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Central Asia

Can Kazakhstan prove Huntington wrong?

MD Staff

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Geography and politics undoubtedly conditioned Kazakhstan as a country. It is home to 140 ethnic groups and 17 religions in the intersection of different regions, continents and surely, civilizations, making it a very diverse, polyglot and multireligious nation in the median it remains to this day.

And although the conditions for the country were pre- written, the code of conduct had yet to be established and was dependant on the ruling authority and the Kazakhstan people. Luckily, the country chose the way of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, which keeps its many diverse hearts and minds in harmony. Kazakhstan was therefore able to piece together the mosaic of many different ethnics, religions, languages and nations that constitute it, creating a diverse but unified land everyone can call home.

Fresh in the independent years, this approach was largely under way inside the state borders, assuring a stable future for the newly introduced political entity. But in the aftermath of 9/11, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev decided to more aggressively and visibly promote the need for greater understanding among peoples in the global arena. Consequently, year 2003 saw the continuation of these domestic policies to the international community with the introduction of Astana- based Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which has since become a prominent triennial platform for interfaith dialogue and was last held this year on June 10th and 11th. The purpose of this Congress is predominantly the interaction between different religious leaders and the peaceful addressing of common threats such as terrorism, extremism, violence and other maleficent sprouts of religious beliefs. The purpose of the conference is also genuine effort to set the course for a more harmonious development of the world, break the hostile stereotypes and inspire many ways in which different beliefs can compliment, learn, grow and cooperate with one another. Kazakhstani president has emphasized many times that religious leaders have always played an integral role in strengthening their societies and now more than ever, considering the current situation in the world, they must work together towards greater regional and global stability. All of the above is of course intertwined with the ever present promotion of non- proliferation, prevention of drug trafficking and strengthening of the environmental security by Kazakhstan and its president.

Since Kazakhstan is home to an 80% Muslim population with additional 20% cacophony of various religious beliefs, all of them peacefully coexisting, it is a perfect country to host and initiate such events. In 2012, Astana was a host city of the International Forum, devoted to launching the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures, starting from 2013 all the way to 2022. The Forum was attended by many high ranking UN officials, prominent members of the UNESCO High Level Group for Peace and Dialogue of Cultures and experts of ethics and cross- cultural communication, discussing the further development of intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity. In this frame, Kazakhstan was applauded for its considerable skill with commencing and fostering inter- ethnical communication inside the country and the potential of the spill- over effect such successful inter- state policies can provide for the global community. This unique experience of inter-ethnic, inter-religious and inter-cultural communication, accumulated by Kazakhstan, can surely set an example to many countries.

The Kazakhstan government also continuously strives to provide for all the necessary elements and conditions for the evolvement of various different cultures and traditions, inside and outside state borders alike. As a result of these efforts, more than 800 different ethno- cultural associations operate in Kazakhstan, in addition to 384 missionaries from all over the world. Therefore, instead of separating, Astana is very keen in building bridges. Being located on the intersection of civilizations, Kazakhstan likes to see its global role as the gateway to rapprochement of East and West, Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam and much more. The relevance of this is additionally determined by the course of history itself, hereby especially referring to the globalization processes of the modern world, increased migration flows, the emergence of new national, cultural, religious and other minorities, ethnic and religious conflicts. In such terms efforts, continuously made by Kazakhstan and its leadership, are even more important.

In the recent years, the activities of Kazakhstan in promoting inter- cultural dialogue among civilizations and nations have escalated and its reputation as a tolerant and open- minded country seems to have solidified in the eyes of the international community. Astana also has a solid record of international mediation efforts so far and consequently, the role the country has in global politics has risen vertically and expanded horizontally. Many experts agree that the role of the mediator and peacemaker president Nazarbayev holds and promotes is both an opportunity and a challenge. Thorough the years he has proved to be a reliable partner and an active international player. In his efforts to show that Kazakhstan can play the international communication platform between the East and the West, combined with the country`s support for non- proliferation efforts, he tried to initiate to host talks on Iranian nuclear issue in Almaty. Furthermore, he continues to work towards normalization of relations between Russia and Ukraine and since Kazakhstan has very fruitful and cooperative relations with both Russia and Europe, the efforts are met with high hopes from the bystanders. As a result, Astana was already host to four- way summit between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France.

Therefore, not accidently, in the last grand strategy of Kazakhstan “Kazakhstan 2050”, it is clearly stated: “The world is undergoing an acute crisis of outlook and values. We increasingly hear voices heralding the clash of civilizations, the end of history and the failure of multiculturalism. It is critically important that we stay away from this kind of discourse, preserving our time-tested values. We know exactly how we turned what was called our Achilles heel – multi-ethnicity and multi-religious reality – into an advantage. We must learn to live in co-existence of cultures and religions. We must be committed to dialogue between cultures and civilizations. Only in dialogue with other nations our country will be able to succeed and gain influence in the future. In the 21st century Kazakhstan must strengthen its position of a regional leader and become the bridge for dialogue and interaction between East and West. “

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Central Asia

Kazakh court case tests Chinese power

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Kazakh court is set to put to the test China’s ability to impose its will and strongarm Muslim nations into remaining silent about its brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

The court will hear an appeal by a former worker in one of Xinjiang’s multiple re-education camps against the rejection of her request for asylum. The appeal illustrates the political quagmire faced by Central Asian nations and Turkey given their ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties to China’s estimated 11 million Turkic Muslims that include 1.5 million people of Kazakh descent.

It also highlights China’s risky bet on being able to leverage its economic power to ensure the Muslim world’s silence about what amounts to the most concerted effort in recent history to reshape Muslim religious practice.

Up to one million Turkic Muslims have, according to the United Nations, been detained in a network of re-education camps in which they are being forced to accept the superiority of Chinese Communist Party beliefs and the leadership of President Xi Jinping above the precepts of Islam.

Beyond the camps, Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, a strategic minerals-rich province bordering on eight Central and South Asian nations that China has turned into a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state, are forced to refrain from religious practice and custom in public.

After denying the existing of the camps for the longest period of time, China last month felt obliged to acknowledge them and give them legal cover.

Authorities in Xinjiang amended their anti-extremism regulations “to allow local governments to set up institutions to provide people affected by extremist thoughts with vocational skills training and psychological counselling.” China asserts that the crackdown is intended to counter extremism, separatism and terrorism.

China’s acknowledgement was designed to counter the UN report, threats of US sanctions against officials and companies involved in the Xinjiang crackdown, and revelations by 41-year-old Sayragul Sauytbay, a Chinese national of Kazakh descent.

Ms. Sauytbay testified in an open Kazakh court that she had been employed in a Chinese re-education camp for Kazakhs only that had 2,500 inmates. She said she was aware of two more such camps reserved for Kazakhs.

Ms. Sauytbay was standing trial for entering Kazakhstan illegally after having been detained at China’s request.

She told the court that she had escaped to Kazakhstan after being advised by Chinese authorities that she would never be allowed to join her family because of her knowledge of the camps. Ms. Sauytbay was given a six-month suspended sentence and released from prison to join her recently naturalized husband and children.

Since then, Ms. Sauytbay’s application for asylum has been rejected and she has until the end of October to leave Kazakhstan. She hopes that an appeal court will reverse the rejection.

Ms. Sauytbay’s case puts the Kazakh government between a rock and a hard place and is but one of a string of recent cracks in the Muslim wall of silence.

Kazakh authorities have to balance a desire to kowtow to Chinese demands with a growing anti-Chinese sentiment that demands that the government stand up for its nationals as well as Chinese nationals of Kazakh descent.

Ms. Sauytbay’s revelations that ethnic Kazakhs were also targeted in the Chinese crackdown sparked angry denunciations in Kazakhstan’s parliament.

“There should be talks taking place with the Chinese delegates. Every delegation that goes there should be bringing this topic up… The key issue is that of the human rights of ethnic Kazakhs in any country of the world being respected,” said Kunaysh Sultanov, a member of parliament and former deputy prime minister and ambassador to China.

In a further crack, Malaysia this week released 11 Uyghurs who were detained after having escaped detention in Thailand.

The Uyghurs were allowed to leave the country for Turkey. The move, coming in the wake of a decision by Germany and Sweden to suspend deportations of Uyghurs to China, puts on the spot countries like Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, where Uyghurs risk extradition.

Malaysia’s release of the Uyghurs occurred days before Anwar Ibrahim took the first hurdle in becoming the country’s next prime minister by this weekend winning a parliamentary by election.

Mr. Ibrahim last month became the Muslim world’s most prominent politician to speak out about the crackdown in Xinjiang.

Earlier, Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) party and head of its Policy and Strategy Bureau, cautioned that “that geographical proximity cannot be taken advantage by China to ride roughshod over everything that Malaysia holds dear, such as Islam, democracy, freedom of worship and deep respect for every country’s sovereignty… On its mistreatment of Muslims in Xinjiang almost en masse, Malaysia must speak up, and defend the most basic human rights of all.”

Pakistan’s Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony minister, Noorul Haq Qadri, was forced to raise the issue of Turkic Muslims with Chinese ambassador Yao Xing under pressure from Pakistanis whose spouses and relatives had been detained in the Xinjiang crackdown.

Ms. Sauytbay’s appeal for asylum is likely to refocus public opinion in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations on the plight of their Turkic brethren.

She will not be deported, we will not allow it,” said Ms. Sauytbay’s lawyer, Abzal Kuspanov.

Mr. Kuspanov’s defense of Ms. Sauytbay is about far more than the fate of a former Chinese re-education camp employee. It will serve as a barometer of China’s ability to impose its will. If China succeeds, it will raise the question at what price. The answer to that is likely to only become apparent over time.

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Central Asia

Why the upcoming Congress of the Leaders of World is so vital for peace and prosperity

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev

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Religion has been, and remains, an immense spiritual force for good in our world. The shared values which underpin all world’s major faiths have positively moulded how we treat each other. Religious beliefs give direction, comfort and hope to billions of people.

Religious communities appear to have enormous potential for addressing today’s social problems. Faith groups across the globe are prominent in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and caring for the vulnerable.  Our world would be poorer without the impact of religion on our lives.

Throughout history, religion has also been exploited to sow divisions. Instead of bringing people together and encouraging them to behaving decently toward each other, it has been abused to fuel suspicions and hatred, spread confusion about the true essence of religion. We are facing the problem of ignoring what religions have in common and exaggerating and distorting the difference between, and at times within, faiths.

The abuse of religion continues and is undermining hopes for peace and progress. In recent years, many thousands have died and millions more had to flee their homes in conflicts, in which religion has been used to justify discrimination and violence. Countering these dangerous distortions is one of the challenges that religious leaders should address.

There is no single answer. Yet at the heart of the solution is dialogue between religions to foster understanding and respect. This is an overarching aim of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions which is to be held for the sixth time in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana this month (October.)

The Congress was initiated by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev amid the growing religious tensions and extremism following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States. He believed it was critical that the opportunity be provided for religious leaders to work together to prevent religion being used to divide us.

His vision has struck a chord across the world. The Congress, which takes place every three years since 2003 has engaged prominent religious leaders and politicians from different countries around most pressing issues. By 2015, the number of delegations attending had increased from 23 to 80. High-profile attendees included then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, King Abdullah of Jordan and President of Finland Sauli Niinistö. Discussions centred on the role of religion in promoting development and measures to reduce appeal of violent extremism among young people.

The Sixth Congress, which takes place on October 10-11, will build on this efforts. Its focus is on how religious leaders can work together to play their full part in creating a secure world and prevent faith being abused to set people against each other.

Located at a crossroads of different civilizations, Kazakhstan has placed greater importance on promoting religious harmony and mutual respect. Our country’s history and geography have combined to create a society in which people of many different backgrounds and faiths live within single boundaries. Religious freedom has become a precious asset of our nation, which allows diverse beliefs to peacefully coexist and helps us to negotiate any concerns in a constructive spirit.

Such a mixture could have been, as it has been the case in other countries, a worrying source of tension and conflict. Despite negative expectations such diversity has been turned into a strength in our society where citizens are equally respected and are able to make their full contribution to the common welfare.

As a matter of fact, while Kazakhstan’s population may be largely Muslim, followers of all traditional faiths live in harmony with each other, are free to worship and enjoy equal rights guaranteed by the constitution. It is a source not only of national pride but has also been an indispensable platform for our stability and prosperity at home and growing influence abroad.

In this turbulent world, dialogue and mutual respect has never been more important. Nor has it been more critical to provide the forum where religious and political leaders can work together to prevent any distortion of faith for violent ends. The upcoming Congress is so vital for peace and prosperity.

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Central Asia

Reforms Can Accelerate Economic Diversification in Kazakhstan

MD Staff

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Kazakhstan’s future growth depends on reforms that provide a level playing field for the private sector and support economic diversification, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) Country Diagnostic Study launched today.

The study, Kazakhstan: Accelerating Economic Diversification, identifies the most binding constraints to growth and provides in-depth analysis of structural reforms that will bring the country to its growth potential. The report finds that consistent and successful reform efforts can add an average of 1.2 percentage points per year to Kazakhstan’s gross domestic product.

“Kazakhstan needs to accelerate structural reforms to support the country’s economic diversification,” said ADB Country Director for Kazakhstan Mr. Giovanni Capannelli. “These reforms include improving the country’s business climate, enhancing competitiveness, and increasing private sector participation in the economy.”

Kazakhstan’s economy has transformed since its independence in 1991, mainly due to a surge in oil and gas exports. While the country achieved middle-income status in 2006, the downturn of oil and other commodity prices in 2014 exposed the country’s vulnerability to external shocks and constrained government revenues.

Future growth will depend on identifying sectors in which Kazakhstan has a strong growth potential, according to the study. These include food processing, basic metals, and chemicals. In agriculture, redirecting subsidies toward investment in infrastructure, improving access to finance, and promoting innovation can substantially boost productivity. Greater investment in infrastructure is essential to provide a link to unexploited markets, decrease transport costs, and support the production of tradable goods. Transit trade has a large growth potential, while increasing the efficiency of transport infrastructure can generate additional growth from other tradable sectors such as manufacturing, the report said.

ADB began supporting Kazakhstan in 1994 and has since approved over $5 billion in sovereign loans, nonsovereign loans, and guarantees. ADB operations in Kazakhstan are helping open up transport routes, foster private enterprise, address inequalities, promote inclusive growth, and deliver knowledge products and services. ADB also contributes to Kazakhstan’s participation in the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program.

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