Q&A Following Assistant Secretary Biswal’s Speech at the Eurasian University in Astana, Kazakhstan

Q: I am a student of the second year of faculty of international relations and my question is what is a role for non-governmental organizations in international relations?  Thank you very much.

A: Well, I think, non-governmental organizations play very important role, both in advancing and advocating within their own countries, but also advancing and advocating issues in the international community and certainly, as certainly we’ve seen civil society organizations have played an important role in global conversfations around international financial institutions, around meetings of the United Nations.  And I think, that’s an important role for civil society to play.  It holds governments and institutions accountable to the needs of the people.  Thank you for that question.

Q: My question is what are you supposed to do in regional cooperation with South Asia?

A: In South Asia?

Q: Yes.

A: Well, you know, connecting the very energy-rich countries of Central Asia to the very energy-dependent countries of South Asia is a very important undertaking.  Clearly there are geographic obstacles towards that undertaking. But this is a long-term vision that says that creating a more connected, integratefd landscape that allows Central Asia, connecting with Afghanistan and Pakistan, connecting into South Asia, is one that actually improves the prosperity, the stability and the security of all of the region. As we look at India and Bangladesh, which are struggling with very critical shortages in energy, we see opportunities for them to be able to access more efficient energy supplies in the future through the creation of pipelines and grids that connect Central Asia to South Asia. This is an undertaking that will obviously take investment in infrastructure, but also focus on the political and security, stability of the entire region.  We see glimmers of hope for that in progress that’s being made in creating a CASA-1000 electrical grid that takes hydropower from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and brings it to Afghanistan and Pakistan, we see glimmers of that in the efforts that India is making to support energy relationships with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. So, I think that the future is one that is compelling, and there are certainly efforts to try to overcome some of the obstacles that are currently present.

Q: Firstly, you are welcome to our University, and we are glad to see you here today.  I am a second year student majoring in regional studies.  My question is, how would you characterize the role of Central Asia in world geopolitics?

A: Thank you. Well, this is the region of the world that is growing increasingly important, both, because you sit at the heart—the crossroads of Asia and Europe, and so, it’s a very strategic location as you think about the trade connectivity, the energy connectivity, and the implications on global security and global economic growth.  I think, that increasingly, the challenges that are going to face emerging economies, are going to be on meeting energy needs and acquiring the natural resources, and Central Asia is a part of the region that is abundant in both energy and natural resources, and can play an increasingly important role in facilitating the growth of Asian economies, and in expanding its own opportunities as a result.

[A student described at length alleged unfair treatment in an academic mobility program, and the question he asked was unclear.]

A: Thank you, and obviously, I don’t know the particulars of your situation but, you know, there is a structure for governing and accrediting universities, and I know there is a robust structure in the United States, in Europe, there is an international accreditation mechanism that governs educational institutions.  But your larger point, I think is an important one, and that is about accountability and transparency, and the important role that civil society organizations playf in helping to ensure that governments and institutions are accountable to the populations that they serve, and that there is transparency in that process, and I think that there has been great progress in Kazakhstan. Clearly, there are additional reforms that can be made to improve accountability, to improve transparency.  It’s a journey that all countries are undertaking and it’s a journey that we engage with our Kazakh counterparts on through our strategic partnership dialogue, where we talk about the whole comprehensive range of issues, including issues in the human dimension and including issues of political reforms.  So, I value very much the larger point you were making although I can’t speak to the specifics of your personal situation.  Thank you very much!