Discovering the Kazakhstan Way
By C. Naseer Ahmad
“Mein thori si Urdu bolta hoon; Pakistan mein chaar saal raha hoon,” said the affable Ambassador Erlan A. Idrissov upon learning that the questioner was born on in the currently troubled end of the Silk Road. With humor and wit he charmed the guests at the Kazakhstan Embassy during an event organized by the International Correspondents Committee. “We survived the Stalinist era, so we can also survive the ‘Borat’ phenomenon,” he said jokingly. The notable thing was not just the command of the issues and the statistics but also that the atmosphere was remarkably relaxed in which journalist felt at ease touching a wide range of subjects.
The evening started with a video presentation of Dennis Wholey’s television program about Kazakhstan. Through the condensed program that participants were made to feel at home in the ornate reception room with magnificent art displays.
“The Future is Wide Open” – a claim from a nation reborn with open hearts and minds – was an unmistakable message the visitors took. For a country that went from 1,400 to zero nuclear weapons, the Embassy staff radiated both openness and confidence to entertain visitors. A handout, dated May 29, 2012, on the table outside the reception room communicated the success story that is happening in this vibrant country. For instance, in connection with the New Silk Road Project President Nursultan Nazabayev was quoted on the introduction of the newest members in the Foreign Investors Council (FIC) – which included President of Russian Sberbank, CEO of Conoco Phillips and Chairman of Deloitte Touche – to name a few.
With over $146 billion foreign direct investments – not foreign aid – and 99.5% literacy in a country that is home to 140 different ethnic groups and 40 religious denominations something must be going right. It has been said that facts are stubborn and what can perhaps be said about Kazakhstan is that its facts are amazing. For instance, Ambassador Idrissov pointed out that with investments in infrastructure shipments from the eastern ports of China can travel to Frankfurt in about nine days whereas by sea it would take over a month – not to mention the financial cost.
Of course, in any country there is room for improvement and that might also be true of Kazakhstan. However, one must take into account where the country was soon after the independence from Soviet domination and the period of Russian occupation. A glimpse of the challenges the Kazakh people faced can be viewed by reading the “The Kazakhstan Way” – President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s autobiography - in which he narrates pacifying striking miners with a pack of cigarette during the communist era. He noted that while he was not a smoker, he found the habit of carrying packs of cigarettes useful in breaking ice. The more one reads about Kazakhstan the more one is convinced that while the producers of the Borat movies enjoy some success in making fun of a beautiful country, the Kazakhs are probably laughing all the way to the bank.
In addition to Dennis Wholey’s television program, the awe -inspiring natural beauty can be enjoyed in a wonderful book “Kazakhstan”, by Dagmar Schreiber and Jeremy Tredinnick, with pictures, historical context – such as information about poets and thinkers like Al Farabi – and not to mention the hotspots that could tempt the world travelers to hop on the next flight to Almaty, Astana or Zhetisu – the Land of Seven Rivers. And in their travels they too might sing like the Kazakh people:
“True riches and jewels
Are kept on the bottom of the deepest seas