Kazakhstan’s Leading Think Tank Outlines Its Achievements Over Three Decades

ASTANA — The Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies (KazISS), the country’s leading think tank, celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2023. In the run-up to this milestone, The Astana Times spoke with KazISS Director Yerkin Tukumov about the institute’s role in the country’s development and future plans. 

KazISS Director Yerkin Tukumov.

What role has the think tank played in the country’s development? 

Analysis is crucial to making competent decisions. The key aspect of KazISS’ work is to prepare operational and strategic analyses for the President and his Executive Office. At the same time, we understand that we should publish as much information as possible publicly on important issues, including sociological research and analysis. This information for public use is available on our website and shared on our social media channels. We achieved tremendous improvement in this area over the last year, as we have seen a rise in visitors to our website, especially from abroad.

The demand for analytics is growing each year. Nowadays, not only countries but even international broadcasting news agencies such as CNN and Al Jazeera are establishing their think tanks. If there are no think tanks, then the process of public policy management seriously deteriorates in all areas.

What are your priorities for 2023?

We are the leading think tank in Kazakhstan. KazISS has become well-known domestically and in wider Central Asia and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). We are in global rankings, so living up to this status is crucial through our experienced staff, high-quality research, and analysis. This will enable us to set even more ambitious goals. 

I have been saying for a long time that Kazakhstan has to do more in the field of foreign policy research. It is necessary to develop research on our neighboring states: China, Russia, and Central Asian countries. We must analyze the United States, European countries, and the Islamic world. This year we started modifying the institute’s structure and created centers specializing in foreign policy, practical domestic approach, and local and global economics. We are constantly searching for positive case studies that can be applied to Kazakhstan during the transformational period. In addition, we are analyzing what risks and challenges the global situation brings, including increased militarization and conflicts in different regions worldwide.

Another aspect of our work is finding information. Analysts always work with large databases. Utilizing online public sources is never enough. It is necessary to study Kazakhstan deeply, understand how a particular region lives and the problems it faces, conduct sociological studies and communicate with residents. The President has prioritized decentralization. As such, problems in the regions should be solved locally. We started research in this area last year. Moreover, this year we initiated the opening of several branches of the KazISS in different regions. As a first step, a new branch was opened in Aktobe this year. I would like KazISS to have branches in the North Kazakhstan Region and either in Turkistan or Shymkent. In the long term, it would be great to have branches in as many regions as possible. We are striving towards this.

Another vital area is cooperation with international partners, understanding their views and approaches, studying methodology, and holding international conferences and seminars to discuss acute issues openly, including controversial topics. For example, why do we still have visas and border issues between countries in Central Asia even though we are very close nations?

In this regard, our first event this year was the conference Central Asia 2030: Visions of the Future, held on Jan. 20 with the participation of our partners from the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. During the expert meeting, we discussed areas of cooperation and the region’s prospects and considered our shared vision of closer coordination.

KazISS also plans to organize a new initiative platform on July 13-14 with the support of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev – the Central Asian Forum on Security and Cooperation.

Our think tank has always been a talent factory for ministries and agencies, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations. We should attract talented young people and high-ranking professionals and create conditions and prospects for their productive work. 

KazISS has all the elements to produce competent personnel. First of all, it is an institute under the President’s Office. Therefore, our work is not just focused on research but also on influencing the decision-making process and contributing to such decisions. We ensure practical analysis, thus creating a visible junction between research and the state. Secondly, government agencies are interested in hiring young people from the KazISS to the Executive Office of the President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other structures. Almost all government institutions employ our staff. For our anniversary, we are not only counting all those who have worked with KazISS but also analyzing their professional experience. That’s a very intriguing statistic. I hope we will publish it soon.

What kind of research are the KazISS experts currently engaged in?

We have started significant research on global economic processes and their impact on Kazakhstan. This includes inflation, a pandemic, and disrupted logistics chains. We must predict unexpected and obvious scenarios requiring a response to prevent specific problems. We also look from the prospect’s perspective. If our country is implementing significant economic reforms, we should study the experience of other countries that have already undergone such reforms, taking into consideration best practices and avoiding the mistakes of others.

Of course, these are also issues of political modernization. Our country will hold elections for the akims (mayors) of the regions. In this regard, we have studied the experience of the village administration elections, including any shortcomings, problems, or positive moments, to understand what to expect when such elections occur.

In foreign policy, we are interested in issues related to our neighbors. This includes Central Asia, developments in China and Russia, and how to build relations from the point of view of our pragmatic foreign policy, considering our interests. This involves very complex analysis requiring highly qualified experts.

We are constantly engaged in studying our society, the concerns and priorities of citizens, and what the akims of regions and the government need to pay attention to.

You mentioned the upcoming event in July. Please share more details about the Forum.

On July 13-14, the institute and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will hold the first Central Asian Security and Cooperation Forum. As we can see, the world is experiencing complex geopolitical shifts. In the context of growing globalization, new formats of regionalization are being strengthened in parallel. This creates increased competition for establishing new rules and mechanisms of international relations, including security architecture. Asia is becoming a key center of political and geo-economic processes in this context.

That is why the theme of the forum will be Asia in the Changing World: Agenda for the Future. The event will be attended by well-known intellectuals and politicians from more than 20 countries.

The forum is intended to become the leading domestic platform to outline Kazakhstan’s most important foreign policy initiatives with the participation of influential global thinkers, experts, and academics from the world’s leading think tanks. The Central Asian Security and Development Forum will become a fundamentally new format for dialogue and engagement between prominent thinkers and politicians to discuss the most pressing topics in security and cooperation in Asia.

Ultimately, this forum will become an essential addition to the most authoritative annual events, such as the Munich Security Conference, IISS-Shangri La Dialogue, Raisina Dialogue, and the Moscow Security Conference.

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