Dialogue October- December, 2007, Volume 9  No. 2






The Critical Decade*


Nirmala Joshi+



Aptly titled “The Critical Decade” President Nursultan Nazarbayev of the Republic of Kazakhstan has examined a whole gamut of key security issues confronting the world.  While these issues are both traditional and unconventional, the focus of the book however is on the latter.  The issues are international terrorism and extremism, drug trafficking and transnational crimes and energy security.  The present day world is not only a witness to the rise of these powerful and dangerous forces, but has experienced them in large measure as well.  They have the capacity to inflict untold miseries and sufferings on human kind.  Several nations have been affected by these challenges and threats, and Kazakhstan is no exception.  What is noteworthy about the book is that Nazarbayev has attempted to examine these challenges and threats from a historical perspective and juxtaposed them against the growing trend of globalization.  What is of equal significance is that Nazarbayev has also given a thought to their solutions and has made some thought provoking suggestions.  Kazakhstan’s efforts to combat these dangers have been highlighted such as establishing the necessary legal, political and administrative framework.

      The thrust of the book appears to be to widen and deepen the parameters of security.  Since the unconventional challenges and threats are basically non-State and transnational in character, collaborative efforts among nations are absolutely essential.  The issue of energy security has both traditional and non-traditional characteristics and Nazarbayev on this issue has focused on the Caspian Sea region.  In his view the Caspian Sea region is the core of both competition among major and regional powers as well as that of religious extremism. 


*The Critical Decade, Nursultan Nazarbayev, London, First Books, 2003.

+The Reviewer, Professor Nirmala Joshi is Director, India-Central Asia Foundation.


Multinational companies from the following countries are involved here and they are US – 11 companies, Japan – 5, England – 4, France and Turkey – 3 each, Norway – 2, Italy, Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Finland, Argentina, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and others – 1 apiece (p. 115).  Transportation network and laying the export pipelines infrastructure are weaving nations close to each other, than ever before.  In the process regions are getting interlinked with each other and therefore challenges and threats may not be region specific but they do have the capacity to influence other regions as well.  In this changing perception the meaning of regional security as well as that of regional security organizations will also undergo a change.

      The existing security groupings in the Central Asian region may prove inadequate in the circumstances, according to Nazarbayev.  Earlier the text and spirit of the Collective Security Treaty made no mention of measures to be used in cases of conflict between member States.  The focus was mainly on protecting the external borders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (p. 125).  The Collective Security Treaty has evolved into a regional security alliance, while the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has ensured stability and peace on the common borders of some Central Asian States with China.  However, the SCO in Nazarbayev’s view “has turned out to be ineffective in the fight against other threats” (p. 137).  In his opinion the Anti Terror Coalition has filled in an important gap in regional security and has been able to take effective measures to stabilize the situation.  In the opinion of Nazarbayev “In the future we should consider the importance of forming a continental coalition on the basis of the Convention on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) for combating extremism, that apart from Central Asia will include the crisis regions of South Asia and the Middle East” (pp. 69-70).  Indeed as rightly observed by Nazarbayev the time has come to broaden the parameters of security as well as that of existing regional groupings, if they are to be effective.

       On the question of international terrorism and its rapid spread in this century can be attributed to several factors.  Some of these are political radicalization of both right and left wing sections, unchecked migration, economic disparity in the regions of the world.  Nazarbayev has suggested that nations should set aside at least one percent of their military target for the welfare of poor and underdeveloped regions.  An idea that he put forth in the United Nations General Assembly.  On the other hand terrorism has grown partly because of organizational efficiency and sophistication of militant groups and partly because of the external support such groups receive especially financial support.  For instance, Nazarbayev points out that for a period of eight months in 2002 there were 390 acts of terrorism in which 4776 innocent people were killed.  Nazarbayev opines that “Islamic terrorism and extremism have become synonymous with each other, although there is no aggression in the teachings of Islam itself” (p. 29).   In Kazakhstan extremism and terrorism, though on a low key, has  a presence.  In South Kazakhstan and Zhambyl oblasts “Tabligi Dzhamaat” and Hizbut Tahrir are active.  These militant groups preach intolerance and hatred toward other faiths.  In view of the escalating violence it is essential, in Nazarbayev’s view, to broaden the zone of security.  Kazakhstan’s effort to launch the CICA initiative is a step in this direction at the regional level.  While at the national level efforts to strengthen the legal and administrative framework have been intensified.

       A significant dimension of terrorism is the rise of fundamentalism.  In trying to understand this phenomenon, Nazarbayev has brought to the readers notice the philosophical underpinnings.  He observes “ … a new danger is emerging – the lack of critical thinking.  For many people it is convenient and customary to perceive in stereotypes.  Bold and extraordinary thinking of an individual is giving way to so called mass perceptions” (p. 49).  An outcome is ideas like the clash of civilization have become popular, though it has been widely contested.  On the other hand, it has also given an impetus to fundamentalism.  Today fundamentalism can be sufficiently powerful to determine the social and economic life and even the pillars of a country (p. 56).  In Kazakhstan religious extremism has never been a strong factor.  Renowned Sufi scholar Hodja Ahmed Yassawi worked relentlessly for harmony between Islamic teachings and the pagan customs of Kazakh tribes.  Kazakhstan is a secular state and its people are Sunni Muslims but they have never been fanatics.  The benevolent impact of Sufism perhaps explains this fact.  For the present the challenge of extremism in Kazakhstan is a low key, nevertheless it cannot be discounted.  Nations should not lower their guard.  In fact, it is necessary to strengthen efforts at all levels to meet this challenge.

      Drug Trafficking has emerged as the major problem for all the Central Asian countries.  Central Asia is one of the major transit routes to the markets in Europe.  The emergence of Afghanistan as the centre for opium and heroin has impacted on neighbouring Central Asian region. Unwittingly, improvements and developments in transportation have facilitated trafficking.  The most worrisome fact is that consumption along the transit route has increased, perhaps more than the consuming areas of Europe.  In a candid admission Nazarbayev has stated that there are 45,505 people including 1927 adolescents and 4420 women who have been registered for drug abuse in Kazakhstan (p. 81).  In the course of the chapter Nazarbayev has outlined the measures taken by his government to deal with this danger.  The chapter is full of interesting information which the reader will find it useful.

       The issue of energy security in the Caspian Sea region has been dealt with in a competent manner.  In Nazarbayev’s thinking “ … the Caspian strategic stability in the mid term will  depend not on hydrocarbon or ecological factors, but on a change in the geopolitical situation around it” (p. 96).  This is a thought-provoking proposition.  The Caspian region is now a part of the Eurasian economy which is currently taking shape.  It has significant potential given the development of regional cooperation.  Nazarbayev is of the view that in future “it will be imperative to give Caspian problems due consideration at the CICA”.  Further he has suggested, “The creation of Caspian regional anti-terrorist structures is also ripe for discussions” (emphasis added).  Briefly attempts at Central Asian regional cooperation and Kazakhstan’s initiatives and efforts have also been discussed.  The current one being Central Asian Economic Community.

      Experts and students of international affairs will find the book valuable.  It gives an in-depth understanding of Kazakhstan’s views on issues that are of critical importance to India as well.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

              Astha Bharati