and so forth, but please tell us why the quantities of drugs have not decreased.”
Concurrent with the CACO summit, serious concerns over coalition performance in Afghanistan were expressed at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s (NATO-PA) session in Bratislava on May 29-31. Assembly chairman, US Congressman Doug Bereuter (Republican, Nebraska), issued on NATO-PA’s behalf an unprecedented appeal to allied countries, warning that the coalition operation in Afghanistan stands on the brink of failure, and that NATO’s credibility is on the line unless the alliance commits adequate resources and forces within the next weeks (NATO-PA press releases, May 29-June 1).
After discussion, the four Central Asian presidents appeared no closer to establishing regional consortia for hydropower and water management, transportation, construction and other sectors, and about moving gradually toward a Central Asian common market.
These ideas have been on the table at all CACO summits and those of predecessor groups since the mid-1990s. This year’s summit tasked member governments to draft a blueprint, for consideration at next year’s summit, on establishing a customs union, free trade zone, and ultimately a common market. The European Union, ASEAN and NAFTA were mentioned as possible models. The CIS groups — Eurasian Economic Community and the Single Economic Space — went unmentioned, although three of these Central Asian countries are members of one or the other of these redundant groups. (Khabar Television (Almaty), Uzbek Television, Interfax, May 28-30).