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Tony Blair urges Kazakhstan to “evolve and reform” as it moves to the next level of political and economic development

Tony Blair urges Kazakhstan to “evolve and reform” as it moves to the next level of political an

Tony Blair urged Kazakhstan to take its political, social and economic development to the next level, in a speech to university students in the capital Astana earlier this week.

During his latest visit to the Central Asian country, the former Prime Minister spoke of the impressive progress made by Kazakhstan over the past 20 years on nuclear disarmament, religious harmony and economic development.

The former Prime Minister, who is working with the government to push through a programme of political and economic reform, said that all countries must keep evolving in this “era of uniquely low predictability”. Speaking specifically about Kazakhstan, Tony Blair said:

“The opportunity and the challenge for Kazakhstan in this changing global landscape is very clear. Over the past 20 years since emerging from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has grown its income per head of population more than tenfold, taking it from third world to second world status, a remarkable achievement. On that day of independence in 1991, it was the world’s fourth largest nuclear weapons power and it has since renounced and dismantled them, a great example to the world as President Obama recently noted.

Situated between the giants of Russia and China, it is nonetheless an ally of the West providing crucial support to the allied efforts in Afghanistan. In a regional politics that is often chaotic and unstable, it stands out. ...

However, the challenge is also clear. As Kazakhstan moves to the next level of development – economic, social and political – it has to evolve and reform. This is the pattern the world over and also part of that changing geopolitical landscape.

The status quo is not an option. There has to be the development of proper systems of democratic participation, with competitive political parties; a responsible but free press; adherence to its hard won reputation for religious tolerance; judicial and other reforms to enhance the rule of law; and an attack not just on corruption but on the systems in areas like public procurement that sustain it. The recent events at Zhanaozen, with the sharp focus on issues to do with human rights and single industry towns, emphasise the need for systems that instil confidence.

All of these issues have been widely canvassed in speeches and statements by President Nazarbayev and in the interaction with the EU, US and other countries who wish Kazakhstan well and want to see a process of steady political evolution put in place.

The challenge is actually to do the reforms: to do them sensibly, preserving the core stability of the country; but do them also in such a way that the reform programme shows a decisive direction of travel.

The Astana Economic Forum has drawn leaders, former leaders and Nobel Prize winners from around the world. There is a recognition that the ability of Kazakhstan to undertake this path of steady economic and political change is hugely in the interests of everyone: an important country in a region of vital strategic importance. So if we can help support this change, we should.

The work my team does within the Policy Advisory Group, and outside experts, focusses on areas such as de-centralisation, public procurement, judicial and other reforms to do with the Rule of Law, precisely those types of things identified by the EU and others as necessary for Kazakhstan’s future development.

It is important for Kazakhstan that the reform programme set out by President Nazarbayev succeeds. It is important for the world.

If it does, as I hope, then the potential for Kazakhstan is indeed huge: a country the size of Western Europe, a gateway West to East and East to West, rich in natural resources and arable land. It is that potential that makes its future path crucial and, if pursued right, exciting.”