By Arman Kaliyev
Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev gestures during a news conference in Astana September 14. On November 13 in Astana, he reiterated calls for improved regional co-operation in Central Asia. [Stanislav Filippov/AFP]
ASTANA -- Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev has reiterated calls for the integration of Central Asian countries as a way to jointly ensure the security and prosperity of the region.
He made his appeal Monday (November 13) while answering questions at the 3rd session of the Astana Club, a Kazakhstani government-backed international forum aimed at discussing Eurasian issues.
He pointed to recent developments in Kazakhstan's relationship with Uzbekistan as an example of moving towards better regional integration.
"We have opened the borders between our countries, trade [between the two countries] has grown by 30% and joint ventures have been created," he said November 13, Kazinform reported Thursday (November 16). "People come to each other, and cultural exchange takes place. I am very pleased to see that and fully support this work."
Last month, Kazakhstan proposed hosting a Central Asian leaders' summit next year in Astana during Nowruz, Interfax Azerbajian reported.
Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov voiced the proposal October 11, during a speech in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, at a UN-sponsored conference devoted to security and sustainable development in Central Asia.
Kazakhstan advocates forming a model regional zone for peace, security and co-operation in Central Asia and Afghanistan, said Abdrakhmanov.
"Today, this process is receiving new momentum since we are observing a surge in regional contacts at all levels," Abdrakhmanov said.
Regional co-operation, contends the Kazakhstani government, helps prevent the spread of shared threats and challenges such as terrorism and extremism, drug trafficking, organised crime, illegal migration and human trafficking.
Moreover, overcoming natural disasters and environmental problems, such as managing water resources, is easier to do collectively, officials said.
The initiative, if realised, could serve as an impetus for integrating Central Asia, which has seen little co-operation since the countries all attained independence 26 years ago, according to officials.
Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, speaking at the October 11 conference in Samarkand, supported Nazarbayev's initiative, eyeing a new course for development focused on closer co-operation with neighbours.
Geographic factors could turn Uzbekistan into a vehicle for regional co-operation because it borders all four other Central Asian states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan -- as well as Afghanistan, Talgat Ismagambetov, a political analyst from Almaty, told Caravanserai.
Many problems can be collectively resolved if Mirziyoyev opts for expanded co-operation instead of the bilateral format, in which Uzbekistan resolves issues with each country separately, he said.
"Plenty of problems have built up in the region," Ismagambetov said. "The most pressing of them are water, energy and customs. They can be fully resolved when a common super-national agency that makes decisions concerning all [Central Asian] countries based on their common interests is formed."
Otherwise, no serious barriers to close regional co-operation exist, he said.
Presidents of Central Asian countries overall called 2017 a year of changes and said they foresee further innovations in 2018.
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