West wakes up to importance of central Asian states

Nov 21, 2001 01:00 AM

A group of central Asian republics will play a crucial role in building regional stability in the wake of the conflict in Afghanistan, according to a top London-based development banker. The five former Soviet republics -- three of which border directly on Afghanistan -- have been "rediscovered" by the west since September 11, according to Willem Buiter, chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Successful economic development of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan "is not a charitable wish of the west, it is in the narrow, national self-interest of countries in the European Union, of Japan and the US," he said. Mr Buiter said the region was of "considerable geopolitical interest" in its own right, with a population of 55 mm, natural resources such as oil, gas and cotton and a location along the Old Silk Road.

The west had realised the importance of the central Asian states in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the US. They could either become part "of an open and outward looking, market oriented, liberalising trend or they can go in another way. They can come to us as markets, suppliers of raw materials, goods and services, or they can come to us in unpleasant ways. It is a clear choice we are making at the moment."
The EBRD has been involved in the region for the last decade and expects its expertise to give it a leading role in economic institution building and helping to develop the private sector. He predicted that "the rediscovery of central Asia by the industrially advanced countries will lead to more resources, more money and more attention coming."

The EBRD's chief economist, who was in Ottowa for the IMF and World Bank meetings, noted that more attention was already being focused on the region. "I found a marked increase in the interest of US officials in what was happening in central Asia."
Mr Buiter was speaking ahead of the release of the bank's annual transition report on the 27 countries in the former Soviet bloc in which it now operates. The bank concludes that growth in central and eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States slowed only slightly over the year, despite the global downturn.
It said the resilience was based on reforms as one group of member states prepared to join the EU and on the high oil price. However, the report criticised government for doing too little to turn the boost provided by higher oil prices into a source of long-term growth.

Source: Guardian Unlimited
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