TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan recently have built up relations, deepening co-operation against extremist and terrorist groups.
Uzbekistani General Staff Main Administration chief Col. Farkhod Shermatov and Kazakhstani Defence Minister Saken Zhasuzakov on November 23 in Astana discussed ways to develop military and technical co-operation between the two countries.
"We need to further develop bilateral defence and security relations, and quickly respond to new risks and new kinds of extremist and terrorist actions," Zhasuzakov said during the meeting, according to his ministry's press office.
The meeting indicates dramatic progress in ties between two neighbours that were relatively standoffish before, analysts say.
Their co-operation would be a boon for a region that has seen thousands of radicalised citizens join the militants in Syria and Iraq. They have the strongest militaries in Central Asia, according to the annual ratings published by the international research group Global Firepower.
The countries had signed several agreements over the years on security matters, "but none of that could be called close, effective co-operation," Tashkent-based political scientist Umid Asatullayev told Caravanserai.
On November 23 in Astana, at the summit of the two military chiefs, the countries reached an agreement to pursue prospects for military co-operation.
On November 22, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev expressed concerns that "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) militants might turn to menacing Central Asia if they are forced to flee defeat in Syria and Iraq.
"They [ISIL militants] could turn up on the southern borders of our region," Nazarbayev told Bloomberg in an interview. "Afghanistan shares a border with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. If they [ISIL militants] start from the south to squeeze our neighbours, we too will be troubled ... Islam is not the same thing as terrorism and extremism .. .I believe that the only way to defeat ISIL is if all states come together."
Two months ago, Uzbekistan's government announced plans for a new policy of co-operation with its neighbours meant to combat terrorist threats.
Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan's acting president at the time, on September 9 addressed his country's parliament and announced those intentions for better relations with neighbouring states.
"We must ... admit that we live in troubled times and in a troubled region," Mirziyoyev said, according to Uzbekistan National News Agency. "We must therefore resolutely continue implementing a set of systematic measures to guarantee the reliable protection of our homeland ...We remain unfailingly committed to open, friendly, and pragmatic relations with ... Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan."
One of the two countries' most salient accomplishments is co-operation on securing borders against extremist and other threats.
The countries' border force commanders, Darkhan Dilmanov (Kazakhstan) and Rustam Eminjanov (Uzbekistan) on November 16 in Shymkent, Kazakhstan, laid out a plan for operations in 2017.
"The meeting was warm and friendly and was the next step toward improving the security system for the countries' shared border," according to a statement by the Kazakhstani Border Service.
"Since this September, relations between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have become considerably warmer," Tashkent-based political scientist Valerii Khan told Caravanserai. "The two countries' armies are the strongest in the region, and they shoulder the weight of ensuring the region's security."
"Any sort of military co-operation projects in Central Asia ... will be nothing but beneficial," Asatullayev told Caravanserai. "Since poorly armed terrorists and extremists are the only current threat to the region, it makes sense to integrate both anti-aircraft defence systems and air forces."