[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap]hat the future held the evening of Dec. 26, 1991 was far from certain. At 7:32 pm local time the flag of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was lowered for the last time in front of the Kremlin. And with that, the sprawling empire of the Soviet Union ended and 15 former republics were on their own.
More than 125 million people, thousands of businesses, tens of thousands of workers and countless public services that had counted on the centralised government in Moscow for their very survival, were forced to start again, to build not only governments and economic systems but cultures and national identities. It was a daunting prospect fraught with challenge and uncertainty.
One of those former 15 republics set adrift, however, has met those challenges and exceeded expectations with an economy-first domestic policy that has embraced its historic ethnic and religious diversity to create a stable, growing economy and proud, dynamic citizenry.
Kazakhstan, a country with the land size of Western Europe but only 17 million people, has seized the opportunity to rebuild and, in just a short quarter-century, is on its way to being counted among the world’s most developed nations.
Harnessing its abundant oil and gas resources, the country has attracted more than $226 billion in foreign direct investments over the last decade alone and despite a slowdown during the recent global economic crisis, has enjoyed consistent GDP growth. Despite being home to more than 130 ethnicities and more than a dozen religions, Kazakhstan has enjoyed extraordinary peace and stability among its population.
Kazakhstan has also become a world leader in nuclear non-proliferation, having renounced the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, and worked hard as a positive international force for peace and diplomatic solutions to international conflicts.
Kazakhstan was recently elected to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the first Central Asian nation to do so, and has hosted the peace talks involving all sides of the conflict in Syria this year. These successes, however, have not come by chance, but have been the results of long-term, strategic planning initiated by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
In 1997, the country adopted its Kazakhstan 2030 development programme, focusing on key sectors of stability and growth. And in 2012, just 20 years after achieving independence, the Kazakh President announced that the goals of the 2030 plan had been achieved 18 years ahead of schedule and that the country was laying out an even a more ambitious plan. The country announced its Kazakhstan 2050 programme designed to place Kazakhstan within the world’s 30 most-developed nations by mid-century.
“We adopted the Kazakhstan Strategy 2050 so that the people of Kazakhstan would firmly hold the helm of the future of the country in their hands,” Nazarbayev said in January 2014.
The strategy hopes to achieve its ambitious goal by focusing on seven priorities: economic pragmatism, comprehensive support for entrepreneurship, an improved social policy, a modern education system to produce a skilled workforce, a consistent foreign policy focus on domestic, regional and international security, a more developed democracy and a promotion of Kazakh patriotism.
While these priorities provide a roadmap, the country and the President realise that policy goals are not enough. Those policy positions must be based on broader, unifying principles.
“Strategic planning is a ‘number one’ rule in the 21st century, because no wind will be favourable unless a country does not know its route and destination harbour. Strategy Kazakhstan 2050, as a guiding beacon, allows us to solve our people’s everyday issues, while also keeping our priority aims in mind. This means that we should improve the life of our nation not in 30 or 50 years’ time, but do so every year,” said Nazarbayev.
Among the principles Nazarbayev has announced are a focus on evolutionary rather than revolutionary change. It is a realisation that change occurs over time and is achieved when all actions steer toward a clear objective.
The country also hopes to more deeply integrate into the regional and global economy, and, most importantly, continually strive to improve the lives of everyday Kazakhs.
The value of the Kazakhstan 2050 plan and its ambitious goal to be among the 30 most developed nations by mid-century is that it gives not only the Kazakh people but all members of the Kazakh government a clear objective. And they have responded.
The government has approved the “Plan of the Nation: 100 Concrete Steps to Implement Five Constitutional Reforms” to achieve specific institutional reforms. Among these are a consistent rule of law and more accountable government.
The country has also unveiled modernisation efforts across industries and sectors, including agriculture, transport, logistics, real estate, education, healthcare and social protection of the population, among others.
And in a significant step in its development as a democracy and as a developed nation, the President and Parliament have this year approved legislation decentralising presidential power and more proportionally distributing authority back to the legislature under a set of constitutional reforms.
“We are witnessing the beginning of a new, largely unclear, historical cycle. And it is impossible to occupy a place in an advanced group, preserving the old model of consciousness and thinking. Therefore, it is important to concentrate, go through changes, adapt to changing conditions and take the best of what the new era offers,” Nazarbayev wrote in a recent address to the nation.
It is that embrace and harnessing of the country’s unique history and population coupled with clear long-term objectives, such as those in Kazakhstan Strategy 2050, that will likely serve Kazakhstan as well over the next quarter-century as they have since the flag was lowered on the Soviet Union and a new nation was born just more than 25 years ago.
Preventing Violent Extremism through Education in Central Asia
The UNESCO Almaty Cluster Office in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and UNESCO Headquarters, in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), held a Sub-regional workshop on the prevention of violent extremism through education on 13-15 November in Almaty.
UNESCO’s approach to preventing violent extremism through education is related to its work on Global Citizenship Education (GСED). Based on its long-standing commitment to peace and human rights education, the GCED strives to foster respect for all, create a sense of belonging to humanity and help students become responsible and active citizens. Thus, the GCED creates conditions for strengthening students’ commitment to renouncing violence and peace and creating conditions for protection from hatred, discrimination and violent extremism.
The workshop was organized within the framework of the partnership of UNESCO and UNODC on “Education in the spirit of global citizenship in support of the rule of law”. It strengthened the capacity of education stakeholders to implement educational measures and approaches to prevent violent extremism in an effective and appropriate manner. More specifically, the workshop provided a common discussion platform for a clearer understanding of the issues of violent extremism in the Central Asian region, as well as discussed new tools and innovative approaches and drew up a plan for further action to prevent violent extremism through education in Central Asia.
During the workshop, the participants also had a chance to visit the Nazarbayev Intellectual School and Almaty State College of Tourism and Hospitality Industry and observe open classes on global citizenship education and values.
The workshop brought together education stakeholders from all over Central Asia, including representatives from the ministries of education and community development, universities and research institutes, as well as youth organizations and civil society. International experts from France, UNODC, UNESCO as well as other UN agencies and international organizations also took part in the event.
Developing the IT sector will make Central Asia more united and independent
This September marked the second anniversary of the death of Islam Karimov, the former President of Uzbekistan, and the de-facto accession to power of Shavkat Mirziyoyev (who was later officially elected to the presidency in December 2016).
In record-breaking time President Mirziyoyev solved border disputes with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – which had previously been considered unsolvable, significantly strengthened relations with Kazakhstan, conducted sweeping economic reforms, and opened Uzbekistan to foreign investments.
The activity of the new reformist president led to positive changes not only in Uzbekistan itself, but in the region as a whole. The change of power in Uzbekistan – the most highly populated Central Asian country, located right in the middle of the region – marked the beginning of the Central Asian Spring, which, in contrast to the Arab Spring, has been characterized by gradual reforms and, above all, economic liberalization.
In March 2018, for the first time since the beginning of the 2000’s, a summit of the Central Asian countries’ leaders took place in Astana, Kazakhstan. It was attended by presidents of every country in the region (except Turkmenistan which was represented by the Chair of the country’s parliament). This summit, along with a notable strengthening of connections between the two most prominent countries of the region – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – laid the ground for talks regarding the creation of a new regional union, the goal of which would be to strengthen the economic independence of the Central Asian region, and later its political independence as well.
The first attempts at economic unification of Central Asian countries date back to the mid-1990’s, and were being undertaken as late as the mid-2000’s. However, each time those attempts were beset with insurmountable obstacles – the position of the late Uzbek president Islam Karimov who basically isolated Uzbekistan from any foreign influence, the border conflicts between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and the personal ambitions of the Central Asian countries’ leaders.
It is rather ironic that Uzbekistan – which for а long time halted the process of regional integration – is today, along with Kazakhstan, its primary moving force. Riding the wave of “the Uzbek thaw,” and highlighted against the backdrop of problems associated with the functioning of the Eurasian economic Union, for the first time in many years the conditions for the creation of a regional union are favorable.
For now, the countries of the region are treading very carefully when it comes to this idea. There have been too many unsuccessful attempts at unification in the past, and interstate contradictions are still too strong, as well as the differences in the countries’ approach to issues. Besides, such unification may not be well liked by the “Big Neighbors” of the region – Russia and China – who may put forth efforts to prevent the emergence of a strong and independent regional player.
The geographic location of Central Asia also provides its opponents with an advantage: each country individually (and the region as a whole) is landlocked, and as a consequence the operation of logistical and energy chains is fully dependent on the goodwill of the “Big Neighbors.” Only fundamental changes to the very structure of the regions’ economy can help overcome this dependence. Such changes are now underway.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are striving to abandon the natural resource-dependent model and develop innovations. An example of that is the “Astana Hub” – a financial and technological center which has the capabilities to speed up the technological upgrading not just of Kazakhstan alone, but the entire Central Asian region.
The simultaneous development of an IT ecosystem of innovations in the countries of Central Asia will create new possibilities for regional collaboration, as well as for collaboration of the Central Asian IT sector with global centers of the IT industry.
Central Asia’s old economic model relied on each of the countries having different and separate economic relations with its “Big Neighbors” and – facilitated by those “Big Neighbors” acting as intermediaries – with countries of the West. The new Central Asian model envisions the five countries – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan – being integrated into a common economic market and having direct connections with Western markets, bypassing the intermediary function of the “Big Neighbors.” As shown through the success of the European Bank’s ‘Investing in Central Asia’ forum which aimed to highlight opportunities for business expansion into the region, Central Asian countries will become integrated into the world ecosystem both in the information and economic realms.
However, in order to implement this plan both the Western business world and the political decision makers have lots of work ahead of them. As the new “IT tiger,” Central Asia may be interesting to the world industry’s giants only as a united region, and they must view it as such already, by extending a certain credibility to the new economic initiatives originating in that region. This means opening regional offices in the local IT clusters and entrusting them first with outsourcing and then with R&D, serving as evangelists of the new economy in contacts with representatives of the Central Asian countries’ governments, and considering the possibilities of investing into local startups jointly with governments. Western policymakers will need to get ready to provide the most favorable environment to the IT industry for any trade and economic relations with countries of the region.
As energy exports are the foundation of economic well-being for the majority of the region’s countries, it places those countries in the position of competitors who are dependent on their neighboring states, above all Russia and China. Developing advanced technologies, attracting Western investments and Western experience, and creating a Central Asian IT market will serve a dual purpose: in reducing the Central Asian countries’ dependence on their neighbors, and in becoming the catalyst for unification processes in the region.
Turkmenistan, the heart of the Silk Road
Over 140 years have passed since Ferdinand von Richthofen, a German geologist, geographer and traveler and the president of the Berlin Geographical Society, coined the term Silk Road. Several more decades had passed before scholars in different countries became seriously interested in this phenomenon of the antique and medieval world and began to study specific routes of caravan trade where Turkmen land had an important place. The Silk Road era, which lasted for more than 15 centuries, has left thousands of monuments and landmarks along the entire route from the Mediterranean to the Far East. Many of them are located on the territory of Turkmenistan.
In the modern era, the legendary route is being restored in a new quality, carrying the idea of revitalizing and strengthening trade, economic, humanitarian, and cultural ties between states and peoples. In his book, “Turkmenistan, the Heart of the Silk Road,” Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, citing facts of national history, ancient tales and legends, as well as events and developments from the country’s modern life, notes that a fundamental role in the evolution and active use of the Silk Road, each of its branches being on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites, belongs to, among others, the Turkmen people.
Thus, as our state carries out major transport projects of the century, a modern history is being written and the idea of restoring the Silk Road – the heart of which is independent and neutral Turkmenistan – is being revisited.
The Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran transnational railway line that has been put into operation can carry up to 10-12 million tons of cargo and makes it possible to connect to transport infrastructure in the east and south, gaining access to dynamically developing markets. Turkmenistan believes it is essential to focus efforts on ensuring that the opportunities for Central Asian and Caspian states arising in connection with these major transit projects be used to the maximum degree possible.
Convenient and safe international corridors using rail, motor, air, and water transport ensure the sustainable development of the entire region, foster neighborly relations between nations, strengthen cooperation, expand the volumes of trade turnover and help address a number of social issues. As a strategic goal defining the contours of a new, large-scale format of cooperation on the continent, they help create wide-ranging and promising geoeconomic configurations. In this context, it is important to note that an international sea port in the city of Turkmenbashi is due to be put into operation in the very near future.
The state invests heavily in modernizing the material and technical base of the transport sector and improving management through modern technology. High priority is given to developing sea and river transport infrastructure. Active work is under way to improve passenger and cargo transportation, develop ports and port facilities, and streamline state oversight over the safety of shipping and navigation.
Central and South Asia is a space for active international cooperation. Ancient trade routes passed across these territories for centuries, bringing Asia and Europe closer together. At present, countries in these regions play an important role in expanding global economic partnership. The implementation of projects in these areas opens up great prospects for the optimization of transport, energy and cultural ties in the Eurasian space. Therefore, as Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov noted, our region is emerging as a major link in the formation of a new trade and economic partnership model on the continent, which, in turn, opens up opportunities for creating a platform for more wide-ranging cooperation. This is a vivid example of deeply innovative thinking in the global geoeconomic configuration and a vision of strategic perspectives for its development.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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