This graphic charts how the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) overlaps with other regional cooperation formats in Central Asia. For more on the SCO, its current and future relevance, and whether Europe should engage with the organization, see Linda Maduz’s comprehensive study Flexibility by Design. For more CSS charts, maps and graphics, click here. Click image to enlarge.
On August 29, 2016, the president of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Four days later, the country lost its first and only president. Karimov had been exerting his influence in Uzbek politics since 1989 as the last secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, which later became the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDP). It may not come as a surprise that his rule was often mired by reports of human rights violations and declarations of autocratic powers to squash any political opposition.
Though the transition of power to the new provisional government may be relatively smooth, Uzbekistan remains fraught with challenges. For now, the Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev has assumed temporary control until elections are held later this year. The new leadership of Uzbekistan must address the late Karimov’s legacy grappling with a fragile economy, the separatist movement in Karakalpastan, increasing interest of foreign powers in exerting influence over Central Asia, increasingly complex water allocation amongst Central Asian states, and backlash from the previous government’s repressive stance towards Islam.
The Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) proposal put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping is considered a new model for regional and South-South cooperation. It is also the priority area for China’s all-round opening up and neighbourly diplomacy. While SREB potentially involves over 40 Asian and European countries, Central Asia occupies the centerpiece of the Belt.
This article is included in our ‘Conflict Hotspots 2014’ dossier which can be accessed here.
On the grand scale, Central Asia’s water problems have been well documented since the fall of the Soviet Union. Journalists wrote of the apparently inexorable shrinking of the Aral Sea, once one of the four largest lakes in the world; by 2007, at a tenth of its normal size, it had split up into several smaller bodies of water. An excellent view of these broad shifts can be found at Aqueduct’s Water Risk Atlas.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has warned of war if upstream countries Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan pursue power generation projects that might alter, or make open to political manipulation, the supply of water needed to irrigate Uzbekistan’s cotton crops. Public anger over a decline in basic services fuelled the unrest that led to the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010. (See our report Decay and Decline.) Bakiyev sold water to Kazakhstan during a period of electricity shortages in his own country. Across the region corruption and neglect undermine confidence in government and contribute to political discontent.
There’s a potentially huge story developing in Tajikistan: Central Asia’s poor cousin may be sitting atop a vast pool of oil and natural gas. Yet, no one in Dushanbe – neither government officials, nor energy company executives – seems eager to discuss the prospect of an energy boom.
In July, Tethys Petroleum announced that its development zone in southwestern Tajikistan could hold over 27 billion barrels of recoverable oil equivalent. The estimate, if accurate, would represent more than the remaining oil in United Kingdom’s North Sea field. In a July 19 press release, Tethys boss David Robson asserted that Tajikistan had “super-giant potential.”
It’s not just Tethys – a company listed on both the Toronto and London stock exchanges, and registered in the Cayman Islands – that seems to believe in Tajikistan’s energy-production potential. Russia’s state-controlled conglomerate Gazprom has already started drilling a 6,300-meter well to reach what it hopes to be more than 60 billion cubic meters of natural gas, while Australian-based Santos is starting seismic studies after acquiring a 70-percent share in Tajikistan’s Somon Oil.
But since that initial burst of fanfare announcing its potential oil find back in July, Tethys executives have become tight-lipped. Representatives of the company repeatedly declined to speak on the record to EurasiaNet.org on oil and gas-related issues in Tajikistan. Gazprom and Santos are similarly reticent.