Kazakhstan as a nexus between civilizations

  • 2011-02-10
  • By Lilija Banaitiene

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has no time to relax. No sooner had the OSCE summit rounded off than the republic set about preparations for another political marathon – from June 2011, it will be chairing the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Forecasts concerning Kazakhstan’s foreign policy initiatives are traditionally controversial – ranging from extremely bright to unreasonably pessimistic.

One Internet source is wary of Kazakhstan’s upcoming chairmanship in its hosting the OIC, which can go as wrong as that in the OSCE: “It will be ineffective, will end up in a row and sad miscomprehension from the Organization’s partners.”

Strange statement. First, as far as I remember, there was no row, and second, Kazakhstan’s mission in the OSCE can be called anything but ineffective. By common consensus, Kazakhstan was a qualified mediator, whose incredible efforts made the unbelievable believable – it managed to convene the OSCE summit, the first in 11 years. The then chair-in-office created a dialogue venue for the heads of state and government. Kazakhstan is not to blame for what it was not effectively tapped. It is down to controversies among the Organization’s participating states.

Can protracted conflicts of the Nagorno-Karabakh and Trans-Dniestria be settled in a year? Certainly no. That this Central Asian state tackled the existing security problems not fearing to damage its political image is praiseworthy. Eventually, it brought together the heads of state at the negotiating table, which is very important for trust, and is promoted through dialogue and top-level meetings.
Mr. Nazarbayev counters “unite and direct” to the notorious political principle “divide and rule.”

It is worth mentioning the president for complementing the OSCE political vocabulary with the concept of a common and indivisible space of Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security. It can be beefed up with a wider interstate dialogue through consultations between representatives of various authoritative global and regional structures. As specified in the RK-suggested global political geometry, partnership should be built up in two directions: “East-West” between the European Union / NATO and EurAsEC / CSTO and “North-South” between the OSCE and CICMA / OIC.

Kazakhstan has concrete goals and tasks for chairing in the OIC. A main one is to develop Central Asia into a nexus between cultures.

Specifically, the republic is set to promote inter-religious dialogue. Against the present background of worldwide intolerance, Nazarbayev has unique experience to share: around 140 ethnicities and 46 faiths peacefully coexist in the republic; Astana hosted congresses of the world and traditional religions’ leaders; at RK president’s initiative the year of 2010 was declared the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures by the UN.
The lack of intercultural understanding triggers international expansion of Islamophobia. To eliminate it is a priority task of the OIC, reflected in its ten-year strategic action plan for 2006-2016, which is kind of a “roadmap” for the Muslim ummah. It must be admitted that Kazakhstan has every opportunity for promoting fruitful dialogue in this direction. Last year OSCE – CICMA contacts boosted, due to the republic’s chairmanship, in both structures in the first six months of the year; in 2011, Nazarbayev is set to step up OIC’s interaction with the OSCE within its “troika.”

However, some experts assert that Kazakhstan’s efforts will hardly come to fruition. Why? The explanation is deadly logical – because of the RK’s multi-vector policy. The republic, as some political analysts presume, will have to choose between Iran (with its leading position in the OIC) and the U.S., Palestine (backing for this country is a key issue on the Organization’s agenda) and Israel. It will be impossible to please everyone. Add to this RK’s latest decision on military deployment in Afghanistan. The attitude towards the country fighting together with Americans in a Muslim state against Muslims and concurrently chairing the Organization of the Islamic Conference will be ambiguous, to say the least.

How right is this reasoning? To begin with, this Organization, which is not close-knit and has frozen conflicts and other internal problems, like the OSCE, should be led by an unbiased chairman, honest broker, which Kazakhstan has earned the reputation for. RK’s firm position on Iran suits both the U.S. and Ahmadinejad.
Global efforts in the fight against nuclear terrorism and lawful international nuclear programs must be nicely balanced. It’s impermissible to corner whole states and nations. They cannot be deprived of their legal rights for peaceful atomic power and respect for national self-esteem, Nazarbayev believes.
As to Afghanistan, the reasoning is weird. Kazakhstan has always been advocating a peaceful solution of the IRA problem. Astana earmarked $50 million for the training of Afghan students at Kazakhstan’s higher schools; the republic has been restoring infrastructure facilities in this country and developing trade relations. As far as soldiers are concerned, let’s recall Iraq. Kazakhstan was represented there by one sapper battalion. By the way, some Muslim states have their troops deployed in Afghanistan, the biggest of which, with 1,700 servicemen, was from Turkey. But the official Ankara’s stance is that they do not take part in military operations.

In other words, RK has got a warning: it will come to no good. Hardly rank-and-file international terrorists take Kazakhstan seriously because of its dalliance with the West, contacts with Israel and knuckling under to the U.S. administration. “Their regard can drop to the trough,” admonishes Andrey Grozin, political analyst, leader of CIS Institute’s Central Asian department. Well, following this logic, it is not worth undertaking anything at all. God forbid, terrorists dislike Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the OIC, right after its presidency in the OSCE and other initiatives of Mr. Nazarbayev!

I’d like to cite a saying here: he that fears every bush must never go a-birding. Effective chairmanship stands for an urgent agenda. Moreover, principles of Muslim solidarity cannot be equaled to those of terrorism. At the previous 2008 summit in Senegal, the Dakar declaration was passed, which condemns acts of terror and extremism disguised as Islam teaching. That means Kazakhstan, as the OIC chairman, should not seek sympathies of transnational criminal groupings. This is absurd, to say the least. And in tackling the Afghan problem, Kazakhstan will surely broach the fight against terrorism and extremism and drug trafficking.

But no military steps will be needed – the International Security Assistance Force of NATO failed to spruce up the country during ten years of war, whereas drug production grew by many times. RK calls for economic, infrastructure, educational upgrade and overall enhancement of the IRA competitiveness. Islamic solidarity as the organization’s chief principle must be put in practice in the form of effective trade-investment, technological, social and other aid programs for the states wanting help.

By the way, within the 38th session of OIC CFM slated for this June in Astana, it is planned to hold the World Islamic economic forum and III Conference of health ministers; in the works are scaled events in science and new technologies, environmental protection, utilization of water resources, joint promotion of satellite technologies.

The OIC’s main task is to establish large-scale cooperation of its member states in political, economic and social areas, to conduct a peaceful policy resting on Islam’s basic principles and aiming to preserve its values. Kazakhstan is just the country for this role.

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