KAZAKHSTAN: “Strengthening of Intra-Regional Ties”
Kassymzhomart Tokaev «View Bio
In my view, the topic of regional cooperation is of essential importance to the future of the peoples of Central Asia. The question is extremely urgent: Do the preconditions exist for forming a new geopolitical and geoeconomic reality, which might be called Greater Central Asia? Does one sense interest on the part of the governments of the region in entering into such a body?
Central Asia since long ago has formed as a single cultural and economic body. But in the 19th century, as a result of foreign interference, the region’s unity was disrupted. It is telling that it was Afghanistan, for a number of historical reasons, which turned out to be a dividing line on the huge area of Central and South Asia. A new entity which used to be called the Middle Asia and Kazakhstan was formed spreading from the northern borders of Afghanistan to the borders of Russia and China, including Mongolia. The very fact that this conference takes place in a new Afghanistan is a testament that this country has now an entirely new role to play as a unifier in the vastness of Asia. It is gratifying that Central Asia is regaining its importance in the global economy. The countries of the region are developing their transit capabilities, becoming suppliers of valuable goods to world markets, such as oil and gas, mineral ores and agricultural products. We can already foresee the outlines of new routes for oil and gas pipelines, roads and railways in the 21st Century which more or less follow the routes of the great Silk Road.
Central Asia is located at the crossroads of trans-continental transportation corridors and all of these have vast transportation and communications network. Countries of the region have an outlet to the Persian Gulf via Iran, as well as to the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan and also Pakistan. The cumulative economic potential of Central Asian countries is quite high. The reason goes to significant human, natural and industrial resources, and approximately 84 million people live here, and the aggregate volume of the region’s Gross Domestic Product totals more than $100 billion annually. It is also gratifying that the idea of a Greater Central Asia is being discussed at many levels. Projects of regional integration and development have been offered by the World Bank, Nation Development Bank, the United States Trade and Development Agency, United States Agency for International Development and other international institutions. We estimate that there are at least 100 projects and development programs in Central Asia today. They are being implemented jointly by regional states, donor states, and the international institutions. These projects are aimed at harmonizing and developing transit transportation roads and removing obstacles for transit trade through bilateral and regional agreements. The geographic scope of the programs being developed or implemented in Central Asia is quite wide, reaching the territory of traditional Central Asia including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. In some cases these programs also encompass parts of territory of Pakistan and Iran, Azerbaijan and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China, the Russian regions of the Urals and Western Siberia as well as Mongolia.
Experts also believe that it is important to develop stable political and economic relations with neighboring Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and
Kazakhstan is strongly committed to regional cooperation, it is a priority for us. Being a regional leader, Kazakhstan can and is willing to bring meaningful contribution to the restoration of Afghanistan and the creation of a Greater Central Asia which we view as a civilizing and economic entity aimed at ensuring security and development of the region. We believe that to reinforce stability and develop integration in Greater Central Asia, calls for a consolidated effort on the following priorities: First, promotion of regional transit trade. Second, energy. Third, development of a regional transportation infrastructure.
However, we need to take into account the existence of serious barriers and obstacles along this route. These include a lack of clear coordination of efforts among the countries of the region and the international community to develop Greater Central Asia. The continuing elements of instability in some countries, as well as deray economic priorities, laws and other complicating factors. As an example I know the need of a solution for issues of fair and rational use of trans-border agreements in Central Asia. Future stability and security of the region depends to a great extent on the solution of water issues among the countries involved. Kazakhstan considers efforts of the regional states should be directed at overcoming the existing problems and orchestrating coordinated approaches to creating a free-trade zone, and a regional common market. In this context we highly evaluate Draft Silk Road Strategy Act of 2005 aimed to amend the United States Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The matter specified in this document should promote consolidation of unified position among regional countries in dependence on the development of regional cooperation in trade, investments, and transport.
The importance of Afghanistan in these processes is unquestionable. The restoration of Afghan statehood as well as the dawn of its social and economic revival offer significant prospects for regional cooperation. We in Kazakhstan are very much enthusiastic about the strategy of development of Afghanistan offered by its government. That strategy was adopted at the Afghan compact during the recent conference in London.
We support intensification of economic cooperation within the frameworks of regional organizations such as the Economic Cooperation Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Community, CAREC and the regional SPECA program. Positive results from these efforts will allow reconnecting Afghanistan with the outside world, restoring the infrastructures and communication between Central Asia and South Asia as well as ensuring the supply of energy resources to the growing economies of South Asia. It is important to mention a project to construct a highway from Almaty through Bishkek, Osh, Dushanbe, Kabul and Kandahar on to Pakistan which is being jointly financed by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, United States and Japan. In 2003 the First International Ministerial Conference on land-locked states was held in Almaty accepting the Almaty program for development of transit transportation routes, and Kazakhstan has joined this agreement to create a North-South transportation corridor. The most pressing challenge for the short-term is ensuring the stability and security of Afghanistan, and the fight against drug production and trafficking. This is a must. It should be accompanied by a simultaneous restoration and construction of the physical infrastructure of Afghanistan. Kazakhstan calls upon the government of Afghanistan to join the memorandum of understanding on drug control in Central Asia signed by the countries of Central Asia and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 1996.
As I said earlier, Kazakhstan has been a strong advocate of regional cooperation and integration. Our initiatives are widely known, in the beginning of the 1990s we know that our region has fallen off the screen of the United Nations and proposed a UN Economic and Social Commission for Central Asia which has now taken the form of the United Nations Special Program for Economies of Central Asia, the so-called SPECA program.
Today, this in an active international project. Afghanistan became a full member at the regular session of SPECA’s Regional Advisory Committee last aligned in May last year. Kazakhstan’s initiative in convening the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building measures in Asia (CICA) which has already been recognized as a factor into world politics and favorable climate for ensuring security in Asia. Currently 17 countries, including all countries of our region, and Afghanistan, are members of CICA.
We also see benefits in the trade and investment framework agreement Ortifa, spearheaded by the United States as a means to promote regional trade. Kazakhstan also supports the Japanese initiative to invite Afghanistan into the Central Asia + Japan dialogue as this forum also aims to intensify regional cooperation.
We strongly believe that Afghanistan’s participation in these forums and initiatives will be beneficial for regional cooperation. We are confident Afghanistan’s interaction with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre and the joint struggle against drug-trafficking and international terrorism is of vital importance for maintaining stability and bringing sustainable development in the region. In our turn, Kazakhstan has repeatedly stated, including at the London conference, its willingness to provide comprehensive assistance to Afghanistan in many areas. This morning I had the privilege to have a meeting with the President of Afghanistan Mr. Hamid Karzai and we have been talking about bilateral interaction in many areas, including a proposed participants in investing in the economy of Afghanistan, of private companies, in particular construction companies are very much willing to come into Afghanistan to invest. So, we have some financial opportunities and I have already invited members of the Presidential administration and members of the government to come to Kazakhstan very soon. We are going to host the meeting of the Joint Governmental Commission led by the cochairman from both sides in order to talk about the existing opportunities in regional trade. So the common aspiration to develop mutually beneficial ties between Central Asia, the Near East and South Asia has brought us to the capital of Afghanistan so we can realize our shared interest and begin working together on a Greater Central Asia as a region which could become the new factor of long-term growth for the world economy.
Kassymzhomart Tokaev is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan