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Kazakhstan as a Mediator in International Affairs

02 November 2016
Authors: Assyl Okapova

During past quarter a century of its existence as an independent post-soviet state, Kazakhstan has not only made noted economic and social progress at home but has also established a noticeably respected profile in international affairs. This convincing profile can be witnessed in and explained by several initiatives that Kazakhstan has undertaken, over past 25 years. These initiatives have been aimed at establishing peace and stability and bridging the gulfs that exist across the globe on the basis of religion, culture and other conflicting positions. Kazakhstan’s striving for nuclear-weapons-free spaces, promotion of interaction and confidence building measures (CBMs) at the Asian continent, promoting harmony and integration in Eurasia and bringing together religions faiths of the world are acknowledged around the world. Conference on Interaction and CBMs in Asia (CICA) is now on the way to graduate from a forum to a full-fledged organization; the congress of leaders of global religions and faiths has evolved in to an awaited and acknowledged forum and Astana is now known a capital bustling with diplomatic activity of high caliber almost throughout the year. It may be pointed out here that while OSCE summit of 2010 was once-in-a-decade activity hosted by Astana; Kazakhstan also served as chair of the council of foreign ministers of OIC; proposed and got approved the center for food security from the platform of OIC; nuclear fuel bank is to be housed in Kazakhstan in near future; SCO’s high level meetings including summit have been taking place in the country and Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) got its momentum from its top-level interactions taking place in the large steppe nation. Kazakhstan, during past half a decade or so, has also established its profile as a mediating nation, in the world affairs. The most notable mediation exercise undertaken by Astana was between Iran and P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), on Iran’s nuclear program. While talks in February and April of 2013 then seemed to be going nowhere, it later became obvious that the foundation for a broad-based agreement later reached in 2015 was set in those initial interactions held in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. Iranian as well as the representatives of P5+1 had even then expressed their confidence in the country’s ability to mediate in such issues, and more importantly so in its impartiality.Even before this above mentioned major effort, Astana also had been striving to resolve the transboundary water sharing conflicts in central Asia, primarily the one between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the latter’s plan to build contentious Rogun dam on Amudarya. Kazakhstan also endeavored to mediate in case of the Ukrainian crisis and Syrian conflict, though with a limited success which was due mainly to complicated nature of the conflicts involved and many pushes and pulls – regional and global – shaping and reshaping these lingering conflicts.

Some of the experts argue that Kazakhstan’s role as a mediator may not be very effective as the country lacks resources essential for peacemaking. I would humbly beg to differ here. There is a clear difference between mediation and peacemaking, and two, while complementing each other, are not necessarily a ‘half’ of each other. One should not mix mediation initiatives, and offers for the same by Astana with any binding responsibilities for providing resources – financial, material and human – for peacemaking. For instance, if a nation like Switzerland or Norway commits to mediate in case of some conflict, it also should not be considered mandatory for these countries to commit financial resources or troops to establish peace in case of such a conflict. Mediator is usually one country or the organization; but peacekeeping and post mediation stability, understandably, is a shared responsibility. 

However, as a student of international affairs, I would argue that Astana should also not endeavour to over-expand its role as a mediator in far-away issues and conflicts. The first priority should be to establish Astana as an unrivaled mediating venue and power in case of conflicts that are plaguing the peace and stability in the post-soviet space. Then are the issues on the Asian continent and especially in case of the Muslim world; before one can look elsewhere.

I strongly believe that Kazakhstan is well placed to mediate between Baku and Yerevan as well as in case of deescalating the tensions between Moscow and Ankara; and considering the broader peace and stability of the Eurasian landmass, such a major initiative is need of the hour. 

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