Central Asian Rivals Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan Hold Summit

Central Asian Rivals Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan Hold Summit

Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, just completed his first official visit to Kazakhstan since September 2006. In a joint media appearance following talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Karimov noted that the two countries are the most influential states in Central Asia. He correctly observed that, "Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan may play a crucial role in solution of a number of principal matters, connected with the stability in the Central Asian region and prospects of its sustainable development."

Unfortunately, Uzbek-Kazakh relations have been characterized more by conflict than cooperation. Although Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have signed approximately 100 bilateral agreements since becoming independent in 1991, their relations have long been strained. The two countries, along with their presidents, have become perennial competitors for regional primacy. Uzbekistan boasts the largest population and strongest military, but Kazakhstan has the richest natural resources (especially oil) and most successful economy.

In addition, Karimov has pursued confrontational policies with Kazakhstan and other neighboring states, often berating them for failing to oppose regional terrorist movements sufficiently. Uzbek authorities have unilaterally mined their borders, leading to the deaths of dozens of innocent strollers in border regions each year. They have also periodically sealed border crossings, interrupting regional commerce. Although some of these closures have aimed to disrupt international smuggling networks, Uzbek security managers also fear that terrorists and other regime opponents would exploit loosened border controls to infiltrate fighters and weapons into the country.

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