The second largest of the former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan has an economy larger than all other Central Asian countries’ combined. Since independence in 1991, the country’s abundant natural resources and political stability have ensured double-digit growth rates.
Madhur Singh spoke to Serik Abdrakhmanov, MP and chair of the Committee on International Affairs, Defence and Security of the Mazhilis (the larger of the two chambers of Parliament of Kazakhstan).
What was the single largest challenge for Kazakh foreign policy when you became independent?
Until 1991, we had had links only with other Soviet republics and some countries in the North. If we went abroad, we went through Moscow.
After the collapse of the USSR, we realised that other countries existed. For instance, we discovered that Delhi is closer to Almaty than Moscow – it takes three hours to fly here and four to Moscow!
President Nursultan Nazarbayev successfully formulated and implemented a multi-directional foreign policy, aimed at building friendship with all the important players in the region.
With competing forces like the Unite States, European Union, China, India, Iran and Turkey interested in Kazakhstan’s rich resources, do you see the beginning of another Great Game?
We realise that all these countries want our natural resources, they want to put Kazakhstan in their pocket. But we want our resources to first and foremost contribute to the growth and welfare of our people. And this purpose is best served by maintaining friendship with all parties concerned, and not becoming dependent on any one power.
We have been quite successful in balancing the big international and regional powers. The credit goes to our foreign policy that is based on fairness – there's enough for everyone, and everyone must play by the rules.
As one of the world’s largest producers of natural gas, what is your position on a gas Opec?
We are all for cooperation in the region, but we want to first know what are the rules of the game, and who will set them? If joining a gas Opec means getting into an arrangement where we get cut off from the rest of the world, we do not want it. If we have a fair say in setting the rules, we will consider it.
President Nazarbayev visited New Delhi in February 2002, and the joint statement made her mentioned anti-terror cooperation. Considering that security and stability in Afghanistan is of vital importance to both India and Kazakhstan, is Kazakhstan, which is forging closer ties with Pakistan, putting any kind of pressure on Pakistan regarding terrorism
President Pervez Musharraf’s position on terrorism is clear – he has denounced it and is working to eliminate it. It is the other forces at work like Islamic fundamentalism that all countries in our region must fight.
How do you see economic relations between India and Kazakhstan progressing?
Many have written about the prospects of an oil-for-IT relationship. Our economic policy is aimed at achieving a balanced growth which is not dependent on oil revenues alone. Lately, the share of industry and agriculture in our GDP is increasing, and we have identified seven priority sectors textiles, petrochemicals, tourism, food processing, logistics, construction and metallurgy to ensure balanced growth.
India and Kazakhstan can collaborate in all these areas, and not just in energy and IT. We are both growing economies, and there is much we can cooperate on.
How is India faring in economic ties with your country vis-à-vis China?
India has been slow to respond to our overtures. For instance, we made an offer to India of an oil block - which we very rarely do - without having to compete through tenders. But it is still at the negotiation stage!
Historically, Kazakhstan has been closer to India than to China, from which we were cut off during the Soviet period. The Kazakh people have great love and affection for India – there are many girls named Indira after Pandit Nehru’s daughter, and my mother watches only Bollywood films! Both our countries must capitalise on this while this generation that has grown up with this camaraderie is still at the helm.
So we look forward to more visits from Indian leaders and people to Kazakhstan in the near future.
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