The main outcome of April 8-9 Ashgabat Central Asian summit was a seemingly insignificant episode that occurred at the entrance to the palace of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on day one of the meeting. According to protocol, a personal Mercedes was to be provided for each of the five presidents, but it so happened that Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov wound up in the same limousine. A highly suggestive detail.*
Tajik-Uzbek relations have been effectively frozen, especially after Colonel Khudoiberdyyev's mutiny in the north of Tajikistan last year. Recriminations, suspicions, and the closure of the common border - all this was fraught with a new conflict in Central Asia. So the summit of five, convened to elect a new chairman of the Aral Sea Rescue Foundation, came in at the right moment.*
It was clearly impossible to turn down Saparmurat Niyazov's invitation to come to Ashgabat to elect him the new foundation chairman and to hear a report by Islam Karimov, the previous chairman. For the Turkmen leader, who has made his capital a venue for a continuous "inter-Afghan peaceful process," it was yet another peacemaking challenge to sponsor another reconciliation - between the Tajik and the Uzbek leaders. For a while, though, the effort seemed futile.*
When Islam Karimov got off his plane at Ashgabat airport, no one expected that after the routine greetings exchanged with the summit's host, the Uzbek president would make straight for the media crowd, which he addressed with an emotional 10-minute monologue.*
The Uzbek leader reiterated his opposition to plans for Russian military bases in Tajikistan, a subject that had been raised in the course of Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev's recent visit to Dushanbe. On April 15, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov is expected to arrive in Moscow to sign a treaty with Boris Yeltsin to this effect.*
"Who are these bases aimed against? After all, their creation, now that the Tajik civil war is over and there is a prospect of reconciliation in Afghanistan, will only further militarize the region, irritating Tajikistan's neighbors." Karimov also observed that, being a next-door neighbor, he had the right to raise the issue before the final decision was made in Moscow.*
Such a start discouraged those who hoped for a Tajik-Uzbek reconciliation. Still, less than five hours later, a Turkmen official told Vremya that "the disagreement between Rakhmonov and Karimov is history now."* Yet another noteworthy moment in the "airport prelude" to the Ashgabat summit, in Karimov's interpretation, was his highly flattering view of Turkmenistan's policy of neutrality, proclaimed by President Niyazov, and of "the well defined standards" of neutrality that Ashgabat espoused. This position is hard to overestimate given that not so long ago Tashkent was wary, at best, of Turkmenia's policy. Furthermore, Karimov also supported the visa regime for CIS citizens, to be introduced by Ashgabat as of June 9 this year, except that this would affect people in the two republics (the number of trips to Uzbekistan accounts for 78 percent of all trips to CIS countries from Turkmenia). According to Karimov, the visa regime should keep out "corrupt elements and terrorist groups - a sorely needed thing in the wake of explosions in Tashkent."* The Ashgabat summit will discuss the Afghan problem. Apart from Turkmenia's efforts to resolve it, the Uzbek initiative - to hold in Tashkent a meeting of the group of "Afghanistan's friends and neighbors" based on the "6+2" formula - also remains topical.
Especially considering that Russia has at long last actively joined in the process of the Afghan settlement.*
Опубликовано 31 марта 2016 года
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