It may not have been very long since Kazakhstan established its embassy in Qatar, but bilateral co-operation and trade has made significant progress.
Askar Shokybayev is the only second ambassador of Kazakhstan to Qatar. Carrying a university degree in Arabic language, he has been associated with the Foreign Ministry of his country for a long time. About his life and work, Askar spoke at length during a recent interview with Community.
Please brief us about your journey so far.
I was born in 1974. My father is a devoted chemistry teacher at one of the universities in Almaty. Since his graduation in science from the Kazakh State University in 1966, he continues to share his knowledge till today. I have deep love for nature and it started in my early childhood as we used to visit our grandparents and other relatives who lived at that time in the most beautiful and picturesque area near the city of Almaty – our former capital.
I become fond of music and regularly visited opera and drama theatres. I also studied piano and dombra, our national instrument, at a specialised music school. At one point of time, I even had a desire to devote myself to music. I however, got a degree in Arabic language from Oriental Faculty of Kazakh National University and later joined diplomacy.
How do you best define diplomacy? What are its basic tenets?
Diplomacy has a clear definition that was formed many centuries ago. It is the activity of states and governments to implement the goals and objectives of their foreign policy.
The definition remains the main foundation of this important activity for any state till to date. As far as the main directions of Kazakhstan’s diplomacy, I would like to note that since the first days of its independence, our country has been implementing its foreign policy on the basis of basic principles including: offering assistance in building a stable, just and democratic world order; multi-vector, pragmatic and proactive approach to building friendly and mutually beneficial relations with all other states; multilateralism aimed at forming a collective vision and effective approaches of the international community to solve a wide range of global and regional problems; and the inextricable link between security and development at the national, regional and global levels.
What has been your most challenging career assignment so far?
It is difficult to say unequivocally what task had been the most challenging. The field of foreign policy is very important and responsible in itself, which requires a careful and meticulous approach towards solving any problem. Nevertheless, now I remember the first years of my work in the State Protocol Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, which has constantly been preparing for and conducting multilateral events such as summits of various international organisations, major international forums and conferences, visits of foreign heads of state and that of our leadership abroad. One of the most memorable events for me was shifting the capital of Kazakhstan from Almaty in 1997 to Akmola, later renamed Astana and then Nur-Sultan.
The second event was the first congress of the leaders of the world and traditional religions in Astana in 2003. Both of these events are remembered for their scale and very deep content, and of course the process of organising them was very difficult and required maximum dedication from each person involved.
What are the other highlights of your career?
After my graduation, I worked as an Arabic teacher at the university for one year before joining the Foreign Ministry. After serving in the State Protocol Service for few years, I was transferred to the Department of Asia, Middle East and Africa. In 2004, I joined the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Cairo. I also served in the Center for Foreign Policy of the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Kazakhstan. From 2008 to 2012, I worked as consul general in Istanbul, and from 2012 to 2014 I was consul general in Dubai. Since 2014, I have been representing my country in Doha as an ambassador.
What is your take on Qatar-Kazakhstan relations? How many expats from your country are living here and what professions they are in?
Diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and Qatar were set up on July 1, 1993. Formally, the Kazakh embassy in Doha opened in May 2007. I am the second ambassador to Qatar. In 2008 Qatar established its embassy in Kazakhstan.
Heads of both the brotherly countries have regularly been visiting each other. The frequent visits have brought the people of two countries a lot closer today. Beside the political and economic co-operation, there has been great improvement in cultural exchanges and humanitarian collaboration. In 2002, days of Kazakhstani culture were celebrated in Qatar and in 2005 Nur-Astana Mosque and the Islamic Cultural Center was opened with Qatari cooperation. In 2008, the days of Qatari culture were celebrated in Almaty. The cultural exchanges and shows are a regular feature of our bilateral ties.
It is not a big number when it comes to Kazakh expatriates in Qatar. Most of our compatriots occupy jobs in oil, gas, aviation, service, hospitality and different other sectors.
We are looking forward to further diversify the co-operation with the upcoming visit of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to Kazakhstan. The visit was due in March but has been put off due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
Where does the bilateral trade currently stand and what are the potential areas for investment? In which areas Qatar can benefit from Kazakhstan and vice versa?
The co-operation in trade and economic sphere is flourishing, but its potential is not yet fully tapped. I hope the bilateral trade will flourish further once the long pending direct flights between the two countries start operations. The flight operation was due this March but the pandemic has delayed it.
Kazakhstan’s exports to Qatar are dominated by food items. The exports can be enhanced in industrial, construction and technology sectors. The geographical position of Kazakhstan makes it important as far as the transit trade is concerned. There is huge opportunity in the country for foreign investment, most importantly from Qatar. Some of the sector where investments can be made are include heavy/light industry, mining and subsoil use, oil and gas, aviation, transports, airports, seaports, logistic hubs, agriculture, food processing, tourism, hospitality, banking /insurance etc.
What do you do in your leisure? What kind of books do you read, films you watch, and music you listen to?
I will not be mistaken if I say there was not much leisure for me before the Covid-19 outbreak. Doha has always been a busy place for diplomats. There have been lots of cultural activities besides diplomacy. I always love attending concerts of Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. I am sure that in the near future Qatar will overcome the pandemic and the hustle and bustle of the city will return.
Whenever I have time, I love to go to traditional Arab camps in the desert and fishing with my Qatari friends. When at home I watch movies. I love listening to classical European and Kazak folk music but at the same time I enjoy modern music too. Sometimes I remember my years at music school and play the piano.
How would you describe the experience of living in Qatar? What places do you venture out the most?
Qatar is a unique, absolutely magical country. First of all, it is amazing to see kindness, modesty, sincerity and decency of Qatari people.
I love going to the National Museum of Qatar, the Museum of Islamic Art, The Pearl, and Souq Waqif which has a special aura.
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