The most recent war in Afghanistan, known as Operation Enduring Freedom, has been going on since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., creating a spiraling effect on the region and the entire world. Getting rid of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and their Taliban hosts has been a mission that has cost tens of thousands of lives, and billions of dollars, and will continue to inflict pain and suffering unless the world community takes concrete steps to improve the situation.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has acknowledged many times that Kazakhstan is aware of its responsibility for regional security and will continue to contribute to the stabilisation in Central Asia. In his strategy Kazakhstan 2050, the president has stated that the best way to strengthen regional security is through interregional integration, which will help “solve pressing social and economic issues.” He has pledged to support “progressive international initiatives,” including Afghanistan’s political reconciliation and reconstruction.
Without pointing fingers, the political stage is dominated by a few key players that continue to engage in action in Afghanistan, less than 400 kilometres away from Kazakhstan’s southernmost border. The International Security Assistance Force and countries participating in Operation Enduring Freedom, including Kazakhstan, are united in their willingness to support the Afghan government and its people. Regardless of the political agendas of those involved, Kazakhstan has always been and will always be for a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.
Kazakhstan has already taken specific steps to foster the regional integration process and enhance the relationships of neighbours in the region. President Nazarbayev said in June 2012 that “it is necessary to establish a constant monitoring and information exchange in Afghanistan in the framework of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) [which is part of SCO]. We suppose that the approval of Afghanistan’s request for Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) observer status will enhance economic and humanitarian cooperation with this country.”
Afghanistan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin met Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov in January 2013 during Ludin’s visit to Kazakhstan to talk about possibilities for close cooperation in countering terrorism. “Terrorism is not exclusively a national problem of Afghanistan. This is a regional problem. The approaches to solving it should also be regional. Kazakhstan and Afghanistan have to closely cooperate in countering terrorism, as the countries are located close to each other and their security issues are linked. This means their solutions have to be linked as well,” Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister said. Their meeting also covered preparations for the upcoming conference on the Istanbul Process to be held in Almaty in April 2013. Idrissov noted that Kazakhstan has made significant preparations for the conference, in which 13 countries of the region and other interested states will discuss a regional approach to Afghanistan’s problems.
Though there has been mixed public reaction to the Kazakh Defence Ministry’s position that Kazakhstan peacemakers will not participate in missions in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan’s indirect involvement in providing transit for NATO military property and personnel from Afghanistan via Kazakhstan will continue to play a significant role for the region. Most recently, another document was signed in Astana by Kazakhstan’s and Italy’s Defense Ministers Adilbek Dzhaksybekov and Giampaolo di Paola. “We have signed the agreement on transit of military property and personnel from Afghanistan via Kazakhstan,” Kazakhstan’s defense minister told the journalists.
Basically, the document guarantees that after the completion of certain legal procedures, Kazakhstan will provide its territory to Italy for transit of its military property and personnel as part of the international forces’ peacekeeping and stabilization mission in Afghanistan. The agreement provides for transit of Italian personnel and property by rail and air transport. “This agreement is like a continuation of the general agreement signed with Italy. This was the purpose of the trip,” said Paola.
According to the Kazakhstan Defence Ministry, Kazakhstan already has similar agreements with the U.S., Germany, Spain, Great Britain, France and the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in general.
“The UN is currently performing 15 peacemaking operations. The Kazakhstan Defence Ministry has initiated certain developments in this direction. They were coordinated with the Foreign Ministry and submitted to Kazakhstan’s government and then to the President’s Administration for approval. It is too early to talk about any particular missions before the president makes the decision and the Parliament reviews the suggestions. Of course, the suggestions were made with consideration of their political practicability and compliance with Kazakhstan’s foreign policy interests. They do not include missions that may cause a mixed reaction by our major partners or society,” Kazakhstan’s defence ministry stated on April 1, 2013.
The ministry also noted that, according to Kazakhstan President’s decree No.161 dated Oct. 11, 2011 that approved the military doctrine, observance of international obligations to upkeep peace and security, including participation in peacemaking activities, is one of the major objectives of Kazakhstan’s defense policy.
Kazakhstan’s participation in peacemaking operations is meant to be characterized by the principles of impartiality and retaining full neutrality with a lack of special relations with any of the conflicting parties, including refusals to participate in direct or indirect cooperation in the performance of interests of any of the said parties if that infringes on the interests of other participants of the conflict. Kazakhstan hopes the war will end soon and a new era of regional harmony will emerge.
Looking past the conflict and into the future, Afghanistan is asking for Kazakhstan’s support in entering the Organization for Cooperation of Railways, according to Director of KazIndustry and Center for Modern Afghanistan Research expert Mohammad Daud at a recent Kazakhstan-Afghanistan business forum. However, for successful dialogue and solutions, all parties in the region need be involved.
“Transit via our neighboring countries is the main barrier for cooperation. Uzbekistan declared a conventional ban that stopped transit of some goods. Our railway station that accepts the goods also has insufficient infrastructure and is unable to properly manage arriving cargoes. What can we do? Afghanistan has its own railroad. It has to take the initiative and enter the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Organization for Cooperation of Railways. Kazakhstan could support Afghanistan in Russia, so that it can enter this organization more quickly. Then, the transit problem would be fully resolved and we would be able to accept goods independently. Right now, there is no way through… Uzbekistan decides on everything that goes to Afghanistan,” Daud explained.
According to the Kazakhstan Chamber of Commerce, the commodities turnover between Kazakhstan and Afghanistan in January-December 2012 reached $321.5 million. Afghan entrepreneurs are interested in food, flour, construction materials and oil products.
“Kazakhstan has the leading position in the region and Afghan officials realize that. Many of our businessmen also want to invest, but there is currently very little information about Kazakhstan. There are also visa problems for entrepreneurs. That’s why not all businessmen willing to work can come here,” Daud said.
Officials in Astana hope that in the near future, the processes of integration and economic interdependence will shift the scales of war and establish a pillar of peace. And these aspirations should only be supported.