Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship Takes Off to Good Start at Astana CFM
Astana, June 28: As one of the first orders of business, the group decided to change its name to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Kazakhstan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Yerzhan Kazykhanov announced the decision following a unanimous vote of the 57 countries in the morning session. He went on to give the floor to the President of the country, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who delivered to the 1,000 participants and guests a wide ranging strategic vision for the future development of the OIC and of the Muslim Ummah as a whole.
“The Ummah today is facing serious challenges in a dramatically changing world,” the Kazakh President said. “The Islamic community desperately needs peace, modernisation, scientific and technological development, and education. Combined economic potential of the Ummah is inexhaustible, and we need to unite efforts to develop effective mechanisms for cooperation, mutual aid, and promotion of development.”
The meeting takes place against the backdrop of major upheavals in several countries in North Africa and the Middle East which have been going on since the beginning of the year, the so called Arab Spring.
In his own remarks, Secretary General of the OIC Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OIC was a sign of maturity of the nation that is marking its 20th anniversary this year and expressed hope its chairmanship will strengthen the group which is timely and relevant now. “Today, the Muslim world is confronted with major trials that challenge its stability. “The Muslim world is going through a defining moment in its history,” Ihsanoglu said as he stressed that these trials highlight more than ever the importance of good governance, rule of law, human rights, and broader political participation of the people in the affairs of their states. For that, full implementation of the 10 year OIC Programme of Action, adopted in Mecca in 2005, will be important.
In his speech, Nazarbayev called for effective trade and investment, technological, social and educational programmes to move the Islamic world forward.
According to the Kazakh President, average GDP per capita at purchasing power parity in OIC countries equals 9,500 dollars, while the similar figure for European countries equals more than 24,000 dollars. OIC countries control 70 percent of global energy resources. However, they account for only 7.5 percent of global GDP and 11 percent of total volume of global trade.
“This situation is totally unacceptable,” Nazarbayev said. “We need to increase the competitiveness of every member state of our organization separately and the Ummah as a whole. That is why we propose to develop an integrated strategy for economic development of the OIC member states.”
Proposals listed by the President included the creation of a dialogue platform of the top ten Muslim economies, and the development of a system of mutual food assistance within the OIC in the form of a Regional Fund similar to FAO, which will include the possibility of creating a pool of food in the interested states.
“We are ready to locate the headquarters of the Fund in Kazakhstan,” the President said.
“The solution for problems of Muslim countries should come from within,” Nazarbayev stressed. “The Islamic world needs to move from the vector of development based on raw materials to industrial and innovative development. I propose to develop and adopt a joint Action Plan within the OIC for investment and technological cooperation in energy sector, as well as to establish an international centre for innovation.”
According to the Kazakh leader, there are several factors going for the Islamic world that may help it achieve greater development. First, the global economic crisis has shown that the Islamic financial and economical model is stable and viable. Although GDP growth rate in Islamic countries in 2007-2009 slowed from 6 percent to 3 percent per year on average, it remained positive, while the volume of GDP in developed countries decreased sharply.
One of the useful and effective products that the Ummah can offer the world is the system of Islamic financing. Kazakhstan was the first post-Soviet country that opened a bank working on the principles of Shari’a.
“We are actively promoting the Islamic financing and the creation of benchmarking in the area of Islamic finance instruments in the region,” Nazarbayev said as he proposed to hold an international conference on Islamic banking in Almaty and to develop Almaty as a regional financial centre that is actively engaged in Islamic finance.
Next, the Islamic world should enjoy its major advantage, which is the potential for demographic growth, and make it an inalienable part of stable economic development.
“International experts have estimated that by the year 2030 the population of the Muslim Ummah will account for more than 2.2 billion people, which is more than a quarter (26.4%) of the world’s population,” Nazarbayev explained. “The immense human resources require adequate level of education and science. The creation of intellectual elite capable of generating new ideas that would serve the renaissance of the Islamic civilization must be our common goal.”
According to the President, Islam in the Middle Ages gave the world its greatest achievements in mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, medicine, architecture, philosophy and poetry, and hence has the potential to see major revival. “Relying on this powerful historical foundation, we are obliged to unite our efforts to revive the intellectual role of the Islamic civilization,” Nazarbayev said.
Focusing on issues pertinent to Central Asia, the Kazakh President the OIC should consider strengthening inter-regional cooperation, a good example of which is an OIC Plan of Action for cooperation with Central Asia that is being developed now.
Calling instability in Afghanistan a matter of concern, Nazarbayev proposed the establishment of a special working group within the OIC to address the issues of assistance to that country.
In general, OIC needs an effective body to conduct forecasting and analytical work providing heads of state with possible scenarios and ways of events’ development inside the Organization as well as in the world, he said.
“Kazakhstan voluntarily renounced the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, shut down the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, and has become an active participant in establishing the Central Asian a nuclear weapons free zone in Central Asia,” Nazarbayev said. “As the President of Kazakhstan, and on behalf of our people, I call for the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East and, in the long term, for a world without nuclear weapons.”
“Non-implementation of the lawful rights of the Palestinians to establish their own state, the undefined status of Eastern Jerusalem, and the plight of refugees remain sources of tension not only in the Middle East but far beyond,” Nazarbayev stressed. “We support initiatives for a peaceful settlement in the region in accordance with UN resolutions.”
Nazarbayev went on to focus on one of the major issues in world politics, challenges in the Muslim world relations with the outside world, especially with the West.
“The Muslim world in the eyes of the Western society is associated primarily with its radical part and causes unwarranted fear, despite the fact that Islam preaches universal values of kindness, tolerance and justice,” Nazarbayev lamented. “The true meaning of Islam has nothing to do with the activities of extremist and terrorist groups, disguised under religious phraseology. As is known, those who suffer the most from terrorism are the citizens of the Islamic countries.”
According to the Kazakh leader, the Islamic world faces two major challenges: to learn to confront religious fundamentalism as a political ideology, and to establish an open and honest dialogue with the West.
“We must unequivocally declare that Islam has nothing to do with political violence, extremism and terrorism,” the Kazakh President said. “At the 7th World Islamic Economic Forum I proposed creating a single media Islamic project. Today there is a strong onslaught of “new media” on the Internet. In this respect, I suggest creating the e-ISLAM Internet resource, which would cover the activity of our Organisation, stimulating the interest of the youth in religion and culture of Islam and spreading the Muslim spiritual values.”
In terms of promoting dialogue with the West, the President reminded of Astana’s earlier initiatives such as the ministerial dialogue in 2008 of the Oriental and Western world and the triennial Congresses of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions as useful vehicles.
“I believe this dialogue should be continued. This is especially important at a time when extremists of various stripes seek to sow seeds of alienation in the world, to draw the world into the so-called “clash of civilizations”. Instead of the ‘clash of civilizations’, we propose to talk about an ‘alliance of civilizations’. Instead of conflict, we should loudly and publicly call for an open and honest dialogue between the Muslim and the Christian worlds. Such a step move from the Ummah would strengthen the trust and respect for Islam.”Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the world’s second largest organization took off to a good start on June 28 in Astana, where ministers and top officials from countries on the four continents met to launch the 38th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the OIC.