It would be hard to think, as we look around at increased global tensions, of a time in recent years when the need for dialogue, trust and partnership has been greater. Despite a widespread understanding that cooperation is the only way to overcome the many challenges our world faces, each seems in dangerously short supply.
This is sadly as true in Eurasia as in any other part of the world. We may share one landmass, but it is fractured by military, political and economic disputes. Millions of people live on a daily basis with the catastrophic consequences of conflict. Many more inhabit regions where tensions between neighbours cast a dark shadow over their hopes for the future. There is a risk, as we have warned before, of a return to a time of competing blocs and spheres of influence.
It is why the high-level gathering in Nur-Sultan this week of parliamentary speakers from across Eurasia could not have been better timed. Nor could the themes of dialogue, trust and partnership have been better chosen. It was an ideal opportunity for influential politicians to concentrate not on divisions and disagreements but on what their countries and citizens have in common and can achieve together.
It is the fourth time that Eurasia’s Parliamentary Speakers have come together in this way. The gathering in Nur-Sultan was, without doubt, the biggest and most important so far. Senior delegations from 65 countries – more than triple the 19 who attended the first conference in Moscow three years ago – came to Kazakhstan’s capital. They included national delegations from China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Turkey as well as European nations such as Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Montenegro, Slovakia, the UK, and many others. A total of 15 international organisations also took part in the discussions.
The overwhelming majority of delegations were headed by the country’s speaker, the most senior figure in their national parliament. It is an office whose constitutional and political role varies between countries but is globally associated with authority and influence. This was the position, after all, held in the Senate by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev until earlier this year and is now filled by Dariga Nazarbayeva. She was given a major vote of confidence earlier this month when she was re-elected to the prestigious post by the Senate.
It should be no surprise either that Kazakhstan made the vision of partnership across Eurasia the main priority of the conference. It has been one of the foundations of our foreign policy since our First President set out his vision of greater Eurasian integration 25 years ago. This was a theme he returned to – and supported with practical initiatives – many times, including at the UN General Assembly in 2015 and again in April in Beijing when he made a passionate appeal for increased dialogue and economic and security cooperation as part of what he termed the “Three D” dialogues.
The result is that few countries have better relations with the many nations, which make up Eurasia or have done more to break down barriers between them. Kazakhstan links Europe, Asia and the Middle East not only geographically but also, thanks to determined efforts over the last three decades, strategically and diplomatically. The country has worked hard, for example, to increase trade by improving transport connections and through initiatives such as the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union. The OSCE’s Astana Declaration from 2010, too, sets out a framework for greater co-operation across the board.
It is in the long-term interest of all countries who share our landmass to see this ambition met. There is no other way to deliver sustained peace, stability and prosperity for our citizens. It was why it was important that the political leaders gathered in Nur-Sultan this week didn’t waste the opportunity for open discussions on how and where parliaments can work together on common challenges. It is through such practical steps that we can foster trust and begin to build a new model of cooperation for our continent.