Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan Relations and New Horizons

Ashgabat, 18 October 2007 (nCa) — Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan signed 7 bilateral documents and issued a joint communiqué on the first day of the visit of President Islam Karimov to Ashgabat.

Both the presidents conferred high titles on each other. 

Ashgabat and Tashkent appeared especially eager to promote cooperation in transportation and communication, leading toward strengthening of the concept of North-South corridor. 

Plain reporting of the event cannot do justice to the sifnificance of what happened Thursday in Ashgabat. If one were to describe the visit in just one word, it would probably be ‘BREATHTAKING’ considering the fact that some of the synonyms for Breathtaking are wonderful, magnificent, spectacular, and incredible. 

The atmosphere was thick with friendship and warmth during the welcome ceremony, tête-à-tête, expanded talks, ceremony for signing of bilateral documents, gala concert where the presidents spared no words to praise each other before exchanging high titles, and the dinner hosted by President Berdymuhamedov. This was the result of several months of hard work, patient diplomacy and willingness to go the extra mile. 

The documents signed Thursday afternoon included: 

Agreement for cooperation between the chambers of commerce and industry of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan 

Protocol between the state customs service of Turkmenistan and state customs committee of UzbekistanTurkmenistan and Uzbekistan about exchange of information on movement of passengers and cargo between the borders of 

The agreement between the ministry of agriculture of Turkmenistan and ministry of agriculture and water economy of Uzbekistan about mutual cooperation in taking measures in struggle against locusts and other agricultural vermin and plant diseases 

Programme of cooperation between the governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the cultural and humanitarian spheres from 2008 to 2010 

Agreement between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on border crossing stations 

Programme for economic cooperation 2008-2012 

Treaty for further strengthening friendly relations and overall cooperation between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan 

Joint Communiqué 

Border questions, sharing of water resources especially the Amudarya River, cooperation in fuel and energy sector, improvement of bilateral trade turnover, and use of existing transportation infrastructure to increase transit trade featured prominently in the talks. 

Karimov mentioned twice that he was ‘not satisfied’ with the level of mutual trade turnover. He was right. The volume of trade turnover between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in 2006 was less than US $ 42 million which compares dramatically with the trade turnover of Turkmenistan with Iran that exceeded easily the milestone of US $ one billion in 2006. 

“We have opportunities to improve the situation and we will find the ways to do it,” said Karimov. 

He said that as the president of Uzbekistan it was his duty to improve the economic cooperation between the two countries. 

Karimov summed up the bilateral talks in three points: 1. There was complete trust; 2. There was full understanding the future of Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan relations depends on relations between the heads of state and cooperation among authorities; and 3. We understand that there are a number of unsolved issues but we have the will to solve them. 

Karimov reiterated his full support for the UN centre for preventive diplomacy in Turkmenistan. He said that it was not only the victory of Turkmen diplomacy; it was also the recognition by the world community of the role and authority of Turkmenistan. 

Speaking of the Turkmen initiative to energize the concept of North-South corridor, Karimov said that cooperative use of transportation and communication infrastructure of both the countries could play a vital part in tapping the full potential of transit trade. 

President Berdymuhamedov also expressed full confidence and satisfaction at the outcome of the talks. He said, “The combination of our economic potentials and the geopolitical situation make the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan partnership a significant factor for steady development in the entire Central Asian region.” 

In the late afternoon a gala concert was held to honour Karimov. Berdymuhamedov presented him the title and medal of “Honoured Elder of turkmensitan,” one of the highest civilian awards of Turkmenistan. 

Sadulla Rozmetov, one of the most respected farmers of Turkmenistan, who is an ethnic Uzbek, was chosen to present the award and make a citation address. 

Karimov presented Berdymuhamedov with “Buyuk Khizmetlary Uchun”, one of the top awards of Uzbekistan. 

Prominent artists of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan performed in the concert. 

The headway that was made Thursday can only be appreciated if one keeps in mind the ups and downs that have visited the bilateral relations over the years. 

Turkmenistan shares a very long border with Turkmenistan. The economic disparity on both sides of the border has led to frequent misunderstandings because people cannot resist the temptation to smuggle cheap petrol, diesel, wheat flour, food products and live animals to from Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan. 

Amudarya River, the lifeline of both the countries, is shared on 50/50 basis by both the countries. 

Afghanistan borders both the countries and whatever happens there, is of serious concern to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. 

The Serakhs-Serakhs railway link between Turkmenistan and Iran was built especially to benefit from transit trade between gulf countries and central Asia. However, the figures of last year, as told by Karimov, indicate that only 300000 tons of cargo went through this route to Uzbekistan. This is a fraction of the real potential. 

As the situation stands today, Turkmenistan has elevated its position regionally and internationally during the past few months. The North-South corridor promises to join Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia economically. Afghanistan, because of the hefty aid package, is already indebted heavily to Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan was the last neighbour that needed to redefine its relations with Turkmenistan and Karimov visit has done that amply. 

Both sides have gone out of their way to build mutual confidence and that augers well for the entire region. The grounds are finally ready for region-wide cooperation and that would lead to prosperity and well-being of the people. 

Karimov summed up the interaction in one sentence: I have complete trust in the president and the people of Turkmenistan.

Sedat Laciner

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