The presidents of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan refused to sign the treaty of cooperation and friendship with other Central Asian countries. On 21st July, in Kyrgyzstan, the regional leaders held a conference to improve and increase the level of regional integration in the spheres of economy, science and politics. According to the Kyrgyz government’s statement, both states declared their intention to sign the treaty “after completing the national procedures”.
As regional experts point out, the lack of concordant decisions may stem from disagreement about the conflict resolution section. It sets out that all disputes must be resolved through peaceful means: dialogue and mediation. Considering the persisting border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the authorities of the latter may not be willing to opt for a non-combative resolution. According to Human Rights Watch, Tajik servicemen are believed to have committed war crimes in civilian clothing by burning down civilian property in Kyrgyz territory.
The treaty consists of articles written in a declaratory form. It does not have any binding force, and therefore is not capable of imposing any obligations on the state parties. These provisions indicate the existence of long-term objectives and plans. As a soft-law instrument, in the eye of international law, it does not call upon the parties to undertake specific actions, even with the presidential signature.
The leaders emphasized the importance of creating a regional security hub. Since the beginning of 2022, Central Asia has been suffering from civil unrest, compelling the authorities to remain vigilant about the increasingly influential social movements. The bloody unrest in Kazakhstan, the Karakalpakstan protests in Uzbekistan, and the Gorno-Badakhshan civil commotion in Tajikistan put these quasi-democratic regimes to the test.
During the conference, the leaders kept referring to external threats as the primary reason for the instability. “Recent events in our countries are evidence of how various forces keep making plans to foment instability in our region,” said Emomali Rahmon, the president of Tajikistan. Following the increasing influence in the region of Beijing’s authorities, the rise of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and mounting inflation, Central Asia is facing one of the most challenging times since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
However, contrary to the focus of the conference, the current issues emerge primarily from internal problems. Authoritarian ascendancy, corruption, and despotism have reigned unchallenged in Central Asian republics, leading to electoral fraud and nepotism. Freedom House’s democracy index gave all of the above-mentioned states the status of “unfree”, which describes them as consolidated authoritarian regimes.
The future does not seem bright. The closer cooperation among the authoritarian states might not only increase and facilitate interstate trade activities but also entrench the authoritarian leaders’ positions through military or financial support. It is necessary to tighten the relations among the Central Asian countries, nevertheless, as Amnesty International claims, these states have been demonstrating only a higher degree of brazenness in their disregard for human rights in recent years.