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Central Asia

Kazakhstan beyond Borat

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Kazakhstan, it seems, has a very clear and coherent idea of what kind of image does it want to project on the international stage and more so, what kind it does not.

After the infamous movie Borat, which once again showed how powerful of a tool branding can be, Kazakhstan was left to a PR disaster, significantly fuelled with the public`s educational deficiency. The unfolding events were interesting because the movie itself was actually targeting the stereotyping and ignorance of (mainly) American audience, but had a different effect, especially in the western countries, for precisely the same reasons. That resulted in a branding fiasco for Kazakhstan, for many were left convinced that there were leaving and breathing Borats all over the place. This was a warning sign for all those countries who did not yet establish a powerful image of themselves in the international community, for these so called unbranded countries always run the risk of not being in full control of their image and reputation (and, as in the case of Borat, someone else can quickly do that for them).

In reality, Kazakhstan has been trying since the early years of independence to introduce the country to the awareness of the global community. Although reluctantly declaring independence from the Soviet Union, it has become vital for the country to differentiate itself from Russia to gain significantly in its soft power repertoire of tools. This process, along with the strategic positioning of the country, gave rise to the well- known Kazakhstan image of being able to balance the interests of many great powers, intersecting in the Central Asia, including Russia, China, US, EU, Turkey and Iran. Thus, Kazakhstan developed the approach of multi- vector foreign policy, enabling the country to fruitfully cooperate with various international players. Many of its sustained efforts on the image building go into the promotion of constructing bridges between the East and the West, which is becoming ever more important in the light of the recent Ukrainian crisis. By positioning itself as the sort of regional mediator, Kazakhstan is asserting that it could be able to some degree defuse the simmering conflict between Kremlin and the West. The process of winning the hearts and minds is especially focused on evading the possibility of Kazakhstan being dragged down by Western sanctions imposed on Russia. The balancing of the powerful interests on the axis East- West is surely not easy, but beneficial for the world striving to break from such black and white divisions.

The country therefore seeks its external legitimization and is pursuing its aim via variety of different avenues. It is already represented in the UN Human Rights Council and has successfully bid for chairmanship of OSCE in 2010. In addition to that, Kazakhstan is bidding for the non- permanent seat in the UN Security Council for 2017 and hoping to host the Winter Olympics in 2022. All these efforts are concerned with presenting a good role model for the former Soviet republics, other countries with similar backgrounds and developing nations in general. The fruits of Kazakhstan multi- vector foreign policy and successful engagement in the international affairs are definitely one of the images Kazakhstan wants to be renowned for.

“Kazakhstan- the honest broker” is therefore surely one of the loudest mantras in the country PR machine. In addition to prolific regional and global involvement, Kazakhstan also has a long track-record of promoting nuclear non- proliferation and supporting peaceful resolutions and dialogue. Last year, Astana co- founded the launch of a Brussels- based think- tank, Eurasian Council of Foreign Affairs and is also preparing for the imminent launch of an official development aid program called KazAID, initially intended to focus on the immediate neighborhood with the help of the UN Development Program.

KazAID does not mark the first time that the country has decided to embark upon providing development aid, but it is the first organized attempt to do so. Kazakhstan has provided millions of dollars worth of medicines, fuel, seeds and other basic supplies for Kyrgyzstan during its political and humanitarian crisis in 2010 and has funded a scholarship program for Afghan students for several years now. The new agency, KazAID, will therefore provide organization and systematization on a higher level for upcoming projects of such nature and align them with the country`s other foreign policy and economic goals. Since Kazakhstan is commonly referred to as the most developed and economically stable nation of the Central Asia and Caucasus it might be, combined with its rising international profile, optimally enabled to provide such help in order to assist in securing a broader regional stability and development.

In addition to widening the regional and global involvement, Kazakhstan Is looking into another tool for introducing the country to the wider population and boost the soft power strength; tourism. The country supposedly intents to invest some 10 billion $ to develop its tourism sector by 2020 and has dropped the strict visa regime to introduce a temporary visa- free regime for 10 selected countries, including United States, Britain, Japan, the U.A.E., Germany, and Malaysia. It has been said that if nothing else, Borat sparked the interest for the country among the travelling souls, putting the country on the map for the go- to places and Kazakhstan has been trying ever since to capitalize on this.

Similar to other Central Asian states, but rather other developing countries of the world, too, Kazakhstan does not rely on its hard power. Its military is focused on regional common security structures and peacekeeping support operations and is domestically under reforms to become capable of handling low- intensity conflicts, therefore establishing smaller, more specialized and more mobile units. Rather, Kazakhstan focuses on achieving external legitimization as a cooperative, developed and reliable actor on the international stage.

Being an authoritarian country on the slow path towards democratization, internal legitimization is a different story than that of external. Like in many other similar regimes, the regime`s success lies in the capability to build a plausible narrative on the outlined development path for the country and consequently gain substantial support from the overall population. For now, the economic growth, substantial FDIs, multi- vector foreign policy, successful regional and international engagement, good neighborhood policy, border delimitation treaties with all neighboring countries as well as the celebration of multinational character of the population, equal rights to different religions and strict prohibition of voicing overly radical views, be it religious or political, have kept the population in consent with the regime, even though the latter has a track record of human rights violations and oppression of democratic values.

Many analysts agree that the current economic crisis, combined with the Western sanctions on Russian economy, could harm the social contract between the people of Kazakhstan and the regime in Astana. Clearly, this reality has not escaped its leadership for there have been many incentives and initiatives to boost the economy that found itself at a standstill. Holding early presidential elections this year was therefore a logical step for the country`s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who won yet another term in the office. His victory (although not meeting all the requirements for free and fair elections) has reassured him on his position, immobilize any attempts from outsiders to instrumentalize internal political dissent and strengthen the social trust of the population. Henceforth, everything depends on the regime`s capability to meet the promised ends. Accordingly, Kazakhstan might have to reconsider the strategy of attracting the attention from the international community through costly, big and ambitious events.

Another issues Kazakhstan may have in the future is the fact that much of the approval the country receives for its work and attitude in the international community can be turned into a PR campaign of its leadership. Consequently, it is not the country that gets promoted, but the president. That might not be a step into the right direction, especially since it is largely seen as a diversion from the topics of human rights abuses inside the country, although the recently signed Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU brings about hopes for improvement. Or, as Kazakhstan Minister of Foreign Affairs Erlan Idrissov said: “Rare among Eastern countries, Kazakhstan is a secular state that is making progress towards creating our own distinct and culturally attuned democracy. As with all young countries, we may sometimes falter, but I have no doubt that we are on the right road”.

Central Asia

Prevention and Encroachment of ISIS into Central Asia from Afghanistan

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Central Asia is a region that seems the next possible target for (Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham) ISIS. There can be different reasons behind it, but at the same time, it is a dilemma that either ISIS will be able to get into Central Asian Republics (CARs)? The main thing can be the geographic location and plans of ISIS that seems very interested in that region. Furthermore, we can see that Afghanistan shares a border with 3 out of 5 CARs that increase the threat of ISIS in the region. Soon after the creation of ISIS, they entered into Afghanistan and started their activities in eastern and northeastern parts of the country; however, after the takeover of the Taliban of Kabul, a number of suicide attacks happened in larger cities of Afghanistan which gives a clue of a more substantial presence of the group and their strength.

Most important tricks to prevent ISIS possible expansion into CARs states we should know about their recruitments policies. Nowadays, in the 21st century, media is considered a 4th organ of the state, and it is diverting people’s attention through different meanings to reach the end. Most importantly, I believe that media is a great tool that ISIS (K) uses to recruit foreign fighters; they disseminate information in different ways, especially through social media. But at the same time, we can see that some people in Central Asia feel neglected by the states, and discrimination is going on with them in different aspects of life. It might be socially, politically, and economically. It will not be an exaggeration to mention here that in this region (CARs), people are fed from the ongoing political systems where they are not enjoying the freedom of speech, no free media, political rivalries are almost unacceptable. There is no clear way to choose the successor for the state, though Kyrgyzstan is a kind of half democratic system, so all these aspects led people or compelled them to join such terrorist groups. It is worth mentioning that many Central Asians are working as labour migrants in different parts of the world, especially in Russia as Diasporas. They are sending a considerable amount of remittances into their leaving countries from Russia, but they are facing many issues there as well. Most important is the behaviour of the local people with whom they are working and some government departments as well. They are recruiting people mainly from the people going into mosques in Russia because they know that these people have an Islamic pan idea. 

Strategists should come with a clear stance to make a policy that helps states to avoid the access of ISIS in the region. International cooperation is necessary to prevent further expansion of this lethal terrorist organization. In this regard, in my view, the number of surgical strikes should be increased to demise this acute disease, not to convert it into a chronic situation. Major Powers like Russia, the USA, and China should come to a consensus on several Middle East and Afghanistan issues to eliminate them. It is also necessary to have strong border patrol guards to protect illegal crossing of borders and to stop the flow of Central Asian terrorists into Turkey and Afghanistan, which are the nearest ways to join them. Once they join ISIS, they can easily access Central Asia when they have local people from the region. I think policymakers should keep some triggering forces in mind like nationalism, ideology, morality, ideas, and most importantly, national interests that motivate policy to shape a comprehensive plan against ISIS. Fortunately, nationalism is decreasing, and Central Asian people may not have any pan Turkic ideas.      

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Central Asia

CICA Meeting Seeks to Update Regional Cooperation and Dialogue

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The world has recently experienced sharp challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, while hopefully receding, has caused global economic problems that may take some time to resolve.

Meanwhile the crucial and dramatic changes in Afghanistan have clearly demonstrated that multilateralism has become the only possible approach to ensuring global stability, security and peace. Neither the pandemic and its consequences, nor regional tensions and crises can be resolved without dialogue and the cooperation of states at regional and global levels.

The influence of Asian countries in global developments will continue to increase due to the rapid economic and demographic growth of the region. Asia is on track to top 50 percent of global GDP by 2040. By that point, it is expected to account for 40 percent of the world’s total consumption. The region is making not only economic progress but rapid strides in human development. As noted by international observers, the question is no longer how quickly Asia will rise; it is how Asia will lead. Despite Asia’s remarkable rise, its family of nations are sometimes kept apart by difficult geography and even more difficult history.

For this reason, it is vital to ensure that there is space for Asian states to conduct dialogue in order to unite efforts on resolving key regional and global issues. The Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, an intergovernmental forum, is the most appropriate platform in the region to consolidate the collective wisdom of all Asian nations for peace, cooperation, security and development.

CICA has come a long way since the initiative to convene it was first proposed by the First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, at the 47th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in October 1992. Today, almost 30 years later, CICA brings together 27 Member States. The region covered by CICA stretches from the Pacific to the Mediterranean and from the Ural to the Indian Ocean, covering more than 50 percent of the world’s population.

The establishment of the CICA forum emerged from the firm belief that international progress can come about only through strong and effective partnerships. Since the first ministerial meeting, which took place in 1999, CICA has strived to enhance cooperation through elaborating multilateral approaches towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia.

Yet the world has changed dramatically in the past two decades. Asia has become a key driver of global economic growth and development. Multi-polarity has become the norm of international relations. Countries are actively cooperating thanks to globalization, yet at the same time nationalism is on the rise in many parts of the world. To adapt to these changes, the CICA forum must transform in order to continue to fulfil its important role.

Kazakhstan, as Chair of CICA for 2020-2022, has put forward a number of proposals aimed at making the forum more effective.

Firstly, we believe that it is time to gradually transform it into a fully-fledged international organisation that will be better equipped to cope with the fast-changing security environment and help to pursue developmental goals in our continent. CICA’s transformation into such an organisation will expand its capabilities to strengthen cooperation between the member states, cover the entire Asia with a system of deep mutual trust and mutual assistance, as well as increase its status and influence in the international arena.

Secondly, given the dramatic changes that impacted the world in the last two years, it is necessary to update the activities and areas of cooperation within CICA. Due to the threat of the current pandemic, as well as potential future health crises, it is necessary to consider the development of cooperation in the field of epidemiological security, public health and pharmaceuticals. In addition, digitalisation is an important field as the world moves further towards the use of digital technologies. We must also not forget about issues that have been of persistent importance over the last few years, including mitigating climate change, empowering women and youth.

Finally, given the global nature of current challenges, CICA and its member states must also focus on building partnership with other regional and global organisations, particularly the Eurasian Economic Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and others.

The overarching ambition of CICA is clear – to reduce global geopolitical tensions and threat of conflicts, and instead focus on collaboration and development, especially in Asia, where we share common values and aspirations. Ahead of the upcoming CICA Meeting of Foreign Ministers on 11-12 October in Kazakhstan, we must embrace the idea that CICA should be playing one of the key roles along with other international organisations in the region in achieving these common objectives. This will encourage Asian countries to build bridges among each other and shape a prosperous future in Asia.

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Central Asia

Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan: Marching Confidently Towards a Brighter Future

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As Uzbekistan celebrates 30 years of independence from former USSR, it is also the time that the nation is completing five years of rule by incumbent president Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

Mirziyoyev took power in September 2016, when the country’s first president – Islam Karimov, having ruled since 1991 – passed away, what was seen as a big shock for the entire nation. Since then, Mirziyoyev – elected formally to the presidency later that year – not only steered his nation out of that shock but also put the country on the road to globally-acknowledged reforms, uplift and progress.

Past five years have been a period of extraordinary reform, development and international prestige for this most populous nation of Central Asia. The new leader laid the foundation of a ‘New Uzbekistan’ with broad-based, comprehensive, inclusive and all-encompassing reforms in economic, political and social spheres.

Economic reforms were aimed primarily at liberalization of economy, moving towards free-market systems and regulations. These have born fruits significantly, with country’s economy growing at a healthy average rate, over past years. Output augmented – both in agriculture, and industrial sectors – and per capita incomes increased notably. Confidence of local and foreign investors in Uzbek economy deepened and international institutions started looking towards the country as a new bright spot for regional growth. Welfare of the people, especially the working class, has been put at the centre stage in these sets of reforms.

The democratic reforms, also seen as a model for the region by international observers, revolve around decentralization of power, political inclusiveness and transparency of the electoral processes. This transparency and fairness of electoral processes is noted with appreciation by all those observing the country’s political transformation. At the heart of this scheme of political reform lies the awareness and greater participation of masses, country’s people from all backgrounds and regions, in the political processes. All the segments of society feel the benefits of this process of political reform pouring down in the form of political empowerments at grassroots.

The country has emerged as one of the most attractive tourist destinations not only in the region but in the whole world. Much of it owes to focused development of tourism of ziaraats, as the country boats a rich cultural and religious heritage – making it a magnet for a large number of people from around the Muslim world, especially from countries such as Pakistan. Uzbekistan Airways, the national flag-carrier, is now one of the most important airlines connecting a sizeable number of countries and regions.

At international stage, country’s prestige has continuously been enhancing during past half a decade.  Mirziyoyev played a vital role in bringing the leaders of other four Central Asian republic to table, for re-start of the negotiations for the region’s integration. Uzbekistan’s efforts in this period for Afghanistan’s peace and stability and providing the Afghan people with an unattached opening towards Central Asia are noteworthy.

Uzbek president in recent couple of years has played a leading role for the whole wider region by promoting re-initiation and strengthening longstanding bonds and connectivity between Central and South Asia. The July 2021 conference held in Tashkent turned out to be the largest such initiative by Uzbek leadership under Mirziyoyev. Not only Pakistani PM and the then Afghan president were present but ministerial level leaders from some 30 countries and heads of several major international organizations also participated in the mega forum. I have no hesitation in saying that 2021 conference in Tashkent aimed at Central and South Asia connectivity has already started a journey that would not be stopped now; no matter how the things shape in the region. Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan railway would be the flagship imove of this journey.

As mentioned above, the reforms’ being all-encompassing may be witnessed from the special focus and attention on development of mass media, arts, sports and cultural activities – including the preservation and development of cultures of all the ethnic groups of the nation.

In the nutshell, Uzbekistan of today has assumed a much more vital position in the affairs of the region. The country’s people are now living peaceful, prosperous, content and confidence-filled lives, also basking in increasing international glory of their nation. The journey is all set to continue towards greater achievements and a brighter future.

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