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Kazakhstan takes centre stage in central Asia

Kazakhstan’s economic boom has transformed the country into the undisputed economic leader in central Asia. But can it be a springboard for expansion in the rest of the region? Guy Norton reports from Almaty.


AMID ALL THE brouhaha surrounding the vast mineral wealth and economic boom conditions in Kazakhstan, it’s easy to forget that at the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the country’s economic leadership role in the region was far from assured. In fact, it was Uzbekistan and its capital Tashkent that was seen as the first port of call for multinationals. How times change. The discovery and exploitation of huge oil and gas reserves – 40 billion and 3 trillion cubic metres, respectively – alongside vast amounts of coal, copper, gold, uranium and other minerals, have transformed the economic fortunes of Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, the authoritarian stance of Uzbek president Islam Karimov has caused many firms that initially set up shop in Uzbekistan to flee the country, which is now universally viewed as an economic laggard and political outcast. Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s own democratic credentials are questioned in some quarters but there is no doubt about the liberal nature of the economic reforms pursued under his rule, with the result that Kazakhstan has been able to attract the foreign capital and know-how that has enabled it to realize its full economic potential.

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