December 1st is a new public holiday in Kazakhstan commemorating the achievements of our country’s first President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. As we celebrate the “Day of the First President”, we will have a moment to draw breath and reflect on how far and fast the country has developed over the past 21 years since independence.
We see our main successes in the rapid consolidation of our independence and Kazakhstan’s emergence as an important regional and international player. Some external observers 21 years ago doubted the ability of Kazakhstan to stand on its own two feet and be a viable country.
We have defied those Cassandras by increasing per capita GDP 16-fold since independence. From 1999 to 2007, GDP growth in Kazakhstan was on average 10 percent per year. Economic growth slowed as a result of the global financial crisis, but GDP is expected to grow by over 5 percent in 2012. Kazakhstan is ranked third among the 25 most dynamic economies of the past decade. We have also attracted foreign direct investment worth more than $160 billion.
Throughout this period, we have ensured political stability as well as inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony. We have successfully avoided the divisions and conflicts that have been seen in some other parts of the region by uniting our population around a shared commitment to developing a successful country and shared benefits in that process. Across the board, our citizens are materially much better off than they were 20 years ago.
Kazakhstan’s foreign policy over the past two decades has focused on developing and strengthening our relations with our key partners, and establishing a safe and friendly environment around us. We want to use our geography to our advantage; as a country at the heart of Eurasia, we can benefit from the trade flows between the European and Asian markets.
Our first contribution to strengthening security at home and abroad was President Nazarbayev’s historic decision to renounce the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal in 1991 and decommission the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site inherited from the Soviet Union. We also led the initiative to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in Central Asia.
The key to making the most of Kazakhstan’s strategic location is to promote integration between West and East, and to keep the wider Central Asian region as a clear focus for the international community.
The implementation of this policy starts at the regional level through active co-operation and co-ordination with our Central Asian neighbours both in bilateral relations and through regional forums, including the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, among others.
We have consistently played a very active role in developing integration processes through the Commonwealth of Independent States. President Nazarbayev’s vision to establish a Eurasian Economic Union became reality with the creation of the trilateral Customs Union and the establishment of a Single Economic Space, a promising market of 170 million people.
We have complemented these integration initiatives by building close relations with key partners such as the United States, China, the European Union, and Russia. In addition, we have sought to develop leadership roles in a number of areas to promote stability in our region.
Examples include President Nazarbayev’s initiative in 2003 to establish the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions to facilitate dialogue between the world’s major religions, a triennial event that has taken place four times and attracted very high levels of attendance. In 2010 we also became the first country from the former Soviet Union to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and succeeded in including Central Asia in the definition of “European security”.
In November we completed our 15-month chairmanship of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that focused on giving new impulses to the Organization’s long-standing objectives of promoting modernization in the Islamic world.
Looking to the future, President Nazarbayev has made two proposals that have received widespread international support. First, he has suggested establishing a G-Global forum to develop anti-crisis measures to support the world economy in an effort to address the limited impact of the G-8 and G-20. Second, he has proposed a “Green Bridge Partnership” to bring together governments, international organizations, and private businesses to find transnational solutions to sustainable growth. As part of Kazakhstan’s efforts to “green” its economy and promote alternative energy sources in Central Asia, Astana, our new capital, was selected on November 22nd to host the Expo 2017 international exhibition on the theme of “Future Energy”.
On December 1st, as we consider the ground that we have covered since 1991 under our first President’s leadership, we will also keep an eye on the road that lies ahead. We are conducting a program of accelerated industrial development to turn Kazakhstan into an advanced economy. The goals that we have set for achievement by 2014 include increasing GDP 50 percent from the level of 2008, raising the share of the manufacturing sector in GDP by 12.5 percent and raising productivity in some sectors by as much as 100 percent.
Kazakhstan maintains the same ambition and commitment to reform, 21 years after independence.
Erlan Idrissov is Kazakhstan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.