After the collapse of the Soviet Union and gaining independence in 1991, the five Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – faced the dilemma of regional coexistence: on the one hand, they saw the benefits of integration and creation of joint mechanisms for solving common problems, but on the other, they were driven by strengthening national identity and independence. While certain common ties such as regional identity, shared history, some joint infrastructures, closeness of languages, religion, customs, etc., bind the nations of Central Asia together, they became different states with distinctive identities and interests that have given rise to dissimilar political and economic processes within the countries. In other words, ever since independence, the countries of the region are compelled by both centripetal and centrifugal political forces in their relations with each other.
Most international relation scholars analyze regional cooperation and integration through the prism of institutional engagement. International institutions “as relatively stable sets of related constitutive, regulative, and procedural norms and rules that pertain to the international system, the actors in the system (including states as well as nonstate entities), and their activities” (Duffield, 2007) play an important role in conducting international relations and interstate cooperation.
Institutions based on interstate or intergovernmental agreements provide the legal and organizational framework for interactions and negotiations between nations. Regional and global institutions represent normative structures which allow states to act on each other in order to make joint decisions according to agreed rules and procedures. However, regional institutions’ role in interstate relations may vary, depending on different political, economic and social factors.
Considering interstate relations in Central Asia, we argue that neighbouring states with underdeveloped institutional ties but common culture, tend to enter into informal interactions by using cultural codes and patterns. Culture, in this case, appears as a social structure providing actors some opportunities for communication and influencing each other. Institutional based interstate interactions can be verifiable for external observers, but cultural based international interactions require knowledge of that cultural. In other words, those who are not familiar with a particular culture may have difficulties even in noticing the cultural based interactions