Political Developments - June 2018

Kazakhstan's parliament passed a bill that would retain the authority and control of President Nazarbayev in national and international affairs even if he decides to retire as president. This legislation is seen as a potential check on power of any future president, should Nazarbayev decide not to seek re-election. The law would bestow constitutional status on the country's consultative security council -- which currently issues recommendations -- while affirming Nazarbayev’s right to chair the body for as long as he lives.

Kazakh President Nazarbayev has said that China's great progress and its development achievements are in accord with the core interests of Kazakhstan, and that it is expecting more Chinese investment. Nazarbayev called China "the closest and most reliable friend and partner" of Kazakhstan. According to Nazarbayev, Chinese investment in Kazakhstan has exceeded USD16 billion since Kazakhstan's independence in 1991. There are over 1,200 Chinese companies operating in the country. Regarding growing prevalence of Chinese language in Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev noted that Chinese has become second foreign language taught in many Kazakh universities.

During his first visit to USA, President Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan and President Trump renewed the bilateral strategic partnership in order to pursue shared interests and address emerging challenges. They discussed Uzbekistan’s progress on implementing important reforms, enhancing trade and investment, and addressing regional security situation, including developments in Afghanistan.

Sapar Isakov, former Kyrgyz Prime Minister under Atambayev is being investigated over his role in overhaul of a power plant in Bishkek. Critics of the project contend that contract was improperly granted to Chinese-owned company TBEA and that costs were artificially inflated. Isakov said that he is in shock and will fight to prove his innocence. Kyrgyz MPs are keen to review all credit agreements with China including large ones like construction of Datka-Kemin transmission line, as well as North-South alternative road. China is the biggest creditor and investor in Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek owes USD1.7 billion to Export-Import Bank of China, which is 41.3% of Bishkek's total foreign debt. This drama is playing out against backdrop of a behind-the-scenes battle for political influence between President Jeenbekov and his predecessor Almazbek Atambayev. Isakov is widely regarded as a staunch Atambayev ally and efforts to prosecute him are seen as a move to target Atambayev.

Security services in Kyrgyzstan charged Kulmatov, a recently fired head of customs service with corruption, broadening an ongoing campaign of pressure against top officials who served under former president Atambayev. Kulmatov is accused of corruption while serving as mayor of Bishkek. Kulmatov said the investigation against him “has a political subtext.”

Inaugurating the meeting of SCO Security Council Secretaries, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that with membership of India and Pakistan, SCO had gained more potential for cooperation and more expectations from international community.

Kazakh police detained several people who were protesting the use of torture and politically motivated imprisonment in many cities across the country. People appear to have rallied in response to a call by opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), which a Kazakhstan court in March declared “extremist” and banned.

In recent months, ethnic Kazakhs who moved from China have become increasingly exasperated at fate of relatives and friends who stayed back. They are worried about widely documented repression of ethnic Kazakh, Uyghur and Kyrgyz minorities by Chinese authorities. Around 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs live in China, and some complain that Astana is not doing anything to help them. Kazakhstan has been notably mute as it appears to be motivated by unwillingness to spoil relations with China. It was recently revealed that Kazakhstan's government had approved a three-day visa-free regime for Chinese nationals to visit Kazakhstan. The move elicited strong objections among Kazakhs on social media.

Kyrgyzstan appears to be waging a major battle on its soil against alleged members of "international terrorist organizations." In less than 12 months, there have been at least 28 security operations that resulted in apprehending suspects connected to terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Meeting of SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group took place in Beijing at level of deputy foreign ministers of member countries, SCO Secretariat and SCO RATS Executive Committee. Participants discussed ways of Afghan settlement, development of situation in and around Afghanistan, and priority tasks for establishing cooperation between SCO and Afghanistan.

Speaking to his Uzbek counterpart, Russian Defence Minister reportedly said that militants from Syria are relocating to Afghanistan. Intensification of military cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan was one of the main subjects of discussion between him and Uzbek President. He said that Russia is ready to modernize Uzbek army with latest equipment, including air defence systems, as well as train Uzbek soldiers.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defence of Qatar met with Kazakh Defence Minister in Astana. Talks dealt with development of bilateral relations in defence, military and military industries, exchange of military and security expertise, and latest regional developments.

Russia has signed a new contract with Kazakhstan to deliver four Mi-35 transport and attack helicopters.

Discussions between Kazakh Foreign Minister and Special Envoy of President of Maldives and Minister of Environment and Energy focused on bilateral cooperation and mutual support of initiatives of the two countries within international organizations. Hope was expressed that Maldives will soon join Statute of Islamiс Organization for Food Security which was initiated by President Nazarbayev during Kazakhstan's chairmanship of UN Security Council. Maldivian Minister asked Kazakhstan’s support for candidacy of Maldives as non-permanent member of UN Security Council in 2019-2020.

Pakistan organised a meeting of Legal Experts Group of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation-Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (SCO-RATS). This was the first meeting under umbrella of SCO organised by Pakistan since it joined the Organisation last year. A 3-member Indian team also participated.


June 27, 2018

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About the Author

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar

Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia; President, Institute of Global Studies and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar belongs to the Indian Foreign Service and has acquitted his responsibilities in the diplomatic service for 34 years. He was Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia and has worked in senior diplomatic positions in Indian Embassies/Missions in Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Geneva, Tehran, Dhaka and Bangkok and also at Headquarters in India. He negotiated for India in the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and in negotiations for India-EU, India-ASEAN and India-Thailand Free Trade Agreements.

He contributed significantly to strengthening strategic ties and promoting cultural cooperation between India and USA, EU, Russia and other countries.Ambassador Sajjanhar worked as head of National Foundation for Communal Harmony to promote amity and understanding between different religions, faiths and beliefs. Ambassador Sajjanhar has been decorated by Governments of Kazakhstan and Latvia with their National Awards and by Universal Peace Federation with Title of ''Ambassador of Peace.'' Currently Ambassador Sajjanhar is President of Institute of Global Studies, New Delhi. He writes, travels and speaks extensively on issues relating to international relations, foreign policy and themes of contemporary relevance and significance. He appears widely on TV panel discussions. Ambassador Sajjanhar is interested in reading, music and travelling. His wife Madhu is an economist and an educationist. They have a son and a daughter both of who are accomplished singers. Their son passed out of Yale University and their daughter is pursuing her PhD at University of Minnesota.