EdgeKZ Talks Terrorism, Foreign Policy and the Future of Kazakh Research with Think Tank Head

By Zhazira Dyussembekova

erlan-karinThe Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies (KazISS) was established in 1993, only two years after the country became independent, and has been Kazakhstan’s leading research center ever since. The institute focuses on strategic aspects of foreign policy, social and political processes in modern Kazakhstan and economic security and distributes its work in a number of publications.

KazISS Director Yerlan Karin shared some of his thoughts with EdgeKZ.

“Of course, our experts work on all the questions that are on the agenda today. There are also constant instructions. In general, we are engaged in the analysis and study of various foreign and domestic policy issues through the prism of national and regional security. In light of recent events, the institute is also engaged in the study of radicalism and extremism,” said Karin.

The recent events Karin refers to are the shocking attacks in Almaty and Aktobe this year, rare and horrifying occurrences in the normally peaceful country of extremists and criminals attacking and murdering Kazakhstan’s citizens.

Karin is an expert on terrorism and extremism, so we asked him whether these events could have been predicted or should have been expected, and what preconditions existed for them that could be recognized in the future.

“In a certain way, of course, those events were expected, because the threat of extremism and terrorism today is growing worldwide. We see a wave of radicalism; the activation of various international terrorist organizations. Unfortunately, terrorist activity is observed in many regions: Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The latest statistics show that last year there were more than 10,000 terrorist attacks in 80 countries. Therefore, one way or another, we were going to have to face the threat,” said Karin.

Realizing the seriousness of the situation, the government took action and held back the threat for years. “In 1999, our country was one of the first to adopt the Law on Combating Terrorism. In 2003, the Anti-Terrorist Center was established. There were also a number of other organizational measures that allowed us to build an effective anti-terrorist system, so we were able to suppress the activity of many radical groups,” he added.logo_kazakhstan_institute_for_strategic_studies

“Unfortunately, the causes and roots of radicalism are outside the competence of the intelligence services and government agencies. It is affected by many different socio-economic factors. Talking about the events in Almaty and Aktobe, they were unexpected in the sense that the state always aimed to ward off external threats and the possibility of organizing such actions inside the country was underestimated. However, it should be noted that in Kazakhstan there is no serious institutional framework of terrorism, and we are not fighting any organized terrorist force. We are dealing with disparate autonomous groups,” he said.

Despite finally seeing attacks occur on Kazakhstan’s soil, the state is in control, Karin said. The focus now is on preventing home-grown radicals from being replaced with specially trained terrorists, he explained.

According to Karin, the role of analytical centers is increasing every year. “In fact, experts participate in almost every meeting at the level of state structures. In this regard, KazISS has a special place, because it is one of the first think tanks formed at the dawn of independence of Kazakhstan,” he said. He also noted that KazISS does constant work to provide scientific and analytical support for the initiatives of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

“KazISS is one of the most recognizable centers, which is proved by the fact that for two consecutive years, our institute has been listed in the Go To Think Tank Index of the University of Pennsylvania program Think Tanks and Civil Societies, which covers more than 6,000 think tanks around the world. According to the 2015 results, KazISS was one of the 100 best research centers in the world in the field of security, defense and foreign policy,” he added.

The work of KazISS is done by a professional team of political scientists, historians, economists and sociologists, the director noted. And KazISS is also no longer alone in Kazakhstan.

“In recent years in general there are new trends in think tank development in Kazakhstan. New state and non-state centers are appearing,” said Karin. They include the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Foundation of the First President of Kazakhstan, the Center for Military and Strategic Studies of Kazakh Ministry of Defense, the Center of Political Analysis and Strategic Research of the Nur Otan Party, as well as various other organizations under the Ministry of Education and Science.

There are also independent centers, such as the Risk Assessment Group headed by famous analyst Dosym Satpayev, the Center for Relevant Research led by Andrei Chebotarev, the sociological agency Public Fund Strategy headed by Gulmira Ileuova and other organizations.

Karin mentioned a recent presentation by a private entity called the Center for Strategic Initiatives. “It is a team of new, young, interesting experts who have graduated from leading foreign universities and have experience working in the public service. This suggests that the market for analytical services in Kazakhstan continues to evolve,” he said.

“Of course, there are issues that hinder [think tank] development; for example, a lack of private investment and support, [and] underestimation of the importance of analytical information in general. Therefore, many experts and researchers who studied abroad, are not always able to [work in their field]. Plus … this year, the number of grants for training specialists in political science, sociology and oriental studies has been reduced. … Nevertheless, I believe that the analytical market of Kazakhstan has great prospects,” stated Karin.

KazISS publishes its work in journals in three languages. The Russian version is called “Kazakhstan-Spektr” (“Spectrum”), the English version is “Central Asia’s Affairs,” and the Kazakh version “Kogam zhane  Dauir” (“Society and Time”). The journals are sent to government agencies and ministries, scientific and analytical organizations, universities and libraries.

“They are very authoritative publications,” said Karin.

This year, KazISS’s publications have been rebranded and re-launched, after the institution invited well-known local and foreign experts to join their editorial board and overhaul them. “I want to note that professionals and domestic well-known experts lead the magazines,” Karin commented.

KazISS also publishes books on different themes, sometimes by invited foreign authors.

The think tank also conducts research to inform Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy, which Karin noted is intended to help the landlocked country build balanced and equal relationships around the world.

“Kazakhstan conducts a proactive policy and is the author of very important international initiatives. In this regard, Kazakhstan has solidified its status as a country that consistently advocates for constructive and multilateral dialogue. I think that one of the outcomes of the 25th anniversary of our country is that during that time Astana, the new young capital of the country, has become one of the political capitals of the world. It is no coincidence that Astana is becoming a venue for important meetings, negotiations and consultations. This is an indication of the special role of our country in various international and regional processes,” Karin remarked.

Pictured top left: The director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of Kazakhstan (KazISS) Erlan Karin. Photo credit: Forbes.kz


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