Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 33 Issue 3
Authors: Giuliano Bifolchi
The first-ever trilateral summit between Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan organised in Ashgabat underlined the desire of these three Central Asian republics to cooperate in different fields to guarantee regional stability and interconnection.
The parties recognised the importance of mutual efforts in ensuring peace, security, and economic development. They expressed their intent to continue supporting each other’s candidatures in international organisations and accentuated their determination to combat terrorism, organised crime, and other threats collectively.
Turkmenistan-Tajikistan-Uzbekistan Summit: An Information Background
On August 4th, 2023, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, President of Turkmenistan, Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, and Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of Uzbekistan, attended the first-evet trilateral summit in Ashgabat.
The trilateral summit marked a significant milestone in the cooperative efforts of these countries. The leaders recognised the importance of collaboration in achieving regional peace, security, and stability. This summit builds upon the Consultative Meetings of the Heads of State of Central Asia, aiming to enhance cooperation and deepen relations between the three nations.
President Serdar Berdimuhamedov emphasised the historical, cultural, and civilisational foundations that underpin their cooperation. Notable topics of discussion included sustainable water supply, energy partnership, and transport sector collaboration. The presidents acknowledged the role of these initiatives in regional development and underscored the importance of joint efforts in tackling water scarcity, energy needs, and enhancing transport infrastructure.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev highlighted the effectiveness of the Consultative Meetings and stressed the need for collective responses to new challenges. He advocated for intensified cooperation in water-saving technologies, irrigation modernisation, and digitalised water management processes. The president also emphasised the potential of the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran corridor and the Trans-Caspian route in bolstering international trade.
President Emomali Rahmon focused on the sustainable development of friendly cooperation among the three nations. He praised the growing trade and economic ties within the region and highlighted Tajikistan’s commitment to further developing “green energy.” He called for joint efforts in the transport sector to bolster regional economies, highlighting the role of international corridors. President Rahmon also underscored the importance of addressing ecological and climate challenges.
The Turkmenistan-Tajikistan-Uzbekistan Summit highlighted not only the potential for collaboration but also the looming challenges that the Central Asian republics must confront in order to prevent destabilisation within the region. These challenges could heighten the regional geopolitical vulnerability, consequently dissuading foreign investors from deepening their engagement in local economies and regional developmental initiatives.
The Summit shed light on the following pressing issues:
- Countering Terrorism and Extremism Amidst Regional Security Concerns. The trilateral summit among Dushanbe, Ashgabat, and Tashkent underscored their shared commitment to countering terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism. The geographic proximity of these countries to Afghanistan, a nation marked by escalating violent attacks and the resurgence of jihadist propaganda, emphasises the urgency of their united stance. The Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan after the U.S. troop withdrawal in August 2021 heightened security concerns in the region. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as neighbouring states, recognise the need for collaborative efforts to prevent the spread of extremist ideologies and ensure regional stability.
- Divergent Approaches to Afghanistan and Trade Cooperation. While Tajikistan has consistently maintained a strong position against the Taliban because of fears of terrorist threats destabilising its national security, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have taken different paths. These countries have shown interest in engaging with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, seeking avenues for trade cooperation. Turkmenistan’s distinct strategies arise from economic considerations, as Ashgabat aims to develop key infrastructure projects like the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline. This initiative not only diversifies Turkmen energy exports but also supports its economy. Maintaining diplomatic ties with the Taliban can facilitate the success of such projects, although this approach poses diplomatic and security challenges.
- Resisting Separatism and Addressing Ethnic Tensions. The commitment to combat separatism emerged as a significant theme during the trilateral summit, with the participants recognising the importance of maintaining territorial integrity and countering internal divisions. In 2022, both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan experienced internal challenges stemming from ethnic minorities and tensions between central authorities and peripheral regions. In May of that year, the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) witnessed protests by the local population, highlighting discontent with the central government and local authorities. Tajikistan responded by deploying military forces and launching a counter-terrorism operation to quell what was portrayed as an “external threat” aimed at undermining national security. Although the immediate crisis was addressed, the underlying concerns in GBAO continue to warrant the attention of Tajik authorities, underlining the persistent complexity of internal challenges related to autonomy and governance. In July 2022, the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan experienced protests in response to proposed constitutional amendments by the Uzbek central government. These demonstrations raised questions about Karakalpakstan’s desire for complete independence from central governance. The incident illuminated the delicate balance between preserving national unity and respecting local autonomy.
- Water Scarcity: A Looming Challenge for Central Asia. Central Asia’s geopolitical landscape is further complicated by water scarcity, an issue with the potential to exacerbate tensions and conflicts. The region confronts a complex dilemma stemming from historical mismanagement, overuse of water resources, and recurring droughts. Countries downstream of the Amu Darya River, notably Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, endure these challenges, facing severe consequences because of their dependence on this vital water source. Water scarcity intertwines with energy resources, contributing to a delicate political climate that has implications for regional stability.
- Water Security: The Urgency of Regional Cooperation. The water-related challenges in Central Asia have prompted leaders to acknowledge the potential for conflicts and disruptions in the region’s security landscape. The trilateral summit highlighted the importance of collective action in addressing water issues that transcend national borders. Central Asian countries recognise the interdependence of their security and stability, necessitating cooperative approaches to tackle water scarcity. As disputes over water and energy resources remain a potential source of instability, concerted efforts are required to forge common strategies and ensure that regional stability is maintained through the lens of shared water security concerns.
In conclusion, the Turkmenistan-Tajikistan-Uzbekistan Summit served as a crucial platform for addressing not only the promising avenues of cooperation but also the critical challenges that the Central Asian republics must confront to safeguard regional stability. The issues illuminated by the summit highlight the complex tapestry of concerns that intertwine geopolitics, security, economics, and societal dynamics in the region.
The commitment to counter terrorism, extremism, and separatism underscores the shared determination of these nations to mitigate security threats, especially given their proximity to the evolving situation in Afghanistan. Divergent approaches to engaging with Afghanistan and the delicate balance between economic interests and diplomatic strategies reveal the intricacies of managing relationships in a changing geopolitical landscape.
Additionally, the imperative to counter separatism and tackle ethnic strife underscores the significance of nurturing governance frameworks that are inclusive of local aspirations while upholding national coherence.
Water scarcity emerges as a looming challenge that amplifies the intricacies of Central Asia’s geopolitical puzzle. The interconnectedness of water and energy resources underscores the urgency of regional cooperation to ensure sustainable development and prevent conflicts arising from this vital scarcity. The trilateral summit has shed light on the significance of adopting a collaborative approach to navigate the multifaceted challenges and foster stability and prosperity in the region.
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