Kazakhstan is seeking to diversify its security interests, looking to Middle Eastern states for assistance. This trend was evident during Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s first state visit to Kazakhstan on November 7. Kazakh officials also explored potential security cooperation with Jordanian Defense Minister Maruf al-Bakhit in talks in Astana on November 9.
A security dimension to the bilateral relationship between Kazakhstan and Egypt emerged alongside efforts to emphasize burgeoning trade links. Following the bilateral talks, Vladimir Shkolnik, Kazakhstan’s trade and industry minister, and his Egyptian counterpart, Rashid Husayn, signed a protocol allowing Egyptian goods and services free access to Kazakhstan’s markets. Bilateral trade currently stands at approximately $14.5 million in the first eight months of 2006. Trade agreements envisage the deepening of bilateral trade in various sectors of the economy, including textiles and pharmaceuticals (Kazakhstan-Interfax, November 7).
Taking full advantage of Mubarak’s visit, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, explained, “We agreed on many issues during the meeting today. First of all, they concern economic and political relations between the two countries. The bilateral meeting discussed topical international problems, including regional problems in the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan and the situation in Central Asia” (Kazakh TV First Channel, November 7).
On November 8 Amangeldy Shabdarbayev, chairman of the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB), met Colonel-General Umar Sulayman, director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, in Astana. They reportedly discussed ways to establish mechanisms for information sharing. “During the meeting, the heads of the special services expressed their intention to further develop interaction to counter international terrorism and religious extremism, as well modern threats and challenges,” according to the KNB’s press service (Kazakhstan-Interfax, November 8).
Kazakhstan’s Middle Eastern diplomacy has been intense and pointed, and Astana has steadfastly continued to deploy elements of its peacekeeping battalion (KAZBAT) in Iraq. Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov met his Jordanian counterpart, al-Bakhit, in Astana on November 8. “We attach special importance to stepping up the work of the Kazakh-Jordanian intergovernmental commission [for trade and economic cooperation]. Agriculture Minister [Akhmetzhan] Yesimov will be heading the commission from the Kazakh side,” Akhmetov confirmed after his talks. The prime minister believes Kazakhstan can offer Jordan a wide range of products in the metallurgy, chemistry, oil, and agricultural sectors. Kazakhstan’s markets are open for trade with both Egypt and Jordan, and there is clear interest in Kazakhstan’s energy sphere. Nazarbayev has been invited to visit Jordan in late November, when he is likely to explore these issues further.
Kazakhstan’s Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbayev expressed interest in military-technical cooperation during talks with his Jordanian counterpart. “During the meeting, the sides discussed issues relating to international and regional security, as well as prospects for developing bilateral military and technical cooperation,” the Kazakh Defense Ministry disclosed (Interfax, November 9). Astana’s efforts to foster security links with Egypt and Jordan appear to be at a tentative stage, but there is reason to believe that they will make practical progress. The KNB agreement on cooperating with Egyptian intelligence may presage wider defense cooperation, as Kazakhstan’s national security interests are identified.
While Kazakh officials were conducting Middle Eastern diplomacy, the government was keeping a close eye on the political unrest in Kyrgyzstan. Security officials in Astana fear the consequences for the region, should their southern neighbor become a dysfunctional state and a breeding ground for terrorism and extremism. Such concerns are currently driving the exploration of new themes in Kazakh security cooperation trends; Nazarbayev is keen to learn from Egypt and Jordan about ways to tackle the terrorist threat.
These are some ways in which Astana is changing the established cooperation dynamics in the region. But there are also other indicators that regional security dynamics may again shift or realign in the near future. The first joint anti-terrorist exercises held between the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states will be held in Russia in spring 2007. “Peaceful Mission-Border 2007” will take place in May 2007 at the Chebarkul testing ground in Chelyabinsk region. China and Russia will each send a battalion, while Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan will contribute a company and Kyrgyzstan will send a platoon. Armenia and Belarus will participate as observers. Russia and China will reportedly provide the largest contingents of troops to the forthcoming maneuvers, with each sending a battalion. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan each intend to send a company, and Kyrgyzstan intends to send a platoon. Armenia and Belarus, which are not SCO members, will attend the maneuvers as observers (Avesta, November 8).
Joint CSTO and SCO anti-terrorist exercises will once again raise the profile of these organizations within the region. How far it will strengthen the pro-Russian security trends in Central Asia remains unclear. Meanwhile, analysts are speculating about what dividends Nazarbayev could extract from security cooperation in the Middle East that he cannot get by concentrating on his partnership with Western countries.