Kazakhstan’s ruling elite has clearly been in a self-congratulatory mood since securing the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010. However, as its foreign policy evolves in the meantime, there is no guarantee that Kazakhstan will emerge as an OSCE-inspired Eurasian bastion of democracy. Regional issues cloud the future role of Kazakhstan in the OSCE. Recently Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Agybay Smagulov, spoke of the improving conditions in Afghanistan in an interview with Kazakhstanskaya pravda on November 29. He praised the country’s closer relations with Russia and Central Asia, but he made no mention of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan, instead concentrating on Kabul’s growing interest in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Smagulov reported to Astana that the “eastern vector” in Afghanistan’s foreign policy has gradually increased. For example, Kabul joined the regional economic cooperation program of the Asian Development Bank in 2005, and joined the “Central Asia + Japan” forum in 2006. Kazakhstan’s government has also closely followed the development of Kabul’s ties with Russia and China, including 11 bilateral agreements signed with China. This process, in Smagulov’s view, has been supported by Kabul’s interest in the SCO, its participation in the activities of the CSTO’s Afghan working group, and its new observer status at the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Interparliamentary Assembly.
Kazakhstan has “contributed positively” to the process of cooperating with Afghanistan, which Smagulov believes places Astana at the forefront of Central Asian cooperative initiatives, pointing to the current study regarding its possible participation in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) operating in Afghanistan. Although the friendship bridge through which humanitarian aid is delivered is located in Termez in neighboring Uzbekistan, Astana, in his view, has boosted its reputation simply through its readiness to consider such practical involvement in Afghanistan. Kazakhstan has held high-level meetings with the Afghan government, stepping up the frequency of such diplomatic interaction in 2006-2007, which has yielded at least a framework within which areas of bilateral cooperation will be defined; political, economic, and cultural cooperation has started, although it is still at an early stage. “Undoubtedly, the working group on Afghanistan under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is influencing the stabilization of the situation in the country. I am sure that all member countries of the CIS and the Eurasian Economic Community can fruitfully cooperate in the Afghan direction,” noted Smagulov (Kazakhstanskaya pravda, November 29).
Indeed, Kazakhstan’s SCO Secretary-General Bolat Nurgaliev has actively pursued this theme recently by indicating not only wider SCO perspectives, but an increasingly pro-active dimension in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. The SCO has serious potential for cooperation with those who are “interested in creating a just world order.” Nurgaliev suggested that in all areas of SCO operations, “There is serious potential for effective cooperation with those who are interested in building a just world order, in strengthening stability and security in Eurasia.” Challenges and threats can be effectively counteracted only if stability and security efforts in Central Asia are conducted “primarily by the region’s countries on the basis of regional integration associations that have been established there.” Trying hard to advance Nurgaliyev’s agenda within the SCO, Astana’s sentiment was completely in line with recent public statements and concepts advanced in Moscow. Nurgaliev’s message is clear: security and stability in Central Asia are the business of those countries and the various regional groupings – not a Western-sponsored initiative.
He praised the recent memorandum of understanding between the secretariats of the SCO and the CSTO, believing that the two multilateral bodies can cooperate in “providing effective economic, humanitarian, and other aid to Afghanistan, which has been in an endless war for many years. We care deeply about Afghanistan’s problems, which should, we believe, be solved in a joint effort, in order to prevent factors of instability from spreading from Afghan territory, the SCO-CSTO dialogue on Afghanistan should be as specific as possible,” Nurgaliev said.
On December 4 CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha confirmed that the SCO and CSTO will sign joint action plans in Beijing early in 2008, although he said this needs to be underpinned by the members’ leaders agreeing to the SCO and CSTO foreign policy positions, eliminating overlaps and duplication in their actions and outlining areas for joint cooperation. A common foreign policy in Eurasia seems almost as far-fetched as achieving such agreement within the European Union, but a level of confluence is necessary to establish the principles – if not the direction of – SCO-CSTO cooperation (Interfax/Itar-Tass, December 4).
Astana will likely formulate its foreign policy aims on the basis of its own interests and close relations with Russia, continuing a balancing act among Russia, China, the United States, and the EU, which Nazarbayev has conducted so successfully in recent years. Its attention will also be focused on the potential fall out between Washington and Moscow over Kosovo and missile defense, among other issues, and Moscow’s apparent goal of being treated as an equal partner by the West. Security differences between Washington and Moscow are far wider than the more nuanced differences in perspective evident between Astana and Moscow. Arguably, Russian President Vladimir Putin will lay the foundation for Moscow to exploit Astana’s position in the OSCE as far as this is profitable, bearing in mind that Kazakhstan is Russia’s close neighbor, not the West’s. In this setting, achieving genuine international cooperative security in Central Asia may prove impossible. Kazakhstan may find it safer to expand security cooperation in the SCO and CSTO, while Russia’s foreign policy strategy is tested.