Fortnightly Review and Analysis: Iran, West Asia, Eurasia, Central Asian Republics (CAR) & Africa (Vol 2 Issue X)

Oct 16-31, 2017

Central Asian Republics (CARs), South Caucasus and Mongolia

Mirziyoyev Visits Turkey

President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev paid a State Visit to Turkey on 25-26 October. During the visit, he had a one-on-one meeting with his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two leaders signed a joint statement after the meeting. As many as 22 agreements were signed during this visit covering areas like trade, energy, investments, training, tourism, freight, and defence.

The Head of State of Uzbekistan visited Turkey after the lapse of 20 years; therefore it was a historic visit. In 2016, Mirziyoyev and Erdogan pressed the reset button in the Tashkent-Ankara relations, which were undergoing the phase of stagnation for long. Erdogan had paid a State Visit to Uzbekistan in November 2016. The two leaders also met thrice in last 10 months, on the sidelines of various international fora.

Trade between the two countries was 1.2 billion in 2016. However, in last nine months, it has registered the growth of 29 percent. Leaders have pledged to increase it to annually five billion. Today, increasing number of Turkish companies are also investing in Uzbekistan. During the current visit of Mirziyoyev, the Business Forum was held, where Uzbek and Turkish entrepreneurs signed agreements worth USD 3.5 billion for the implementation of more than 30 joint projects.

The Leaders emphasized on enhancing connectivity between the two republics, through rail, roads as well as air. Immediately after this visit, direct flight between Istanbul and Samarkand was started to boost connections between two historic cities. Talks about increasing people-to-people contact, educational and cultural exchanges, and tourism also topped the agenda of the visit. Most notably, on 21 October, three days before the visit, Mirziyoyev signed a presidential decree to simplify visa procedures for the Turkish citizens. Through this decree, multiple entry visas with validity of up to one year for Turkish businessmen visiting Uzbekistan will be processed within three working days. The visa process for Turkish tourists and scientists is also simplified.

Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan-China Pilot Automobile Rally Opened in Tashkent

The opening ceremony of the International Pilot Automobile Rally on route ‘Tashkent - Andijan (Uzbekistan) - Osh - Irkeshtam (Kyrgyzstan) - Kashgar (China)’ was held in Tashkent on 30 October. During the rally, delegations from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China stressed the importance of the new automobile corridor between these three countries, which shall diversify foreign trade routes. Nine cars from three countries are participating in this rally.

Creation of the automobile corridor is part of the inter-governmental agreement between Uzbekistan and China, which was signed during Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to China in May 2017. During this visit, Mirziyoyev participated in the Belt and Road Forum and announced cooperation from the Uzbek side in development of the Silk Road Economic Belt. A railway line connecting Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China (Andijan to Kashgar) is also in the planning stage. This corridor, comprising of automobile road and railway shall redefine connectivity in the region. It is also likely to provide further impetus to China’s economic inroads in the Central Asian Republics.

South Caucasus

Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway Inaugurated

The opening ceremony of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway line took place on 30 October at Baku, Azerbaijan. The ceremony was graced by the presence of President of Azerbaijan Ilhan Aliyev, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Ministers of Kazakhstan, Georgia and Uzbekistan, and ministers from Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. High-ranking officials from the countries that are likely to benefit from this corridor attended the event, which also saw the dispatch of the first freight train from Baku railway station.

The BTK railway route is part of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Corridor, which connects the railway networks of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. It starts at the shore of the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan, runs through Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi and through the eastern part of Turkey before merging with the Turkish and European railway systems. The project was, for the first time, launched in 2007 with the signing of an intergovernmental agreement among the three countries. It involved reconstruction or modernization of some existing lines in Azerbaijan and Georgia and fresh construction of the line from Georgia to Turkey. The main initiator of this project was Azerbaijan, which took over the financing of the project on the territory of Georgia as well by providing a loan of about USD 775 million.

This corridor will play an important role in inter-continental connectivity. It is likely to reduce the cost and time for the transportation of goods from Asia to Europe. Central Asian Republics can benefit from this rail corridor. Kazakhstan has already sent containers loaded with grains via the Caspian Sea port of Kuryk to Baku, from where it will use the BTK rail, to reach Turkish port of Mersin and then will be transported to Europe. Liquefied gas from gas rich countries like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan can also be exported to Turkey and further to Europe. The BTK rail is currently estimated to carry one million passengers and 6.5 million tons of cargo per year. However, there is huge potential to enhance the transportation of passengers and goods through this route.

China is currently trying to revive the ancient Silk Road through its ambitious initiative of One Belt One Road (OBOR). This newly inaugurated BTK railway line is said to be an important link in the southern section of the Silk Road Economic Belt. It will play crucial role in transporting Chinese cargo to Europe, via Kazakhstan and the Caspian Sea. It can also be an important strand in the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), of which Azerbaijan is one of the members, along with Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and India.


Map of the BTK Railway Line
Picture Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5e/Baku-Tbilisi-Kars_Railway_Map.svg/2000px-Baku-Tbilisi-Kars_Railway_Map.svg.png

Africa

Uhuru Kenyatta Wins Kenya's Rerun Presidential Election

Kenya once again held the presidential poll on 26th October, after the Supreme Court annulled the result of the August 8th 2017 poll following a challenge by the opposition. The Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has been declared the winner of the election and the result has been boycotted by the main opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) opposition alliance. Odinga received 0.9 percent of the votes. On the other hand, Kenyatta won 98.2 percent of the votes cast in the election. The election was marked by a low turnout with many voters not showing up to cast their ballots. According to Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, 38.84 percent of the registered voters, which means that is 7.6 million of the 19.6 million voters, turned up to cast their vote. Following a boycott call by NASA saying that the election would not be free and fair, poll was not held in 25 constituencies across four counties which includes Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay and Migori. The boycott in these four counties did not have an impact on the poll.

Ethiopia Sends 200 Peacekeepers to South Sudan to Help with Restive Security Situations

South Sudan has been in a political and security turmoil since clashes broke out between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former first Vice-President Riek Machar. A peace process has been launched by the government amid armed clashes between government and rebel forces. The clashes between the two have led to mass internal displacements due to which thousands of nationals have fled to Uganda and Ethiopia. Recently, Ethiopia has supported South Sudan by sending 200 peacekeepers to help the country with existing agitated insecurity prevailing.

The United Nations Security Council, in December 2016, voted to increase the number of security personnel in South Sudan. The unanimously adopted resolution 2327 sought to push the overall personnel to 17,000 military and 2,101 police. The UN also extended the mandate of its mission, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to December 2017 and handed it powers to protect civilians who were the worst affected by the crisis. Till 2016, the UNMISS had 13,500 soldiers with Ethiopian troops comprising the largest contingent estimated at 8,300 men. Ethiopia is a force in global peacekeeping efforts as it is among the highest troop contributors. Despite internal security issues, they are actively engaged in the fight against Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Shabaab and also peace efforts in South Sudan – peacekeeping and in area of diplomacy. The Horn of Africa region is generally considered a volatile region. The armed conflict in South Sudan, Al-Shabaab’s attacks of Somalia and Kenya, Ethiopia’s internal security concerns and border issues with Eritrea are among some of the security headaches in the region.

First Islamist Attack Took Place in Mozambique: Shocks the Region

On the 5th of October, a group of about thirty men attacked three police stations in a small town of Mozambique in the northern-most province of Cabo Delgado, which is about 30 km from the Tanzania border. The same group struck early on 21 October, clashing with government forces in the fishing village of Maluku which prompted the villagers to flee and the village is currently deserted. Further, on the night of 22 October, clashes were reported at a village called Columbe which is about 16 km south of an installation of Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corporation which is exploring for oil and natural gas there.

These are believed to be the first Islamist attacks in Mozambique and have caused shock and bewilderment in the country and the region. Mozambique has a significant Muslim population ranging in size from somewhere between an official seventeen percent of the total population to unofficially thirty percent which is mostly concentrated along the northern coast of Mozambique. There are differences over questions of education and other issues which deals with the fundamentalist groups elsewhere. The Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram evidently objects to Western-style education, and particularly to boys and girls being taught in the same classroom, some observers say. Frelimo the ruling party of Mozambique supports boys and girls being taught together. But what hat motivated the local al-Shabaab to suddenly launch these attacks remains hazy.