Kazakhstan, in an attempt to build its reputation as mediator and the leading country in Central Asia, is seeking a position on the 15-member nonpermanent United Nations Security Council for 2017-2018.
Kazakhstan outlined its global priorities for its position on the prestigious governing and security body via the “Kazakhstan: United Nations Security Council 2017-2018” web site. Kazakhstan’s priorities are: food security, water security, energy security and nuclear security. The campaign for Kazakhstan’s seat for 2017-2018 launched in September 2014; the Government of Kazakhstan declared its candidacy for the seat on 1 June 2010. A promotional video was also released in late 2013.
The four priorities are vital to the stability of the Central Asia states particularly the issue of water security as the Aral Sea is nearly depleted and diplomatic spats between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan over water resources and the Rogun Dam. Water and energy security are the most prominent as the Central Asia states are primarily land locked developing countries and are resource rich. Many attempts have been made by Kazakhstan to rectify this issue through agreements: Concerning Use of Water and Energy Resources in Syr Darya River Basin (1998); A Kazakh-Chinese Joint Commission on the Use and Protection of Transboundary Rivers has been founded to regulate the use of water resources with China and resuscitating the Aral Sea. Kazakhstan’s Working Paper for the UNSC is already available on Kazakhstan’s UNSC website.
Kazakhstan’s current international commitments (even if unmet) and current programs are consistent with UNSC priorities: Initiated the Congress of Leaders and Traditional Religions, Launched the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), and held the chairmanship of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010.
Kazakhstan maximizes the benefits of high-profile positions in seemingly low-level and weak organizations and committees. While the Chairmanship of the OSCE should not be downplayed— as Kazakhstan is a consolidated autocracy and the first former Soviet Republic to hold the position— the OSCE has been perceived as weak and unable to enforce its mandate and compliance. The organization failed to hold countries accountable for their human rights violations and make headway on transparency. Having a human rights violator (Kazakhstan) as the lead for Europe’s primary watchdog group was expected to damage the OSCE’s reputation. Kazakhstan’s location in a “rough neighborhood” made Kazakhstan a great candidate “to advance the organization’s mandate, invigorate efforts to settle existing conflicts, and generate discussions on important security, economic, and human development matters” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Kazakhstan’s legacy was adding a “Eurasian dimension,” by “highlighting security problems stemming from the Afghan conflict, potential failed states, destabilizing economic and environmental problems, and vexing human rights issues.”
Kazakhstan has failed to implement the principles of OSCE and its own commitments. Human rights in Kazakhstan before and after the OSCE chairmanship were poor. Journalists continued to be jailed, freedom of speech and religion is restricted, and the government imprisons human rights defenders and activists. After Kazakhstan’s 2010 chairmanship, the country struggles to consolidate democratic reforms, create a multi-political party system, guarantee freedom of press/speech and human and political rights for all. Arbitrary detention is still rampant despite the government passing the National Prevention Mechanism on Torture in 2014 according to Human Rights Watch. Laws established to support human rights are sophistry and are never enforced, but are passed to make it appear that Kazakhstan is upholding its obligations. Kazakhstan has made great strides compared to many of its neighbors falling behind and struggling with implementing basic governance.
Kazakhstan is scooping up high-profile chairmanships in regional organizations for two primary reasons: to advance Kazakhstan’s image as a peacemaker and mediator; and to fulfill President Nazarbayev’s vision for Kazakhstan of being the “Eurasian Bridge,” linking Asia to Europe. With a track record of high participation in international organizations, Kazakhstan can benefit from and build lasting trade and political and economic relationships. Obtaining the UNSC seat reinforces Nazarbayev’s multi-vector foreign policy and adds diversity to the Asia bloc of countries of the 15 member UNSC.
If granted the 2017-2018 UNSC seat, Kazakhstan would be able to move beyond its regional problems while addressing global issues most importantly nuclear security and energy security. Kazakhstan has experience with global threats (nuclear security), extremism, and terrorism. This includes, but not limited to, renewing and strengthening arms control agreements, cracking down on organized crime involving nuclear materials, and negotiating intra-regional water agreements/arrangements in Central Asia. Kazakhstan’s history with nuclear work can be considered soft diplomacy: passing the annual “International Day Against Nuclear Tests” (29 August); and starting the NGO, the ATOM project, aimed at stopping nuclear testing and to bring awareness about the physical and environmental devastation caused by nuclear testing.
Kazakhstan, while pursuing these initiatives, offers the UNSC non-permanent Security Council distinct advantages. Kazakhstan would expectedly act as a mediator, but many members such as Russia and China, may attempt to exploit Kazakhstan’s membership, calling on Kazakhstan for support, as China and Russia tend to veto and block actions by other UNSC members. Kazakhstan, in such a scenario, would most likely abstain or make the decision reinforcing its “mediation” stance. This would be no surprise to Russia. From an international security perspective (beyond the issue of nuclear terrorism), Kazakhstan aligns itself with Russia-led organizations as they primarily deal with regional issues such as separatism, extremism, and terrorism. Kazakhstan would also serve as the outlier of the Soviet states (along with the Baltics) that is able to disagree with Russia without retaliation. As a result of the multi-vector foreign policy, Kazakhstan has friendly (or stable) relationship with most P5 members.
India supports Kazakhstan’s seat on the 15 member UNSC as “both leaders affirmed their commitment to the negotiations on comprehensive reform of the council.” According to the Astana Times, “Nazarbayev reiterated his country’s support for India’s application to be a permanent member of the expanded UN Security Council.” If both India and Kazakhstan were to become members, their policies would be mutually reinforced as India is recognizing the strategic importance of Central Asia and in recent months increased relations with Kazakhstan. India became a full member of the SCO on 11 July 2015. Kazakhstan’s and India’s presence on the council would challenge the notion that developing countries or “countries in transition” are unable to fulfill the role of power players and would balance out the P5.
As global issues are no longer dominated by a hegemon or a bipolar power structure and cooperation is conducted on a regional level, the UNSC membership is expected to reflect the shift.
Kazakhstan’s relations and memberships are on a regional level, but memberships in organizations like the SCO, CSTO, and the EAEU have not provided Kazakhstan the opportunity to make impactful decisions and author substantial policy. Kazakhstan relies on bilateral or multilateral relationships and organizations to execute its policy or to project ideas. Kazakhstan’s involvement with organizations like the SCO and CSTO have been narrowly focused primarily on economics and security respectively and often Russia and China set the agenda. Debate continues over the proportionality of representation and “geopolitical shifts have led to the radical changes in the distribution of power, interstate interactions on the global playing field, economic fluctuations, and the growth of political confidence of rising nations.”
Kazakhstan within the last ten years has increased participation and has expanded its reach not only through natural resource markets and trade, but also diplomatically. Kazakhstan’s further integration is demonstrated accession to the World Trade Organization. Mediating high level talks between Syrian rebels (late May 2015), Iran Nuclear Talks (February and April 2013), and the Ukraine Peace Talks with individual leaders (Putting and Poroshenko) the Normandy Group—France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine. The talks in Kazakhstan in February and April 2013 made little progress, but were lauded by the Kazakhstan Government as Astana has “consistently advocated for peaceful dialogue and negotiations” and “Kazakhstan “was proud to have made a practical contribution to the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear [program.]”
Kazakhstan may not be able to convince Russia or China on many pressing global security issues, but Kazakhstan’s participation on the UNSC might mitigate some tension. It is unlikely that Kazakhstan’s participation would end badly for Kazakhstan as many of the agitators on the P5—China and Russia—have too much to lose to endanger their diplomatic relations with Kazakhstan. By winning a seat on the UNSC, Kazakhstan will be able to continue its policies it wished to implement during time overseeing the OSCE to better its country and nations facing the same issues.
Kazakh President Tokaev introduces reforms
Authors: Srimal Fernando and Kirtan Bhana*
Political transformation will make Kazakhstan a success story. Political reforms will ignite progress in economic reforms this, according to President Tokaev as he met with the National Council of Public Trust in Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana), the Kazakh capital on December 20.
The Council, created by President Tokaev . in July is entrusted with facilitating the reforms through interactions and discussions with the general public, political parties, civil society and business. Composed of 44 public figures the Council is representative of the broader Kazakh demographic.
‘Different Opinions, One Nation’ said the President as he introduced new measures that guarantee the fundamental rights and freedoms to all its citizens. These measures will deepen the public discourse allowing for debate and open engagement on issues that affect all Kazakhs.
The emotive issue of land and its effective use was top on the list of challenges to be tackled by the Tokaev Presidency. Apart from the unbreakable link to ancestry and heritage the economic value of the land is priceless. Kazakhstan is listed as the 9th largest country in the world with a relatively small population of around 19 million people. On this issue, my position is adamant: only those who are able to cultivate the land deserve to be its owner stated Tokaev. The Ministry of Agriculture is implementing a pilot project to monitor unused land through remote earth sensing, and to increase the base tax rate for those who own but do not use their land from 10 to 20 times.
Growing the private sector and reducing the economic involvement of state businesses in competitive markets and adjusting the quota of foreign labour by 40% were also proposed.
On Foreign debt President Tokaev instructed The Ministries of the National Economy, Finance and the National Bank to develop a Unified Register of External Debt in the form of a digitised database by April 2020.
Stabilising the Tenge (the currency in Kazakhstan) to increase public and investor confidence, a new monetary policy strategy will be adopted. The National Bank will, from 1 January, announce the exchange rate of the National Fund’s currency market on a monthly basis.
Modernizing the pension system, jobs for disabled people, state allowances and social packages for low-income households will be increased by over 70%. In addition school going children from these families will receive free school meals, uniforms and kits, as well as free transportation to and from school. These were among other social services measures presented to the council.
Political reforms were central to the President’s remarks. A draft law on political rallies will outline the correct registration procedures of political rallies and will determine the status of the organiser(s), participants, observers and their respective rights and obligations. A minimum membership threshold needed to register a political party will be reduced from 40,000 to 20,000 members. Women and Youth candidates must make up 30% of party election lists. A law will be passed to allow representatives from other parties to hold Chair positions on some Parliamentary committees, in order to foster alternative views and opinions.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is tasked to begin the process of acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which deals with abolishing the death penalty. Article 130 of the Criminal Code on defamation will be decriminalised and transferred to the Administrative Code.
Key Domestic reforms include the transition of the Kazakh language from a Cyrillic to a Latin alphabet will necessitate a modernising of the language system and require a scientific approach.
“Much depends on simple values that are cherished by our people, in the family, in everyday life. Frankly speaking, today people are tired of the world full of aggression and conflict. Therefore, we must spread good intentions and good actions. We should be kind, benevolent and principled – this is the driving force of sustainable development and spiritual revival,” said President Tokaev as he concluded his speech.
*Kirtan Bhana in the Founding Editor and Travel Envoy for the Diplomatic Society of South Africa.
Kazakhstan: Celebrating 28 Years of Independence
Authors: Srimal Fernando and Kirtan Bhana
In Kazakhstan, like in many other nations around the globe, Independence Day is commemorated by conferring awards, national orders and medals on those that have made exemplary contributions to statehood. On December 16, 1991 the Constitutional Independence Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan was passed making Kazakhstan the last of the Soviets to leave the Union and declare sovereignty.
Many other milestones followed this historic date for the Kazakh people, including membership of the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1992 and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1994. This year also marks the tenth anniversary of the closing of the world’s second largest Nuclear Test Site at Semipalatinsk by the historic decree of Nursultan Nazarbayev, First President of Kazakhstan, which paved the way for the adoption in 1996 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – CTBT. The country was declared a nuclear weapon free country.
Located strategically in the heart of Central Asia, Kazakhstan shares a 6800km border with Russia and a1700km border with China. Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan are the other three regional neighbours. Kazakhstan is considered a landlocked country but adjoins a large part of the Caspian Sea in the west.
The Kazakh people elected a Presidential system of government with two chambers of parliament. There are 14 political parties; Nur-Otan is the current ruling party. The lower house is the Mazhilis, with 107 seats and the upper house is the Senate which has 47 members. Women representation in national and local government is steadily increasing.
Having diplomatic relations with over 120 countries, Kazakhstan has a clear multi-vector international relations policy and has achieved much on the global stage in almost three decades of independence. Being elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Kazakhstan was further crowned by being elected as president of the UNSC for 2018. Its stance on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is well known and so is its support for the transformation of the UNSC. Kazakhstan also presented a proposal for ending terrorism in the world by 2025 during its presidency.
Kazakhstan has become a fully integrated member of the international community joining many multilateral organizations, and bilateral treaties and agreements. Turkey was the first country to present letter of credence for the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador to Kazakhstan.
The radical transformation of the economic to a free market has seen large foreign direct invest flows into the country, growing the economy to become the most significant in the Central Asian region. New president KassymJomart Tokayev has introduced a raft of new measures that are directly aimed at stimulating enterprise, entrepreneurship and small business development. Other reforms introduced are motivation for Kazakhstan to become one of the top 30 economic nations.
Islam was introduced to Kazakhstan in the 7th century. Its ancient history is steeped in nomadic life of hunters and animal rearing. The philosophy of Al-Farabi and the poetry of Abai is legendary and filled with folklore. The dombra, a string instrument, is at the very essence of Kazakh culture and resonates with the music of love and heartache.
Modern and contemporary art forms, classical music and ballet have also found place in Kazakh society as the younger generations narrate poetry in restaurants. This together with the Kazakh’s nomadic heritage, Islamic traditions and modern art and culture has become an attraction for tourists looking for new and dynamic destinations to experience and explore. Its breath-taking landscapes and abundant natural beauty and the snow-capped mountains offers much to the intrepid traveller as it emerges as a unified nation with much potential, opportunities and prospects.
Poverty Continues to Decline, but Pace of Poverty Reduction is Slowing in Central Asia
Although poverty rates in Central Asia continue to decline overall, the pace of poverty reduction is slowing, according to new data released by the World Bank. High levels of poverty remain in pockets of rural and remote areas, which also suffer from lack of employment opportunities, say new Poverty Outlooks for Central Asian countries, released ahead of International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October.
“The good news is that Central Asia continues to make progress towards eliminating poverty,” says Lilia Burunciuc, World Bank Country Director for Central Asia “However, poverty reduction is happening much less quickly than before. Rekindling inclusive growth should therefore be among the region’s most urgent priorities.”
Since the 2000s, all Central Asian countries have made significant progress in reducing poverty, but most of this progress occurred in the first few years of that decade. In the eight years from 2002 to 2009, the poverty rate dropped an average of seven percentage points per year in both Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic – down from nearly 70 percent to 25 percent in Tajikistan and to 20 percent in the Kyrgyz Republic. Since then, however, poverty rates have fallen much more slowly: by only one percentage point per year on average in Tajikistan (from 25 percent to a projected 13 percent in 2019), and by nearly zero in the Kyrgyz Republic, stalling at about 20 percent from 2009 through to today.
Poverty in Kazakhstan was already lower in the early 2000s and declined at a rate of four percentage points per year from 2002 to 2009, at which point the country had almost eliminated poverty, as measured by the low-middle-income indicator of $3.20 per day. However, when measured by the upper-middle-income indicator of $5.50 per day, the poverty rate in Kazakhstan reached its lowest point in 2013, at about 6 percent, and since then has remained stuck above 7 percent.
The slowing rate of poverty reduction in Central Asian countries reflects several economic challenges, as well as difficulties securing jobs with decent incomes for vulnerable groups of the population.
Youth and women in the region are most likely to struggle with unemployment or low incomes. In Uzbekistan, World Bank data shows that over 25 percent of women aged 15-24 were unemployed in 2018, compared to 13 percent of men in the same age group. In the Kyrgyz Republic, 15 percent of women aged 15-28 were unemployed at that time, compared to only 9 percent of men in the same age group.
Recently published poverty maps for Central Asian countries reveal that many of the remaining poverty hotspots in the region are in rural areas that lack close integration with urban growth centers. This is especially pertinent for parts of Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, where poverty rates are above 40 percent in the most remote districts.
The analysis also finds that the middle-class in Central Asia is almost entirely concentrated in and around a handful of big cities: Nur-Sultan, Almaty, Tashkent, and to a lesser extent, in Dushanbe and Bishkek. One of the main challenges faced by all countries in the region is ensuring that people are not excluded from these dynamic labor markets.
The World Bank recommends policies that provide greater employment opportunities for people, expanding the availability of affordable housing in growing and prosperous cities, encouraging faster wage growth, and supporting vulnerable groups so they can be more competitive in the labor market.
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