Kazakhstan has positioned itself as a staunch supporter of the war on terror, not least in its steadfast commitment to peace support operations in Iraq through its deployment of KAZBAT. It deepened these credentials recently by hosting a conference in Almaty on measures of trust and security in Asia, attended by the Foreign Ministers of seventeen countries. Representatives attended from Afghanistan, China, Egypt, India, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, and Uzbekistan plus observers from the United States and Japan, among others. The final declaration included measures aimed at stimulating closer multilateral cooperation in the political, military, economic, and environmental spheres (Krasnaya zvezda, October 23).
The Almaty conference emphasized joint measures for preventing terrorism and exchanging information on the war on terror, and it widened the security agenda to include the related issues of separatism and extremism. The current international atmosphere favors examining practical measures, rather than issuing diplomatic statements on the importance of combating international terrorism. This premise was underlined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who noted the continued importance of multilateral initiatives, as opposed to the unilateralist approach often espoused by the Bush Administration. In particular, Lavrov pointed to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as an example of fostering a network of partnerships with other regional multilateral organizations. Li Ciaosin, China’s Foreign Minister, attacked double standards in the war on terror, asserting the wrongful nature of supporting, financing, or giving safe haven to terrorists at the expense of another state.
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, concurring fully with Moscow’s viewpoint, was widely publicized for suggesting that the UN Security Council should be expanded to include major states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Thus, on the international geopolitical level at least, Kazakhstan is undoubtedly establishing itself as a state actively cooperating in the war on terror and keen to promote an image of itself as being at the heart of Eurasian efforts to create a more stable environment, clearly benefiting domestic economic investment. But at the micro level, experts within Kazakhstan are beginning to question the state’s anti-terrorist agenda and demonstrate diverse views on defining its future contours.
Dosym Satpayev, Director of the Kazakhstani Risk Assessment Group, has attacked the current domestic system aimed at combating terrorism, claiming it is inefficient. Speaking at a roundtable event in Almaty on October 26, under the rubric “An Anti-Terror System in Kazakhstan: Illusions, Reality, and Prospects,” he delineated the nature of the present counter-terrorist facade in Kazakhstan. In Satpayev’s view, “maintaining the state monopoly over ensuring safety for the individual and society from terrorist threats” forms an impediment to reforming the present system. He continued: “Unfortunately, Kazakhstan lacks a full-fledged anti-terrorist system, which should consist of a whole set of mutually related initiatives both from the state and society.”
One challenge facing Kazakhstan, as it seeks to improve its counter-terrorist capabilities, is to formulate a system that engages the public, bridging the gap between the state agencies responsible for counter-terrorism and the general public; one that fosters the close cooperation of the individual in remaining vigilant and understanding the nature of the security environment. At present, security structures and their counter-terrorist work often seem remote from the public. Moreover, Satpayev believes that analytical structures must devote more time and resources to examining the background and emergence of terrorist threats, exploring practical ideas in meeting these threats with an emphasis placed upon preventing attacks and disrupting terrorist activities.
Equally, if Kazakhstan is to overhaul its counter-terrorist apparatus and improve its effectiveness, legislation will be needed to support such measures. How best to define terrorism will also need to be addressed, as will enhanced scientific, technical, and information components such as access by the appropriate bodies to voice databases of terrorists and searchable information networks. “Unfortunately, the force component of the anti-terrorist system often becomes absolute and is viewed as a panacea for political extremism, although the special services’ forceful operations against extremist and terrorist organizations are only the ultimate measure showing that other resources have been exhausted,” Satpayev complained.
Sergei Zlotnikov, Director of Transparency Kazakhstan, concurred with Satpayev, though he also included corruption among individuals within state bodies as a significant factor demanding firm action, or other reforms will be ineffectual (Interfax-Kazakhstan, October 26).
The underlying conviction among Kazakhstan’s own experts, therefore, is that the country suffers from an anti-terrorist system that is dated, slow to react to crisis, and often plagued by corruption. It urgently requires greater engagement with the public, more attention to analysis of the origins and evolving nature of terrorist threats, and more efficient information tools. These measures are only possible with the support and direction of the political authorities, which have proven committed to the war on terror at least on the international scene. It now has to internalize this appetite for action and modernize its dated structures and approaches to counter terrorism. What seems encouraging, though by no means conclusive, is the growing awareness of the challenges among Kazakhstan’s own experts and analysts.