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La-La-Land of Central Asia: Kazakhstan and its “Astana Code of Conduct”

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]s defining terrorism in any particular case implies a political component, this very category becomes quite extensive – a subject to different readings and understandings. Having permanent – primarily political – disputes over the category and scale of ‘conflict’, contemporary international community repeatedly failed over decades to agree upon a single and comprehensive but universal instrument determining, prescribing and combating terrorism.

As a consequence of these – mostly political and less legal – implications, today we are confronted with some two dozen international (universal and regional) instruments. These instruments are good, but far from being a norm-setting standardized and harmonized.

Thus, the tentative political definition of (international) terrorism could be as follows: Terrorism is the use of violence as political means of pressuring the government and/or society into accepting a radical socio-political or/and socio-economic change (ideological or/and territorial). The word terrorist is obviously self-incriminating (demonizing and alienating), and consequently most terrorists would not apply the label to themselves.

Experts estimate that for every apprehended/detained terrorist another 9 remain at large (rating it to 10%). Therefore, many describe terrorism like a balloon: squeeze one end and it expands at the other.” – professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic analyzed in his seminal work ’JHA Diplomacy – The Palermo Treaty System 10 years After’

Hereby is the take on the national legislation with the huge regional impacts that comes from the ‘heart of gold’, biggest and most relevant Central Asian republic – one of the key pivots to continental Asia.

In President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s first speech to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Kazakh Head of State set forth what is considered a landmark initiative called the “Astana Code of Conduct” focused on preventing and tackling terrorism and extremism while maintaining human rights standards. The Astana Code of Conduct reflects Kazakhstan’s four main UNSC priorities and trends in international security: energy security, food security, counter-terrorism measures, and nuclear safety. These four priorities reflect greater Central Asia interests “to ensure its stability and security, to effectively respond to regional challenges and threats, to strengthen cooperation and promote its growth and development.”

President Nazarbayev’s political address “at the UNSC addresses seven key priorities, the fourth priority emphasizing the acute problem of international terrorism. The fourth priority introduced the Astana Code of Conduct was hailed by members of Kazakhstan’s Government as a landmark initiative, hoping that nations would “refrain from the actions which may lead to destruction of statehood” emphasizing Kazakhstan’s desire push to end or mitigate global conflict. It also reflects the ubiquitous diplomatic trends of engagement, cooperation, and partnerships, in Kazakhstan’s multi-lateral and regional policies and arrangements.

The Astana Code of Conduct is nascent. The Code of Conduct will probably be based on Kazakhstan’s prior national-level programs and priorities, cooperative efforts, and current counter-terrorism efforts. The central tenet of the Astana Code of Conduct, ending extremism and terrorism, is already visible in Kazakhstan’s attempts to be the mediator in high-profile negotiations and talks aimed at sustaining peace such as Syria and Iran. Kazakhstan hopes that the Astana Code of Conduct will lead to the formation of the Global Anti-Terrorist Coalition (Network) to defeat terrorism and reduce the global terror threat. Kazakhstan will chair the Security Council 1267 Committee on ISIL and Al-Qaida.

The Astana Code of Conduct will be a multi-lateral effort focusing on challenging the root causes of terrorism, confronting transnational groups, preventing power vacuums, and destabilization. In March 2016, Kazakhstan called for a new program, “Manifesto: The World. The 21st Century,” focusing on non-proliferation, global cooperation, and ending war. Kazakh officials met with the OSCE Astana Program Office to discuss anti-counter terrorism efforts in mid-October 2016. Kazakhstan would also benefit from European assistance and cooperation combating terrorism online.

After 2011, Kazakhstan reformed its counter-terrorism strategy through community participation by creating web-based instruments to prevent terrorism: www.counter-terror.kz , and a mechanism created recently for citizens to report terrorist or extremist activity via the Prosecutor General’s Office website. Changes to the Counter-Terrorism Law improving counter-terrorism methods, increased regional security and cooperation through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collection Security Treaty Organization aid Kazakhstan’s fight against domestic terrorism.

Kazakhstan also shut down 950 websites (with court approval) and increased the use of information technology against terrorism, and in January 2013, the Kazakhstan National Security Committee announced the launch of a Security Academy to train specialists. Kazakhstan has long been the recipient of criticism about its human rights records, the misapplication of anti-terrorism measures to silence the opposition, and the absence of basic civil liberties including freedom of press, assembly, religion, and association. Changes to the Counter-Terrorism Law resulted in violations of religious freedoms among Muslims, arbitrary detention, and increased powers among the security services.

Like its chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Kazakhstan’s position on the UNSC provides the country with access to materials, resources, and the opportunity to implement policies and improve its human rights record. This Central Asian colossus did not live up to its commitments as OSCE chair. Kazakhstan recently announced future basic constitutional reforms to redistribute power among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Kazakhstan must be willing to implement resolutions and programs developed during its UNSC chairmanship and not use the UNSC as a way to push an international agenda without a domestic commitment.

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Central Asia

Religious buildings in Kazakhstan to be labeled 16+

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New restrictions on religious activities are emerging in Kazakhstan. Will they help to fight extremism?

According to the Government bill introducing amendments to the laws on religious activities and associations, adolescents should be forbidden from attending mosques, churches and synagogues if they are not accompanied by one of the parents and don’t have written consent of another parent.

Schools and the media are going to be forbidden from talking about the belief systems of various religions as well.

By implementing these and other measures, Astana intends to combat religious extremism. However, the crackdown on religion has already set the country four years back: in 2017 the Republic of Kazakhstan returned on the list of countries where the religious situation arouses concern of the US State Department Commission on International Religious Freedom. Kazakhstan last appeared on the list along with Afghanistan, India, Indonesia and Laos in 2013.

Is the proposed bill really going to help to contain the spread of radical Islam, and to what extent does it conform with international human rights standards?

The Concept of State Policy towards Religion, adopted in 2017, shows that the authorities strive to expel religion from public space altogether and promote an ideology of “secularism”. Their thinking is understandable: with no contact between members of differentreligions, there will be no inter-religious conflicts.

However, according to the European experience, prohibitive policy does not bring the expected results. In a multicultural society, the lack of information about the beliefs of other religions only increases tensions. Silencing the matter of religion and obstructing religious education reduces the ability to critically evaluate the extremist ideologies,while increasing the opportunityto spread false information aimed to promote inter-religious discord.

In addition, various summer camps, excursion and pilgrimage activities organized by religious communities are going to be banned if the bill is adopted. It includes those traditional religious confessions that the Government routinely thanks for promoting the inter-civilizational dialogue, youth development and the maintenance of stability, peace and prosperity in the society. A large number of children and teenagers will be deprived of their usual social circles and leisure activities.

As a result of such unconstitutional state interference and bureaucratic obstacles, children and teenagers will be denied the right to practice the religion of their family even when outside educational, medical and other state institutions. Not to mention that parents will be entitledby law to restrict the right of their children under the age of 16 to choose their faith.

Moreover, according to the proposed legislation, if a minor is found in a prayer room“illegally”, the responsibility will fall on the religious organization in question. Consequently, the clergy will need to alienate and discourage the younger generations from attending their own churches, so as not to get fined and fall within the scope of the restrictions on the religious activities!

At the same time, actual extremist organizations will go underground and get more freedom than their peaceful competitors. Obviously, the unruly youth will turn not to those imams, priests or rabbis unable to go beyond the restrictive framework of formal prohibitions. They will go to the “real” preachers who offer communion, new religious experience, something to devote yourself to, a sense of self-worth (even if as suicide bombers).

It is in the interests of all religious leaders, and indeed the whole world, to prevent such a terrible scenario from happening and to return Kazakhstan on the path of civilizational dialogue and inter-confessional cooperation. Otherwise, any participation in the VI Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in the Astana Palace of Peace and Reconciliation can be seen as not only dishonorable and hypocritical, but also unsafe.

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Central Asia

Supporting Kazakhstan’s Commitment to Fiscal Consolidation and Long-Term Economic Transformation

Ato Brown

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Kazakhstan’s 2050 Strategy envisages a radical restructuring of the government and the economy by 2050 and recognizes that “the era of the hydrocarbon economy is coming to its end.” The world’s current oversupply of oil adds urgency to the need to accelerate broader reforms of economic structure and fiscal policy.

The World Bank Group’s recent Public Finance Review, Kazakhstan: Enhancing the Fiscal Framework to Support Economic Transformation, provides a set of recommendations to support the government’s move in this direction.

Kazakhstan benefited greatly from the oil boom of 2000–14, which led to income growth and poverty reduction, and helped build a fiscal cushion to stabilize the economy during downturns. As oil output more than doubled during the oil price super-cycle, the Government of Kazakhstan accumulated substantial fiscal savings in its National Oil Fund (NFRK). These funds were used for anti-crisis programs in 2007–10, during which time the fiscal stimulus program totalled US$18 billion (about 15 percent of GDP).

The Government injected more than US$30 billion in foreign-currency interventions in 2014–15, while the current fiscal stimulus package already exceeded US$20 billion (12 percent of GDP) in 2014–17.

As a result, the NFRK balance has fallen from US$73 billion in 2014 to a projected US$57 billion by the end of 2017. The Kazakh authorities moved to a floating exchange rate regime in the second half of 2015 to stop the leakage of foreign exchange reserves. However, an accompanying fiscal adjustment has not materialized. Some policy makers may still believe that the shock is cyclical and maintain hope that oil prices will recover.

Yet that might not be the case.

The low-oil prices environment is not a temporary crisis, but is rather a structural shift to a “new normal”. In this case, Kazakhstan needs to urgently adopt a fiscal consolidation strategy to promote diversified growth and high-quality job creation.

The NFRK’s new management rules, with advice from the World Bank Group and IMF, include:

  • The nonoil deficit, the main anchor of fiscal policy, is to be progressively decreased to 7 percent of GDP by 2020 and 6 percent by 2025;
  • Guaranteed transfers from the NFRK are to be reduced from the present US$8 billion to the equivalent of US$6 billion by 2020;
  • The NFRK is to be maintained at least at 30 percent of GDP;
  • Privatization revenues are to flow to the NFRK; and
  • General government debt and external debt of state-owned enterprises are not to exceed the size of NFRK assets.

Government projections have been made under these assumptions, but it is critical that oversight and reporting of the NFRK rules are applied rigorously.

Failure to consolidate as projected could result in a full depletion of net fiscal savings in around 5-10 years!

At the heart of successful fiscal consolidation should be two things: reducing inefficient expenditure that distorts private incentives while redirecting savings toward productivity-enhancing spending; and eliminating inefficient tax benefits that result in an uneven playing field for investment.

While pursuing a fiscal consolidation effort over the medium-term, there are potential benefits to reviewing Kazakhstan’s fiscal policy framework and institutions with the goal of strengthening their coherence, credibility, and flexibility.

All these major institutional developments will require considerable time, as well as extensive technical support. The World Bank Group suggests to develop a three-phase, time-bound Action Plan consistent with an immediate focus on fiscal consolidation as well as continuing the support programs that are already underway, notably by the World Bank Group, the IMF, and the OECD. Longer-term issues could be discussed at a high level with the authorities in 2018, with inputs from all the involved international bodies.

First published in World Bank

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Central Asia

Great Central Asia, America’s counter measure to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

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China’s ambitious global geo-political objective has raised concern among American strategists, which China attempts to Isolate America at the global level. The claim has become more evident during the G20 summit when China curbed president Trump effort to pass a joint declaration in order to condemn North Korea’s recent ICBM test.

(more…)

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