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In Conversation with H.E Yerzhan Kistafin – Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Pakistan

Q: Excellency, I would like to start with our bilateral relations, Pakistan has been one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Kazakhstan in 1991 as a sovereign state, moreover, since 1994, the Embassy of Republic of Kazakhstan has been functioning in Pakistan, how do you view the relations between Kazakhstan and Pakistan?

A: Thank you for your question, when it comes to cooperation between the two countries, we have developed an excellent dialogue at a political level, our leadership, for example, the meeting that took place in September in Dushanbe, between our President, H.E Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and H.E Prime Minister Imran Khan, they discussed the bilateral agenda between the two countries, and both sides agreed that we need to diversify and strengthen our ties; it is true we have excellent relations at political level, however, at the same time we need to develop our trade, people-to-people relations, university exchanges and so on and so forth.

Today we have a positive dynamic in terms of developing our bilateral trade. According to a statistics if our bilateral trade was $103 million in 2020, last year we almost reached $200 million. The treaty and interest are growing, and for the first time in November last year we organized a B2B business forum, inviting our Pakistani brothers to Kazakhstan in Almaty, and most of them visited our country for the first time, and as they saw it was a great opportunity to see by themselves of the great potential the state of Kazakhstan has in terms of developing our cooperation.

Q: Excellency you have been serving as the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Pakistan since 2021, what is your vision with regards to the official assignment as responsibility?

A: When one talks about developing relations between our two countries, it is not only about our bilateral trade or investment partnership, it is something bigger and deeper, our nations collaborated for centuries then somehow we lost this connection. I believe now is the time to start a brand new chapter in the history of our bilateral relations. This year is also a very special year of our relations; we celebrated the 30th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relationship between Kazakhstan and Pakistan, I believe we have to do our utmost to bring our two nations closer to each other.

We should not only be focused on our bilateral trade, but also to develop our cultural ties, ties between universities, in general our people-to-people dimension, raise awareness of our communities about the opportunities we have in terms of developing cooperation between our countries; I have confidence we will be able to strengthen our ties and bring our relations to new level. Last year the government of Pakistan approved the request of Kazakhstan to operate flights between the two countries. I hope this year we would be able to relaunch direct flights between the two countries, we are planning to start from our two most populous business hubs of Almaty and Karachi, and I hope it will boost our relations in every aspect.


Q: In the 31 years of independence, the poverty in Kazakhstan has been reduced to negligible numbers, the literary rate is one of the highest in the world, and it is also one of the biggest oil suppliers, what are the main factors that lead to the uplift and this huge success of the country?

A: From the very beginning the leadership of our country was in favor of implementing political reforms, and these political reforms helped us a lot in terms of economic developments, because without political reforms and developing one’s political system, in my opinion, it is extremely difficult to develop economic potential of your country. And our President, H.E Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, recently on March 16th, addressed the nation at the parliament of Kazakhstan, announcing a new package of political reforms, he is planning to limit his own power as a president, and his idea to strengthen the role of the parliament of Kazakhstan, making this institution as the main body in terms of moving forward our political agenda.

His another idea is to strengthen the local authorities and representative bodies; planning to ease the procedures for establishing political parties in our country; his final goal is to make the political system of Kazakhstan as transparent as possible, to make the government accountable before the community and society, and to engage the civil society in terms of developing our domestic, foreign and economic policies; to make these ties between civil societies and our government as close as I can be.


Q: Excellency, we will be coming towards bilateral trade questions now, where does the bilateral trades between Kazakhstan and Pakistan stand as of now, and how can it be further enhanced? And what are the main sectors in this context?

A: As I said last year we almost reached $200 million. However, in my opinion, we are still far below from the real potential that we have. When it comes to developing bilateral trade, personally I have six to seven different areas in my mind for the developing of our cooperation that could be mutually be beneficial. It is about textile and pharmaceutical industry, agricultural, surgical instruments, IT and construction sector; Pakistan is leading in these sectors, if not in the world, then at least in the region.

Our president has stressed several times in Kazakhstan to develop our agricultural sector and pharmaceutical industry. He stressed agricultural can serve as another driver for economic development of Kazakhstan. Taking account the great experience and history of Pakistan in this term, I believe the experience of Pakistan could be extremely beneficial and useful for our country.


Q: Similarly, in the same context, what are the sectors in which Kazakhstan can be helpful to Pakistan?

A: I believe it is about agriculture, energy sources, it is well known Kazakhstan is rich of oil, gas coal, uranium, etc, what we need to do in terms of developing our cooperation in energy sector, we need to develop our regional infrastructure, that is what we are trying to do.

Our brothers in Uzbekistan recently announced of the constructing of the railroad connecting the Southern city of Termez with Peshawar, via Afghanistan. Kazakhstan has officially joined this project, and I believe such kind of regional connectivity projects is the name of the game, and such kind of projects can be kind of game changer not only for Kazakhstan and Pakistan, but the whole region.


Q: Pakistan provides the natural link to connect the Central Asia with Arabia Sea, what prospects does Kazakhstan see with regards to CPEC in the larger context of BRI initiative, and how can the Port of Gwadar be beneficial to the people and businesses of Kazakhstan?

A: Again, our president constructed our government to develop and increase significantly our transit and expert potential. And in this term, Kazakhstan being the largest landlocked country in the world, for Kazakhstan, Pakistan can serve as a regional hub in terms of getting access to the warm waters, and in this term I must say CPEC can help a lot. And using CPEC, we could have the shortest route to warm waters and via Pakistani seaports we can have access to the populous markets of the African states and South and Eastern Asian states as well.


Q: There is also huge potential of linking Islamabad and Nur-Sultan through a connection of railways which include Kazakhstan to Afghanistan and Iran, and Pakistan-Iran-Turkey railway networks. It would be very much in line of Kazakhstan’s new economic policy of “Nurly Zhol”, and CPEC here in Pakistan; do you see prospects of such initiatives?

A: In terms of our regional connectivity, between Pakistan and Kazakhstan, I would see three main routes; the first one would be the Karakoram Highway, the second one is the route that goes through the Afghan soil, and the last one through the Iranian soil. We should develop our transit routes, without transit routes it will be impossible to develop our bilateral trade,  it is extremely important, and I believe now we are more focused on developing this route through Afghanistan and I believe if we complete construction of this railroad that I mentioned earlier, we would be able to significantly boost our trade.

I will give you an example, two yours ago Kazakhstan was asked by Pakistan for exporting Kazakh wheat; however, due to the absence of these routes, we were not able to realize this project. With this new rail link, we can do a lot. It is well known Kazakh is top 10 in among world wheat exporters, and we know that demand here in Pakistan is growing; in terms of wheat and energy sources, Kazakhstan has everything Pakistan needs. The need of the hour is to connect with each other, via our friends in the region, via other countries, and it would be an extremely mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries.


Q: Last month Kazakhstani business delegation visited the Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce and industry, led by you, and it included representatives from the construction, education, food, health care, and pharmaceutical sectors, to look into trading opportunities between the two countries, what promising prospects do the two states view with regards to it? What outcomes can we expect from such interactions?

A: My main idea was to invite our business people to make them aware of these opportunities, and great potential in your beautiful country. To be honest with you I did not expect that right after these meetings we would sign contracts and start developing our cooperation. The main idea was to raise awareness of the opportunities that we have, and as I said in November we organized this business forum and now our Pakistani friends know what Kazakhstan is and what potential we have. Exactly the same I was planning to do when I invited my Kazakh friends from the business circles, to come to Pakistan, to visit not just Rawalpindi, we visited Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi as well, and now they know the great potential that people of Pakistan and Kazakhstan have in terms of developing our cooperation.

In May we are planning to organize a single country exhibition called “Made in Pakistan 2022” in Almaty, it would be a five day event. Prior to this exhibition we are planning to hold a business forum, this time from Pakistan we expect between 150-200 people to come. It would be a big event. And now our people from Kazakhstan know what Pakistan is, and they would be ready to host our Pakistani brothers and to discuss our bilateral collaboration.

I must say that on almost daily basis I receive different requests from the business communities of Pakistan, with different ideas, different projects to be implemented and I am happy to see the interest is growing, the awareness of this opportunities is growing, and we have to keep this ball rolling in terms of strengthening our ties. As we know, business people are very smart, they do not need any government approval, if they see this project is beneficial and interesting, they will do everything to implement this project. They will find a solution to each and every challenge that they face in this term.

I believe the main challenge that needs to be addressed today is the lack of communication, and that is what I am trying to do. I am trying to distribute and spread information about Kazakhstan in Pakistan and of this beautiful country in Kazakhstan. Most of the times my friends are asking me about my safety in Pakistan, and I have to reply, “You have to come here and see with your own eyes, the real situation on the ground.” Because it has nothing to do with the image that we have today, the kind of misperception of this beautiful country.

That is why I believe we have to establish as many direct communication lines as we can.


Q: Let’s move towards people-to-people interaction between the two countries, in a visit to Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI) as a chief guest, you highlighted lack of information about each country in the other is a challenge in expanding bilateral cooperation; you underlined three pillars: collaboration between universities; cooperation between think-tanks; and engagement between media of two countries. Through these mediums both countries can deepen people-to-people ties and enhance bilateral relations. How can the embassy of Kazakhstan and Pakistan, facilitate the stakeholders from both side in this context?

A: The main mission of any embassy and ambassador in the world is to serve as a mediator between two countries, so this is what I am trying to do, I met several times with the minister of Information, Mr. Fawad Chaudhry, several times have I met with the minister of information of Kazakhstan, we discussed possible prospects for developing cooperation between our countries in the media space, and we agreed we need to sign and MOU between these two ministries to create a legal framework for developing cooperation between our TV channels, radios, newspaper, etc, to establish direct communication lines for interaction, exchanging information, and could broadcast TV programs, movies, shows, dedicated to culture and beauty of our nature, about business opportunities, history, etc.

This is one of the tasks, I would say, that we need to complete. When it comes to people to people it’s well know that Pakistan is one of the youngest nations in the world with about 63 percent of the great population belongs to young people. That’s why I believe that if we want to build a solid foundation for the long-term perspective, we should also be focused on developing tests between our youth and young people, and that is why I am in the favor of developing cooperation between our universities.

And we also should develop cooperation between youth organizations and another idea is to develop sports diplomacy; it is well known sports diplomacy is one of the best tools in terms of bringing closer young people. In November, our female team participated in the Taekwondo tournament organized by our Pakistani friends, and again, it was a very good chance to make them see what the modern Pakistan is. Before they came, they did not know what to expect, but as they came, they saw the great hospitality and the friendly people of Pakistan. There is nothing to be scared of, and I am really happy to say that these people now have another image of Pakistan. That’s why we believe we should organize competitions, tournaments on regular basis between our young people, and I believe it will create this ties of friendship between our young generations.


Q: Moving towards defense and military cooperation, where does Pakistan and Kazakhstan stand in terms of defense and military relations at the moment?

A: When it comes to military cooperation, I must say that this is a part of our bilateral interaction is one of the most developed and on regular basis we organize meetings and talks between our servicemen, ministries of defense; last year we organized joint drills, and we have such kind of joint trainings on regular basis, we are developing cooperation between our defense universities. I must say this partnership in military area is one of the most dynamic and one of the most developed.

Q: Excellency, in terms of tourism, both Pakistan and Kazakhstan have immense tourism potential, what initiatives have been taken or can be taken in order to facilitate Pakistani tourist planning to visit Kazakhstan and vice versa?

A: The first issue we need to resolve is to relaunch direct flights between our countries. I hope, by the Will of God, with support of your government finally this year we would be able to relaunch direct flights, without direct flights it would be extremely difficult to develop our cooperation in tourism. In November, for the first time we organized online session between Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) and Kazakh Tourism; these two organizations are responsible for developing tourism in our countries, we also invited to this online session tour apparatus from both sides, so our idea is to develop a step-by-step collaboration and to establish again direct links between our tour operators, to make them to work and collaborate together and finally to have these kind of packages for our tourists.

I see that again here in Pakistan the interest to my country is growing, and what we need to do again via cooperation between our media communities we should deliver this information and we should spread information about the beauty of nature of our two countries. I believe it will help significantly in terms of raising awareness of our people about our countries.

Q: Thank you so much for your time, what last message would you like to give to the people of Pakistan and Kazakhstan?

A: My message under the ages of the 30th anniversary of establishment diplomatic relations between our countries I would welcome our Pakistani brothers and sisters to come to Kazakhstan, I would welcome both countries to contribute greatly into strengthening ties and finally to revive the brotherly relations between our countries for the benefit of our region.

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Saadain Gardezi

Written by Saadain Gardezi

Saadain Gardezi is an Editor at Global Affairs. He is a graduate in the field of Strategic Studies, from National Defence University Islamabad. He tweets at @saadain.gardezi & can be reached at

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