Saturday, May 19, 2012

Central Asia: The Submarine Effect

Source: ISN

Regional difficulties are eroding cooperation and exacerbating conflicts in Central Asia.

Prepared by: Sheradil Baktygulov
The dynamics of cooperation between the five Central Asian states over the past twenty years has shown that they passed way from friendship in the 1990s to the rigid pragmatic and asymmetric responses in the 2010s. As a result, today Central Asia in the world is associated with closed borders, water and territorial disputes, resource economies and poverty.

This situation can be described as "the submarine effect,” or to be more accurate – “the uncoordinated work of the crew of a submarine." It turns out that every group of divers is located within its section, but instead of concerted actions by all groups, there are multi-directional initiatives of team leaders.

All initiatives are reasonable and justified in terms of local interests, for example, of machinists or acousticians. But in terms of efficient use of existing capacity of the submarine, this approach reduces the importance and value of local initiatives. A submarine without coordinated efforts of the crew is an "iron barrel," moving in the rear of ships and led more than by the will of waves and currents than by the interests of the entire crew.

People interested in Central Asia are increasingly asking: How did this situation happen and how is it possible to get out of it? There is a wide range of interpretations, from failed states to super-presidential autocracy. Also, many theories on bringing CA to a new level of relations were created: from sovereign economic progress in each country to the creation of the Greater Central Asia and the Eurasian Economic Union.

All theories have the right to existence. It should be mentioned that these theories are based on local and foreign doctrines and views that had circulated in the XVIII, XIX centuries and first half of the XX century. So, despite the radical change in the political, social and economic situation in Central Asia, nothing new has been invented for the states in the region. As a result, solutions to the problems of the XXI century are sought in the tips that existed two centuries ago.

This trend is the main driving force of the political and socio-economic transformation in Central Asia.

Total in private

If we are talking about the "submarine effect," it is logical to consider the properties of sections, which engineers have been trying to modify during the last 20 years. In this connection the following question is interesting: What is Central Asia?

1. Residents and leaders of four Central Asian countries speak similar languages of the Turkic language group. However, during negotiations, they cannot come to an understanding of each other's problems and find the best solution for all parties. The decision usually annoys at least one side.

2. The vast majority of the five Central Asian countries are Muslim. But it is also not the unifying principle: citizens of one country do not like both their countrymen and citizens of other countries.

3. The people of Central Asia have been neighbors during thousands of years. However, today the borders of Central Asia are almost closed to each other.

4. Another feature is the fact that the peoples of Central Asia, figuratively speaking, are mentally living together in four “countries.”The first “country" is the customs of small principalities/khanate that existed prior to establishing the rule of Tsarist Russia in the region. The second “country" is the relations and traditions that existed in the region during Czarist Russia. The third “country" is regulations that have been established over the years of Soviet power. The fourth “country" is the parameters of the theory promoted by the transit period.

The above difficulties have been reflected in attempts of each of the countries of the region to position themselves as the ancestral home of all the current states of Central Asia. This methodological approach was relevant during the Soviet era. In those years, one of the conditions of existence of a national union republic was the presence in the republic of ancient history of the territorial entities.

This approach was in demand in the USSR and lost its relevance with its decay. Today, two basic approaches are practiced in relation to the description of the history of the state and nation.

The first approach is a description of the history of the state since its emergence on the current territory. Examples of this approach are France, the USA, China and Japan.

The second approach dates back to the moment of the creation of a national alphabet. As with most ancient alphabets, Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Georgian, Persian and Hebrew can be brought as examples.

However, the Soviet approach of something "ancient" has not only been preserved in Central Asia, but is also gaining momentum. The paradox is that the "great history" of one of the nations is rejected by other nations. Moreover, this approach is not an object of interest of specialists from other regions of the world. The exceptions are cases where foreigners have to flatter politicians or a group of persons from these countries.

You could not pay attention to the key challenges listed, if not the following:

The indicated difficulties are the causes of the failure of almost all the regional projects in Central Asia, regardless of which country initiated them and why.

Theories of development

In the absence of a Central Asian common vision of the development of the region, other states, having their own interests in the region, offer to “remake” the existing in the Central Asia political and socio-economic relations in order to meet their own requirements. No particular significance is attached to the nuances of the situation in each CA country and the region as a whole. It is enough to have a firm conviction of one’s rightness and actively promote one’s theories.

Many of them believe that it is enough to make a part of the inhabitants of CA countries adopt certain style of thinking and a practice of conduct, and then these inhabitants will shape the public opinion favorable to the interests of a foreign state or group of countries. With regard to the countries of Central Asia, the following theories and practices can be traced.

America and Europe

North America and Europe, following the theory of democracy and market economy, are working with the younger generation of Central Asians. This work is carried out through various educational programs and support programs. People have successfully used business skills and "packed" information in the required standards.

A problem zone begins when they are establishing the rules of economic activities, standards, public relations and rules of functioning of public authorities, government and local governments. The US-European approach in these areas does not work.

The Arab world

Islam in Central Asia received the "second" breath after the Soviet Union’s collapse. However, if you look closely at the process of promoting Islam, it turns out that instead of progressing Islamization we have Arabization of the region.

It is believed that prayers who read in Arabic will be heard more quickly than the prayers who pray in local languages. Believers are increasingly wearing traditional dress of Arabs and Pakistanis, considering them true Muslims. The Arab Ummah is promoted as the basis of relationships between people, and the basis of relations between government and society is the Arab understanding of the principles of government.


In the practice of present-day Russia, two main directions can be traced. The first direction is associated with the category of people in Central Asia. They are representatives of the power block: Ministries of Internal Affairs and the KGB of the former Soviet republics. Training, joint exercises, and various cooperation programs allow them to build informal relationships between law enforcement bodies of Russia and Central Asia.

The second area is an appeal to the common history of Tsarist Russia and the USSR.


In relation to its fellow neighbors, China pursues a policy of "equally approximate partners." The relations with all are smooth, without obvious preference. The main target group is small and medium businesses. It is known that the entrepreneurs of small and medium-sized businesses are the most active and enterprising part of Central Asian societies. Politicians cannot agree with each other, but entrepreneurs have always agreed on how to meet their own interests.

Therefore, the activity of China's entry into the business area of Central Asian countries is increasingly causing concern among local political and business elites as a threat to their existence. In this case a simple majority of the population does not entirely understand why the Chinese capital is worse than the capital of other origin. On the ground, people come to the understanding that the problem is not the origin of capital but the people receiving and using this capital.

Options for reformatting

The existing difficulties and the ideas of reconstruction make three options for reformatting relations in Central Asia possible.

Option 1: "Buffer"

The withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan by 2014 says that Washington, London, Paris and Berlin admit the fact that the movement of "Taliban" will come to power in Kabul.

Therefore, the achievement of the ten-year war in Afghanistan is that the Taliban appears to limit its power by promising to stay within their own state boundaries and to no longer give Al Qaeda bases and training camps on its territory.

Whoever comes to power in Kabul, the ideas of combatting terrorism and drug trafficking are still relevant. It follows the first option - turning Central Asia into a cordon sanitaire along the border with Afghanistan.

Option 2: "Another Union”

Russia is promoting the idea ofaEurasian Union by 2015. At the present time, it is the union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. Further, the Union shall include the countries of the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Ukraine.

Today, Russia controls 25% of world gas reserves. In case of the Eurasian Union, Russia will theoretically be able to control 33% of world gas reserves.

The U.S. promotes the idea of forming a Greater Central Asia. In the long term, it is proposed to link the three roads of Pakistan, Afghanistan with Russia and Europe via the territory of Central Asia. Here is also a project of transferring electricity from Central Asia to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Both rearrangements affect the interests of China and the European Union. Therefore, the Central Asian countries do not have full vision of where these new commitments as junior partners of the Eurasian Union and/or the Greater Central Asia will lead.

Option 3: "Unification"

The above two options preserve the current relationships in Central Asia, and during the next 12-17 years, they will lead to a decline in all spheres of life in the region.

These options consider CA states as objects of the region's geopolitical games where other states are the main actors. In addition, each state is a player who sees itself as a bridge between civilizations and continents.

Hence, the Central Asian countries must unite their efforts to become a full part of the world civilization. This includes the well-being of each resident in Central Asia, regardless of his ethnic, civil or religious affiliation.

Instead of conclusion

Selecting a development option depends on the countries’ geopolitical players, not the countries of Central Asia. Nevertheless, there are two first steps to mitigate the effects of disturbing trends in Central Asia.

First, in Central Asia, there is not a new generation of leaders of governments, and there are no informal contacts between the leaders of nations. Solid informal links exist for example between smugglers and representatives of organized crime. This situation leads to widely differing policies, and further to an even more stringent and even harsh management practice.

The first step is to establish informal relations between the leaders of the Central Asian states.

Second, cultural and religious identity does not work in Central Asia. People are as far from one another as heaven and earth. However, the horizon is connecting heaven and earth. The horizon demonstrates the possibility of the unification of two different elements.

Therefore, the second step is the creation of a network of analysts from different countries to work as a liaison between officials of different countries.

The interests of the Central Asian region require the revival of basic human values. Perhaps, it is time for the start of reforms in the minds of people.

Editor's note: Based in Kyrgyzstan, Sheradil Baktygulov is an expert on governance, methods of public policy and public administration