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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Untold Success of Kazakh Summit

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Last week, as the leader of India stared past Pakistan's president and refused to meet with him despite the entreaties of President Vladimir Putin, the summit all three were attending got little mention.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, diplomats here agree, is alone among his Central Asian neighbors in devoting considerable energy to promote peace and stability in Asia -- and to carve for himself a place in history as Central Asia's first modern statesman.

Last week, the 62-year-old president was able to bring both goals a little closer -- largely by creating the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, or CICA, whose goal is to defuse tensions in Asia just as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, has done in Europe.

Nazarbayev first called for the creation of CICA in 1992, in his maiden address to the UN General Assembly. Critics argued then that Asia was too heterogenous, compared to Europe or Latin America.

"A journey of a thousand steps starts with the first step," Nazarbayev replied. "It is by no means necessary to move toward a unified Asian structure and collective security ... at once. It is sufficient to start leveling out the heterogeneity in one area -- for instance, in the military-political or economic sphere -- and then look for joint approaches in other fields."

For 10 years, Western diplomats said, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry fought to overcome considerable skepticism. But last Tuesday it finally created CICA, a grouping of 15 nations -- four of them nuclear-armed -- plus Palestine, representing nearly half the world's population. The group includes the participants of the continent's two major conflicts -- over the Middle East and Kashmir -- and two countries that do not recognize each other, Iran and Israel.

At the summit, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan sent their leaders. Azerbaijan, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Mongolia, Palestine, Turkey and Uzbekistan sent lesser dignitaries.

"It's a unique forum, and it's the biggest in Asia," said Kairat Abusseitov, the jovial Kazakh deputy foreign minister who has been working on CICA for a decade.

"Sometimes things happen in diplomacy because one individual won't give up," said a Western diplomat. "Hats off to Nazarbayev: He never lost faith in his project and he rode himself a winner."

"It was a diplomatic success," said a European ambassador, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "It was a spectacular thing to have Putin use this forum to try to arrange a meeting between [President Pervez] Musharraf and [Prime Minister Atal Bihari] Vajpayee."

Diplomats said Putin brought the gathering attention Nazarbayev could not have dreamed of -- but that also resulted in it being widely pronounced a failure because India refused to meet with Pakistan.

In fact, the diplomats said, there were some positive side-effects: Vajpayee earned credit at home for resisting foreign meddling, Musharraf got to remind the world that India has refused for 50 years to allow a status referendum in Kashmir and Putin learned what it is to broker peace under the spotlight.

"Hearing all these people tell them [Musharraf and Vajpayee] that they'd better pull back couldn't have hurt," another diplomat added.

Substantive talks were never in the cards, all sides agreed. "In any case, both India and Pakistan would want any agreement guaranteed by the United States, not Russia," said the European ambassador.

Where CICA will go from here is unclear. According to an OSCE official, the Almaty Act, the documents the leaders were ostensibly gathered to sign, is a compilation of UN principles with no provision for strengthening human rights, democratic development and rule of law -- the pillars that made the 1975 Helsinki agreement and the OSCE itself a success.

What does remain, one diplomat said, "is a place where an Israeli can talk to an Iranian, an Indian to a Chinese, and, apart from the UN, that is unique."