At a time of great tension in the Middle East, the international community is facing an extraordinary test of our values and collective resolve. Whether in Syria, in countering extremism, or making much needed progress in the Middle East peace process, the region is fraught with challenges. In our globalised world, the problems of one country not only affect its neighbours but can have an impact on all. The issues we face recognise no borders.
There is perhaps no greater challenge to the resolve of the international community than the ongoing events in Syria. We have been all witnessing the mounting civilian toll with a growing sense of horror. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. Today, there are almost four million Syrian refugees. More than two hundred thousand men, women and children have perished in a conflict that shows no signs of slowing.
A political settlement in Syria is the only way to stop the violence. Kazakhstan is ready to play its part. Shortly, at the request of the Syrian opposition, Kazakhstan will host a meeting to push forward the discussions around a political solution and find ways to alleviate the humanitarian disaster. Kazakhstan’s position has always been clear. It stands for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of this crisis within the framework of the Geneva process.
The chaos of the conflict has also proven a fertile environment for the growth of extremism. Extremism is twisting and perverting the Islamic faith and damaging it in the eyes of many in the international community. It is not a problem with Islam – it is a problem born of political and economic instability married with hate. Working with international partners to overcome extremism and its poisonous proponents, ISIL, is a priority for Kazakhstan. Isolation and withdrawal from a problem like ISIL will only make matters worse.
For governments, there are ways to tackle the problem. They should work together to take down illegal online material, such as the recent videos of ISIL murdering hostages. They should develop universal anti-terror legal instruments and other mechanisms because the fight against international terrorism demands a long-term, comprehensive approach. That’s why Kazakhstan was right to co-sponsor the UN Security Council Resolution on Foreign Terrorist Fighters. The governments should develop a stronger commitment and better tools to fight money laundering and the financing of terrorism. And they should increase efforts to prevent terrorist access to weapons of mass distraction and arms.
But even with such tools, we will struggle to overcome extremist ideology without stopping the creation of an environment in which it thrives. While here in Kazakhstan we have already achieved notable economic development in the Islamic world, maintaining, increasing and spreading wealth throughout society must be a priority. Poverty, inequality and a lack of opportunity is a breeding ground for instability and extremism, both within our countries and in the international community.
The financial crisis and the on-going challenges in the international economy have shaken traditional institutions and models of business, many of which were built on entirely Western principles of economics and finance. Against this backdrop, the phenomenal and rapid development of the Islamic world presents many opportunities. There is significant potential in greater economic cooperation with other Islamic nations. Kazakhstan’s significant natural resources have allowed the country to deliver a 20-fold rise in GDP per capita in a little over two decades of independence. We aim to join the world’s top 30 economies by 2050 – no small task and one that can only be achieved by building strong economic and trade relations with a broad range of partners.
Kazakhstan also faces significant long-term challenges, including the need to create an innovative, diverse and value-added economy that is resilient and can adapt to rapid changes in today’s fast-paced world. These are challenges shared by many of Islamic nations – challenges that we can overcome if we come together and build mutually beneficial relationships. Our determination to thrive in the global economy is the best answer to those extremists who seek to force the region into the dark ages.
Political challenges also play their part. In the Middle East, there is no greater challenge than to settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. After another year of bloodshed and conflict in Gaza, hopes are fading on the window to secure a two state solution of a safe and secure Israel existing next to a viable Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. Such a solution remains the only viable option to a peaceful future for both peoples. The failure to achieve two states is the kindling for discontent to many across the region.
As our countries take on greater prominence on the world stage, it is our duty to step up and confront these issues. Kazakhstan is working hard to play a constructive role across the Islamic world and address the many shared challenges. During the country’s chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2011-2012, it established the Islamic Organisation for Food Security – an issue that challenges many of our nations whatever their stage of development. Kazakhstan is also seeking to promote greater understanding of Islam and relations between all faiths through the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which will hold its fifth meeting this June in Astana.
For Kazakhstan, a Central Asian nation where around 70 percent of our 17 million citizens are Muslim, these challenges are keenly felt. We have worked hard to build a peaceful, tolerant and prosperous country in a region not known for stability. Economic prosperity is the key to successful development and overcoming our challenges. We can achieve far more, far faster through partnership and cooperation between fellow Islamic countries. But we must also build and progress the political alliances needed to cement and safeguard our collective prosperity and security long into the future.