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Central Asia Report: June 6, 2002

6 June 2002, Volume 2, Number 22

ASIAN REGIONAL CONFERENCE INAUGURATED IN ALMATY. Senior representatives of 15 countries, plus a delegation from the Palestinian Authority, convened in Kazakhstan's former capital, Almaty, on 4 June for the inaugural summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). The brainchild of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev -- who first proposed the creation of an international Asian security conference at the United Nations in 1992 -- it was originally conceived as a way of promoting regional cooperation and economic growth but has ambitions to be Asia's answer to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, later the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE), according to commentators. However, while the promotion of human rights was an important component of the CSCE, the topic was conspicuously absent at the CICA summit, which concentrated heavily of the dangers posed by terrorism, extremism, and separatism (see "Kazakhstan: Almaty Conference Focuses on Terrorism,", 4 June 2002). Nazarbaev told delegates that drugs and arms trafficking in Asia were also issues against which CICA states could cooperate, while Kazakh diplomats suggested CICA could develop into a forum for addressing regional disputes over borders, use of water resources, and illegal migration, AP said on 4 June. The countries comprising CICA are: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and Mongolia.

However, with both India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf in attendance in Almaty, the Kashmir issue loomed large over the summit, to the extent that the newspaper "Kommersant" commented on June 4 that CICA's future viability might largely depend on its ability to contribute to reducing tensions around the disputed Himalayan territory. (Both sides have massed troops along the Line of Control and exchanged intense artillery and machine-gun fire since Islamist militants, who New Delhi says are based in Pakistan, attacked an Indian army camp on 14 May, killing over 30 people.) An Indian-Pakistani breakthrough in Almaty would enhance Kazakhstan's status as a peace-loving country pivotal to regional security, Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told "The Moscow Times" on 3 June. The newspaper added that it would also bring Nazarbaev legitimacy at a time when recent brutal attacks on opposition media, widely believed to have been conducted or instigated by the authorities, threaten to damage his reputation internationally (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 30 May 2002). Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the conference that the "explosive situation" in South Asia threatened to affect the security of "the whole Eurasian continent," Moscow TV reported.

In the event, the Indian and Pakistani leaders did not reconcile in Almaty, or even meet, but acrimoniously traded blame for the situation in Kashmir. After Vajpayee refused to hold talks with Musharraf, Nazarbaev launched a mediation effort on 3 June, meeting both leaders separately and delivering their messages to one another before and during the summit, AP said. Russian President Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin also acted as intermediaries, the agency added. Publicly, the two rivals remained at odds by the end of the CICA meeting despite calls by other leaders at the summit for a halt to further escalation of tensions between the two nuclear powers, RFE/RL said. But at a press conference following the summit, Nazarbaev reported that neither India nor Pakistan wants tensions to escalate, and that Vajpayee told him that if Pakistan takes one step toward India, India will respond positively with two steps toward Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Kazakh News," 4 June 2002).

The CICA meeting ended with 16 leaders signing the so-called Almaty Act, committing them to unite efforts to fight terrorism. "We condemn all forms and manifestations of terrorism, committed no matter when, where or by whom, as barbaric offenses and criminal acts," the document said, according to Reuters. Furthermore, it bars signatories from backing separatist movements on the territory of other members, identifying "separatism as one of the main threats and challenges to security and stability" in Asia. Both Putin and Jiang alluded in speeches to dangers posed to their countries by Chechen and Uighur "extremists" and "separatists," respectively. The Almaty Act further pledges signatories to step up cooperation against the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, AP said.

KAZAKHSTAN, INDIA SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENTS. Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee, who arrived in Kazakhstan early for the CICA summit accompanied by a large Indian business delegation, met Kazakh President Nazarbaev in Almaty on 3 June to discuss bilateral economic and military cooperation, Kazakh Commercial TV and Interfax reported. Noting that the lack of transportation routes between their countries hinders trade, Nazarbaev expressed Kazakhstan's interest in joining the North-South transport corridor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2002).

On the military front, the two sides signed a Memorandum of Understanding on bilateral military and technical cooperation that foresees sharing technology research and outlines possibilities for jointly manufacturing certain defense items including torpedoes and barrels for heavy machine guns, PTI news agency reported. A joint working group on combating terrorism was also established, the agency said.

On the economic front, Kazakhstan's hydrocarbon and pharmaceutical industries, agriculture, construction, information technology, and its small- and medium-sized business sectors were identified as attractive possibilities for Indian investment, Kazakh television said. Three bilateral agreements were signed, including an accord on promoting tourism. New Delhi further pledged to help build a software technology park in Kazakhstan. But plans for cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector topped the agenda. Vajpayee told a press conference on 3 June, "India is prepared to make a major investment in the oil and gas sector in Kazakhstan, as we did last year in the Sakhalin oil field of Russia," according to AP. More concretely, Indian Deputy Foreign Minister Omar Abdullah said that experts from the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh will be studying Kazakhstan's Kurmangazy and Darkhan oil and gas blocks with a view to New Delhi's investing in their exploration and development. He added that ONGC Videsh is considering buying out the Alibekmola and Kozhasy fields once they are disinvested by Videsh's Kazakh equivalent, according to "The Times of India" on 4 June.

In an interview with the Kazakh newspaper "Novoe Pokolenie" on 31 May, Vajpayee said that India, with 4 percent economic growth last year, "could become a huge consumer market for Kazakh energy" and that his country's experience in oil prospecting should make it a good partner for Kazakh companies. But Abdullah noted that India has an interest not only in importing but exporting energy, saying, "India in a few years is going to become one of the largest suppliers of natural gas and will be looking for a market" as well as ways to deliver its product, AP reported on 3 June. The unlikelihood of transporting gas across Pakistan, given the present tensions, prompted a search for "other alternatives," Abdullah said -- in particular, a gas pipeline via Iran to Kazakhstan.

RAKHMONOV PRAISES NATIONAL LAW ENFORCEMENT... In Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, on 31 May, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov addressed a meeting of the chiefs of the country's law-enforcement agencies, parliamentary deputies, and top officials from the provinces, focusing on the fight against terrorism, political extremism, and drug trafficking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2002). Stressing the need for trustworthy law-enforcement officials as a condition for security and social stability, Rakhmonov said the chaotic situation in the country in the wake of the 1992-97 civil war can partly be blamed on "criminals... [who] joined the law-enforcement agencies, posing as defenders of the law," Tajik radio reported on 31 May. The president acknowledged that there are still cases of police and custom officers involved in criminal activities such as narcotics smuggling but averred that Tajikistan's power-wielding structures have eliminated most of the malefactors from their ranks and are now working much more efficiently. In evidence, Rakhmonov reported that since February 1999 (when a similar meeting of law-enforcement representatives was convened) police have apprehended 105 criminal gangs responsible for 900 crimes ranging from drug trafficking and gun-running to hostage-taking and murder, Tajik radio said. (Yet an annual U.S. State Department report criticized Tajikistan as one of 19 countries not doing enough to combat international traffic in human beings, AP said on 4 June. Kyrgyzstan was the only other Central Asian state among the 19 countries cited.) Rakhmonov also proposed that a special department for combating international terrorism be established within the Security Ministry, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 3 June.

...BUT DRUG-RUNNING CONTINUES UNABATED. Meanwhile, five incidents last week highlighted the scale of drug-running across Tajikistan's porous frontier with Afghanistan. In a shootout on the night of 29 May, Russian border guards killed four armed men, suspected of being heroin smugglers, trying to cross the Pyanzh River, AP reported. The day before, Russian guards discovered a 48-kilogram stash of narcotics a few dozen kilometers away, including 19 kilograms of heroin, the news agency said. Following a separate gunfight along the river last week, guards seized over 55 kilograms of heroin from smugglers, Reuters said on 30 May. On 31 May, guards discovered another stash with 11 kilograms of heroin near the border town of Kalai-Khumb, according to AP. Finally, a combined Tajik-Russian antinarcotics operation around Moscow resulted in the arrest of 25 people, including Tajiks, Russians, Afghans, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, and Ukrainians, and the confiscation of 86 kilograms of heroin, AP said on 4 June.

On the Afghan side, the drug trade is still more robust than attempts to stop it. At the CICA summit in Almaty, the leader of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai, told participants that over 60 metric tons of opium was destroyed under the government's antidrug program, Kazakh TV reported on 4 June. Yet Afghanistan has only just started to establish a border-guard service of its own, as its new commander, Samiullo Katra, admitted in Dushanbe on 29 May. He was in the Tajik capital to meet the commander of the Russian Border Guard contingent in Tajikistan, Colonel General Aleksandr Markin, from whom he requested technical help from Russia in setting up an Afghan frontier protection service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2002).