Kazakhstan: Central Asia's Vital Nation

June 27, 2014 Topic: EnergyEconomic DevelopmentPolitics Region: Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan: Central Asia's Vital Nation

TNI's Editor speaks with Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov.

Heilbrunn: Thank you for that. My final area that I wanted to discuss was Afghanistan and the Middle East. What do you see as the political and economic future of Afghanistan? Right now we’re seeing Iraq implode… Is Afghanistan going to be next? Or do you think it has a brighter future and will Kazakhstan play a role in that future?

Idrissov: Well, you mentioned both areas that are to the south of Kazakhstan and generally speaking, the south direction for Kazakhstan geography is very important for our foreign policy. For many reasons: for political reasons, for security reasons, for economic and trade reasons, and people to people contact reasons.

It is already high time, much overdue, that peace, security and normalcy return to Afghanistan. We have granted Afghanistan humanitarian assistance, both in terms of financial support, and in terms of providing infrastructure support through building schools, roads, hospitals. We provided food to Afghanistan. Kazakhstan is the largest supplier of grain and wheat to Afghanistan. But recently, three years ago we launched a unique program for Afghanistan: we have allocated 50 million dollars to invest into the future of Afghanistan, its young people. We have created a special scholarship program for Afghan students to come and study subjects like engineering, agriculture, medical services, policing, etc. Since then, we have received 1,000 students from Afghanistan who study in our universities and we will continue this program until our resources allocated for the program are fully used. I think this is a very important step because by doing it, we wanted to send a signal to the rest of the Middle East, and the rest of the international community that a great contribution should be done to the economic renovation of Afghanistan, and investment should be made into the young generation of Afghanistan so that they are able to take the reins of their own country. We are really hopeful for the results of the two elections, which took place in Afghanistan. Irrespective of some controversy around these elections, we believe Afghans have enough capability to take the reins and to protect the security of their own country.

We know that there is a lot of discussion about the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan and everyone has questions about the post-2014 situation. We do not subscribe to apocalyptic, catastrophic scenarios for Afghanistan. Of course, matters of security remain at the top of the agenda for that country, but I believe there will be mustered up support within Afghanistan by the public of Afghanistan, all elements of its society, with the support of the neighboring countries, and with the support of the international coalition. With all of this, it is quite possible to pull this country out onto the track of normalcy, which is our hope, and it is not only our hope but it is our practical policy for that country.

We are historically very much linked to this region, starting from Egypt in the 13th century, where the descendants of nomads ruled that great country, and of course these travelers resided in Syria, and maybe other locations of the Middle East. So we have a historical link to this region and we do care about stability and normalcy in the Middle East. What is going in Syria, what is going on in Iraq, all this so-called Arab Spring situation… they of course are a matter of concern for us. We use our modest resources and capabilities to politically influence the situation in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, and now in Iraq. Through our partnerships in Gulf countries, through our missions in the Middle East, through our engagement with our Western partners, the Russian Federation, China, etc. We hope that there will be a collective reason to make sure that the situation is not allowed to go to a complete collapse. This is the hope, and we respect and appreciate, very much, the efforts of the United States and other members of the international community, which aim to bring clarity and some light at the end of the tunnel in the developments in the Middle East. We also maintain very diverse relations with Israel, in the political and economic spheres, so we have a diverse multifaceted dialogue with all those who can influence the situation in the Middle East in a positive direction.

Heilbrunn: If we could switch the perspective to Washington, D.C. The world, to many Americans, looks like an increasingly unstable and scary place. Do you have a message that you would like to impart from the Kazakh perspective?

Idrissov: Our message was and is very clear and is basically not changing. We greatly appreciate the leading role of the United States in global affairs, be it politics, economy, humanitarian aspects, democracy building, etc. The United States is the leader and we believe that the United States is performing the leadership role quite responsibly. Of course, the situation of 20 years ago, as compared to the situation today, is quite different. I think that all, or maybe some, of our hopes of 20 years ago should be revisited and readjusted to current developments. Globalization is marching with great dynamism and speed and I think that the great challenge for the United States is to readjust its leadership role in light of the very fast changing global situation. We are quite sure that the United States has resources, and the political will to continue to play its global role in a responsible way and most importantly, in concert with others … because the United States alone will not be able to address efficiently all the issues of the world, however strong and powerful the U.S. may be. The issues we face today are so enormous, that only collective efforts can bring efficient and long lasting results. We hear from the United States that it is ready and willing to strike new partnerships in different parts of the world and this is what we wholly welcome.  Kazakhstan is a strong partner for the United States in our part of the world; our really strong record of the bilateral strategic relationship has proven this so far. We hope that this relationship continues to grow and bring positive results in our part of the world and elsewhere.

I spent five good years as our ambassador in Washington [in 2007-2012], I know the culture inside the Beltway very well and I have many friends there. I wish the U.S., and the rest of the world, peace and prosperity.