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Kazakhstan between stability and reforms

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Announced in March, the early presidential election in Kazakhstan has become a debate about the results reached during the past years, the actual problems and the future challenges. The advanced poll was proposed by institutional officials in order to permit President Nazarbayev to lead the country again in the next future.

Kazakhstan is dealing with challenges in political and economic sphere existing in former Soviet space. The country, in addition, is facing some strategic bids directed to promote economic integration in the international markets and its worldwide image. For instance, Kazakh diplomacy is actively working for admission in the World Trade Organization and it has presented its candidacy for a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the years 2017-2018.Moreover, among many relevant events scheduled in the country in the next years, Astana in 2017 will host the International Exposition while Almaty is one of the two candidate cities to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

In this way, in the political establishment gained momentum the idea to ensure stability in phase of great transformations and challenges for the country.

Motivations for the early poll were linked to “technical” as also political and social reasons. One motivation is linked to the willingness to divide presidential and legislative elections, both scheduled for 2016, in order to prevent any sort of threat that could have led to political and institutional paralysis.

The second motivation is related with the increasing tensions in the world scenario and especially in the Eurasian context. The Ukrainian crisis and the current problems between Russia and the Western countries have put under pressure the Central Asian country, always devoted to pursue its “multi-vectorial” foreign policy of good relations with all the most important global players. Moreover, changes in the economic outlook, due to rising prices in the international market and devaluations of national and Russian currencies, have been valuated as possible sources of uncertainty for the next future.

Kazakhstan’s challenges in the next years will be aimed not only at consolidating the stability of the country, but also at establishing a new path of reforms that the presidential bloc is, with all the probabilities, called to implement. On April 11, at Nur Otan (Kazakh ruling party) Congress in Astana, Nursultan Nazarbayev accepted the proposal for candidacy advanced by the professor Kenzhegali Sagadiyev. With this move, there is no doubt about another landslide vicotry of the incumbent. Despite his long staying at power, the Head of the State still enjoys a widespread support throughout the country, thanks to economic and political successes and the objective weakness of the opposition side.

In his acceptance speech, Nazarbayev explained the necessity for the country not to stop its process of modernization, claiming that: “We cannot stand idle. We have to move forward availing on our success to strengthen our statehood”. He underlined the next years are going to assume a great relevance not only for the stability of the country, but also for the realization of a wider spectrum of reforms.The President, in fact, seemed more interested to illustrate the long term path than campaign promises, by identifying five fundamental points for the modernization: state apparatus and meritocracy; rule of law; industrialization and economic growth; strengthening Kazakhstani identity; transparent and accountable state

Among them, there are two key points of Nazarbayev’s presidency. The first, the continuation of the process of economic reforms started with new amendments on law on investments and the main economic development program “Nurly Jol”, within the strategic plan “Strategy 2050”, aimed to put the country among the top 30 world economies. The second, no less important, achievement of a multinational, tolerant and secular society where all the 130 ethnic and 17 religious communities can live in concord.

In addition, Kazakh President stressed the importance of combating corruption, the consolidation of rule of law, the professionalization and training of bureaucratic officials. There is a commitment for the introduction of scrutiny for state apparatus, meritocratic selection criteria and transparency. Moreover, these proposals for “openness” should extend also to political system.

In Nazarbayev’s view, new constitutional reforms should promote a progressive ceding of responsibilities and resources from state structures to regional ones and a transfer of power form the Presidency to the Government and the Parliament. The aim is the creation of a more balanced system of government with a clear division among state institutions, as only in part realized with the constitutional changes in 2007, when were introduced changes to electoral law and the relations between the Prime Minister and the Parliament.

If the calling of new presidential election can be analyzed recurring to motivations of economic stability and the maintenance of socio-political internal concord, the intervention of the President added new significances to the upcoming vote. The five structural areas of reforms listed by Nazarbayev mean the necessity, no longer possible to postpone, to implement a comprehensive package of institutional, administrative, judiciary and economic reforms in order to sustain the modernization of the country.

On one side, these proposals represent a fundamental step for the economic development of the country: after years of impressive growth due to high hydrocarbon prices, it is not possible to conceive a qualitative leap without a more efficient normative and bureaucratic framework.

From the other side, the provision for new constitutional changes could contribute to the improvement of political system. Of course, Nazarbayev’s speech must be analyzed considering the particular Eurasian context. The demand for an immediate introduction of the so called “Western democratic standards” could have a logic in theory but not necessarily in political reality. The choice made by Nazarbayev is the adoption of a gradual, progressive and “Kazakhstani” path of democratization to be completed in four or five decades: considering the work done from 1991 till today, it is possible to reduce this lapse of time to 15-20 years.

This may be not easy to understand for the West, but recent events have demonstrated   the failure of an immediate imposition of external cultural and political values not only in former USSR, but also in other parts of the world. Where the process of democratization ignored the establishment of strong institutions, the aspiration to democracy gave the way to chaos or, in the worst scenarios, new forms of authoritarianism. This kind of situation is what a country with such precious, but delicate, social and ethnic equilibrium needs to avoid. Abrupt, not programmed changes within this framework, in order to adhere to a precise political ideology, could lead to risks for the survival of the country.

If, as said before, Kazakhstan is in the middle of the path of modernization and the next election can be defined as another turning point in its history. Kazakhstan’s development from 1991 till today was characterized by the transition from socialist economy, the definition of a new “Eurasian” identity and the achievement of a notable position in the international community.

After the celebration of this election – and the extension of Nazarbayev’s presidency for another, and maybe the last, mandate – the “leader of the nation” will have to face one of the most delicate challenge: granting to his nation a “legacy” not only in terms of political succession, but also for durable, efficient and stable mechanisms of government. Only in this way, Kazakhstan can maintain and consolidate in the future the positive objectives achieved since independence, improving its position in the international arena and the world economy.

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Central Asia

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit and Later Developments: The Politics Analyzed

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The summit’s mood was a somber one, toned down by Ukraine war, mounting global economic and environmental crises.

Important developments are:

  1. Strengthening Economic Ties

New initiatives planned to develop economic and transport corridors, tourism and services trade and expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative. Trade within SCO grew 12 percent annually. China aims $2.3 trillion trade with SCO within next 5 years.

Today, China and Russia conducted $140 billion in trade, which will reach around $200 billion by yearend. India also increased purchases of Russian oil, coal, and fertilizer and became one of its largest fuel customers since the Ukraine invasion.

Pakistan plans to import Russian gas and Putin offered building a pipeline to supply it. Pakistan desperately needs Russian gas because of its energy crisis.

Meanwhile, economic developments in Central Asian resulting from Russian and Chinese investments have exceeding $61 billion.

  •  Strengthening Collective Security Mechanisms

There has been some success in collective security cooperation. The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure is functioning, and several new independent security mechanisms planned.

China and Russia had steadily built economic and strategic ties. Russia plans further strengthening them.

  • Expansion of the SCO

Iran has now become SCO’s ninth member. Belarus seeks full membership. Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia will become dialogue partners. Turkey’s received observer status. Eight countries are expected to become members.

5. Voice of Developing Nations

Joint statement on climate change called for balance between reducing carbon emissions and allowing poorer states to catch up with developed countries. SCO called for a balanced approach between emissions reduction and development.

  • Divisions within the SCO

Summit was expected to provide chance for Russia and China to make a case for new world order. However, the war sowed divisions, as no government favored Putin’s actions. Clinched in confrontation with the West, Putin denied isolation, but the summit proved otherwise.

Given the war, some Central Asian leaders worry about Russian behavior. Kazakhstan and Pakistan refuse to toe Moscow’s line. Kazakhstan has aided Ukraine. China’s refusal to condemn Russia has caused unease among some countries, hindering efforts building regional ties. Also complicating picture is India, which like China had not outrightly condemned Russia, nor participated in Western sanctions on it. India has strong military ties with Russia but is changing tone. Both China and India have mildly criticized Russia. On September 21 Putin raised the threat of nuclear response in the war and ordered reservists mobilization. He was widely condemned. America said threats were nothing new. So far, Putin seems undaunted by criticism.

Economic cooperation between China and Russia likely to grow being mutually beneficial. However, China trying to stay out of Ukraine mess and its danger. While Putin’s war has yet to spread beyond Ukraine, it could trigger larger war between Russia and NATO. Therefore, China has wisely urged Russia to de-escalate and called for a cease-fire. China continues balancing positions as the goal of Xi’s foreign policy is to put country first.

Since Biden supports India as permanent member of UNSC, it will also call Russia not to escalate conflict. Earlier, India had repeatedly called for diplomacy. Modi’s recent criticism of Russia is setback for Putin as war drives a wedge in relations.

  • Failures

Firstly, Modi did not meet Xi. The two have not met since the border conflict more than two years ago. Delhi is wary of Beijing’s growing regional influence, especially in Pakistan.

Also, the leaders of rivals Pakistan and India did not meet.

Two failed opportunities.

Secondly, the summit failed to take any meaningful action on the current global food and energy crisis linked to the war. Resultantly, the regional food supply may face even bigger challenges in the future.

Thirdly, region requires massive investment in climate resilience development. Though requested by Pakistan, climate action framework not discussed.

Fourthly, China and Russia failed committing needed financing of institutions because of their own economic weaknesses.

Fifthly, Russia’s Ukraine actions not condemned by members. Only Turkey’s President Erdogan urged Putin to return occupied territory to Ukraine.

Sixthly, there was leadership failure. For Putin, the summit was a chance to show that Russia was not isolated. For Xi it was an opportunity to shore up credentials as global political leader. Both failed.

Lastly, summit did not focus on regional challenges: war in Ukraine; rippling impact of rising regional food prices; energy crisis roiling economies; and climate emergency in Pakistan.

Today, SCO is not suitable for China to push any world order. As a multilateral organization, it is much weaker than EU or ASEAN. Fortification of SCO remains daunting challenge.

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Kyrgyz-Tajik Conflict: Small States Becoming Victim In Games Of The Great Powers

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Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan sign protocol on regulation of armed conflict in border areas. Photo: © AKIpress News Agency

The Military conflict on September 14th 2022, on the border of two post-soviet countries- Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan took lives of more than 90 people from both sides. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan considers that the events which took place on September 14-17, 2022 necessary to state as a pre-planned armed act of aggression by Tajikistan against the sovereign state Kyrgyzstan. As a result of the inhuman actions of the Tajik side 59 citizens of Kyrgyzstan were killed and 140 were injured, about 140,000 people were forced to evacuate. But the Tajik officials and mass media actively accusing Kyrgyzstan of aggression and violation of non-attack agreements. Both sides blame each other for the outbreak of violence. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan declared that the information of the Ministry of Foreign affairs and other authorities of Tajikistan did not correspond to reality. The Kyrgyz side has all the evidences (photo and video materials) that recorded the beginning of the aggression, as well as all the crimes committed by the Tajik military on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. If necessary, the Kyrgyz side is ready to provide this evidence.

Main Reasons.

The Kyrgyz-Tajik border 950 kilometers long. At the moment, Bishkek and Dushanbe have recognized only 520 kilometers of a common border, the rest of the sections since the collapse of the USSR are considered controversial and run along villages and roads.

The conflict has many aspects: here are territorial disputes, competition for the possession of water resources, and inter-ethnic problems. It is also associated with activities on the border of criminal structures, with smuggling, with drug trafficking. Radical religious organizations may also be involved in it. Therefore, all relations in the conflict zone between the Kyrgyz and Tajik sides are extremely aggravated. And the reason for the next clashes can be anything, any petty domestic situation.

In spring 2021 a similar bloody conflict took place on the border of two republics. As it turned out later, this escalation had domestic reasons. It was provoked by a dispute over the sharing of a water distribution point located between Kyrgyz and Tajik villages, which ended with a fight afterwards by killing each other by weapons. The state border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is 950 kilometers, and 520 km of it has not yet passed the demarcation procedures. Despite that the Central Asian states gained independence more than thirty years ago.

The reasons of the latest invasion of Tajikistan to the territory of Kyrgyzstan still not clear. What could be the reason of breaking the Agreement of non invasion? Why it started the same day of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit? Why its happening after the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict? Why Post-Soviet countries are in war with each other? Scholars and some officials have various assumptions about the latest bloody clash. “There are provocateurs and third forces.” – says the head of the government of Kyrgyzstan Akylbek Zhaparov.

The military conflict started the same date of the summit of the SCO in Samarkand. On September 14, the governments of China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan signed a long-anticipated  agreement to push ahead with construction of a railroad linking these countries that will  establish a shorter route to Europe bypassing sanctions-hit Russia. So according to some Kyrgyz officials the clashes on Tajik and Kyrgyz borders started after the signing of the agreement about the construction of the railway-plausibly as a warning about the discontent of Russia, which throughout the history of the Central Asian countries has tried to make the region as economically dependent as possible. Moreover the President of Tadjikistan Emomali Rahmon wouldn’t invade into territory of Kyrgyzstan without Putin’s support.

If the first group of people considering that two countries are in this battle because of Russian tactics, the second group of people like the Deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Alexei Chepa noting that the cause of this conflict lies not only in unresolved disputes between the two countries. They suppose the external forces, primarily enemies of Russia, have decided to take advantage of the situation and create conflicts in the region. As they use the internal problems of Tajikistan and the conflict situation with Afghanistan, where the United States left a huge amount of weapons and a certain contingent of troops. And all this are aimed at using conflicts to further discredit Russia. We see this in the example of conflicts arising in Kazakhstan, Armenia and Azerbaijan and in some countries of the Caucasus.

This conflict would repeatedly escalate and next time would lead more death of civilians until the demarcation and delimitation of Kyrgyz-Tajik borders process would be finished and signed. This kind of military battles can lead to the unleashing of a large-scale interstate conflict, as well as to the destabilization of the situation in the Central Asian region as well.

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Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

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On September 15 and 16, 2022, the extended format of participants of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are scheduled to meet in Samarkand, the ancient Silk Road Karavansarai in Uzbekistan. SCO —founded in 2001— is the first international organization founded by Beijing. It started as the Shanghai Five with the task of demarcating borders between China and its Central Asian neighbors: Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, and Tajikistan, following the breakup of the Soviet Union. The meeting in Samarkand marks the 21st Head of State summit of this organization, which is growing in international importance. All Heads of member states have confirmed their attendance.

SCO came to the attention of Washington policy makers, when Vladimir Putin used it as a vehicle to set a timeline on U.S. bases in Central Asia there to support operations in Afghanistan. Through direct engagement of President Bush with Chinese President Hu Jintao, this deadline was not repeated in the communique of the following year. This demonstrated Beijing’s unwillingness to have an open rift with Washington and made clear China’s leadership of the organization. Beijing’s interest in preventing anti-American statements has changed in the last 17 years. With the return of Great Power Competition in the Washington-Beijing relationship, who leads the SCO and what is on its agenda should be of considerable interest in Washington.

The SCO is no longer just a talk-shop between Russia and China with its Central Asian neighbors, but is now expanding to the Gulf, South Asia, South East Asia, and the Caucasus. The expanded membership of the SCO makes up 24% of the global GDP, more than half that of the G7 and more than that of the European Union in 2020. SCO’s expanded participant list accounts for 44% of the global population.

If those seeking membership status at the upcoming meeting in Samarkand achieve their goal, the SCO will include in its ranks: Azerbaijan and Armenia who recently fought a war in Nagorno-Karabakh; Saudi Arabia and Iran, competitors over the direction of the Gulf; and current members India and Pakistan, historic adversaries. Afghanistan and Mongolia are currently observer states in the organization. Partner countries of the organization are Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka. The status of dialogue partner state will likely be granted to Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia in September. Bahrain and Maldives are next in line for the latter status.

In 2005, the US had an opportunity to pursue observer status with the SCO. Those who supported it, saw it as opportunity for the US to shape this organization and for Afghanistan to reconnect with its neighbors with American support. Others thought our being an observer of the SCO would lend legitimacy to this nascent organization. Yet, overtime, flaws in the latter stance surfaced and was repeated by the Obama Administration’s failed attempt to isolate China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

In a vote on April 7 for the suspension of Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council, Turkey was the only participant in the expanded SCO out of 18 countries that voted in favor of the resolution. Of the member states, all voted against the resolution, with India and Pakistan abstaining.

For members of the SCO, energy highlights their importance on the global stage and is a tool used in their foreign policy. Following the 2022 summit, SCO states, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, among others, will account for over half of the world’s oil production annually.

Until 2020, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization played a largely regional role for China, the heart of which was Central Asia. Initially reluctant, the recent rapid expansion of the SCO shows that China realigned the organization from a regional one, to one capable of implementing its global ambitions.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization gained greater significance with the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, where an economically weaker Russia can turn to China, a partner with no limits and its leadership over the SCO.

At the 2022 Boao Forum, President Xi restated the goal of the 2021 SCO Dushanbe Declaration, where he articulated a world order not directed by the West. At this same summit, SCO members approved Iran’s membership despite international sanctions after a 15 year waiting period. Xi articulated in a flourish, calling it a community of a common destiny of mankind.

This has echoes of Chairman Mao’s vision of world relations, dating back to the 1970s. In meetings with Dr. Kissinger, Mao posited that imperialism and hegemony violate the world order. Instead, China should expand into what is now known as the Global South, including countries in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia. China’s mission lives on and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is becoming its vehicle.

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