Progressive development of Kazakhstan in the Islamic world

By Aslan Ayçiçek

Starting in June 2011 Kazakhstan will chair the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). For the first time in its 42-year-long life, the OIC will be led by a state positioning itself as the Central Asian leader with ample experience in bridging East and West, which is what this authoritative organization factually seeks: to be close-knit and respect each participating state's sovereignty.

There is common awareness throughout the world that no single state can survive without integration in the present world. Experts, including deputy Secretary-General of the OIC Abdel Moez Boukhari, say that Kazakhstan, with the organization of the summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) under its belt, will succeed in inviting the negotiating table of representatives of the OIC. Ambassador Boukhari regards this as evidence of the republic's solid event-management skills. The OIC expects the Kazakh chairmanship to make a sizable contribution to the development of both the organization and the Islamic ummah. At the moment, the OIC is an international club of 57 states with a population of 1.2 billion. All the participating states of the OIC view Kazakhstan as a key country, while it is expected to act as a bridge between two international structures -- the OSCE and OIC. It is expected that Kazakhstan will work toward the integration of Central Asia in the space of the OIC. In this way, the OIC leadership is regarded as one of the ways of cooperation within the organization, not only between countries but also between different geographical areas. Last year, the OIC member-countries adopted a program of action to promote women's rights in the OIC, which was prepared by the charter of the Islamic Center of Women's Affairs. After ratification by 15 member-countries, it was decided that a center to this end would be established in Cairo. Moreover, a special OIC family affairs department was set up to pursue a resolution from the 2009 OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) in Dushanbe. Kazakhstan's agenda in the OIC will prioritize the role of women in the Muslim world and gender equality. Its practical input will be an OIC international conference on women affairs in the Muslim world, slated for 2012 in Astana. In keeping with its 10-year action plan, the organization is set to reinforce legislation aimed at the wider involvement of Muslim women in economic, cultural, social and political areas, while protecting women from any kind of violence and discrimination, in line with the UN's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Islamic values, justice and equality. In 2011, Kazakhstan will chair the important political organ of the OIC -- the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, taking on the obligation and responsibility of promoting the common values of the Muslim world.

A focal point of Kazakhstan's chairmanship in the OIC will be the establishment of inter-religious dialogue, as more than once declared by Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev. As the acting OIC chair, Kazakhstan will advocate closer interaction between the East and the West, politicians presume, and establishing inter-religious dialogue will be at the forefront. Kazakhstan will strengthen the connection between nations of the Islamic world and the West. The OIC's top leadership notes that Kazakhstan attaches special importance to boosting relations with the Muslim world and its umbrella body -- the OIC. OIC Chairman Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu stated during a speech he delivered at the OSCE Summit in February 2010: "I would like to take this opportunity to pay special tribute to Kazakhstan's chairmanship in the OSCE, and His Excellency President Nazarbayev, with his able leadership. ... I am convinced that through this process we will lay the foundation for our organization to become even closer."

Kazakhstan's chairmanship in the OIC will help establish rapport between the incumbent organization and the OSCE. The 2011 OIC chairmanship can be an advantage for Kazakhstan in becoming a nexus between the Islamic world and the West, laying the groundwork for bringing their values together and swapping broad-ranging experience. Regional and international cooperation is crucial to poverty reduction and combating terrorism and transnational crime.

There is no doubt that the organization has high expectations for Kazakhstan's chairmanship in 2011, as the country has a high international reputation, a meaningful and active foreign policy and is an excellent example of an advanced and dynamically developing state. Becoming a member of the OIC in 1995, Kazakhstan increased cooperation with countries in this fast-growing region on several fronts, providing economic and trade relations with 42 member countries of the OIC. Identified were four main areas of economic cooperation; trade, transport, travel and finance.

In the long run, the organization in question is bound to play a prominent role in modern international relations. The political ambitions of the Islamic states, the growing threat of "Islamic extremism" and Islamic religious-political trends, the development of newly independent Muslim states and many other issues will depend in part on the position of the international organization, which seeks to be the political hub of the Islamic world. In turn, backing from many political forces may boost the OIC's international image and enhance its influence on international political processes.