Regional integration in Central Asia is slowing down

Regional integration in Central Asia is slowing down

Turkmenistan doesn't allow heavy vehicles on their way to Tajikistan to pass its border. Trucks are staying near the border with Iran, on the Lyutfabad-Artyk checkpoint, for more than a week. Ashgabat doesn't give permission for vehicles with cargo that must be delivered to Tajikistan. The Ministry of Transport of Tajikistan says that it tried to resolve "this issue through diplomatic channels." This problem was recently discussed in the Tajik Foreign Ministry. Regional integration of the region once again became relevant.

Turkmen border guards offer to drivers of heavy cargo trucks to search for bypass roads, bypassing Turkmenistan, one of the drivers staying at the border with Iran said in an interview with radio Ozodi (Tajik branch of Radio Liberty). He said that similar situation happens at other checkpoints on the Turkmen-Iranian border. Passenger buses that Tajikistan purchased from Turkey can't pass the Sarakhs border crossing.

Problems at the border began after Tajik President Emomali Rahmon visited Ashgabat. During the talks with Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov, issues of trade and economic cooperation and development of transport routes were discussed.

Speaking at the summit on the Aral Sea problem, Rakhmon urged his neighbors to intensify cooperation in the field of cargo transportation and transit in order to achieve free movement of goods and services in Central Asia.

It's not the first case when borders were closed in the region. A year ago, Kazakhstan blocked border with Kyrgyzstan. Over 500 Kyrgyz trucks with cargo for Russia couldn't move further. There was political reason for that: Bishkek accused President Nursultan Nazarbayev of interfering in the election campaign.

Uzbek border wasn't just shut down, but also mined because of attempts of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants to invade the country through Tajikistan in 1999-2000. In subsequent years, conflicts, often with use of weapons, land and water disputes, smuggling and other negative things have become common on the borders between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Situation changed only after change of power and economic development model of Uzbekistan.

The issue of integration of the Central Asian countries became relevant once again. Heads of four regional countries held summit in Astana. Ashgabat refused to participate in this event. Regional cooperation was discussed during this summit. Berdymuhamedov recently proposed a similar idea - creation of the Consultative Council of Central Asia, at which all issues in the region would be dealt with promptly. However, state structure of Turkmenistan and its economic policy took unthinkable for market economy form - a sort of eastern version of "leader principle", which clearly hinders problem solving process. Even though problems of the region haven't been resolved yet, Uzbekistan almost resolved border issues with its neighbors in the region, especially with Kazakhstan. Other countries have intensified their efforts, but we won't see results for some time. For example, Dushanbe and Bishkek have stalled the negotiation process. Tajikistan, frightened by the influx of Uzbek goods, introduced a number of restrictions on export of products.

Expert on Central Asia and the Middle East, Alexander Knyazev, said in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza that regional integration can't exist without participation of all countries in the region. "Central Asia is not a region. Countries of Middle Asia and Kazakhstan have no unifying interests, on the contrary, their interests contradict each other in most cases," he said.

According to expert, despite a number of external similarities, economic and political models operating in all former Soviet republics are different, and external orientation is very diverse. Integration can occur only through one or two mechanisms: common economic and political interests or external force. If Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, albeit with many proble,s, are integrated into the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and these ties somehow work, other countries are in a state of permanent uncertainty.

"By following short-term, often personal benefits, their priorities can change radically (just like how it happened with Tajikistan's reorientation from Iran to Saudi Arabia.) There are some signs of strategic development programs in Astana and Tashkent, but this is clearly not enough. Although Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the most positive examples, especially compared to others, there's nothing like that in Ashgabat. Financial and economic crisis in the republic that lasts for several years proves it," Alexander Knyazev believes.