There are plenty of differences between Qatar and Kazakhstan as even the briefest glance at a map of the world will show. But despite these big contrasts in size, geography and climate, there are also many surprising similarities which go beyond a shared religion of the majority of their populations.
Both countries, for example, have for centuries been on global trade routes, which has given our peoples an outward outlook. Kazakhstan and Qatar, too, are rich in oil and gas resources, which have helped transform the prosperity of our people. Qatar has the world’s third largest reserves of natural gas and is already the biggest exporter of liquid natural gas.
But both countries are already looking towards a post-fossil fuel world. National strategies have already been put in place, backed by major investment, to help diversify our economies. This includes a priority given to investing in the education of our young people.
Our two countries have also been markedly successful in forging our own path in the world. In global terms, we may be relatively young nations but we already are seen to have distinctive voices and to be champions for dialogue and cooperation.
We have worked hard to build strong relations with our neighbours and forge alliances around the world with countries, big and small. Both nations are also seen as important members of global efforts to counter terrorism and extremism.
Given this shared outlook and values, the strong and growing friendship between the two countries is no surprise. This relationship was cemented by the visit of the Emir of Qatar to Astana in 2014 and of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Doha in the following year, which led to a new determination to strengthen economic ties and cooperation on foreign policy.
Assessing the progress made in the last two years was high on the agenda when Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov visited Qatar on April 23. In discussions with the Emir and senior members of the government, both sides were pleased with the increased financial and commercial links between the two countries but also saw plenty of scope to deepen them in the years ahead.
Kazakhstan’s ambitious privatisation plans, for example, offer an opportunity for Qatar to increase partnerships. Islamic finance, for which the new Astana International Financial Centre will be a regional base, is clearly another area for cooperation.
With its growing interest in renewable energy and green technology, there is also expected to be considerable interest in Qatar’s contribution to EXPO 2017. It is for the same reason that the Emir was given a personal invitation from President Nazarbayev to participate in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s first summit on Science and Technology in Astana in September.
But with tensions increasing across the world, it was understandable that the talks went well beyond bilateral relations. This is particularly relevant now that Kazakhstan has the responsibility of sitting on the United Nations Security Council. The continuing tragedy of Syria – and its impact on the region and beyond – was a major topic of discussion.
Through the Astana Process, Kazakhstan is helping create conditions where dialogue continues and trust is built. There are many barriers to overcome but the goal is to make it easier, step by painful step, to find solutions. Widening participation to include countries, such as Qatar and others from the Arab world, if it can be agreed, might help remove obstacles to progress.
Even a decade ago, it is unlikely many foreign policy experts would have predicted the influence and status of Qatar and Kazakhstan today in the international community. The more this influence is used to build prosperity and promote peace and cooperation, the better for the world.