Qatar’s recent diplomatic foray into Central Asia by the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani marked a significant step in the nation’s regional foreign policy. Previously, Qatar’s involvement in Central Asia had been limited, but now it expresses a fervent desire to cultivate stronger bonds.
On June 6th-9th, 2023, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s visit was strategically arranged to forge connections between Qatar’s business community, government institutions, and the Central Asian republics.
Doha’s vested interest in the region is further substantiated by its intention to seek membership as a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), aligning itself with the policies pursued by neighbouring countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Qatar’s Multifaceted Engagements with Central Asian Republics
The Gulf State’s level of engagement with the nations of Central Asia varies considerably. While the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Qatar started operations in May 2023, Doha is yet to establish an embassy in Tashkent. Conversely, Qatari embassies have been functioning in other countries within the region since 2008 and 2012.
Nevertheless, bilateral trade remains exceedingly modest, with Uzbekistan accounting for a mere $4 million in trade during 2022, primarily concentrated on oil imports. The emir’s purposeful visit showcased a wealth of investment opportunities, spanning agriculture, energy, logistics, tourism, and trade expansion.
Qatar and Uzbekistan inked 15 pivotal agreements, signalling a commitment to invest over $12 billion across diverse sectors. Moreover, an eagerly expected Uzbek-Qatari investment forum is scheduled for September 2023, representing an auspicious platform for future collaboration.
Doha’s cultural inclinations also take centre stage, as Sheikh Tamim’s itinerary included a visit to Samarkand, wherein the cultural affinities and shared Islamic heritage between the two countries were passionately emphasised.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Centre for Islamic Civilisation of Uzbekistan and Qatar’s National Library, solidifying their collaborative efforts in preserving, safeguarding, and promoting cultural heritage.
The bond between Doha and Dushanbe is notably stronger, exemplified by the inauguration of a grand cathedral mosque in the Tajik capital, which was predominantly funded by Qatar. Beyond the “diplomacy of mosques,” Qatar and Tajikistan’s extensive visit yielded 15 intergovernmental agreements, including military cooperation.
In Kyrgyzstan, the Gulf State struck 12 pivotal agreements, encompassing collaboration on customs legislation, as well as the establishment of cultural centres in Doha and Bishkek. While a military cooperation agreement was also signed, its intricate details were withheld from public disclosure.
In Kazakhstan, the Emir actively participated in the Astana International Forum, engaging in fruitful discussions with President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev on prospective investments spanning the oil and gas industry, mining and metallurgical sectors, agriculture, healthcare, and finance.
The Emir’s visit admirably achieved its overarching aim of formalising numerous intergovernmental agreements, paving the way for heightened levels of trade, economic prosperity, investment ventures, and political cooperation.
Qatar must now endeavour to fortify these relationships by actively engaging with the Central Asian states. Turkey, a steadfast ally of Qatar, which has already cultivated fruitful collaboration with Central Asian nations, possesses the capacity to provide substantial support in this venture.
Potential Future Scenarios
- Catalysing Trade and Economic Cooperation: Qatar’s relentless efforts to establish closer ties with Central Asia may engender a momentous surge in trade, investment, and economic cooperation between the two regions. This, in turn, could lead to the diversification of Doha’s trade partners and the robust growth of its economy.
- Infrastructure Development and Energy Cooperation: Qatar’s investments in Central Asia, especially within the energy sector, have the potential to stimulate the development of vital infrastructure projects, such as pipelines and transportation networks. This would substantially bolster energy cooperation and foster enhanced regional connectivity.
- Cultural Exchanges and Tourism Boost: The emphasised cultural affinity during the visit may serve as a springboard for amplified cultural exchanges and flourishing tourism between Qatar and Central Asian countries. Such developments would invigorate the tourism sectors of both regions and foster mutual understanding and appreciation.
- Strengthened Security Collaborations: Doha’s military cooperation agreements with Central Asian countries may foster heightened collaboration in the realm of security. This could encompass joint military exercises, intelligence sharing, and concerted efforts in counterterrorism, thereby significantly contributing to regional stability.
- Geopolitical Implications: Qatar’s burgeoning engagement in Central Asia carries profound geopolitical implications. It has the potential to reshape the intricate web of alliances and partnerships in the region, consequently influencing the dynamics and influence of major powers like Russia, China, and the United States, who are also regional key players.
Author: Silvia Boltuc
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