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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.

Newly, the Pentagon alleged China and there was also a pop up in the main stream media indicating that China has stationed several thousand troops in Pakistan most probably at the Gwadar Port, in order to establish counter balance for America’s strategic partner India and America itself. Gwadar Port is a warm-water, deep-sea port situated on the Arabian Sea at Gwadar in Baluchistan the socalled province of Pakistan.

According to the Pentagon reports, China has also dispatched troops to the Wakhan district of Badakhshan province of Afghanistan to safe guard its bordering areas alongside Afghanistan.  Furthermore, the Indian security agencies have suspected China attempts to encircle India, the reports designates, that Beijing has also taken over some ports in Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar to embroil India and possibly America; the claims were later declined by the Chinese authorities.

According to the China’s defense ministry statement, the country sent off troops to its overseas naval base in Djibouti. This is being seen as a major step forward for the country’s expansion of its military presence abroad.

The base will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and West Asia. It will also be conducive to overseas tasks, including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways.

Chinese troops are stationed just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier, the only permanent US base in Africa. The US Department of Defense had stated that the base, along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, echoes and intensifies China’s growing influence.

Beijing seeks to gain access to natural resources and open new markets and therefore, it has made extensive infrastructure investments throughout the African continent.

China has chosen the port of Djibouti because of its strategic location; the Port of Djibouti is located in Djibouti City, the capital of Djibouti. It is situated at the crossroads of one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, 20 miles across from Yemen and in destroyer range of the pirate-infested western edge of the Indian Ocean.

Moreover,  China will challenge US in Meddle East especially in Syria, the China-Arab Exchange Association and the Syrian Embassy have recently organized a Syria Day Expo crammed with hundreds of Chinese specialists in infrastructure investment. It was a sort of mini-gathering of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), billed as “The First Project Matchmaking Fair for Syria Reconstruction”. The Chinese authorities has recently, announced that Beijing plans to invest $2 billion in an industrial park in Syria for 150 Chinese companies. Beijing wants to stretch its Road and Belt initiative to Aleppo of Syria and from there to Mediterranean and Africa.

In this respect, Counter Narco-terrorism Alliance Germany recommends, the American strategists need to launch counter measures in the region in one hand to abolish isolation of America and on the other hand undermine Chinese and Russian efforts.

America has to strongly support and equip Baluch separatists in order to establish an independent Baluchistan.

As soon as Baluchistan is liberated and independent, Sino-Pak Economic Corridor and the Russian Eurasia Economic Union would be dismantled.

In addition, America should intensify the efforts to set up Great Central Asian throughout Afghanistan and Baluchistan, in fact, this is already happening. Within the past eight months the Foreign Ministers of both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have traveled to Kabul, and Aghan President Ashraf Ghani has visited all northern neighbors of Afghanistan. Turkmenistan is forging ahead with the TAPI gas pipeline across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, and Uzbekistan, which already provides Kabul with electricity, is planning a second phase of railroad construction in Afghanistan. In the same spirit, the World Bank’s CASA 1000 project will soon be sending electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Conclusion, if America desires to restrain Chinese initiatives in the region, Washington should step up Great Central Asia and genuinely sponsor Baluchistan independence. The independence of Baluchistan would be the turning point to institute Great Central Asia; the land locked Great Central Asia would find its way to the Arabian Sea. That would open a window of opportunity for Washington to dispatch its warships to the region in order to observe the freedom of navigations.  

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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

Strengthening Religious Harmony While Stamping Out Extremism in Kazakhstan

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As a country, Kazakhstan has achieved many accomplishments in our first 25 years as an independent nation. Living standards for our citizens have improved dramatically, for example, and the respect we have built up as a global champion for peace and disarmament has seen us become the first Central Asian state to be elected to the United Nations Security Council.

(more…)

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