Kazakhstan’s Independence Day, celebrated on December 16 to commemorate the fulfillment of the Kazakh people’s long-cherished dream of having an independent state, which happened on December 16, 1991, fills every heart in Kazakhstan with pride and joy now.
Kazakhstan is the most economically successful country in Central Asia on the right track towards becoming one of the world’s 30 most developed countries by the year 2050. Kazakhstan is a democratic republic, with a developed multi-party system (the parliamentary campaign has just started with at least three parties having a strong chance to get into the parliament). Kazakhstan is one of the few countries of the former Soviet Union where the passage of power to the new president in 2019 took place peacefully and legally, as a result of a competitive election. A number of international leaders and organizations acknowledged the huge positive role which the First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, played in achieving this result by announcing his voluntary resignation on March 19, 2019.
Was this result written in a stone, could anyone foresee it in 1991? Any objective historian or just a person who remembers that time and realities can answer that the positive outcome was by no means certain. Kazakhstan left the Soviet Union in a dignified and noble manner, when the Soviet Union was dying in deep crisis, leaving Kazakhstan with a number of economic, social and ecological problems. Pessimists predicted an “explosion” in Central Asia, doubting that region’s ability to sustain itself economically and to preserve the statehoods of its young independent republics (particularly Tajikistan, which was plunging into a civil war, that ended only many months after the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991; Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan also faced increasing poverty and dangerous internal conflicts).
But Nazarbayev, the President of the newly established Republic of Kazakhstan, fearlessly faced the challenges. Kazakhstan preserved the industry created during the Soviet years and slowly, but steadily put it on the market track, adding a number of new, twenty first century elements. After several years of a slowdown, Kazakhstan’s metallurgical plants, its oil and gas industry and, last but not least, agriculture picked up speed. Now all of these sectors of the country’s economy by far exceed the pre-1991 levels of production. It is enough to say that the products of Kazakhstan’s highly competitive metallurgical industry are now exported to the EU, while Kazakhstan’s neighbors in Central Asia are buying its agricultural products. Diversification of industries, foreign investment sources and multivector diplomacy of Kazakhstan have also made a huge step forward. The EU (not China or Russia) is now the biggest foreign investor in Kazakhstan, and the country’s diplomats manage to maintain excellent relations with both Russia and Western countries.
In an article published in the Astana Times not long before Kazakhstan’s Independence Day one year ago, Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi revealed some of the secrets, which allowed Kazakhstan to achieve such inimitable results:
“Our country pursues a peaceful and friendly foreign policy towards all states with which it has established diplomatic relations. There are no substantive contradictions in the area of political cooperation with any of them. Moreover, we have the same or similar views on most issues of bilateral interaction and international agenda,” Tileuberdi wrote.
And one can only add here that this course was first charted by Nazarbayev, who was rightly praised by both the President of Russia Vladimir Putin (“Nursultan Nazarbayev is the father of Eurasian integration project on the territory of the former Soviet Union”) and the President of the United States Donald Trump (“Kazakhstan is doing very well. They’ve really turned things around, they have a lot of advantages over some nations and their President is highly respected and has done a great, great job.”)
And again Kazakhstan’s solution was not confrontation, but cooperation and search for solutions. Kazakhstan hosted the now famous negotiations on ending the Syrian conflict, which went down in history as the Astana process. These negotiations helped to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but they also reduced the conflict potential between Russia and the West, which was unanimously critical of Russian involvement in Syria. Kazakhstan, without pressuring anyone or getting involved in the fighting, showed the way forward in cooperation and dialogue. Kazakhstan showed an equally responsible approach in improving the security and ecological situation on our planet, coming out with the initiative of destruction of nuclear weapons and a number of ecological initiatives.
Now Kazakhstan is leading the way again in advocating a “joint response” of the international community to the threat of coronavirus.
Now the question is: would Kazakhstan be able to do all of this without being an independent, totally sovereign state? The answer is no. In fact, Kazakhstan’s sovereignty became a blessing for everyone: in the first place, for the former states of the Soviet Union and for the fraternal Central Asian republics in particular because of Kazakhstan’s economic success and role in Eurasian integration; but it was a blessing for the world, too, because lots of countries have got a responsible and reliable partner.
Kazakhstan’s positive work in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization made it a friend of China; Kazakhstan’s active participation in the Islamic Cooperation Organization got it connected to 56 fraternal Muslim states. And the Eurasian Economic Union is becoming a vehicle of development in the triangle uniting China, Kazakhstan and the former republics of the Soviet Union. The golden rule here is just one: Kazakhstan is valuable when it is sovereign and when it is free to suggest its own solutions. They are always peaceful.
The author is Dmitry Babich, a Moscow-based journalist with 30 years of experience of covering global politics, a frequent guest on BBC, Al Jazeera and RT.