It may not be – as is often wrongly suggested – an ancient Chinese curse but the saying “May you live in interesting times” nevertheless sums up in many ways the last twelve months. 2015 may not have been dull but historians may also reflect it was a year in which the world seemed to lose its way.
The continuing chaos in Iraq and Syria has been a catastrophe not just for those nations and their citizens. Violence and instability have been fuelled in many other countries while it has sparked a refugee crisis of immense proportions. Extremism, for example, is also damaging hopes of a better future for Afghanistan casting a shadow over the wider region.
Hopes of an effective international response to these threats have been thwarted – at least until recently – by a severe deterioration of relations between the major powers. At a time when co-ordinated action was essential, the suspicion and fear which we all hoped had been left behind with the Cold War has re-emerged.
The sanctions this new freeze provoked have also worsened an already difficult global economic environment. Without determined action, these economic challenges could have derailed all that has been achieved in Kazakhstan.
The depth of the economic crisis and the urgency with which a programme of action was put in place was one of the most striking features of 2015 for our country. The economic challenges will continue to have a major impact on the next 12 months.
Kazakhstan could respond so quickly because of the prudent nature of its leadership and, of course, the strength of its society. 2015 saw the country give a very strong vote of confidence in President Nursultan Nazarbayev and he used his new mandate to accelerate economic and social reforms. The Parliament worked at a break-neck pace and approved, before the end of the year, an estimated 80 laws or amendments under the 100 Concrete Steps programme, virtually creating a complete new legal framework in the country as of Jan. 1, 2016.
President Nazarbayev could put in place this challenging reform programme in the knowledge that Kazakhstan possesses a strong sense of national purpose. It is this unity along with its leadership which are the main reasons to believe that Kazakhstan will chart its way successfully through the current difficulties just as we have in the past.
It is this history which, of course, will be a major focus for 2016. In December, Kazakhstan will celebrate its 25th anniversary of independence. It will be an occasion to reflect on the extraordinary achievements since 1991 and the national ambitions for the future. No one who has witnessed Kazakhstan overcome the many obstacles on its way would think that the goal of joining the ranks of the top 30 developed countries by 2050 is out of reach.
Kazakhstan’s achievements go, of course, far wider than just the economic sphere. Even before these national celebrations in December, Kazakhstan will mark the 25th anniversary of another major event in our history. The decision to close the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing site in August 1991 immediately put our young country in the forefront of the global campaign to end the threat of nuclear weapons and has continued to shape our foreign policy and international reputation.
We hope, too, that 2016 will see Kazakhstan given a high profile platform to continue its work for peace, dialogue and international co-operation. Given the increasing importance of Central Asia for the world’s future, it is hard to understand why no country from the region has yet to sit on the United Nations Security Council. By putting itself forward for a non-permanent seat for 2017- 2018, Kazakhstan hopes to correct this oversight.
More importantly, it will also provide the opportunity for the country to help shape the international response to the urgent challenges the world is facing. Kazakhstan’s strong support for the UN, its good relations across the developed and developing world and the priorities set out of nuclear, water, energy and food security in its campaign show it is ready for the responsibility.
2016 will also be a busy year as the final preparations are made for EXPO 2017 in Astana. There is a huge amount of work in hand not only to prepare the site but also to put in place the modern infrastructure that exhibitors and visitors will need and will be required to ensure EXPO leaves a lasting legacy.
As we look forward to 2016, it would be unwise to predict that the next 12 months will be any less ‘interesting’ than the previous ones. Yet, there have been welcome signs in recent weeks of an increased appetite for international cooperation which is the essential requirement for a more peaceful and prosperous future. This is what we all want for our families and our nations in 2016 and beyond.