Now Is The Time For Gulf Nations To Improve Ties With Central Asia – Evaluation

By Luke Coffey

The leaders of the 5 Central Asian states — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, recognized collectively because the C5 — met their Gulf Cooperation Council counterparts in Jeddah final week for a GCC-C5 summit.

This gathering constructed on the success of a ministerial assembly between the C5 and GCC in Riyadh final yr.

Central Asia is at a vital geopolitical crossroads. Muslims, Christians and Jews, alongside the Turkic, Slavic and Persian peoples, have cohabited the huge steppe for hundreds of years. Positioned between Europe and Asia, Central Asia straddles two main energy-consuming markets.

For millennia the area served as one of many key routes for East-West commerce on the Eurasian landmass. Right now, billions of {dollars} are being invested in connecting the area with the remainder of the world. Like spokes on a wheel, new and modernized roads, pipelines, fiber optic cables, and rail strains are being constructed connecting Central Asia to East Asia, Europe and South Asia. There’s a potential for brand spanking new connections with the Center East, too.

Along with the large gamers — the US, the EU, Russia and China — different powers, together with Iran, India, Pakistan and Turkey, are enjoying more and more vital roles in Central Asia. A few of them have shared pursuits, typically they’re opponents. This creates a tangled internet of alliances and pursuits in what’s already a sophisticated neighborhood. It is sensible that the GCC can be taken with deepening its relations within the area as effectively.

In the meantime, the 5 Central Asian republics want and need, to various levels, extra engagement with regional powers and groupings such because the GCC. For the nations of the C5, geopolitics is a continuing balancing act in relation to the larger powers. The extra engagement they’ve with outdoors powers, the safer they really feel when coping with larger regional powers equivalent to Russia, China and even Iran.

There is a vital financial element as effectively. Based on the World Financial institution’s International Financial Prospects report, revealed final month, financial development in Central Asia is anticipated to stay flat this yr, at 4 p.c.

The influence of an ailing Russian financial system has spillover results throughout the area. International locations equivalent to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have been hit exhausting by decrease remittances from Russia and the knock-on impact of worldwide sanctions towards Moscow.

However it isn’t all dangerous information. The power sector has pushed vital development in Kazakhstan. There’s enormous potential for energy-sector development in Turkmenistan, too. The World Financial institution expects financial development in Central Asia to extend modestly in 2024. International locations equivalent to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have made efforts to modernize their economies, struggle corruption, and not less than partially privatize many state-owned enterprises.

The area can also be attracting report quantities of international direct funding. There’s already a burgeoning financial relationship between the GCC and the C5, with nice potential to reinforce it.

Throughout final week’s summit in Jeddah, a Joint Motion Plan for Strategic Dialogue and Cooperation was agreed by GCC members and the Central Asian states. The plan, which covers the interval from 2023 to 2027, presents a chance for either side to deepen their financial, commerce, safety and cultural relationships. Trying forward, there are 4 issues that the members of the GCC can do to reinforce relations with the Central Asian republics.

Firstly, the GCC ought to appoint a particular envoy for Central Asia. This particular person may function the first interlocutor for the Gulf states within the area, and dedicate the required time and power wanted to develop private relationships throughout Central Asia. This could assist keep a level of continuity between GCC-C5 summits.

Secondly, Gulf policymakers should keep away from the temptation to view the 5 Central Asian republics as a single bloc. The area consist of 5 impartial and sovereign states. Whereas they share some facets of a standard historical past, every retains its personal distinct identification, tradition and world outlook.

It’s due to this fact possible that the GCC will have the ability to improve its cooperation with some Central Asian republics greater than with others. Choice-makers ought to hold this in thoughts when creating insurance policies for the area.

Thirdly, the GCC ought to prioritize interconnectivity between the 2 areas. There’s already an formidable challenge, the Dry Canal hall, that intends to create a hyperlink between Iraq’s southern Gulf coast and Turkish ports by 2038.

With inventive and impressive pondering, the Gulf states may use this challenge to attach with markets within the South Caucasus and Central Asia utilizing the Center Hall, a tried-and-tested commerce route connecting Turkiye to Central Asia, bypassing Russia and Iran. Air connectivity ought to be elevated between the areas, too.

Lastly, the GCC ought to seek the advice of and, when acceptable, coordinate with Turkiye. Lately, the nation’s financial, cultural and safety affect has been on the rise throughout Central Asia. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are culturally and linguistically Turkic, and the bonds between these nations and Turkiye are shut.

These 4 Central Asian nations are additionally members of the Group of Turkic States. It is perhaps price contemplating a summit between that group and the GCC. The truth that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured the Gulf simply days earlier than the GCC-C5 summit was both a fortunate geopolitical coincidence or a masterstroke in strategic pondering by Gulf policymakers.

The following GCC-C5 Summit will happen subsequent yr in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The connection between the Arab world and Samarkand goes again centuries. When the well-known Tenth-century Arab geographer and author, Ibn Hawqal, visited Samarkand, he wrote in 977 AD: “In all places you look within the metropolis, you see stunning locations and really feel it nice.”

Not solely is it proper that the following gathering be held in Central Asia, however the alternative of Samarkand has historic and symbolic significance. As one of the vital cities alongside the previous Silk Street, it represents the wonderful previous of Central Asia and the potential of its future.

If the best steps are taken now, the GCC-C5 relationship can flourish effectively into that future.

• Luke Coffey is a senior fellow on the Hudson Institute. Twitter: @LukeDCoffey.