KAZAKHSTAN: 'The destiny of our country is to be a leader'
Kazakhstan is an ally of growing importance to the United States. Positioned at a strategic crossroads between Russia to the north and west, China to the east and a volatile region of Islamic states to the south, Kazakhstan is an oil-rich state with a dominant Muslim population that is moderate and aggressively modernizing,
Clearly the leading nation in Central Asia, the Kazakh economy has been surging at an average rate of nine percent a year, boosted by oil revenues that will make it one of the world's top producers within a decade. At the same time, the conservative leadership of President Nursultan Nazarbayev has managed to balance economic growth with development of democratic institutions and the creation of a multi-ethnic society with few signs of friction.
For most of its existence as an independent state, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan has been represented abroad by Foreign Minister Kassymzhomart Tokaev, who is currently on a visit to Washington. On August 22 he met with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Later that day he sat down with DiplomaticTraffic.com to talk about US-Kazakh relations and the situation in Kazakhstan and the region today. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Meeting with Secretary Rice
I met with Secretary Rice to express our appreciation for the United States. We have received $8 billion in investment from American companies, more than from any other nation. In general, my talk with Secretary Rice were quite successful. We are speaking a common language, as far as regional affairs are concerned, and as far as democracy in our country is concerned. I am very pleased to visit Washington DC. I believe as foreign minister I have to visit the United States as often as possible. At least once a year!
Kazakhstan's support for the War on Terror
We are assisting the United States in its anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan turned out to be the only Central Asian country, and one of the few Muslim countries, that deployed its own military contingent to Iraq. In this respect our commitment is also very strong and solid. We believe this is not the proper time to discuss whether the operation is legitimate or not. It is time to demonstrate the solidarity of the international community in rebuilding this country [Iraq].
I also said to the secretary of state that the United Nations must show greater involvement in conflicts like Iraq, because we believe that there is no alternative to the United Nations as a universal organization. We support the United Nations and we believe that the United Nations must be more active in providing an international umbrella for deployment of troops in Iraq.
Why Kazakhstan is not in for a revolution
I am asked relatively often about the possibility of a revolution [like those] which occurred in Ukraine and Georgia [taking place] in my country. But I see no reason why that type of revolution should occur in Kazakhstan, because we have a great extent of democracy, the leadership is determined to go ahead with economic and political reform, all the major socio-economic problems are being addressed by the government, the president enjoys popularity among the population of the country, and there are no doubts, even among the critics of the president, about the outcome of presidential elections, meaning he will win.
Three lessons from Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan
I think there should be three lessons from the developments in Ukraine and Georgia. First of all, governments should focus on pursuing economic reforms. Second, governments must pay attention to pursuing political reforms. All these kinds of reform are being pursued successfully in Kazakhstan. And it is not a final stage. We are determined to go ahead. This point was also discussed during my meeting with Condoleeza Rice. And [third], of course all governments have to pay appropriate attention to holding free and fair elections, because all of those upheavals that occurred in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan were because of suspicions of the people that there was something wrong with the elections, that the elections were a fraud. So there are at least three lessons.
The opposition in Kazakhstan
We have the opposition in Kazakhstan and it is very good [that we do], because every country should have its own opposition. The problem is that they lack popularity among the population and they lack solidarity within their own camp. But it is not my job to comment on the opposition because I am in the government. We invited the opposition to take part in the activities of the national commission for democratization of the country. Some of them joined, including some who are seen to be radical. I think it is quite normal that the government is being criticized. At the same time, we believe that this process should be conducted within the framework of our society, provided that the activities of the opposition will not undermine the internal stability. It should be carried out in full compliance to the existing laws. We believe that in the upcoming elections, a representative of the opposition will take part. Our problem is not the outcome of the elections but to provide good opportunities for all who would like to challenge the president.
A moderate Muslim state
Kazakhstan is a very moderate state, despite the fact that we have a predominant Muslim population. We are very tolerant, and in this respect we serve as a showcase of tolerance in the Islamic world. President Musharraf [of Pakistan] talks a lot about moderate Islam. As far as Kazakhstan is concerned, we are showing an example in practice, how to exercise moderation in Islam.
At the same time we have to be vigilant and very cautious about the attempts of Islamic radicals to undermine the stability in our country, to impose some radical values. That is the reason that four organizations have been prohibited in Kazakhstan, as terrorist organizations. Also, Hizb ut-Tahrir has been prohibited in Kazakhstan, because they have shown some concrete examples of pursuing radical Islamic values, which are not acceptable. The group operates in Uzbekistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan. There are some disputes on this issue: whether this is a terrorist or extremist organization. According to the law, there is a clear distinction between terrorist and extremist organizations. There was a hard legal dispute over this organization. But we have recognized this organization to be [illegal]. If an organization is recognized to be promoting terrorist values and slogans, to be promoting the overthrow of the government, to be promoting the building of an Islamic state on the territory of Kazakhstan, of course we cannot tolerate such things.
The US view of democratization in Kazakhstan
My feeling is that the US administration recognizes the fact that Kazakhstan has advanced a lot in this respect, at least compared with our immediate neighbors and other neighbors in the post-Soviet area. It is a concern of the US administration that Kazakhstan should not stop at this point, but go ahead to be an example for other countries. We are also fully aware that in no circumstances can we lose our leadership in the region.
Kazakhstan is a leader
Kazakhstan is considered to be a leader [in the region], in accordance with all acceptable economic criteria, but at the same time we want to be a leader in all aspects, not only the economic area [but also in] the political area. At the same time, political reforms are much more difficult to pursue because this is a matter of stability, a matter of security of the country, not only for Kazakhstan. As far as we are concerned, we have to bear in mind the so-called geopolitical context, what is occurring in the immediate neighborhood. Because Kazakhstan is a vast country with a relatively small population we have to be cautious. But it doesn't mean we want to stop the political transformation of our society, because the historic destiny of our country is to be a leader, and we don't want to lose this kind of leadership. Because Kazakhstan is a vast country with a limited population, if we lag behind some other countries, first of all of the post-Soviet countries, Kazakhstan could be marginalized, or even destroyed.
Balancing Russian, Chinese, US and other interests
Given the fact that Kazakhstan is located between big powers, and we also have a very complicated immediate neighborhood to the south, including Afghanistan, our strategic goal is to maintain an equilibrium of powers. We appreciate the role of the United States because it is the most advanced country in the world. It is the United States that first recognized Kazakhstan as an independent state, and we always keep our historic memory of this fact. We have to be pragmatists, which is why we welcome the active participation of the United States in the economic development of Kazakhstan, as well as the involvement of the United States in promoting democratic values in Kazakhstan. At the same time, we have to admit that we face the strategic interests of Russia, of China, who are immediate neighbors of Kazakhstan. We also closely cooperate with countries like India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, which are also involved in the region. Some people argue that there is a big game that is coming back to this region. Probably so, but for us it is not a game, it is hard work to maintain the balance of interests of the major countries.
Concerns about China
We are closely watching the development of China. We have to recognize the fact that this development is turning out to be very successful. China made a lot of achievements. China became not only a regional power but is going to be a global power. We have a common border, and despite a complicated historical background [with China] we believe there is no alternative for Kazakhstan but to have good cooperation, stable cooperation with China. And we are doing so. Our leaders hold meetings twice a year, on a regular basis. There is no alternative. Otherwise, it is a matter of challenge to our security. China is going to be a global superpower.
An oil pipeline [from the Caspian to western China] will be completed by the end of this year. It has geopolitical and strategic importance. We are pursuing a policy of constructing a multiple network of pipelines. We have a pipeline which goes to the Black Sea, the Trans Caspian Pipeline, cooperating with the government of Russia as well as with Chevron and Mobile. Now we are going to have a pipeline to China, and we are going to join the Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline, cooperating with the governments of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Kazakh oil will be shipped across the Caspian Sea to Baku by tankers.
Biography of Kassymzhomart Tokaev
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Kassymzhomart Tokaev was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan in June 2003.
Before that, he served as Secretary of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs from January 2002.
From October 1999 to January 2002, Mr. Tokaev served as Kazakhstan's Prime Minister overseeing the beginning of the rapid economic growth Kazakhstan has been enjoying since 2000.
Mr. Tokaev served as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs from March to October 1999, being in charge of international political and economic cooperation, attraction of foreign investment, relations with the CIS countries and export control. Before that he was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan from October 1994 to March 1999.
In 1992-1994 he worked as Deputy Foreign Minister, then First Deputy Foreign Minister.
Mr. Tokaev studied at the Diplomatic Academy of the MFA of Russia in Moscow from 1991 to 1992.
From 1985 to 1991 he served in the Embassy of the USSR in China.
Mr. Tokaev worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR in 1984-1985 and in 1979-1983. In the meantime, he studied at the Beijing Linguistic Institute in 1983-84.
From 1975 to 1979 he served in the Embassy of the USSR in Singapore.
Mr. Tokaev graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1975.
Mr. Tokaev has a Ph.D. in History and a diplomatic rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. He has authored a number of books, including How It Was: Chronicles of Disturbances in China (April-June 1989) (1993), United Nations: 50 Years of Service to Peace (1995), Under the Flag of Independence (Historic essays of foreign policy of Kazakhstan) (1997), "Foreign Policy of Kazakhstan in the process of globalization" (2000), "Meeting the Challenge" (2003) and a variety of articles on international issues.
Mr. Tokaev has been awarded the Orders of Parasat and Astana.
He is fluent in English, Chinese and French.
Mr. Tokaev was born in Almaty in 1953. He is married with one son.