Kazakhstan began 2018 on a high note by celebrating the capital’s 20th anniversary and strengthening ties with its neighbours, especially with an Uzbekistan that was increasingly open to change. Nevertheless, the tragic loss of a prominent young Kazakh sportsman prompted government officials to closely consider the ways Kazakh law enforcement agencies need to change for the better.
The country also completed its two-year membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the organisation’s most important body, achieving much of what it had planned. Kazakhstan hopes to further make waves in digitisation and finance, following the official launches of international hubs.
Astana’s 20th anniversary
The capital celebrated its 20th anniversary with 618 events, including performances and exhibitions by the British Museum, Grand Palais in Paris, New York City Ballet and Vienna Opera.
Visitors traversed the right bank July 6, stopping to taste new street food, and left bank, visiting the former EXPO 2017 grounds and the Nur Alem pavilion that stays on for the first or second time. Residents and visitors also enjoyed the newly-gifted parks, facilities, monuments and recreation centres, such as the Peace Wall monument from the Aktobe region, the Jetisu sports and entertainment park from the Almaty region and a bicycle and pedestrian bridge across the Yessil River from the Atyrau region.
Loss of beloved Kazakh public figure
The same month, a tragedy in the former capital gave impetus to national reform of the Kazakh Ministry of Internal Affairs. The nation and the global figure skating world mourned the loss of 2014 Olympic bronze medallist Denis Ten, a beloved and multi-talented role model for many, at memorial services worldwide and on social media. This year’s commemoration projects featured a memorial plaque at Ten’s home and D10 photograph and video exhibition; 2019 plans include a public foundation, film script production, book publication and figure skating academy and tournament.
Following the 25-year-old’s untimely death July 19 from stab wounds suffered during an attempted carjacking, the public has increasingly demanded more citizen-oriented police. Citizens formalised their sentiments in a specific request to reform the ministry, calling for a force that ensures their security and does not predominantly focus on punitive measures. The National Security Council’s modernisation measures on Kazakh law enforcement agencies will follow in the coming year.
Year of Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan
No stranger to the power of reform, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev set far-reaching changes in motion by removing the peg from the U.S. dollar, signing agreements with the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, opening up public space and rekindling regional and international cooperation.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan constitute the region’s largest economies, which is why their cooperation has been particularly noteworthy. In March, the five Central Asian leaders gathered in the Kazakh capital for a consultative meeting initiated by Mirziyoyev and chaired by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the first such regional meeting in almost a decade.
The Year of Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan is coming to an end and the Year of Kazakhstan in Uzbekistan is right around the corner. This year’s cooperation achievements over borders, business, satellites and transport may h int at what closer coordination will bring in 2019.
Trade turnover between the countries was approximately $1.9 billion in the first half of the year and the bar has been set for an ambitious $5 billion trade turnover by 2020.
Regionalism vision on the move
The new level of bilateral relations hints at the broader trend of greater regionalism in Central Asia, which experts attribute to increased continental trade opportunities, political and economic reform in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan post-oil price drop and the changing role and perception of Afghanistan in the region.
The five regional leaders made great progress in realising their vision of regionalism by meeting in Astana in March and contributing to the United Nations General Assembly resolution “Strengthening regional and international cooperation to ensure peace, stability and sustainable development in the Central Asian Region” in January. Close-knit cooperation should continue at next year’s second summit of Central Asian leaders in Tashkent.
The Kazakh President further cemented Kazakhstan’s role in the global and regional community in his recent article “Seven Facets of the Great Steppe,” detailing how the culture of horsemanship and ancient metallurgy that originated on the land of modern day Kazakhstan and the Silk Road have contributed to the development of civilization.
Launch of start-up and financial hubs
Astana remained in step with modern life with the launch of Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) and Astana International IT Start-up Hub July 5 and Nov. 6, respectively. The former offers financial services in financial technologies, Islamic finance, green finance, capital market and asset management and is expected to attract $40 billion in investments by 2025. The latter, a technopark providing comprehensive support to informational technology (IT) entrepreneurs, is expected to bring $67 billion in investments within the next five years. Both hubs plan to attract the brightest minds by offering tax benefits, a simplified visa regime and greater labour mobility.
AIFC became part of stock exchange history following Kazatomprom’s initial public offering (IPO) at the London Stock Exchange and the financial centre’s Astana International Exchange in November. As the first Kazakh national company listed on an international stock exchange, the IPO also marked a major step in the country’s effort to achieve large-scale privatisation.
UNSC membership ends
Along with new beginnings, the year also saw important conclusions, as Kazakhstan completed its UNSC membership in 2018. As the first Central Asian UNSC non-permanent member, it had a clear set of priorities to address in its two-year term, including strengthening regional security and cooperation, ensuring sustainable development and adapting the council to the threats and challenges of the 21st century.
During its presidency in January, the country gathered member states’ heads and representatives at the UN’s New York headquarters to address the global challenges of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the regional challenges of Central Asia and Afghanistan. In this way, Kazakhstan openly and transparently presided over the council and made constructive contributions to issues on the agenda within and beyond the UN body. Since September, more than 70 countries have signed up to Nazarbayev’s counter-terrorism initiative, the Code of Conduct Towards Achieving a World Free of Terrorism. The ATOM Project Honorary Ambassador Karipbek Kuyukov received the 2018 Nuclear-Free Future Award as recognition for building a world without nuclear weapons, one of Kazakhstan’s top priorities during its UNSC membership.