Kazakhstan is a country on the move. It is an unmistakable impression one gets from hearing scholars, diplomats and businessmen visiting Washington. Time and again one finds many opportunities around this capital to hear experts share their vision and voice their opinion up close and personal.
A recent luncheon in Washington was an excellent example of such interactions. Although this was an official event, the atmosphere was quite relaxed which facilitated meaningful dialogue between experts from different fields and with varying persuasions.
There appears to a shared appreciation of Kazakhstan’s “pragmatic foreign policy.” Pragmatism also requires negotiating, whether with bilateral or multilateral partners. And for negotiations, there were some useful words of wisdom from the Steppes: “Ask for a camel, if you want a horse.”
From the experts, one learns that Kazakhstan is a donor country and not a recipient of financial aid. This meant sound management of the resources and finances, about which experts seemed to also agree.
The crux of the discussions in September in Washington has been well summarized by the Silk Road paper – “Looking Forward: Kazakhstan and the United States” by the eminent scholars of the Central Asia – Caucasus Institute Silk Studies programme. This team of six authors, three from the United States and three from Kazakhstan, with support from their respective institutions has put forth concrete policy recommendations for moving US-Kazakhstan relations to a higher level.
The chapter containing the “Summary of Policy Recommendations” states the simple fact that “each country needs the other in fulfilling its goals” and that “both sides focus their energies with respect to the other on advancing” commonalities. These experts recommend signing “a US-Kazakhstan Strategic Partnership Charter, and intensify the work under its specific working groups.”
Experts present actionable ideas about intensifying cooperation in defense and security. For instance, they recommend that the U.S. should take the lead in working with Kazakhstan authorities to improve interoperability between Kazakhstan forces and NATO, “helping KazBrig reach NATO Evaluation Level 2 and by expanding it to a three-battalion brigade.” They further recommend institutionalize and intensify analytic interaction on regional security affairs.
Realising the important role of trade and investment, seasoned voices urge the removal of impediments to U.S. investment in Kazakhstan. In this regards, just as in many other aspects of international relations, the importance of enhancing the rule of law for improvement of the investment climate was stressed. To further the cause of strong bilateral and multilateral trade relations, one heard the calls for rapid completion of Kazakhstan’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Experts recommend that the “U.S. should prioritize Kazakhstan’s accession to the WTO and prevent it from remaining on the back-burner, as it has been for years.” They see a huge untapped potential that could benefit both US and Kazakhstan and their trading partners.
Since stability in Afghanistan is vital for security not only in the areas along the Silk Road but also throughout the world, experts emphasise multi-sided cooperation on post-2014 Afghanistan. They understand that the U.S. and Kazakhstan share an interest in ameliorating and countering any diffusion of instability from Afghanistan into Central Asia. It is fortunate that the transition of power in Kabul from President Hamid Karzai to President Ashraf Ghani has been managed successfully by U.S. diplomatic efforts. This peaceful transfer of power – and the absence of a bloody power struggle – should expand the opportunities for an effective role for both the U.S. and Kazakhstan in setting the stage for a brighter future for Afghanistan’s citizens.
As the U.S. is the only major external actor in the region “without a regularised consultative mechanism in Central Asia,” the experts recommend “Central Asia Six Plus One” entity. In the absence of such an entity, it could be very hard for both the U.S. and Kazakhstan to achieve their respective regional objectives.
The ancient Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of civilisations across the continents and economic and cultural exchanges between civilisations. Today, even thousands of miles away in Washington from that ancient route one can see that the New Silk Road opens new horizons for unparalleled economic growth and enhanced cross cultural exchanges. And, stronger U.S.-Kazakhstan relations are the key ingredient for paving the way along the New Silk Road as the broad avenue of hope for humanity.
The author writes for the Diplomatic Courier and PakistanLink and is a member of the Boards of the Embassy Series and Interfaith Voices, a National Public Radio programme. He is a member of the National Press Club in Washington, DC.