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La-La-Land of Central Asia: Kazakhstan and its “Astana Code of Conduct”

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By Samantha Brletich

As defining terrorism in any particular case implies a political component, this very category becomes quite extensive - a subject to different readings and understandings. Having permanent – primarily political – disputes over the category and scale of ‘conflict’, contemporary international community repeatedly failed over decades to agree upon a single and comprehensive but universal instrument determining, prescribing and combating terrorism. As a consequence of these - mostly political and less legal – implications, today we are confronted with some two dozen international (universal and regional) instruments. These instruments are good, but far from being a norm-setting standardized and harmonized.

Thus, the tentative political definition of (international) terrorism could be as follows: Terrorism is the use of violence as political means of pressuring the government and/or society into accepting a radical socio-political or/and socio-economic change (ideological or/and territorial). The word terrorist is obviously self-incriminating (demonizing and alienating), and consequently most terrorists would not apply the label to themselves.

Experts estimate that for every apprehended/detained terrorist another 9 remain at large (rating it to 10%). Therefore, many describe terrorism like a balloon: squeeze one end and it expands at the other.” - professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic analyzed in his seminal work ’JHA Diplomacy – The Palermo Treaty System 10 years After’

Hereby is the take on the national legislation with the huge regional impacts that comes from the ‘heart of gold’, biggest and most relevant Central Asian republic – one of the key pivots to continental Asia.

*        *        *        *

In President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s first speech to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Kazakh Head of State set forth what is considered a landmark initiative called the “Astana Code of Conduct” focused on preventing and tackling terrorism and extremism while maintaining human rights standards. The Astana Code of Conduct reflects Kazakhstan’s four main UNSC priorities and trends in international security: energy security, food security, counter-terrorism measures, and nuclear safety. These four priorities reflect greater Central Asia interests “to ensure its stability and security, to effectively respond to regional challenges and threats, to strengthen cooperation and promote its growth and development.”

President Nazarbayev’s political address “at the UNSC addresses seven key priorities, the fourth priority emphasizing the acute problem of international terrorism. The fourth priority introduced the Astana Code of Conduct was hailed by members of Kazakhstan’s Government as a landmark initiative, hoping that nations would “refrain from the actions which may lead to destruction of statehood” emphasizing Kazakhstan’s desire push to end or mitigate global conflict. It also reflects the ubiquitous diplomatic trends of engagement, cooperation, and partnerships, in Kazakhstan’s multi-lateral and regional policies and arrangements.

The Astana Code of Conduct is nascent. The Code of Conduct will probably be based on Kazakhstan’s prior national-level programs and priorities, cooperative efforts, and current counter-terrorism efforts. The central tenet of the Astana Code of Conduct, ending extremism and terrorism, is already visible in Kazakhstan’s attempts to be the mediator in high-profile negotiations and talks aimed at sustaining peace such as Syria and Iran. Kazakhstan hopes that the Astana Code of Conduct will lead to the formation of the Global Anti-Terrorist Coalition (Network) to defeat terrorism and reduce the global terror threat. Kazakhstan will chair the Security Council 1267 Committee on ISIL and Al-Qaida.

The Astana Code of Conduct will be a multi-lateral effort focusing on challenging the root causes of terrorism, confronting transnational groups, preventing power vacuums, and destabilization. In March 2016, Kazakhstan called for a new program, “Manifesto: The World. The 21st Century,” focusing on non-proliferation, global cooperation, and ending war. Kazakh officials met with the OSCE Astana Program Office to discuss anti-counter terrorism efforts in mid-October 2016. Kazakhstan would also benefit from European assistance and cooperation combating terrorism online.

After 2011, Kazakhstan reformed its counter-terrorism strategy through community participation by creating web-based instruments to prevent terrorism: www.counter-terror.kz , and a mechanism created recently for citizens to report terrorist or extremist activity via the Prosecutor General’s Office website. Changes to the Counter-Terrorism Law improving counter-terrorism methods, increased regional security and cooperation through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collection Security Treaty Organization aid Kazakhstan’s fight against domestic terrorism.

Kazakhstan also shut down 950 websites (with court approval) and increased the use of information technology against terrorism, and in January 2013, the Kazakhstan National Security Committee announced the launch of a Security Academy to train specialists. Kazakhstan has long been the recipient of criticism about its human rights records, the misapplication of anti-terrorism measures to silence the opposition, and the absence of basic civil liberties including freedom of press, assembly, religion, and association. Changes to the Counter-Terrorism Law resulted in violations of religious freedoms among Muslims, arbitrary detention, and increased powers among the security services.

Like its chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Kazakhstan’s position on the UNSC provides the country with access to materials, resources, and the opportunity to implement policies and improve its human rights record. This Central Asian colossus did not live up to its commitments as OSCE chair. Kazakhstan recently announced future basic constitutional reforms to redistribute power among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Kazakhstan must be willing to implement resolutions and programs developed during its UNSC chairmanship and not use the UNSC as a way to push an international agenda without a domestic commitment.

Samantha Brletich is a researcher on the region of Central Asia and Russia. She focuses on extremism and terrorism, governance, culture, mining, and foreign policy. She holds a Master’s in Peace Operations Policy from George Mason University. She is an employee of the U.S. Government (opinions and ideas are her own).

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