Kazakhstan Not a Part of Great Game, Is Charting its Own Path

In an opinion piece in the Diplomatic Courier, Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov noted that Central Asia and Kazakhstan are increasingly in the news, but that it is “striking – and at times frustrating” to see how standard media narratives have little resemblance to what’s actually happening in the country.

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Journalists often describe events in Central Asia through the prism of the revival of the 19th century Great Game, including recent visits by leaders from China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Japan and the U.S. “I can see why this makes a neat headline but that does not make it true,” Idrissov wrote. “Kazakhstan is not a silent bystander in anyone else’s strategy. We are a country successfully making its own independent way in the world.”

Kazakhstan has built strong political and economic ties with countries around the world. “This is not an accident but the result of our multivector foreign policy,” Idrissov wrote. “Our economic progress – which has seen our gross domestic product rise 19-fold since independence – is also based on being open to trade, investment and ideas.” This year, he notes, Kazakhstan helped found the Eurasian Economic Union and acceded to the World Trade Organisation.

Now, Kazakhstan can help provide “great gain” for all in regional and global stability and prosperity, Idrissov wrote. Over the last couple of months, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has met President Xi Jinping, President Vladimir Putin, President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, plus traveled to London, Paris and Doha. All these countries want to strengthen their relationships with Kazakhstan, according to Idrissov.

The focus on Central Asia’s supposed remoteness is also misleading, Idrissov wrote, saying that narrative neglects how the world has changed. “For as economic power shifts eastwards, bringing revived trade links, fast-growing markets and new areas of prosperity, it is not our remoteness but our position at the heart of the new emerging world which is most striking.”

Kazakhstan will be a bridge linking economic powerhouses, he wrote. New road links will bring goods far more quickly from China to Europe, and rail and road connections in all directions are also providing fresh opportunities for trade and new markets.

The Nurly Zhol programme’s $9 billion domestic investment in connectivity will support these connections, which will be both conduits for products and lifelines for local communities along them, fostering local markets, empowering local businesses and private sectors and promoting prosperity, peace and stability in the entire area, Idrissov wrote. “Our geography is now an advantage, not a disadvantage – enabling us not only to boost our economy but provide a wealth of opportunities for the region and wider world. So, the common goal should be to turn Central Asia from being landlocked into being land-linked and a connecting bridge between continents, cultures and trade.”

Another theme ignores Kazakhstan’s achievements to focus on shortcomings. “It is a view which suggests Kazakhstan somehow believes that after fewer than 25 years as an independent country, we believe we are the finished product. We do not and we are not,” Idrissov wrote. Kazakhstan does not claim to be a perfect democracy – only to be moving forward with ambition. “Our young nation had no tradition of democracy or democratic institutions to build on and was starting from scratch.”

Kazakhstan is developing, he said, accelerating reforms through the comprehensive 100 Concrete Steps reform programme, driving human capital development, good governance and the rule of law, cementing transparency and accountability in throughout government and society, and openly asking international partners for advice and help on the way.

In turn, Idrissov hopes Kazakhstan’s progress “in creating a prosperous country from the wreckage of the Soviet Union” and in building a harmonious society in the multi-ethnic, multiconfessional nation in the often-troubled region are not overlooked. “It shows, if nothing else, why we are confident that our country will keep progressing.”