Astana Times, 12 September 2017
ASTANA – Sept. 10 in the capital featured not only the spectacular closing of EXPO 2017, a major event in Kazakh history, but also the first Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit on Science and Technology, another important opportunity for the nation and the organisation’s 57 members.
The summit adopted the Astana Declaration affirming the commitment of the member states to alleviate poverty, increase the budget for education and join efforts to accomplish the goals envisioned in the OIC 2025 Plan of Action and the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who opened the summit and welcomed 15 national and governmental leaders, including Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Uzbekistan, advanced the idea to organise the conference during the 2016 OIC summit in Istanbul. A year later, more than 80 foreign delegations visited the city to discuss the organisation’s priorities and goals inscience, technology and innovation.
Nazarbayev noted Islam has deep historical roots in the nation’s history. “Islam came to our land more than 1,000 years ago. We served as a link in the friendly dialogue between the Islamic and Western civilisation,” he said.
The Kazakh head of state pointed out several acute issues that the international community, including the OIC, needs to address. “First is extremist and terrorist activity. Primarily, citizens of Muslim [and Muslim majority] countries suffer from their subversive activities. Second is the problem of the spreading of Islamophobia sentiments. Crimes against Muslims are on the rise every year in the Western countries,” he noted.
The lack of unity in the 1.5-billion Islamic world is yet another issue requiring attention, said Nazarbayev, who called for establishing a science and technology fund to foster development ofboth areas in the Islamic world that, in the past, was making tremendous progress in surpassing the West. Scientists, including five individuals honoured by the special OIC Science and Technology Achievement Award, also agreed that the lack of funding explains why the Islamic world is lagging.Nazarbayev also suggested setting up the forum by bringing 15 OIC member states to boost cooperation. “I believe we need to establish the forum similar to the G20, an informal group to develop science and economy in the Islamic world. Fifteen leading OIC states can form the OIC-15, because the development of science and technology is very important for us. In this regard, we should establish fruitful cooperation with the Western world and this will foster the development of the Islamic world,” he added.
The President also expressed concern about the recent escalation of the conflict in Myanmar and urged the states to join efforts to settle the issue peacefully through the UN. OIC Secretary-General Dr. Yousif Bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen noted the summit was a “historic event,” as it brought representatives of 57 OIC member states to discuss the salient issues pertaining to science and technology. He thanked Nazarbayev for the conference’s excellent coordination. “Kazakhstan has great respect in the Islamic world. On behalf of all delegations participating in the summit, I would like to express gratitude personally to you and all the Kazakh people for the warm welcome and high level of organisation of the event,” he said.
Kazakhstan’s experience shapes its actions on UNSC Astana Times, 12 September 2017. As world leaders and foreign ministers prepare to fly to New York for United Nations General Assembly next week at a time of real challenge for the global community, we must hope the chance for formal and informal discussions can play its part in reducing tensions and divisions. There is no shortage of issues to discuss. North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests have sent shockwaves around the world. They are a severe test to global non-proliferation and the crisis they have sparked has again raised fears of how misjudgements or misunderstandings could spark nuclear catastrophe.
Conflicts in the Middle East and the threat from violent extremism continue to destabilise not only the region but the wider world. Out of the headlines, fighting in Africa – both within countries and across borders – brings misery to millions and remains a major challenge to development. Almost two-thirds of the agenda of the UN’s Security Council is devoted to trying to bring peace to areas of that continent. It would be hard enough to find solutions to these and many other challenges if there was agreement on the way forward. But too often there are acute differences of opinion along with suspicions of motives.
This is the worrying global background, which has faced Kazakhstan in its first several months as a member of the Security Council. But it is also a time when the country’s commitment to promoting cooperation, dialogue, the rule of international law and disarmament have never been more important. It is a responsibility which the record shows Kazakhstan has taken with the utmost seriousness. In the first six months of the year, Kazakhstan participated in more than 120 formal Security Council meetings and made meaningful contributions to more than 20 resolutions.
The country has been entrusted with chairing committees on Afghanistan, enforcing sanctions against ISIL and Al-Qaida and on the Horn of Africa. As is always the case when member states take on such added responsibilities, there have been increased pressures on the nation’s diplomats. But the experience will serve them and Kazakhstan well in the years ahead. There has been progress, too, on areas which Kazakhstan promised would be a focus for its time on the Security Council. The future of Afghanistan was singled out as a major priority – a recognition of the importance of Afghanistan’s stability for the region and the need to support its long-term economic and social development in the battle against extremism.
Within the UN, Kazakhstan has been working hard to step up international efforts to help Afghanistan’s elected government combat extremism and spread prosperity and opportunity to its long-suffering citizens. The arguments being made are all the more persuasive coming from a country within the region and show the importance of Central Asia having a voice at the global table. It is also a voice which carries more weight because of the active role Kazakhstan continues to take, wherever it can, to promote dialogue and end conflict. The Astana Process, for example, still holds out hope of progress towards ending the tragedy in Syria despite many obstacles. At a practical level, too, Kazakh military observers have joined the international peace-keeping operation in Western Sahara with plans to help support a second UN mission next year.
It is in January 2018, too, that Kazakhstan will take on the task of presiding over the Security Council. It is a role which will further enhance the country’s stature and influence within the international community which will have an impact beyond the next two years. Among plans being considered for its presidency are, Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said last week, a debate at the highest level on how to improve international peace and security as well as ministerial level discussions on Central Asia and Afghanistan and regular formal discussions on the Middle East – both among the priorities for action Kazakhstan set out when it took its seat on the UNSC.
But it is the priority Kazakhstan gave to nuclear disarmament – which President Nazarbayev called the cause of our time – which strikes the loudest chord at this difficult time. Kazakhstan’s experience and commitment to a world without nuclear weapons has never been more relevant nor more important and it is important its message is heard loud and clear on the Security Council.
Final de-escalation zone established as Syrian talks end in Astana
ASTANA – The sixth round of the international meetings on Syria ended Sept. 15 in Astana with the participants agreeing on a final de-escalation zone in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. It will be the fourth zone where no military activity would be allowed as envisioned in the May agreement signed by Iran, Russia and Turkey, guarantor states to the ceasefire regime, during the fourth round of talks in the Kazakh capital.
The so-called Astana process that has been going on since January supplement the UN-brokered Geneva talks meant to find the political resolution of the six-year conflict. Delegations of the three guarantor states, the Syrian government and Syrian armed opposition factions took part in the sixth round, while the UN special envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura and delegates from Jordan and the U.S. attended the talks as observers. “Few believed in the success of the Astana process launched in January this year, however, thanks to the determination of the participants of Astana talks, there is now hope to resolve this acute crisis through peaceful means. Today, the participants can go further as they managed to overcome many challenges and achieve considerable results in restoring stability and peace in Syria. They reached what seemed to be impossible and efforts in this direction led to the creation of de-escalation zones in different parts of Syria,” noted Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov during a plenary session wrapping up the two-day closed-door negotiations. In a joint statement read by Abdrakhmanov, Iran, Russia and Turkey announced the creation of the de-escalation zones in eastern Ghouta, in certain parts in the northern Homs province, in Idlib province and in certain parts of the neighbouring provinces, including Latakia, Hama and Aleppo, as well as southern Syria. The measure will be in force for six months and will be extended if necessary with the guarantors’ consensus.
Iran, Russia and Turkey will have control over the de-escalation zones and would deploy the forces in accordance with the maps endorsed Sept. 8 in Ankara. The guarantor states also agreed to set up a joint coordination centre to coordinate activities in de-escalation areas. The creation of de-escalation zones does not in no way undermine the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, said the minister as he read the statement. “We believe that the process launched in Astana will strengthen the regime of cessation of hostilities and have a positive impact on upcoming Geneva talks under the auspices of the United Nations,” said Abdrakhmanov on his own behalf.
Head of the Syrian government delegation Bashar al-Jaafari called the Astana talks the “only successful platform in the Syrian process,” which provokes interest among other countries to join the negotiations. “However, the issue of other countries joining the process is not on the agenda. Probably, we will take that into consideration in the future,” said al-Jaafari.
Yet, Idlib province was not the only topic discussed during the sixth round of talks, according to High Negotiations Committee (HNC) advisor Yahya al-Aridi, as the issue of tens of thousands of Syrians locked in prisons was also on the agenda. “Another matter is detainees, whom some people call buried alive. Tens of thousands of people are there. Thousands of them were tortured and killed. None of the parties raised this issue to the regime,” noted al-Aridi. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Special Representative for Syrian settlement Alexander Lavrentiev, however, committed to bringing the issue to the table in an attempt to build a dialogue with the opposition group, a critical factor in the fight against terrorist groups that are recently becoming more active in Syria. “We need to involve armed opposition in the fight against terrorism. The unity of all Syrians in the fight will not only foster positive changes, but will also build dialogue and trust between them, ”noted the head of the Russian delegation.
Similar to his colleagues, Lavrentiev commended the outcomes of the two-day negotiations and the potential of the Astana talks. “I must say that the creation of de-escalation zones makes it possible to stop bloodshed and achieve the stabilisation in Syria. The outcomes of today’s meeting affirmed the right choice the guarantor 7 states made earlier about the promotion of de-escalation zones and fight against terrorism,” said Lavrentiev.
The participants of the meeting also thanked Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev for his commitment to the Syrian process and the Kazakh government for hosting the meeting. The next round of talks is scheduled for the end of October.