Uzbek-Kazakh Rapprochement

by Nathan Hamm on 4/10/2006 · 3 comments

IWPR reports on Nursultan Nazarbaev’s recent visit to Tashkent and the thaw in Uzbek-Kazakh relations. The story casts the warming of relations as part of Uzbekistan’s quest for new friends in the wake of its break with the US and Europe. Many stand to gain from warmer relations between the two states. Making the border easier to cross would benefit Uzbeks seeking work in Kazakhstan, and Kazakh businesses stand to gain from opportunities to invest in Uzbekistan. In fact, about the only person for whom this seems to be a potentially bad deal is Islam Karimov.

However, the path towards economic integration may not be smooth. Karimov may want political backing, but given his record of economic isolationism with a strong measure of state control, he is likely to be wary about key assets falling into the hands of his near neighbours.

“He will fear a stronger presence of Kazak capital in Uzbekistan, because that could lead to the emergence of forces that he is less able to control, and subsequently give rise to independent alternatives [to his own rule],” said one of the Uzbekistan-based analyst.

Satpaev agrees that although Karimov is being nicer to the Kazaks these days, his relationships with his neighbours will remain fraught with problems.

“Karimov is unlikely to give up his ambition to be regional leader,” said Satpaev. “That means that Tashkent will view all initiatives emanating from [the Kazak capital] Astana and the Eurasian Economic Community with either suspicion or indifference. This won’t make the decision-making mechanism within the [economic] organisation any more simple or effective.”

He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Both closer ties to Kazakhstan and attempts to isolate Uzbekistan from Kazakhstan are likely to result in Kazakhstan becoming the increasingly obvious leader in the region. The report ends by suggesting that Nazarbaev likely spent at least some time talking Uzbekistan policy with Putin in his trip to Russia immediately following his Tashkent visit. If it is true that Russia and Kazakhstan will present a more or less united front in “partnering” with Tashkent (and it seems quite sensible to me to believe they will), it seems quite likely that Uzbekistan will find its new friends as difficult as its old ones.


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 2 comments }

Bertrand April 10, 2006 at 9:28 pm

You are entirely correct that Uzbekistan will find its new friends as difficult as its old ones…in many cases probably more difficult.

Mr. Karimov has somehow managed to paint himself into the proverbial corner and seems to have done it without the use of even a brush.

Does anyone seriously believe Karimov is anything but a pawn in Putin’s plan to return Russia to a position of international influence through the use of energy and resources?

Kazakhstan may already have taken over the leadership of Central Asia, Karimov having ceded the role to them.

One wonders if Karimov ever gives any thought to his “legacy,” in terms of how (or if) he will be remembered in history. On his current course, he won’t be remembered for much, and what little there will be will only be negative.

Nathan April 10, 2006 at 10:14 pm

I think you’re certainly right about Karimov’s legacy. I think he has a good chance of being remembered for squandering Uzbekistan’s chance to be the region’s leader.

I’m sure it was very important on the Uzbek side of things for Nazarbaev to go to Tashkent so that this meeting wouldn’t have such a glaringly obvious subtext that Uzbekistan is acquiescing to playing second fiddle to Kazakhstan.

Does anyone seriously believe Karimov is anything but a pawn in Putin’s plan to return Russia to a position of international influence through the use of energy and resources?

Perhaps Islam Karimov believes it!

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