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New impulses for the OIC

Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) ended yesterday as Djibouti took the charge. As we handed over the reins, it is time to reflect on what we set out to do and what we believe that we have accomplished.
We took on the chairmanship in June 2011 for two reasons: First because we believe that the organization provides an important mechanism for uniting the Islamic world at a time when pan-Islamic unity and solidarity is needed; and second because we felt that we could add important new impulses to the organization’s long-standing objectives of promoting modernization in the Islamic world in line with the values of Islam based on peace, tolerance and human dignity.
We assumed the chairmanship at a particularly challenging moment after the events of the “Arab Awakening” that were evidence in some cases of the lack of economic and social modernization that had delayed progress and deprived millions of people in OIC countries of justice, stability and a better future.
Speaking at the June 2011 Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev emphasized that the Islamic world, despite its vast economic potential, still had to solve the fundamental issues of peace and modernization and address the vital needs of ordinary people.
We continue to believe that the OIC’s main focus should be on promoting economic development and competitiveness through trade and investment policies based on effective investment in education, science and technology.
This explains why we have proposed during our chairmanship a number of major initiatives, including the establishment of a dialogue platform for the 10 leading Islamic economies, the creation of an international center of innovations, support for small and medium-sized businesses, and the development of a system of food security within the OIC.
At the same time, we have placed strong emphasis on formulating and implementing the OIC Special Program for Central Asia, a set of measures to promote economic and social development in the region and in neighboring OIC member states.
We have strongly promoted interfaith and inter-religious dialogue based on our experience in Kazakhstan, a country where Islam and Christianity meet and coexist peacefully alongside numerous other religions and faiths.
We have also made Afghanistan an area of priority focus and have supported the OIC’s long-standing efforts to promote a sustainable peace through socioeconomic development and reconstruction. Through our bilateral assistance program, for example, we are devoting significant resources to redeveloping agriculture to improve the economy and reduce unemployment.
Based on the support and encouragement we have received from other member states and the OIC’s secretariat, we believe that our approach has contributed to strengthening the OIC and given it new impulses in the second half of its Ten Year Program of Action. This began in 2005 and is aimed at promoting tolerance, modernization, wide-ranging reforms as well as good governance and promotion of human rights.
Looking beyond Kazakhstan’s chairmanship, we see three main priorities for OIC countries: regional stability, gradual political modernization and strengthening the capacity of the OIC itself.
Sustaining regional stability is an acute priority challenge. Instability in one country can spillover into others with dangerous consequences. The intensification of the crisis in Syria, for example, risks moving beyond a potential humanitarian catastrophe to become a source of regional instability and even conflict. We continue to believe that the principles of sovereignty and noninterference in the internal affairs must be upheld and that efforts to resolve the crisis must focus on bringing together representatives of the Syrian Government and opposition forces to halt the bloodshed and develop a plan for Syria’s transition.
We see political modernization in the Islamic world as essential to prevent countries from falling into the hands of extremists and allowing radical and destructive groups to mislead the population and destroy the social, ethnic and religious balance. We warmly welcome the efforts of the new leaderships of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to maintain social peace and equality based on democratic values. In the Islamic world, evolution rather than revolution is the safest and most effective way to establish effective systems of democratic rule, economic progress and social justice.
Finally, the OIC needs effective tools to pursue its ambitious agenda. Since the process of OIC reform began in 2005, we have seen many impressive achievements. We strongly support the efforts of the organization and its Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu to maintain a bold and purposeful agenda reflecting new priorities while further strengthening the OIC’s international role through its own initiatives and its interaction with other organizations such as the G20, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. We also strongly support the initiative of the Secretary General to open six OIC regional offices.
For the OIC to be successful in the international arena, many of its member states need to find solutions to their problems of political and socioeconomic development by raising living standards and creating stability. More success stories of this kind in the Islamic world will be the most effective way to strengthen the international presence of the organization.

— The author is foreign minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan.