ALMATY, MARCH 15 (The Conway Bulletin) — Leaders from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan met in Astana for what appears to have been the most harmonious Central Asian presidential summit since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Conspicuous by his absence though, was Turkmen leader Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who skipped the meeting in favour of heading to the Gulf to meet with various leaders, part of a charm offensive to pull in investment essential for shoring up Turkmenistan’s ailing economy.
Instead, Mr Berdymukhamedov’s son, Serdar, who is a parliamentarian, flew to Astana to meet Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on a bilateral basis ahead of the summit. Akdzhu Nurberdyev, chairman of the Turkmen Mejlis, stood in for Mr Berdymukhamedov at the presidential meeting.
After the meeting, Mr Nazarbayev told media that although no concrete deals had been signed, the meeting underscored a cooperative mood in Central Asia and that they now aimed to hold a similar meeting every year.
“The working consultation meeting has been successful in the spirit of full mutual understanding and positive good-neighbourliness,” he said. “We have had a thorough and constructive exchange of views on the most pressing issues on the regional and international agenda.”
Since former Uzbek president Islam Karimov, an isolationist autocrat, died in September 2016, Uzbekistan has pushed to mend damaged ties with its neighbours. This has boosted cooperation across the region.
There have been only a handful of summits of Central Asia’s five presidents. The last one was held in April 2009 in Almaty. Most have been fractious affairs with little warm language.
— This story was first published in issue 365 of the Conway Bulletin, a weekly newspaper covering Central Asia and the South Caucasus