Kazakhstan’s assistance to Afghanistan helps strengthen regional and global security, diplomat says

Kazakhstan has long been providing active support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, helping both financially and by promoting the stabilisation of the situation at the political level. Kazakh-Afghan cooperation and the importance of Kazakhstan’s assistance for enhancing security in Afghanistan were the topics of an interview with Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Special Representative for Afghanistan Stanislav Vassilenko.

Stanislav Vassilenko

What is the history of bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) since 1991?

Kazakhstan and Afghanistan established diplomatic relations on Feb. 12, 1992. In September 2002, Kazakhstan opened a diplomatic mission in Kabul, which became the embassy in June 2003. Since April 2018, Alimkhan Yessengeldiev has been the Ambassador of Kazakhstan in Kabul.

We now have a good bilateral relationship, strengthened by consistent and dynamic development over many areas.

From a political point, Kazakhstan stands for the early establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan, including through the further development of bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation. The two governments have a mutual understanding on many political issues of the international agenda. Astana cooperates with Kabul within the framework of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) and IOFS (Islamic Organisation for Food Security).

We support the peaceful initiatives of the international community aimed at resolving the Afghan crisis; we are actively participating in the Heart of Asia – Istanbul process. Kazakhstan has extended its support to the Kabul Process, a new peace initiative by Afghanistan.

We welcome the active engagement of our Central Asian partners on platforms including those such as the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan in March 2018. Let me note that we are also supportive of Afghanistan’s receiving an observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

An inter-parliamentary relationship is being endorsed at the level of the leadership of both chambers of the Parliament of Kazakhstan, its deputy committees and commissions. As part of this cooperation, the two countries regularly exchange delegations.

You said at the UN Security Council meeting in New York in March 2018 that Afghanistan continues to face political and economic problems, as well as security threats. How does Kazakhstan help the IRA overcome these challenges?

Clearly, Kazakhstan supports Afghanistan’s integration into the expanding regional network of trade, energy and transport links. We believe the restoration of its economy through the implementation of long-term projects and the involvement of the region’s countries in this network would be the most efficient way to address the complex problems of the IRA and I mean here primarily social challenges related to employment and boosting incomes.

Kazakh-Afghan trade turnover is steadily growing. In 2014, it amounted to $336.7 million ($333.53 million is Kazakhstan’s export); then in 2016, it reached $489.4 million ($486.8 million being export, $2.5 million import in Kazakhstan).

Between January-August 2017, trade reached $328.5 million, including $327.3 million in exports and $1.2 million in imports – 11 percent more than the same period of 2016.

Kazakhstan’s exports to Afghanistan are traditionally dominated by grain and flour (67 percent), followed by food products (27 percent), liquefied gas (7.2 percent) and rolled metal (5.6 percent). Smaller volumes of fertilisers, medicines, metal rods, auto parts and other goods have also been in consistent demand.

I would like to note that the Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation plays an important role in the development of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. To strengthen its work, there is a need to make maximum use of the existing railway routes along the line of Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Iran to the border with Afghanistan.

For the regular supply of Kazakh grain and flour to Afghanistan, there is a need to reduce barriers in the documentation and transportation of flour products. In this regard, we pin high hopes on a new railway line from Turkmenistan to the border with Afghanistan.

In the field of cultural and humanitarian cooperation in recent years, we have successfully launched the Kazakh-Afghan state educational programme of the Republic of Kazakhstan for the training of 1,000 Afghan students. Until now, about 500 people have completed the programme. I can confirm that the Government of National Unity of Afghanistan and the Afghan people are highly interested in the continuation of the programme.

Earlier, Kazakhstan had announced an initiative to continue this programme with European Union participation. At present, we have reached an agreement with the EU to implement an education program for Afghan women in Kazakhstan’s universities together with UN Women. The tentative budget for the project’s first phase, as announced by Federica Mogherini, is 2 million euro. We will keep you and your colleagues informed about the status of this project.

On 5 September 2018, Astana hosted the regional conference “Empowering Women in Afghanistan,” jointly organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, the European Union, the Foundation of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the Eurasian Media Forum. The event brought together high-level delegations from Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the United States, Uzbekistan, and the United Nations.

This event was held because Kazakhstan attaches great importance to empowering women and strengthening stability in Afghanistan. Kazakhstan and our partners believe that expanding the participation of women in political, economic and social processes in Afghanistan will increase the country’s well-being, and we are always ready to share our experiences and best practices with the Afghan people.

Among concrete deliverables of the conference I would list the following:

– EU decided to allocate $2 million for the first phase of the educational programme to train Afghan women in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan;

– the Government of Kazakhstan decided to allocate a greater number of scholarships for Afghan women during 2019-2020, which is a continuation of Kazakhstan’s initiative to train 1,000 Afghan civilian specialists under the special education program worth US$50 million; and- two Memorandums of Understanding signed between the Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs’ Business Women Council and Association of Business Women of Kazakhstan.

Sports representatives and the National Olympic Committee of Afghanistan are also willing to develop cooperation with their Kazakh counterparts. The Afghans participated in the 2017 Winter Universiade in Almaty; an analogue of Kazakh kokpar – the equestrian sport game bozkashi is very popular among Afghan youth.

In addition, public and private higher education institutions of the IRA would like to establish an exchange with their Kazakh colleagues to conduct training of Afghan students in Kazakhstan on a fee-paying basis. The National Archives, the National Museum and the National Library of Afghanistan have also expressed willingness to cooperate with similar Kazakh institutions. I would like to underscore that these organisations may have authentic sources and historic scripts related to the Kazakh Khanate.

In the field of medicine, the Afghan Ministry of Health is interested in establishing cooperation with Kazakhstan for training Afghan women in medical universities of Kazakhstan, purchasing medical products and developing medical tourism. So far, a draft memorandum on such cooperation has been sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan.

Kazakhstan fulfilled and continues to fulfill its international pledge of economic assistance to the IRA. In July 2008, we transferred $2.38 million to the Ministry of Finance of Afghanistan; $160,000 being spent to build a school in the province of Samangan, $570,000 to build a hospital in the province of Bamyan and $1.65 million for repairing the Talukan-Kunduz-Shirkhan-Bandar road.

The repair was completed in October 2011 and the school in 2012. The hospital construction, suspended previously by the Afghan side, was resumed in October 2016.

In 2014, we provided scheduled financial assistance to the Afghan province of Samangan for the construction of specific infrastructure facilities. At the end of December 2014, the government of Kazakhstan transferred $1.5 million to the special account of the Ministry of Finance of Afghanistan for the construction of four standard bridges in the Afghan city of Aibak. The bridges were necessary to strengthen the banks of the Aibak River in the province of Samangan. Currently, the Afghan side is implementing the project.

In October 2016, the government of Kazakhstan provided $2 million in economic aid in support of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) to a relevant NATO trust fund. In October 2017, Astana received a letter from the government of Afghanistan with a request for humanitarian food aid in connection with drought and natural disasters in the country.

On Oct. 27, 2017, First Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Askar Mamin chaired the international humanitarian assistance commission meeting, after which there was a decision to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan that included 260 tonnes of whole meal flour, 2,590 tonnes of white flour, 847,139 cans of canned meat and 40 tonnes of dried vegetables totalling 819,209,000 tenge (US$2.3 million).

In your opinion, which undertakings of Kazakhstan are of global significance in the country’s peacekeeping initiatives as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the restoration of peace and security in Afghanistan?

As a non-permanent member of the council, for the first time in the history of this major international organisation Kazakhstan represents not only Central Asia, but also Afghanistan, promoting the interests of this country among our priorities.

During our presidency in January 2018, we convened a Security Council ministerial debate on the topic “Building Regional Partnership in Afghanistan and Central Asia as a Model to Link Security and Development,” where the UN member states reaffirmed their commitment to a political settlement of the situation in Afghanistan based on the concept of the security and development nexus.

At the same time, we organised a full-scale visit of the council members to Afghanistan preceded by a Kabul trip of the Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the United Nations in his role as the chairman of the council’s sanctions committees.

What is Kazakhstan’s contribution to ensuring stability in Afghanistan, as well as in the development of the entire region? Can we say that Kazakhstan is becoming not only a regional, but a global player?

Central Asia is reasonably viewed by the international community as a model for successful regional cooperation. It is significant that Kazakhstan has put forward the initiative to integrate Afghanistan into the region to advance the peace process in this country. In my view, Kazakhstan’s contribution is undeniable and of great importance for strengthening regional and global stability.