Kazakhstan at 30: Achievements & Future Prospects


Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

Kazakhstan is the “biggest” economy of the Central Asian Region which has also “plentiful” of natural resources. It celebrates 30 years of its independence in 2021. During these years it has successfully “transformed” its macro-economy which is now stable and sustainable with bright prospects.

Due to numerous and constant structural reforms its national economy has been diversified up to optimal levels of productivity, innovation and renewables orientations. Its banking system is the biggest in terms of deposits, finances, operations and mortgaged assets in the whole region. Its financial system is resilient, restructured and remolded up to the requirements of global system and BASEL.  

According to latest report of the World Bank (2019-2020) Kazakhstan has a GDP of above $180 billion. It is the largest economy in Central Asia, accounting for more than half of the region’s GDP.

Unemployment is low 4.9 percent in 2020. It joined the World Trade Organisation in 2015 which further strengthened its economic ties with the outer world.

Strategic vision of the government provides great opportunities for local entrepreneurs. The government plans to increase the number of people employed in SMEs to 4 million compared to 3.3 million in 2020, thus increasing the GDP share of SMEs to 35 percent by 2025 compared to 31 percent in 2020.

Constant structural reforms in economy, administration, business, trade and industries have transformed into biggest recipient of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in the Central Asia. It was ranked 25th in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019. It has attracted over $330 billion in the FDIs since 1991 which has increased 16-fold since independence.

Now Kazakhstan accounts for approximately 70 percent of FDI into Central Asia. According to Kazakhstan statistical data (2020) around 50 percent of FDI in Kazakhstan has been attracted from the EU, including $96.6 billion from the Netherlands, $16.7 billion from France, $8.7 billion from Belgium, $6.8 billion from Italy and $5 billion from Germany.

Kazakhstan has been introducing comprehensive reforms in recent years to strengthen protection for investors, abolishing red tape, and transparent tax system and support domestic and international investors, businessmen and entrepreneurs. In this context, Kazakhstan was ranked 34th in the 2021 Index of Economic Freedom (in comparison with 59th in 2019) among 180 countries which is again highest among the CIS countries.  The Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) was established in 2018, aimed at making Nur-Sultan a financial hub in the region.

It has stable, and accommodative political system in which opposition has stakes to participate in the decision making process of the government.  On political front, parliamentary elections were held on 10 January 2021, to elect members of the Mazhilis and local representative bodies. The elections were the first since the implementation of new national guidelines designed to further increase the openness, fairness and transparency of Kazakhstan’s electoral system. 3 out of 5 political parties gained enough votes to win seats at the lower house of Parliament following the election.

In this regard, Kazakhstan president H.E. Kassym Jomart Tokayev has successfully institutionalized concepts of “Listening Stat” in the hierarchy of government’s vertical and horizontal presentations. In this connection, Kazakhstan was ranked 29th in the UN E-Government Survey 2020 among 193 countries (compared to 39th in 2019) the highest among CIS countries.

According to the Constitution of Kazakhstan, it has a presidential form of governance. Executive power is shared by the government, while legislative power is exercised by Parliament consisting of the Senate and the Mazhilis.

Right from the beginning, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev introduced various meaningful political, law, civil, and judicial reforms in the country aimed at modernising the political system and ensuring protection of human rights. It included, establishment of the National Council of Public Trust, an advisory body under the President to conduct open dialogue with representatives of the public, legal formalisation of an institute of parliamentary opposition, 30 percent  quota for women and young people to be included in political parties’ candidates lists, decriminalisation of libel, liberalisation of peaceful assemblies and registration of political parties, lowering the threshold for political parties to enter Parliament from 7 percent to 5 percent, joining the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, thus abolishing the death penalty and last but not least, strengthening the role of the Ombudsman for Human Rights which has now further strengthened its political stability and democratic norms in the country.

It seems that substantial reduction of electoral threshold, relaxation in formation of political parties, paradigm shift from indirect elections to direct, further empowerment of women, free role of media, NGOs, civil society, and last but not least inclusion of very young people in the various elections has now further revolutionized the process of politicization and democratization in the country. In this context most recently held “Akim Elections” in rural areas of Kazakhstan through direct votes has consolidated true spirits of democracy in the society at the gross-root levels.

It has strong political commitment having strategic vision to play a wider global role and widen its strategic partnership with South Asia especially with Pakistan which was among the first few states to recognize it in 1991.

It aims to become among the 30 most advanced countries in the world by mid-century, while shifting from a resource-intensive growth model to one that is cleaner, more innovative and more diversified. Reaching those goals will require further substantial reforms to improve public governance, to make the economy more open and competitive, to promote greener growth and to promote more equal access education, employment and economic opportunity.

Right from the beginning, Kazakhstan initiated a series of reforms to introduce spirits of decentralization and a modern free market model to achieve the desire goal of socio-economic prosperity, massive industrialization and eradication of poverty and generation of new jobs. It successfully transformed the outlook of political canvas by changing its one-party government to a multi-party democratic system.

Over the past 30 years Kazakhstan has established diplomatic relations with 186 countries and transformed into one of the dynamically economies of the region and world alike.

On the front of external relations, Kazakhstan has implemented a multi-layered foreign policy to establish good relations worldwide and is a world leader in the movement to ensure nuclear security.

On 29 August 1991, Kazakhstan closed the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site and gave up the fourth largest nuclear arsenal in the world. It contributed to the establishment of the Central Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (CANWFZ) in 2009. A Low-Enriched Uranium Bank under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been established on the territory of Kazakhstan.

It has now become hub of diplomacy, conflict resolution, interfaith harmony and last but not least, multiculturalism. Kazakhstan plays a crucial role in enabling the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. Kazakhstan accounts for 70 percent of transit traffic passing from China to Europe and vice versa.

It previously hosted two rounds of nuclear talks between the P5+1 and Iran. Kazakhstan convened the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), which now consists of 27 member states. It is also a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union which was established in 2014. It may also be recalled that Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian country to be elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for 2017-2018.

Moreover, Kazakhstan is an active participant of regional projects being as a co-founder of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTS). It became the first post-Soviet and the first Muslim-majority country to chair the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010, and hosted the first OSCE summit in eleven years, which adopted the Astana Commemorative Declaration towards a Security Community.

Kazakhstan successfully chaired the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2011-2012. Kazakhstan hosted the EXPO 2017 International Specialised Exhibition in Nur-Sultan with the theme of Future Energy.

Kazakhstan has made a significant contribution to the settlement of the Syrian crisis through the Astana Process, which provided a platform for negotiations between the Syrian government, the armed opposition and the guarantor states Russia, Turkey and Iran. Contribution to rebuilding of Afghanistan is a major priority for Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan has rich ethnic diversity which is indeed core strength of its state and people alike. There are approximately 140 different ethnic groups and almost 4,000 religious organisations operating freely across the country representing 18 religious denominations. The key ideas of ethno-politics were devised during 1993 by former president, founder and father of the nation H.E. Nazarbayev. It was derived from Kazakhstan’s century’s old civilization, rich traditions, culture and customs based on the preservation of interethnic harmony, ethnic diversity, equality of citizens regardless of ethnic affiliation as well as instruction in proper patriotism

It has been pioneer of interfaith harmony in the region and the world alike. It has been judged as the best tolerant country in the region by many regional as well as international organizations of humanities.  

The largest ethnic group is Kazakhs 68.5 percent. Other ethnicities include: Russians 18.9 percent, Uzbeks 3.3 percent, Uighurs 1.5 percent, Ukrainians 1.4 percent, Germans 1.0 percent and Koreans 0.6 percent. Every three years, the capital Nur-Sultan hosts the Congress of Leaders of World & Traditional Religions to provide a forum for religious leaders to discuss the core issues facing the humanity and communities worldwide. The UN Human Development Index (2020) ranked Kazakhstan 51st in the (compared to 76th in 1999) the highest among CIS countries.

Being prominent regional expert of Kazakhstan & CIS I fully endorse structural reforms of Kazakhstan president H.E. Kassym Jomart Tokayev which has actually revolutionized its macro-economy, politics, civility, society, judicial system, administration, governance, foreign policy, trade & commerce potential, inflows of FDIs, joint ventures and last but not least brightened its future socio-economic prosperity, industrial productivity and connectivity with all the regional countries.