January 2022 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 December 2021
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UNRCCA (Central Asia)

Expected Council Action

In January, the Special Representative and head of the UN Regional Centre for Central Asia (UNRCCA), Natalia Gherman, is expected to brief Security Council members in closed consultations on UNRCCA’s work.

Key Recent Developments

Gherman last briefed Council members in closed consultations on 26 July 2021. She provided an update on UNRCCA’s activities pertaining to counter-terrorism, transboundary water management, border demarcation, and regional cooperation with Afghanistan.

Since Gherman’s last briefing, the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan has created several challenges for Central Asian states and altered regional dynamics. In a statement during the Council’s 17 November 2021 Afghanistan meeting, Ambassador Jonibek Hikmat (Tajikistan) described the implications of the Taliban’s takeover for the region. He noted that “the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul has worsened the internal political, socioeconomic, and security situation in the country, which will have greater implications…for countries of the region…. The exportation of extremism, terrorism and radical ideologies, an increase in drug trafficking and a greater flow of refugees are some of the immediate challenges the countries of the region could face”.

Central Asian states and regional organisations have implemented several measures in response to these challenges. On 18 October 2021, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) undertook military drills involving over 5,000 troops in Tajikistan near its border with Afghanistan. The CSTO is a treaty body that comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. According to media reports, these drills were the largest military operation conducted on the Tajik-Afghan border in many years. Smaller exercises were also held by Russia and certain Central Asian states near Afghanistan’s border in August and September, while Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan conducted military drills along the Uzbek-Afghan border in late November.

Central Asian states have also participated in regional conferences on Afghanistan and pledged to provide assistance to the Afghan population. On 20 October 2021, representatives of Central Asian states attended the third meeting of the “Moscow format”, which was established in 2017 to discuss Afghanistan. The Moscow format consists of China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In a joint statement following the meeting, these states proposed launching a “collective initiative to convene a broad-based international donor conference under the auspices of the UN as soon as possible”. According to media reports, leaders from Central Asia also committed to providing aid to Afghanistan at the 15th Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) summit, which took place in Turkmenistan on 28 November. The ECO was established to promote sustainable economic development in Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia. Its members include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

On 27 October 2021, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov sparked tensions in the region by proposing a land swap between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The proposal was an apparent effort to resolve a border dispute between the two countries. This dispute descended into violence in April over the use of a shared water distribution facility, when clashes between civilians and soldiers from each country led to 50 people being killed and hundreds more injured.

Kyrgyzstan held parliamentary elections on 28 November 2021. In October 2020, Gherman conducted meetings with Kyrgyz officials in which she expressed the UN’s readiness to support the electoral process. She further emphasised that the elections must be free and fair, include the meaningful participation of women and youth, and demonstrate strong oversight of electoral procedures. In a 29 November 2021 statement, a team of international election observers said: “While election day was peaceful and voting was well organized in the vast majority of polling stations observed, significant procedural problems were noted during the vote count and the initial stages of tabulation.”

On 8 December 2021, UNRCCA hosted the 11th annual meeting of deputy foreign ministers of Central Asian states. The meeting was convened to exchange information on developments affecting peace and security in the region and discuss ways in which UNRCCA and Central Asian states can use preventive diplomacy to address existing and emerging challenges. In her statement, Gherman described efforts by Central Asian countries to improve and strengthen regional interaction. The deputy foreign ministers and senior UN officials discussed how UNRCCA can assist in preventing radicalisation, countering terrorism and finding solutions to transboundary water management issues. Participants in the meeting also expressed concern about the situation in Afghanistan and stressed that the UN should play a leading role in ensuring peace and stability and providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

Gherman also continued to focus on increasing the participation of women in public life in Central Asia. On 28 October 2021, she addressed a conference on sustainable development and women’s leadership in the region, which was hosted by the Central Asia Women Leaders’ Caucus (CAWLC). Among other issues, Gherman stressed the importance of working on relevant initiatives concerning the women, peace and security agenda across all levels of government and the need for inclusive and comprehensive approaches within and across the region.

Key Issues and Options

One of the main issues for the Council is how to make the best use of UNRCCA’s experience in conflict prevention and whether there is anything else the Council could do to support UNRCCA’s role in facilitating preventive diplomacy and regional cooperation.

Council members will be following the situation in Afghanistan and its impact on the region closely. With this in mind, the Council could consider inviting a representative of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to participate in the consultations and provide information regarding developments in the country that may affect the wider region. When UNAMA’s mandate is renewed in March, Council members could also request the Secretary-General to include an integrated analysis of the political, security and economic effects of the situation in Afghanistan throughout Central Asia. This analysis could draw on contributions from UNRCCA.

Council members are also likely to be interested in recent electoral developments in Kyrgyzstan. Council members could issue a press statement that reiterates the importance of the Joint Statement of Intent between the government of Kyrgyzstan and the UN. In this statement, which was issued on 13 November 2020, the Kyrgyz government pledged to maintain the rule of law and principles of good governance, protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, uphold the separation of powers, and fulfil its international obligations.

Council Dynamics

Council members are generally supportive of the work of UNRCCA and view it as an important tool in promoting cooperation in Central Asia. However, Council members have been unable to agree on a press statement on UNRCCA since January 2018, owing to disagreements about including references to cooperation with the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

In addition, it appears that several Council members have raised human rights issues during the consultations. For example, in recent years, the US and past Council member Germany have referred to the situation of Uighur minorities in the region. Other members, including China and Russia, have opposed discussion of this matter, arguing that it is not related to UNRCCA’s mandate. Disagreements regarding references to foreign terrorist fighters also arose following the consultations that took place last January.

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Security Council Letters
7 May 2007S/2007/279 This was a letter from the Secretary-General on the establishment of a United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Ashgabat.
Security Council Press Statements
25 January 2018SC/13179 This was a press statement welcoming further cooperation and coordination between UNRCCA, the Central Asian States, and relevant regional organisations, including those organisations of which the Central Asian States are members.

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