Kazakhstan Leading SCO: A Balancing Act

The stability of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy is proof that a strategic approach to international relations works.

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The Shanghai Cooperation Orga­nization (SCO) is a pertinent re­gional organization across the Eurasian Chessboard. Reinforcing strength and connectivity among the regional actors, the SCO stands high on the model of Liberal institutionalism. This theoretical framework pro­vided by International Rela­tions discourse guarantees the possibility of cooperation and development among the rationalistic actors through the platforms provid­ed by International institutes. 

Zaman Bajwa.

This hy­pothesis was validated to be true as the SCO charter rescinded hierarchical or­der within this organization as this or­ganization provides a chair of the presi­dency to each permanent member state of this organization for a year. There­fore, Central Asian Republics especial­ly Kazakhstan fully utilize this regional forum to serve the interest of their peo­ple even in the presence of two major powers China and Russia within this organization. This liberal approach ad­opted by the SCO has paved the way to look at the conflicts democratically, which is helpful for gaining consensus between the member states.

Indeed, the SCO plays a crucial role in fostering economic integration and in­frastructure development among its member states. For Kazakhstan, which is strategically located at the intersec­tion of Europe and Asia, the SCO pro­vides a valuable platform to strengthen trade, investment, and transportation ties with its neighbors. Kazakhstan’s active participation in the SCO ex­emplifies its strategic approach to re­gional collaboration and development. 

Kazakhstan has played a key role in es­tablishing the SCO’s agenda and pri­orities, particularly in economic co­operation, security, and connectivity. Kazakhstan’s leadership in the SCO is distinguished by a strategic awareness of the organization’s diversified inter­ests, as well as a dedication to promot­ing a stable and cooperative geopoliti­cal climate. This is obvious in its efforts to convert the SCO into a more practical and productive platform that encourag­es member states to cooperate more in trade and security. Kazakhstan’s active involvement in projects such as the SCO Business Council and the SCO Develop­ment Bank demonstrates its dedication to the organization’s goals. These ef­forts have provided opportunities for member countries to interact on eco­nomic issues and work towards com­mon regional development and pros­perity objectives.

Kazakhstan has also demonstrated a commitment to tackling environmen­tal issues and increasing digital connec­tion within the SCO framework. This comprehensive balancing strategy is consistent with its vision of a sustain­able future and efforts to avoid a geopo­litical division between East and West. Kazakhstan’s role as SCO chair has also allowed it to push crucial projects, such as the 2025-2027 Program of Coop­eration on Countering Terrorism, Sep­aratism, and Extremism.

However, the lack of large economic projects and fi­nance support systems continues to pose a hindrance to the SCO’s develop­ment. To overcome this impediment, Kazakhstan has proposed leveraging the Astana International Financial Cen­tre as a platform for increasing finan­cial and portfolio investments in SCO-funded regional initiatives. This unique method has the potential to open up new avenues for economic cooperation and development in the SCO region.

The stability of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy is proof that a strategic approach to international relations works. Char­acteristically predictable, balanced, and peaceful, the country’s foreign policy has been central to its role as an active influ­encer in organizations such as the SCO. This approach is Kazakhstan’s promise to promote local cohesion is consistent with stability. 

Therefore, Kazakhstan is expected to continue to adhere to these principles in foreign policy. This stabili­ty not only boosts Kazakhstan’s interna­tional credibility but also contributes to regional stability and continued devel­opment. SCO is not only about what Ka­zakhstan is making out of it, for their na­tional interest but also for the region. At the first meeting of the SCO National Co­ordination Council in Almaty in August 2023, Murat Mukushev, SCO Country Co­ordinator in Kazakhstan, stressed that Kazakh leadership will focus on address­ing regional and global issues, role en­hancing organizational growth.

At a meeting of the Council of Heads of State in July 2023, President of Ka­zakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev outlined Kazakhstan’s SCO presiden­cy goals. Focused on combating trans­national crime, drug trafficking, and cybercrime, with plans to update the cooperation framework against ter­rorism, separatism, and extremism from 2025-2027 Kazakhstan also uses SCO Anti-Narcotics Strategy for 2024-2029 proposed to sustain long-term. He also highlighted the Afghan crisis as a bog in the backyard of Eurasia, a major concern, and the plan for the UN Regional Center for Sustainable Devel­opment Goals.

Known for its nuclear non-prolifer­ation, conflict resolution, and energy transition efforts, Kazakhstan is pro­posed to focus on peace, security, and sustainable development in the SCO presidency. This role is to address not only Kazakhstan’s challenges but also the Central Asia strategic issues. Its role as an emerging leader in SCO is raising the voice of people of Central Asia as well as the whole of Eurasia to the West. Kazakhstan has offered propos­als to enhance cultural and humanitar­ian cooperation among SCO countries. 

These proposals include initiatives such as the implementation of the Spiritual Shrines of the SCO project, and organiz­ing the SCO International Science and Practice Seminar on The Golden Horde and its Legacy, in Turkistan. Their goal was to combat climate change. During its Chairmanship, Kazakhstan is look­ing forward to the adoption of impor­tant intergovernmental agreements on environmental protection cooperation, a cooperative program for the develop­ment of specially protected natural ar­eas and ecotourism, and a Memoran­dum of Understanding between the SCO Secretariat and UNEP.

Kazakhstan’s strategic location in the heart of the Eurasian continent un­doubtedly enhances its role as chair of the SCO. This important role is ex­pected to contribute to the stability of Central Asia and the region’s unity has improved. The central location of the country offers a unique advantage in mediating local issues and enforc­ing cooperation among SCO member states. This can lead to a stronger and more prosperous Central Asia. Kazakh­stan’s presidency in the SCO is there­fore not only a testament to its growing influence but also an important step to­ward regional stability and integration. 

Previous SCO summits have had an im­pact on geopolitical strategies, limiting the potential for progress. It can there­fore be difficult to reach a fair agree­ment on urgent safety issues such as water security. However, if successful, Kazakhstan could focus on special eco­nomic policy agreements, perhaps in­creasing regional stability and increas­ing economic integration. Therefore, Kazakhstan’s leadership of SCO is ex­panding the horizons of its agenda.

The author is Zaman Bajwa, the Executive Director of Islamabad Think Tank YFK. 

The article was originally published in The Nation, the daily newspaper based in Lahore, Pakistan. 

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