Revolution of Choice – The Astana Times

Three decades, roughly a generation, after the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia emerged from the collapse of Communism and embarked on the path to market economy and democracy, the region is now in the middle of a new and different kind of revolution. It is what I would call a revolution of choice.

Photo credit: kazakhstan.unfpa.org.

Choice happens when people can make decisions about their lives. It begins with the most fundamental questions: Who do I want to be with? Do I want children? How many? What work do I want to do? What education do I need? What balance do I want between family and private life, and work or other aspirations?

Where people can make these decisions freely, they thrive. Choice is empowering. And we see choice blossoming everywhere in the region, as women and men, boys and girls, use the opportunities our changing world provides to shape their lives and pursue their futures.

But not everyone benefits equally. In fact, large parts of society are still excluded from the revolution of choice.

Take Maria, from Moldova. Maria was 16 when she became pregnant for the first time. She didn’t know anything about contraception or the risks of an early pregnancy.

“I had never discussed such things with my mother. I was ashamed,” Maria told us. “Our biology teacher was ashamed, too, I think, so she skipped these topics.”

Maria dropped out of school, even though she had been among the best pupils in her class. Today, at age 22, she has three daughters. The family is barely making ends meet.

Maria’s story is far from unique. Like Maria, millions of boys and girls never learn at school or within their families how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and how to have respectful, equal relationships. They are left alone with the potentially life-shattering consequences: early child-bearing, often putting an end to their education and leading to a life in poverty and violence.

Millions of women are trapped in unequal or abusive relationships. They are not allowed to make decisions about their bodies, health or fertility, and live in constant fear of violence. Disturbingly, one in three women in our region has experienced some form of physical or sexual violence, often from a partner, a new UNFPA-supported survey found.

These are not just statistics. Every girl dropping out of school, every woman being beaten and confined to the house means another life at serious risk of not reaching its potential.

As modern societies, we cannot afford to waste the potential and talents of millions of people facing exclusion and discrimination: women and young people, people with disabilities, migrants, minorities, older persons and other groups pushed to the margins. This is not just a moral imperative. It goes to the heart of a country’s ability to steer towards long-term stability and prosperity.

The good news is there are signs of change everywhere. Parents are beginning to see the value of giving their children what they need to make healthy and safe choices, even if this involves uncomfortable subjects like sexuality. Many young people are coming forward and actively engage in shaping their future and that of their countries. More and more men understand that traditional gender roles not only harm women, but also diminish their own experiences as partners and fathers. People recognize that differences – be it in gender, age or physical ability – do not affect the value and dignity inherent in all human life.

These transformations add up to a powerful groundswell of change. They bring us closer to realizing the vision formulated 25 years ago, at the ground-breaking International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which firmly placed the rights and choices of the individual at the heart of the international development agenda and stressed that empowering women and girls is key for the well-being of individuals, families, nations and our world.

Today, as we mark the ICPD’s 25th anniversary and launch this year’s State of World Population report, “Unfinished Business: The Pursuit of Rights and Choices for All,” we call on governments, civil society, the private sector and individuals to join the revolution of choice. We must all do our part to make choice a reality for everyone – through laws and policies, and through our own behaviours and attitudes.

A few steps can go a long way. Offering healthy lifestyle education in all schools, for example. Enacting zero-tolerance policies towards violence against women and having a system in place to support survivors. Ensuring better childcare, parental leave and flexible work arrangements so that no parent has to choose between children and career.

Investing in policies that expand people’s choices and leave no one behind strengthens what scientists call “human capital”, the combined skills, knowledge and experiences of a country’s population. This is essential for economic performance. And it puts countries in a strong position to deal with the consequences of demographic change such as low birth rates and ageing populations.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has 50 years of experience in helping countries introduce such policies and advising on what has worked elsewhere. We stand ready to assist the countries in the region to unleash the full power of choice.

Because choice is not only a right every person is entitled to. It is an essential ingredient for shaping our common future.

The author is the Director of UNFPA’s Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.



Renaming capital an appropriate way to honour Kazakhstan’s founding president

On March 23, new  President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a decree and a law approving an amendment to Constitution renaming Astana to Nur-Sultan. A bill to rename Astana was approved on March 20 by the Parliament of Kazakhstan. Astana Maslikhat (City Assembly) approved renaming the capital city too.

“I consider it is necessary to immortalise the name of our great contemporary, the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Our capital must be named after Nursultan Nazarbayev. I want to remind you that this proposal was already expressed by the parliamentarians in the declaration adopted November 23, 2016 on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of Independence of Kazakhstan,” President Tokayev announced March 20 at a joint session of the houses of Parliament.

Renaming Astana in honour of the First President Nursultan Nazarbayev has its patterns and historical sequence. As an example, I’m referring to the history of the leading democracy of our time. In July 1790, the U.S. Congress passed the Residence Act, which approved the creation of the nation’s capital on the Potomac River. In September 1791, commissioners overseeing the new capital’s construction named the city in honour of the first President of the United States, George Washington, during the period of his rule. George Washington has been called the Father of his Country for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation.

Of course, it will take some time for people to get used to the new name of the Kazakh capital as it was with Astana, or Akmola earlier. I believe it is the right way to show how grateful we are to our Father of the Nation and that we strongly believe in the bright future of our motherland.


The author is a master student of Institute of Diplomacy at the Academy of Public Administration under the President of Kazakhstan.



The world must seek peace in turbulent times

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was among the first politicians of the international level to have brought the new global challenges of our time to the notice of humankind and mainstreamed the agenda of peace and nuclear non-proliferation worldwide.

As Nazarbayev wrote in his manifesto, “The World. The 21st Century,” humanity hoped that the 21st century would herald a new era of global cooperation. This, however, may turn out to be a mirage.

Our world is once again in danger and the risks cannot be underestimated. The threat is a deadly war on a global scale. Our civilisation, by scholars’ estimates, has survived more than 15,000 wars, approximately three every year. Hundreds of millions of people have died, cities and countries have been destroyed, cultures and civilisations have vanished.

At the dawn of the 21st century, stunning scientific discoveries are being made, and new technologies are being invented. Humankind is entering a qualitatively new stage of its development. The world is at the verge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Many horrific diseases are being successfully eradicated. But the virus of war continues to poison the international situation. It drives the military-industrial complex, which in some countries has become the most powerful sector of the economy. It may even in the future infect the development of artificial intelligence. Militarism has deeply penetrated our minds and behaviour.

There are more than one billion small firearms in the hands of people. Thousands of civilians die every day from their use. We cannot exclude the risk that this military threat could become a tragic reality on a global scale. We can see the signs of such a terrible outcome.

In international relations, the risk of conflict has increased. Conflict has engulfed the historic battlegrounds of the two World Wars – Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is not fulfilling its purpose. Nuclear weapons and the technology that produces them have spread all over the world due to the double standards of the large powers. It may be just a matter of time before they fall into the hands of terrorists.

International terrorism has gained a more sinister character. It has moved from isolated acts in individual countries to a large-scale terrorist aggression across Europe, Asia and Africa.

The exodus of millions of refugees, the destruction of sites and historic monuments has become an everyday reality.

Economic sanctions and trade wars are commonplace. Our planet is now on the edge of a new Cold War, which could have devastating consequences for all humankind. This threatens the achievements of the last four decades.

As a result of successful negotiations of the second half of the 20th century, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia have been reduced substantially. Five nuclear powers have announced and kept a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing.

The threat of destruction of the planet was significantly reduced. The process of forming regional security systems has accelerated. A unique and comprehensive security structure – the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe – was created on principles of mutual trust. Coordinated action between world powers and UN peacekeeping operations saw many conflicts ended.

However, today we are witnessing the erosion of these international security achievements.

“In the 21st century humanity must take decisive steps towards demilitarisation. We will not get another chance. If this objective is not achieved, our planet will end as a graveyard of radioactive materials. Our planet is unique. We have no other home,” Nazarbayev noted.


The author is an analyst with Liter newspaper.



Sixth Summit of Heads of Turkic Speaking States offers unique opportunity for cooperation

The Sixth Summit of the Heads of Turkic Speaking States, held in Cholpon-Ata Sept. 3, should be considered one of the most significant events of this year. The success of the meeting is of strategic importance for strengthening Turkic integration and establishing good-neighbourly relations in Eurasia.

The summit showed how relevant and timely regional cooperation is. The decisions taken at the meeting of the heads of the Turkic speaking states will serve as a strong link in inter-regional cooperation. Over the past decade, Central Asian countries have often acted independently in the economic arena, losing out on the benefits of possible multilateral cooperation. Now the situation is changing for the better.

“One of the key results of the sixth summit was the adoption of the Concept of the Integration of Turkic States, developed by Kazakh scholars under the leadership of the International Turkic Academy,” said Ruslan Izimov, an expert at the Institute of World Economics and Politics (IWEP) under the Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The concept will open a new page in strengthening cooperation of all countries of the Turkic world. The document presents a detailed action plan for expanding mutual relations in various fields.

Astana format

For the success of the summit, our country has done a lot of preparatory work. Kazakhstan has chaired the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (CCTS) for three years since the fifth summit in Astana. This year, the chairmanship was passed to Kyrgyzstan. During that period, the Kazakh side has done a lot.

The political environment was favourable for expanding cooperation. Relations between the Turkic speaking states of Central Asia have significantly improved. Over the past two years, most of the deep-rooted problems in Uzbekistan’s relations with Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have been resolved.

Even before the beginning of the summit, the heads of the five Central Asian republics launched the format of consultative meetings. The first one was held in Astana. The new format envisages the creation of conditions for in-depth cooperation in the economy, energy, transport, cultural and humanitarian areas. Following the results of the Astana meeting, the participants agreed to strengthen cooperation.

A great deal of work has been done to prepare a textbook of common Turkic history. The main role in this regard was played by the International Turkic Academy, which, in close connection with other participants from Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Turkey, carried out a number of practical steps towards strengthening Turkic integration. The book was written and translated into the languages of the CCTS states. It was assumed that it would be used in all four countries: Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan. Now, with the desire of Uzbekistan to join the council, the issue of using the textbook in five countries is likely to arise. At the same time, the Turkic Academy is preparing two more similar projects on geography and literature.

Since the signing of the Nakhchivan Agreement in 2009, which provides for the establishment of the CCTS, the participants managed to implement a number of important initiatives. During this time, practically in all CCTS states, a number of influential international organisations have been established being responsible for implementation and strengthening of Turkic integration.

Extended list

For the first time since the establishment of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States, it became possible to extend the list of its participants by including Uzbekistan. The leadership of this country demonstrates its intention to actively participate in multilateral associations, especially those relating to regional cooperation.

Hungary, represented at the talks in Issyk-Kul by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, gained observer status at the council.

An increase in the attention of Turkey to the integration processes in Eurasia may be considered significant. It is not a secret that in recent years Ankara’s main focus in foreign policy has been on building a constructive dialogue with the United States. However, Washington began to pursue a contradictory policy towards Turkey, forcing Ankara to significantly change its foreign policy approach. After the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey, supporters of deepening Turkic integration of Ankara received a large number of power levers. In particular, the Nationalist Movement Party (NMP), together with the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP), won the parliamentary majority. All these factors objectively contribute to increasing the importance of the Turkic vector of Turkey’s foreign policy.

Cooperation horizons

New opportunities were opened for Turkic integration after the sixth summit. The resumption of the summits in the CCTS format after a two-year break will strengthen the multilateral dialogue of the countries of Central Asia with other Turkic speaking states – Azerbaijan and Turkey. The Turkic states, even without common borders, have a great potential for cooperation in trade, transport projects, energy, as well as in the cultural and humanitarian area.

The Turkic speaking states may play a special role in establishing intra-continental transit and transport corridors. Numerous transport ties between the regions of Asia and Europe are gradually expanding and being modified. It is worth noting that such important initiatives as Belt and Road, TRACECA and others play an important role in the diversification of routes connecting countries, cities and regions. In this context, it is important to emphasise the role of the Turkic speaking states that are able to provide the fastest and most stable route from China to Europe. It is also important to emphasise here that the recent progress in the solution of the Caspian issue, including the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, opens up huge opportunities for a significant increase in the volume of cargo traffic. The port infrastructure on the Caspian coast is completely ready.

In this regard, it is important to note that the CCTS participants are striving not only to intensify cooperation within the Turkic speaking states, but also aim to establish and strengthen multilateral friendly and partner relations with key neighbouring countries, primarily with Russia, China, Iran and others.

This gives grounds to believe that, after the sixth CCTS summit, the member states will gain new momentum and dynamics in their development.


The author is an analyst with Kazakhstanskaya Pravda.



Future belongs to the young

Increasing interaction between the Turkic-speaking states after the Sixth Summit of the Turkic Council dedicated to youth policy will become an important indicator of the effective dialogue of its members. Youth cooperation is one of the important factors for deepening constructive and friendly relations between the states.

Photo credit: Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Facebook Page.

It is symbolic that the forum resulted in the Joint Statement of the Heads of State of the Turkic Council on the development of cooperation in youth and national sports.

At the last summit, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev made a number of proposals for further strengthening of cooperation between the countries in the framework of the Turkic Council, including the projects, 100 Prominent Figures of the Turkic World and Sacred Places of the Turkic World and a Turkic Council forum of young leaders.

The Turkic Council was founded in 2009 at the initiative of Nazarbayev and is designed to strengthen the idea of solidarity and cooperation of the Turkic peoples at the international level. Trade, economic, cultural, humanitarian, scientific and technological cooperation remain priorities for the member states of the organisation.

The Turkic Council holds youth festivals, Turkic youth camps and courses for young diplomats. In April 2018, Azerbaijan hosted the first Turkic Universiade with the participation of the Kazakh student team. The Third World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan was another important event for the Turkic world.

Thus, the Turkic Council is a unique multilateral dialogue arena that encompasses the interests of the Turkic-speaking states. Meetings of the organisation serve as a necessary platform for addressing, discussing and making decisions on key issues of interaction between countries, including in youth policy.


The author is a research fellow at Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan



Kazakhstan to use smart technology to draft better laws

The use of smart technologies in the rulemaking process will ensure the transparency and stability of legal acts.

Natalya Pan. Photo credit: liter.kz.

As President Nursultan Nazarbayev noted in his state-of-the-nation address, the development of the digital industry will provide an impetus to all other sectors. The Decree No. 827 of the Kazakh Government dated Dec. 12, 2017, approved the Digital Kazakhstan State Programme for 2018-2022, and paragraph 61 provides for the creation and implementation of the “E-Legislation” information system.

The Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan plans to carry out a complex of reforms in 2018-2019 to introduce this information system and revise the law-making processes in general. The system will be introduced in all central governmental agencies and an accreditation will be needed to access it. Now the design has been completed, and the implementation will take place in five stages.

In the end, we want to get an artificial intelligence, which will recognise information and produce results. And this will affect all spheres, be it marriage and family, education or something else.

Today, each governmental body conducts an analysis of existing legislation on its own; we do not yet have the resources to see the whole picture of the existing problems, although, for sure, we should strive for this. Plus, we will study comments and articles on the internet, including the negative ones.

The system will be fully focused on the electronic support for drafting laws at all stages (from discussing the concept of the bill to signing it), improving the quality of the law-making process, reducing time for drafting and discussing draft laws and providing online background information on the status of the plan of the legislative work. In addition, the system’s “duties” will include ensuring an effective mechanism for inter-agency and inter-state cooperation, identifying problems in legislation and law enforcement, involving the public and improving the institution of trust.

The main purpose of developing the information system is to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the legislative spheres and optimise the law-making processes, which in the future should ensure stability in law-making. All this will be achieved through a consistent implementation of several tasks at once.

First, it is necessary to categorise legislation by industry in order to conduct analysis, regardless of the level of an act. The current legal monitoring system, which is focused on the analysis of each act in isolation from others, does not allow conducting this analysis.

Secondly, a digital mass of information will be formed around the already existing branches of legislation, the so-called “Knowledge Base” will be produced, which will include citizens’ applications, statistical and other data received from information systems of governmental bodies, judicial practice, scientific literature, expert group conclusions, analytical information, including from news agencies and social networks. This collection of comprehensive information will enable governmental bodies to analyse legislation in accordance with law enforcement and judicial practice.

Third, we have a task to create an online discussion platform on different legislative branches with the participation of experts and scientists, representatives of NGOs and governmental agencies. Such an interactive platform will allow us to analyse the needs of legislation more deeply from the point of view of different groups of law enforcers, and not just of the business community, as it is done today.

In addition, when implementing the project, we will need to automatically create law-making plans in the system of draft laws based on submitted recommendations with the appropriate administration, automate the processes of development, discussion, approval of the draft laws, including expert conclusions, and connect the general discussion system of the “Open draft laws” functional.

It is worth noting that at the first stage in 2018, we plan to create a robot that will collect information on the legislative branches from internet sources and social networks using the Big Data technology. This way the development of the “E-Legislation” system will ensure a full qualitative cycle of the law-making process with an emphasis on its initial comprehensive analysis, not on the law-making process itself, as it is done today.


The author is the Vice Minister of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan.



Responsibility. Initiative. Intermediation. Kazakhstan’s efforts in European security matters and OSCE

Kazakhstan’s engagement in European security matters is a remarkable story of taking responsibility, demonstrating initiative and taking on a moderating role in Central Asia, between the East and West of Europe and beyond the European continent. Kazakhstan has performed impressively in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Kazakhstan’s 2010 OSCE Chairmanship set signals that are still detectable.

Dr. Frank Evers.

Being open, taking responsibility

Right from its application, Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship of the OSCE demonstrated a self-confident understanding of the right and duty to make use of this important European security platform. As early as 2003, Kazakhstan had already announced its candidacy. As a country with a multi-vector foreign policy, located between major actors of Europe and Asia, Kazakhstan saw itself as well-positioned for this.

In 2010, it was the very first time that a Central Asian state had taken the OSCE Chair. For this reason alone, it was a trendsetting step at a time when the OSCE was already in a difficult situation and Kazakhstan and a number of states were being criticised for their way of understanding OSCE norms and commitments – particularly in the OSCE Human Dimension. There were heated arguments over these issues and over the interference of the OSCE in the internal affairs of these and other states. Disputes during the so-called OSCE reform discussions in 2005-2006 had ended without significant results. Kosovo’s declaration of independence and the conflict in Georgia had ultimately aggravated the tense atmosphere in OSCE-Europe in 2008. In this situation, Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship turned out to make a skilful contribution to resuming political discussions with each other again – at least, temporarily. Under the umbrella of the so-called OSCE Corfu Process, Kazakhstan moderated a brief, but unique, open-minded brainstorming period. Although it ended shortly afterwards, it left behind a feeling for what could be politically possible in Europe.

On a different level, Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship was an indication of the country’s clear sense of responsibility for the interlinked components of security in the OSCE. Notably, this implied the openness of its leadership to discussing Kazakhstan’s interior developments with the entire OSCE family – not really a natural concomitant in foreign relations. Conceptually, this opening reflected the government’s goals to simultaneously modernise the country along three tracks – the national economy, the political system and the national identity. It was certainly an important experience for a number of civil society actors and civil servants and, above all, for the community of Kazakhstan’s diplomats, who had the chance and duty to deal intensively with Europe’s political thinking and acting during the Chairmanship. Between 2007-2009, the Centre for OSCE Research (CORE) in Hamburg had the pleasure of conducting a series of chairmanship training courses to prepare many of them for their tasks. Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship represented an intense intellectual exchange with elites and societies from different parts of Europe, which is one of the particular added values of the OSCE.

Being innovative, setting accents

Kazakhstan is a contributor to mutual understanding of Asian issues in Europe and European issues in Asia. While it makes no secret of its criticisms of various sides of the OSCE, this has never prevented it from making active contributions and shaping the organisation’s agenda. During its Chairmanship, the Kazakhstan delegation led – very professionally – a year of lively East-West discussions in the framework of the OSCE Corfu Process. The declared objective of Corfu was to rebuild trust between the states. Apparently, this goal could not be achieved. At the same time, Kazakhstan, as a country between two continents, set a number of new accents in these discussions and in the OSCE itself.

Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship gave Central Asia an active part in the political picture of the OSCE. As German State Secretary Gernot Erler put it, it encouraged the Central Asian states “to conceive of themselves as active ‘co-owners’ of the organisation, not merely as addressees of its policies.”

On the other hand, Central Asia and its agenda were anchored in European political thinking more deeply than ever before. European heads of state and government paid tribute to the increased significance of Central Asia and, specifically, to Kazakhstan’s role when they came to the OSCE Astana Summit. No other country but Kazakhstan would have been able to arrange such a major political OSCE event at this particular point in time. Apart from this political symbolism, Astana was also a good place for them to give the OSCE a new geopolitical description of the “most inclusive and comprehensive regional security organisation in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian area.” Undoubtedly, this recognised worldwide shifts of economic and political gravity towards Central Asia and Asia.

The “vision of a free, democratic, common and indivisible Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok, rooted in agreed principles, shared commitments and common goals,” which was formulated in Astana, clearly exceeded the-then current political feasibilities as did the non-adopted Astana Framework for Action.  Even so, they triggered discussions across Europe and created reference points for later dialogue.

Finally, the Kazakhstan OSCE Chairmanship brought a renewal, not the abolition or reduction of the OSCE human-dimension principles and commitments. Thus, this particular component of security still remains a given fact in political Europe. Then again, the way to practically handle the participating states’ commitment to common responsibility over their internal affairs is subject to current discords in the OSCE. The open-ended reflection process on the participation of civil society organisations in OSCE events and the other disputes over the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) are evidence of this.

Finally, Kazakhstan has also been innovative in its cooperation with the OSCE within the country. At present, the OSCE runs the OSCE Programme Office in Astana that has a history of changing formats, mandates and names. For years, Kazakhstan seems also to have considered other options for interacting with the OSCE. Kazakhstan’s neighbours and friends follow, with great attention, these considerations about thematic or other forms of future co-operation.

Moderating between the sides, contributing to mutual understanding

In many regards, Kazakhstan is a rising moderator and promoter of regional co-operation in Central Asia, between various players of the European continent and beyond. This also corresponds with the country’s purposeful development towards the ambitious goal of reaching the top 30 of the most developed nations within the next three decades.

Kazakhstan has a unique standing in many international formats, such as the OSCE, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Kazakh-initiated Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Through Kazakhstan, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from 2017-2018, Central Asia has been represented there for the very first time in UN history.

Kazakhstan is a nuclear-weapons-free state, plays a role in nuclear disarmament and is the initiator of a four-part plan of action on nuclear disarmament. It looks to take an active place in these processes.

Kazakhstan played a visible role in OSCE mediation efforts in the 2010 crises in Kyrgyzstan, while international organisations and major states largely refrained from undertaking measures. Currently, Kazakhstan is the host for the International High-Level Meeting on Syria – the peace-negotiation format in Astana that includes the Syrian government and opposition groups; Iran, Russia and Turkey as guarantor states and the UN, the U.S. and Jordan as invited observers. Here, Kazakhstan is accumulating sophisticated know-how in international conflict mediation that could be of particular interest to the OSCE. There is now a remarkable pool of leading Kazakhstan politicians and diplomats with the respective experience and skills.

It is widely known that Kazakhstan initiated and has hosted the triennial Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions since 2003. Leading OSCE representatives have participated over the years in this innovative, inter-faith dialogue process, the participants and topics of which are relatively new to the OSCE. To some extent, the congress in Astana nourishes OSCE discussions on specific matters such as the interdependence of religion, tolerance and non-discrimination, mutual respect and security, not to mention preventing violent extremism and radicalisation. Kazakhstan, as a country with a predominant Muslim population, is in an excellent position to spread OSCE know-how in the Asian and Muslim world. While the sixth congress is scheduled for October 2018, the secretariat of the congress in Astana would also be a valuable interlocutor for the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions that, right now, is leading discussions on the interplay between religion and security in the OSCE context.

When thinking about Kazakhstan’s future contributions to the OSCE, a significant role could be envisioned in mediating and interpreting between Europeans and Asians with a view to mutually understanding the ongoing security debates in the OSCE, on the one hand, and in the CICA, the SCO and the CSTO, on the other hand. Kazakhstan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and a neighbour of China, with its growing influence, that currently is intensifying efforts to connect with the world along its “Belt and Road Initiative.” Europeans perceive Kazakhstan as a knowledgeable interlocutor that is well-connected and has experience in both directions. Within the Central Asian region, the matter of regional economic connectivity is another subject of growing importance. We can only hope that these fruitful directions in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy will continue and even grow in the future.

The author is deputy head of the Centre for OSCE Research.



Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA): what’s in the name?

If the territory of all 26 member states was painted on the world map in one colour, it would cover the space from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and from the Indian Ocean to the northern seas. This is the CICA region: one-fourth of the planet’s landmass, whose peoples are united by a desire to ensure their common security and stability and protect the world for the joint development of national cultures, economies and a common bright future. This desire is based on the enormous potential inherent in the diligence, enterprise and openness of the peoples of Asia and the richness of their natural resources. This potential has been realised for 25 years for the prosperity of all corners of the Asian continent through the equitable cooperation of countries that differ in size, population, religion, culture, economic development and political order.

Gong Jianwei

On Oct. 5 this year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the CICA process. It all began with the initiative President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev put forward at the 47th Session of the UN General Assembly in 1992, which gave way to a new understanding of security based on principles of mutual trust and cooperation. Thus, interstate relations were transferred to a new level of equal partnership. A model of regional cooperation was proposed, the innovation of which was the priority of the indivisibility of security, joint initiative and mutually beneficial interaction of small and large states. The interests of sustainable development of all peoples were put at the forefront.

During this period CICA gained a foothold as a platform for trustful dialogue, mutual understanding and equal partnership between member states and became an important mechanism of the modern system of interstate relations, contributing to the maintenance of security and stability in the region. Here we will try to briefly outline the main points of what has been done so far.

The leader of Kazakhstan proposed starting with simple and practical steps to establish a regional structure of security. A delicate approach and the correct identification of the key parameters of the interaction of the countries concerned contributed to the evolution of a new and effective institution in the field of Asian security. Painstaking efforts that began with meetings at the level of representatives of foreign affairs offices of Kazakhstan and the 15 countries that supported the new idea have borne fruit. The tireless work of diplomats led to the first meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of CICA member states in Almaty in September 1999 to adopt the Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations between CICA member states. This laid the foundation for the subsequent institutional development of the CICA process. It is important that it emphasises that “the diversity of national characteristics, traditions, cultures and values of Asian states is not a divisive, but valuable mutually enriching factor of their relations.”

Here I would like to note the following. We often hear figurative expressions like  “speak the same language” and “family of peoples.” Within the CICA, from the very beginning, the diplomats sought, found and developed this new language of equality and mutually beneficial cooperation with partners from other countries of the conference. Now, meetings and events at all levels use this language of mutual understanding and respect. This atmosphere of confidence must not be overlooked as a factor contributing to an increase in the number of member states. The new members do not shyly listen to what is happening, but immediately actively join the work of the “family,” making their suggestions and ideas, which we will talk about below.

In June 2002, Almaty, warm and smothered in verdure, hospitably received the participants of the first Summit of Heads of State and Government of 16 CICA countries, which marked the formal birth of the conference as a multilateral forum for deepening cooperation for peace, security and stability in the region. The Almaty Act, adopted as its outcome, clearly showed the intention of the member states to find an acceptable platform for creating a viable security structure in Asia, in spite of the existing disagreements. It also declared the determination of the states to form a common and indivisible security space in Asia, where “military-political aspects, confidence-building measures, economic and environmental problems, humanitarian and cultural cooperation” should be involved. A sign of the political perspicacity of President Nazarbayev and the pride of Kazakhstan’s diplomacy was that some countries embroiled in very tense relations became signatories of this document. The summit also adopted a Declaration on Eliminating Terrorism and Promoting Dialogue among Civilisations.

CICA logoIn 2004, the CICA Catalogue of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) was elaborated as a basic document for practical activity defined in five dimensions: military and political issues, the fight against new challenges and threats, economy, the environment, and human issues. This document was one of a kind. Countries agreed to choose confidence-building measures acceptable to them and implement them on a gradual and voluntary basis. A cooperative approach for the implementation of CICA CBMs was adopted in 2007. I would like to note that now 14 countries are coordinators/co-coordinators of confidence-building measures in different areas.

Regarding CICA’s organisation, an important milestone was the establishment in 2006 of its Secretariat, the executive body of the forum intended for administrative assistance to the chairing country and member states in the implementation of confidence-building measures. The staff of the Secretariat consists of diplomats sent by countries on secondment, as well as administrative and technical personnel. The Secretariat contributed to the launch of work on all five dimensions of CICA and the development of mechanisms for creating and implementing plans. The Secretariat’s website contains information on daily activities and recent developments in CICA.

In the economic sphere, attention is focused on the promotion of small and medium-sized businesses, trade, infrastructure development and transport corridors, telecommunications, the expansion of opportunities in agriculture and other directions. The rapid pace of introduction of innovative technologies, especially those created in the countries of the region, helps in implementing CICA tasks in these areas. The five business forums held in support of small and medium-sized businesses facilitated the establishment of direct links and dialogue between representatives of commercial organisations and executive bodies of the CICA countries. Based on their results, it was decided to establish the CICA Business Council, tasked with establishing contacts, signing contracts between the business circles of the countries, further implementing joint projects and expanding trade, financial and investment flows. This successful experience prompted the idea of organising a Specialised Business Forum. Such a forum, dedicated to problems and solutions in the export of consumer goods in the CICA region, was held in Moscow on Oct. 12 this year.

It is no secret that the most pressing problem in the Asian region continues to be the cultivation of narcotic plants. Everyone knows that proceeds from the drug business are used to sponsor terrorism, corruption, human trafficking, weapons purchases and other illegal and destructive trades. World experience has shown that simply burning fields of illegal crops is not effective. It is necessary to replace narcotic plants with agricultural crops to provide the rural population of those countries with work, food and income. So the branches of the fight against the drug threat and provision of economic security are intertwined. Now, China has proposed an action plan for the coming years intended to transform and modernise agricultural work. The plan guarantees employment and profitability, and should increase the competitiveness of the agricultural sector in the region and the rational allocation of resources. Thailand has become a coordinator for sustainable development and is holding courses on this issue in October.

Over the years, dozens of events have been held in all five dimensions, including business forums, military exercises, seminars and festivals. Hundreds of specialists of various profiles were given the opportunity to exchange experience, methods and technologies, whether it be in  the fight against drug trafficking, developing the agro-industrial sector, supporting small and medium-sized businesses, understanding and managing migration, cooperating between law enforcement agencies, and understanding and facing new challenges. Events have also grown more targeted, directed at specific requests of member states. For example, teachers and lecturers at seminars on the fight against the drug threat are representing CICA countries; thus, participants study material based on real situations in the region.

In the Secretariat databases of contact persons, national coordinators, including departments, are being created. This is an important detail. After all, individuals can leave departments, but departments retain responsibility for implementing action plans.

It should be noted that for a more complete study of issues of the greatest interest for all countries, CICA periodically conducts scientific and practical conferences and seminars with the participation of member states’ analysts and experts. From the outset, the conference has used every opportunity to ensure continued effective action. A nongovernmental forum was established to facilitate civil communication between CICA member states, to popularise CICA’s goals and objectives and to increase the influence of the forum in the field of security.

Since then, several meetings have taken place, during which prominent scientists, politicians – including former leaders of nations – experts, representatives of the media elite and public organisations were given the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues of peace, security and stability in Asia. A deep exchange of views on these and other issues led to very constructive proposals that are used in the current activities of the CICA.

It should be noted that political cooperation and cooperation in the field of security continues successfully. Negotiations among member states on the development of the CICA Action Plan for the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy are continuing. In recent years, Kazakhstan, as a coordinator in the military-political dimension, held seminars and lectures for military experts, diplomats and military attaches of CICA countries and organised visits to a number of military facilities and exhibitions. A very interesting seminar was held in Kazakhstan – participants visited the Baikonur space port for a rocket launch. This was a unique and informative addition to the rest of the seminar, held in Astana.

Climate change, including disruptions caused by human economic activity, requires new solutions. The need for cooperation in this area is also evident in all Asian countries. A regional approach based on the fair consideration of the interests of all parties involved is required to address issues of using trans-boundary water resources and combating desertification. Mongolia coordinates this activity.

Last month, member states adopted the concept paper for implementation of CBMs in the area of sustainable development, presented by Thailand as a coordinator. Its essence is to study alternative approaches to sustainable development already underway and exchange its experience and best practices for the successful implementation of the UN Agenda for the period until 2030. Goals will also be supported through the development of a network of cooperation between CICA member states.

CICA member states support China’s Belt and Road initiative, which fits perfectly into the ideology of the conference, as it represents a vision for integration projects in Eurasia. This initiative is a step forward in this direction in creating infrastructure and developing trade, finance and relationships between people.

Of great interest is CICA’s activity in the human field. Measures have been taken to promote inter-civilisational dialogue, cultural cooperation, the development of democratic processes in the region and more, all with the aim of promoting mutual understanding and interaction between the peoples of CICA countries. Festivals, a cultural exhibition of the countries of the Silk Road and the New Delhi seminar “CICA: Building Bridges across Asia through Tourism” were held, a collection of fairy tales and legends of CICA countries was published and a youth camp was organised.

The CICA Youth Council, set up in 2014, explores and improves national youth policies based on real-world situations and addresses many challenges facing young people in the region. We see how vulnerable young souls are and how easily they can fall under negative alien influences, especially considering the potential of modern communications. Our task today is to build in young generations the desire for peace, goodness, dignity and freedom. The main thrust is acceptance of responsibility based on understanding of true religious, universal and moral values, as well as respect for the experience of their elders. Therefore, the tasks of the CICA Youth Council are very broad and are not limited to the possibility of obtaining education in neighbouring countries. They include the involvement of volunteers in international movements, eco-tourism, agro-tourism, the organisation of scientific and industrial practices, and other activities. Through this, young people from different countries can test their strength and knowledge in different sectors and countries. Youth cooperation is not just part of people’s diplomacy and an important component of interstate relations: It is also a real and universally recognised resource for development.

Since the establishment of CICA, four summits of heads of state and five ministerial meetings have taken place. CICA is actively building external relations and its authority is growing. An increasing number of states are expressing a desire to establish contacts with the conference. It should be noted that CICA countries participate in the work of a number of other regional organisations and forums. To date, memoranda of understanding have been signed with such organisations as the International Organisation for Migration, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (APK) and more. These links contribute to the specialisation of these structures and prevent the duplication of work.

No process can develop rectilinearly. From time to time, there is a need to impart a new impetus to work. Thus, in addition to the role of ministerial meetings and summits, the importance of rotating the chairmanship should be noted. At the same time, the importance of the experience of previous chairmanships is always taken into account in order to realise the priorities of all participants for the subsequent period. In 2010, for the first time in the history of CICA (17 years after the initiation of the process), the chairmanship was rotated – Kazakhstan handed it to Turkey, one of the most active participants in the forum. As a coordinator in the field of combating new challenges and threats, Turkey stepped up its efforts to address problems related to cross-border crime, drug trafficking, illegal migration and terrorism, without disregarding other dimensions of CICA.

Four years later, China assumed the chairmanship of CICA in May 2014 during the fourth CICA Summit in Shanghai. In his speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s continuity of and commitment to CICA policy. Developing the provisions of the Almaty Act on the indivisibility of comprehensive security in new realities, Asian countries must develop a new concept for success, based on the principles of mutual responsibility, trust and benefit, equality and cooperation. This thesis became central when President Xi Jinping presented the new concept of Asian security, which was widely supported by the leaders of countries participating in the summit. The concept takes into account modern realities and presents the basic principles of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. Thus, modern security includes economic, cultural, information, environmental and military-political components. All these components form a coherent system in which security must be ensured by an integrated policy and concrete actions to eradicate its threats.

On Sept. 20 of this year, the Chinese chairmanship organised another informal meeting of foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. During the event, the participants adopted a joint statement on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of CICA and noted the main achievements of the forum over a quarter of a century. They also talked about improving practical cooperation in all five dimensions of CICA cooperation, expanding the geography of the forum, developing external relations, creating a mechanism for regular meetings of ambassadors of member states in Astana, strengthening the role of the Secretariat, and transforming the forum into a full-fledged international organisation.

Over 25 years, CICA member states have made significant progress, but they intend to increase the pace of interaction. Currently, concrete short-term cooperation plans are under way. It is important to note that since countries participate in the forum on a voluntary basis, CICA brings concrete benefits to those countries that are actively involved in its activities.

As President Nazarbayev noted, “CICA is a young forum, often going on uncharted paths, and therefore not having ready recipes for all cases. Optimal solutions are developed in the process of dialogue.” Here you can only add that CICA has succeeded, become stronger and is occupying a worthy place in the system of international relations. Aware of their responsibility for the future, all the countries of the conference make a significant contribution to strengthening the climate of trust, mutual understanding and partnership. The integration processes of cooperation in various spheres are gaining momentum: economy, culture, social life, security. Obviously, the forum’s prospects directly depend on the ability of Asian countries to respond collectively and effectively to all challenges and threats of the future.


The author is executive director of the Secretariat of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.



A New Era of Cooperation for Central Asia

Central Asia is a dynamic and fast-changing region. Over the past couple of decades, it has shown that increased regional cooperation is indispensable to achieving development goals.

The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme started operations in 2001 and has made significant contributions to the region’s growth. The programme has grown steadily to 11 member countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the People’s Republic of China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and has financed more than $30 billion in investments to enhance transport and energy linkages and boost cross-border trade. Over a third of this amount, or $10.5 billion, has come from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which has supported CAREC since its inception.

Takehiko Nakao

Despite their rapid development, countries in the region face significant challenges. The spillover impacts of global economic and financial crises and of lower oil and gas prices have been acute.  Climate change is a major global and regional challenge. These issues do not respect borders and underscore the value of working together to navigate the shifting development landscape.

The CAREC programme needs a scaled-up mandate to become more effective and relevant in the years ahead.

Its CAREC 2030 strategy, unanimously adopted on Oct. 27 by member countries in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, shows the region is ready to fully achieve its enormous potential by connecting its people, policies and projects. I see four key ways in which it can create the conditions for future growth, stability and prosperity.

First, it will deepen support for traditional areas of cooperation, such as transport, energy and trade facilitation. Regional cooperation cannot be achieved without the basic building blocks of good roads and railways, reliable power supplies and the ability of businesses to seek new markets.

Infrastructure investments that integrate new technologies, coupled with appropriate regulatory reforms, will help accelerate the region’s integration with global value chains and support the adoption of clean and renewable energy.

Second, there is a pressing need for macroeconomic policy dialogue among member countries to promote economic and financial stability. The CAREC programme has provided a practical and flexible platform for infrastructure investment and policy planning.

Through initiatives such as a planned forum for countries to share experiences on banking and market regulation, CAREC 2030 can also help improve the region’s investment climate, sustain economic growth and manage the impact of cyclical economic downturns.

Third, for Central Asia to truly prosper it must commit to cooperating in new areas. CAREC 2030’s support for regional initiatives in tourism, agriculture, water resources, health and education will help countries achieve their sustainable development goals. Deeper cooperation will also help countries reach their targets under the COP21 climate agreement.

Cross-border tourism, value-added agricultural exports and educational exchanges have tremendous untapped potential in Central Asia. But these can only be unlocked through a regional agenda where countries work together and share expertise.

Finally, development in Central Asia will depend crucially on building the capacities of its own people. Enhancing people-to-people contacts will help deepen intra-regional understanding and increase personal mobility. Enhanced business-to-business contacts are vital to increase private sector development and create jobs.

Greater labor mobility will allow people to improve their skills and obtain new jobs. It is encouraging that CAREC 2030 has embraced in principle a regional labor market information system focusing on skills needs and regional job search and placement, as well as cross-border higher education and technical training.

CAREC’s new strategy will enhance its convening power for high-level policy dialogue among ministers and senior officials on key development issues. This dialogue needs to be backed with high-quality research by the CAREC Institute, which recently became an intergovernmental organization, and from member countries and development partners to build capacity in areas including education, health and financial and economic stability.

The broader scope of CAREC 2030 provides new space for development partners like ADB to further support the region’s prosperity. It also opens the prospect of exciting new partnerships with other regional programmes such as the Belt and Road Initiative.

ADB will commit $5 billion to support CAREC 2030 in the next five years. We have just approved a new $800 million Multi-Tranche Financing Facility for CAREC road corridor development in Pakistan. Next year, we will finance the first phase of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan transmission line project for $150 million. ADB has also already begun discussions for regional projects in agribusiness, tourism and railways—areas covered in CAREC 2030.

We seek the strong support of all member countries and development partners for the financing and successful implementation of the new CAREC strategy.

By harnessing the collective energies of CAREC member countries, the new strategy will help the region to capitalize on its unique geographic position and proximity to global markets. There is vast potential to improve connectivity and trade between the region’s countries, to Europe and beyond.

CAREC 2030 is an opportunity to promote growth, stability and prosperity in Central Asia. By working together, countries and development partners can secure the future that the region and its people deserve.

The author is the President of the Asian Development Bank.



Kazakhstan and Germany: 25 years of cooperation

Before I came to Kazakhstan in 2011 as the Ambassador of Germany, I had been an ambassador to a big African country, which gained its independence in 1961. Despite good preconditions, this country, because of its experiments with “African socialism,” was economically destructed by 1980s. The good preconditions were mineral deposits, long coast line, world-known tourist sites, English as an official language, no war of independence, good physical, administrative and legal infrastructure first taken from German and then from English colonisers.

Guido Herz

In 1991, it was one of the poorest countries in the world, and today it remains as such. At the same time, a transition to market economy in 1990s brought many advantages. The commodities boom since 2000 and huge payments for development assistance during all these years have brought great revenues to the country. Nevertheless, in 2011 per capita income was approximately $700, which is not more than it was back in 1991.

When it gained its independence, Kazakhstan was just as poor but by 2011 it increased per capita income twentyfold to €12,000 ($14,060).

In addition, the preconditions in this case were much worse. The state unity was not secure at all, the country’s borders were not marked accurately and with a significant potential for conflict with strong neighbours, transport infrastructure was not developed and it was laid only from North to South, the legacy of the bureaucratic centralism was a burden, and additionally, Kazakhstan is a huge country with no access to the sea. Despite this, the country has moved along the path of democratic development and is doing well compared to its Central Asian neighbours and other states of the former Soviet Union. The country is stable both internally and in external policy, the economy is efficient and is aimed at the future, and the physical and social infrastructure develops dynamically.

This all became possible thanks to a wise and forward-looking government. Certainly, the country’s raw material wealth also helped, but there are enough examples when the country’s raw material wealth becomes more a curse than a blessing. Therefore, Kazakhstan’s achievements within 25 years cannot be overestimated.

Germany has cooperated closely with Kazakhstan since its independence. We have had an important link since the very beginning – there was about a million ethnic Germans living in the country who had been deported to Kazakhstan in Stalin’s times. Many of them wanted to move to Germany after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite the fact that Kazakhstan needed labour force to create independent state, the country did not prevent the Germans’ desire but actively supported them. Therefore, many ethnic Germans managed to come back to their ancestral homeland. About 800,000 of them currently live in Germany and create a so called “living bridge” between our countries.

The current year Kazakhstan and Germany mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations; Germany at the beginning of February 1992 became one of the first countries which established diplomatic relations with independent Kazakhstan.

Relations between our countries have always been positive. When I came to Kazakhstan in 2011, the country had just concluded successful chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010 which was marked by personal participation of the Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Astana summit in December 2010.

For five years of my work as the Ambassador, Kazakhstan continued developing on the international platform playing a far more important role within the “international concert” than most of the countries with population around 18 million usually do. Since the first years the independent, the state has confirmed itself as a trustworthy counsel for the world free of nuclear weapons by complete refusal from the nuclear arsenal left from the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan is an important actor of the Eurasian Economic Union; it plays a significant role in Iranian negotiations, the Syrian peace process, as well as in overcoming the Ukrainian crisis. Kazakhstan in light of its foreign policy was justly invited as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

The fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping chose Astana and Nazarbayev University for the official presentation of the project of the century – “New Silk Road” in September 2013 should not be forgotten.

The Kazakh-German relations have been constantly developing since my appointment as ambassador in 2011. The commodity agreement signed in 2012 is a good platform for further long-term development of our economic relations. Germany as one of the first countries that confirmed its participation in EXPO 2017, and I hope that it thereby contributed to the success of this big event. The visit of the newly elected Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a long-standing friend of Kazakhstan and its President in July of this year, emphasised this.

In my opinion, Kazakhstan is an example of successful development. However, there is no room for complacency, and, in accordance with changing premises, conditions should be created for the country to continue developing. The country’s leadership knows that, and therefore it has announced extensive political and economic reforms. If the country implements these reforms gradually, the country will develop consistently the following 25 years. Kazakhstan can count on Germany as a reliable partner.


The author served as German Ambassador to Kazakhstan in 2011-2016.