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Dear ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to warmly welcome all of you – leaders and senior officials from the United Nations, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and, of course, permanent representatives to the OSCE, – as our esteemed guests at this important roundtable.
We are very pleased to host the ambassadors to the OSCE in Nur-Sultan as part of their regional visit and to organise this event, which allows focusing, once again, our attention on assisting Afghanistan. This country is our regional neighbour and important partner as it moves along its path towards peace and sustainable development. We hope today’s exchange of experiences and ideas strengthens our cooperative endeavours and helps the people of Afghanistan reach their desired goals – peace and prosperity.
Over the 28 years of independence, Kazakhstan has consistently advocated for close cooperation with our regional neighbours with whom we share common history, culture, and traditions. The geographical location of the countries of Central Asia that once played a key role along the Great Silk Road, provides a strong basis for mutually beneficial cooperation.
At the same time, new opportunities for cooperation have opened up for the region after the first informal meeting of Central Asian leaders in our capital last year. Today, our leaders demonstrate decisiveness in developing common approaches to meeting complex challenges. For example, in August 2018, all regional leaders met in Turkmenistan to discuss the measures to protect the endangered Aral Sea.
However, we all understand that some of the key challenges for the region’s present and future are directly linked to the stability in Afghanistan.
We believe that peace, stability and sustainable development of Afghanistan will surely give a powerful impetus to the stability, development and regional cooperation among all Central Asian countries. Kazakhstan, as an active supporter of intra-regional cooperation processes in Central Asia, is seeking to unite the efforts in fostering mutual understanding and trust among regional stakeholders.
Afghanistan’s full return to a peaceful life has long been one of the important priorities for Kazakhstan’s foreign policy. This has been one of our top priorities during our OSCE chairmanship in 2010.
In 2011, during our Presidency of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers, Afghanistan’s case was also among the key areas of attention of our joint efforts with the Muslim Ummah. Kazakhstan highly appreciates the voluntary efforts of the OIC to support peace and security in Afghanistan. The opening of the OIC mission in Afghanistan in 2011 is another demonstration of the Organisation’s goodwill and commitment.
In 2013, Kazakhstan hosted the 3rd Ministerial Conference on the “Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process”, in Almaty, which reaffirmed the necessity of a new vision of regional cooperation.
Last year, in January 2018, a ministerial-level debate on regional partnership in Afghanistan and Central Asia was organised during the Kazakhstan’s Presidency of the UN Security Council, with the participation of the foreign ministries of C5 countries and Afghanistan. There is no doubt that such high-level deliberations strengthen practical cooperation mechanisms among regional stakeholders.
It is our principled position that Afghanistan should not be viewed as a source of challenges but as a source of opportunities. It is therefore critical to integrate the economy of Afghanistan into that of its neighbouring countries, including Central Asian states, through enhanced interaction and connectivity, and investing in and developing regional infrastructure, trade, and transit transportation projects.
Two weeks ago, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, speaking at the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York, reaffirmed our country’s readiness to continue supporting the Afghan people. He also emphasised that strong partnership, long-term investments and regional cohesion are key factors in ensuring that country’s peaceful progress.
As a practical step, President Tokayev proposed creating the UN Regional Centre for the SDGs in Central Asia, including with the coverage of Afghanistan. This idea also intersects with our desire to establish an OSCE Thematic Centre for Sustainable Connectivity in Nur-Sultan to increase the effectiveness and added value of OSCE’s second basket efforts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me elaborate on what exactly we believe the OSCE can bring to solving the challenges faced by Afghanistan. I believe we must look at such possibilities from the point of view of multilateralism.
The main goal of today’s event is to identify the synergy of efforts by major stakeholders, especially by international and regional organisations, in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and discover how the OSCE may contribute to the process of its stabilisation.
At the same time, together with our Central Asian neighbours, we are calling on international and regional partners, including the OSCE and its regional institutions, to help us transform Central Asia into an arena of pragmatic forward-looking regional collaboration.
During the past decade, despite the Madrid and Vilnius Ministerial Decisions on Afghanistan, adopted in 2007 and 2011, respectively, as well as the 2010 Astana Declaration, the Organization’s focus on Afghanistan-related issues has been limited.
During the current visit to the region, OSCE ambassadors have an opportunity to observe the significant progress made by the Central Asian countries in recent decades. You can be convinced of one important observation – the Central Asian countries are ready to implement joint initiatives and projects with the OSCE of any complexity.
For instance, the attention of OSCE has been somewhat lacking in addressing the perils confronted by all of us due to intensified activities by terrorist groups, particularly, the Islamic State, in Afghanistan, and the on-going return of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) to the countries of their origin.
As is known, earlier in 2019, Kazakhstan carried out a special operation “Jusan”, which means the grass called bitter wormwood, which is typical to Kazakhstan and whose smell symbolises the smell of home for Kazakhs. As a result of the operation, almost 600 citizens, including 406 children, were returned home from combat zones in the Middle East, and successfully rehabilitated and reintegrated into Kazakh society. We are currently working on returning additional 14 children from Iraq, whose mothers were imprisoned for life.
Today, Kazakhstan is one of the few countries in the world that carries out such humanitarian actions. We are ready to share our experience.
Today’s roundtable discussion could serve to promote the synergy between OSCE and several key regional organisations in Eurasia. These efforts have proven their potential in delivering a substantial contribution to ensuring peace and stability in their areas of responsibility.
We believe multilateral mechanisms of interaction, provided by relevant international and regional organisations, can effectively and fully address, in a timely manner, the challenges faced by the Afghan authorities.
Indeed, with its immense natural resources, favourable geographic position and considerable human capital, Afghanistan can be a reliable partner of great potential for joint multilateral projects. There are reasons for this rationale.
First, similar approaches between CICA and OSCE to security and membership-related issues provide an excellent opportunity for close co-operation between these two regional groups. In our view, with this combined approach, these two structures can promote stronger bonds to design and promote collective initiatives and concrete measures for achieving shared objectives.
Possible prospects of interaction on security and sustainable development, including in and around Afghanistan, were already discussed between the OSCE Secretary-General and the CICA Executive Director on the margins of the First Conference on Istanbul Process in Turkey in 2011.
Secondly, OSCE and SCO can also cooperate on the same subjects. Preliminary arrangements were discussed between the OSCE and the SCO Secretaries General at the OSCE Security Days on Afghanistan in March 2013 in Vienna. We are glad this interaction recently continued between OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger and SCO Secretary General Vladimir Norov last July in Vienna.
We believe Afghanistan’s economic integration into the regional arrangements will considerably contribute to lasting peace and stability in that country and the region. On our part, along with regional neighbours, we support economic cooperation and connectivity projects, like RECCA, the Belt and Road Initiative, CASA-1000, TAPI, and many others that embrace Afghanistan. It can be and should be seen as a natural land-bridge connecting Central Asia, South Asia and beyond, including the OSCE area.
We are also concerned about the threat posed by illicit narcotics production in Afghanistan and recognise the importance of close coordination between Afghanistan and Central Asian states. In this regard, we support Kabul’s intention to become a full-fledged member of the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre for combating the illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors (CARICC).
Ladies and gentlemen,
Kazakhstan continues providing technical and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan within the framework of bilateral and multilateral agreements.
To date, we have provided more than 80 million US dollars worth of assistance to Afghanistan. In recent years, this figure included 3.5 million US dollars for the construction of medical, education centres, and the reconstruction of roads and bridges in various provinces of Afghanistan. In addition, three years ago Kazakhstan allocated 2 million US dollars to assist Afghan National Security Forces.
We believe Afghanistan cannot build a stable state without an educated generation of young people. As a result, at the initiative of First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, 50 million US dollars were allocated as part of the government-funded programme to educate 1,000 Afghan students in Kazakhstan’s top universities.
This initiative was appreciated by the international community and today continues to develop successfully, now as part of the multilateral projects, together with the European Union and the UNDP.
In fact, later this week the first group of Afghan female students will arrive in Almaty to start their studies at the leading universities of Kazakhstan under the Trilateral Cooperation Program between the EU, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on the economic empowerment of the Afghan women, supported by the UNDP.
We also welcome the adoption of a new EU Strategy for Central Asia that gives impetus to further promotion of cooperation between the EU and the Central Asian states, reflects the reality of current relations and charts new directions for our strategic partnership.
Promoting connectivity between Europe and Central Asia through existing and new transport corridors, trade and customs services in light of the EU strategy is invaluable. We are convinced that the new EU Strategy covers several common interests with the OSCE mandate, including those related to economic assistance to Afghanistan.
Taking into account our close contacts with the OSCE and the EU, Kazakhstan stands ready to help facilitate OSCE’s further engagement with Afghanistan. This is important to avoiding unnecessary overlapping and instead to reinforcing joint efforts to ensure long-term security and stability in the country.
We firmly believe that, with greater international and regional cooperation, Afghanistan and the Central Asian region have the potential to become symbols of dialogue, peace and promotion of new knowledge, including within the OSCE area.
In conclusion, I am confident that this event today, and the regional visit of the OSCE ambassadors, provide valuable opportunities to charter new avenues in our collaboration in Eurasia, especially as it relates to Afghanistan. I wish you to gain further insights and useful discoveries as you continue your journey to our neighbours. I am sure you will witness a warm reception and readiness from all of us to join hands together for our shared destiny.
Thank you for your attention.
Nur-Sultan, 9 October 2019