Development Assistance Key to Eliminating Support for Extremists

As we look around the world, violent extremism and terrorism has never been a greater threat. In parts of the Middle East and Africa, for example, it has fuelled conflict which is tearing countries apart. But while some regions suffer far worse from this modern scourge, none of us, wherever we live, are safe.

Globalisation and modern communication has brought many benefits. But the speed and ease in which both ideas and people can now travel have also increased risks. There is no point hiding and hoping that instability elsewhere will not bring violence or bloodshed to our societies. In an open world, the tragic evidence exposes the failure of such an approach.

This evidence also underlines how long-term success cannot be achieved solely through military and security solutions. Winning a battle against extremism, let alone a war against an insurgency, cannot be delivered by conventional firepower or engaging an enemy in open-field battles. Defeating terrorism when it is not clear who is the enemy or potential enemy is even more complex.

Intelligence operations and international partnerships have never been more important. So, too, is the battle for the “hearts and minds” of populations who provide both the recruits for the violent extremists but also the passive support on which they depend.

We have to ask why so many young men – and increasingly women – fall prey to the appeal of Jihadist ideologists who convinced them to sacrifice their lives “for Islam.” It is, in many cases, these preachers of hate who offer hope and answers when elsewhere their target audience see despair and confusion. We also have to examine why the general population in these areas, although not themselves recruited directly to the extremist cause, are prepared to give the extremists passive support.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq exploited the grievances and fears of the country’s Sunni population to build their territorial power-base in the country. Many supported the terrorist group’s rule in their part of the nation out of a belief that what they offered was more attractive than the chaos and hostility of the alternative. Only when they were offered the prospect of a better future, together with their disgust at the violent behaviour of the terrorists, were al-Qaeda defeated. Today, the so called Islamic State, or ISIS, is feeding on the same anxieties in a far more violent and sophisticated way.

Education is a vital weapon in the battle to keep young people out of the hands of the extremists. The moral education and spiritual formation of our children should be the fundamental concern of parents. But economics is also important.  Young people will be more receptive to what they are being told by their parents – and mothers and fathers will put more effort into helping their children chart the right course – if they are confident about the future and see realistic opportunities to build safer and more prosperous lives.

Kazakhstan’s own recent history shows the benefit of citizens having confidence and a stake in the future. Our stability and prosperity have reinforced each other over the last 23 years and forged a united people.

In contrast, it is those societies riven by division and where the economic prospects are seen to be poor for the vast majority of citizens where extremism too often takes hold. Unemployed young men are the primary recruiting pool for terrorist and insurgent groups. They feel they have nothing to lose and are persuaded by the easy answers peddled to them.

Social stability and economic strength depend on many factors. Countries that have ineffective government institutions, wide-spread corruption and weak rule of law have a remarkably higher risk of civil unrest and extreme criminal violence than other developing countries. Economic strength requires sound macro-policies, investment in infrastructure and, last but not least, a healthy climate for investments and entrepreneurship.

Countries can help build these conditions beyond their borders through their own example and by building bilateral and multilateral partnerships. There is also the opportunity to use direct development assistance to help extend prosperity and provide the conditions for international, regional and national security.

Yet despite the United Nations urging developed countries to spend 0.7 per cent of their gross national income (GNI) on overseas development aid, very few countries have reached this target. The median size of the assistance provided by member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a global club of 34 well-off nations, is about 0.4 percent of GNI. (Admittedly, indicators of the leading donors in relative-size helped reach 1 percent of global GNI.) Progress has not been helped, in recent years, by the continuing fall-out from the global financial crisis which has left many countries with large public debts and reduced revenues.

But given the rise of violent extremism, cutting back on overseas aid may well be a false economy. It is certainly a view taken by Kazakhstan whose strong economic growth has seen it join the ranks of middle-income countries. It is against this background, its sense of global responsibility and recognition of the benefits it brings to both national and international goals that Kazakhstan has signalled it wants to assist in the development of other societies.

Kazakhstan is already playing its role in supporting Afghanistan – both a near-neighbour and one of the countries which has suffered most from the conflict and divisions caused by violent extremism. Humanitarian support has been offered to its people while 1,000 of its brightest young people are being trained in our universities. Kazakhstan is also increasingly offering emergency aid to those countries hit by natural disasters.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev signalled in 2013 a determination to extend and strengthen this work. He approved the document setting out the country’s plans and ambitions in the field of overseas development assistance (ODA) which. After a lengthy legislative process, the plant to create an ODA capacity was signed into law last December.  It outlined the country’s intention to use aid to promote sustainable development regionally and globally.

Priority sectors for this work are agriculture and food security, protection of the environment, conflict resolution and security, combating transnational crime, supporting education and health care, improving public administration, poverty reduction including through the promotion of economic growth and business support and the development of trade. The primary and initial focus of the future ODA agency is to be in Central Asia.

At its heart is a recognition that, more than ever before, we succeed or fail together. It was a theme underlined by President Nazarbayev last year when he spoke at the VII Astana Economic Forum in May 2014. He pointed out that it was “impossible in a globalised world to live in harmony and prosperity when there are serious problems in the world, especially in neighbouring countries”. He added that Kazakhstan may have been one of the world’s fastest-growing economies but its ambitions of joining the ranks of the 30 most-developed countries relied on “closer integration with our neighbours”. This meant that the country could not be “indifferent” to what was happening elsewhere in the region.

It is clear that preparations for a specialised ODA programme under the brand of KazAid show the Government’s determination to put these words into action. They demonstrate Kazakhstan’s maturity as a country and the strong commitment to being a growing force for good in the world.

If we are to win the global battle for hearts and minds, people have to be convinced that they have a better future through a peaceful path. It is here that well-targeted overseas aid can be so effective.

It would be extremely important then for Kazakhstan, other countries in the region and beyond, as well as the United Nations organisations, to continue cooperating in a constructive and timely manner on progressive programmes and projects in the countries that need those most to build a more secure environment for sustainable development and prevent the spread of instability and radicalism.

By strengthening stability and driving progress in Central Asia, development assistance can help roll back the threat of violent extremism from our borders and globally.

Get The Astana Times stories sent directly to you! Sign up via the website or subscribe to our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, YouTube and Tiktok!