KAZAKHSTAN: Islamic Development Bank seeks closer ties

Ankara, 3 September 2003 (IRIN) - The annual meeting of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) opened on Tuesday in Almaty, the commercial capital of Kazakhstan, the largest Central Asian nation, hinting at more active involvement in the region from the international financial institution.

"This meeting underlines the importance for the bank of improving the social and economic situation in this region [Central Asia]," Ahmad Mohamed Ali, IDB President said at the meeting, where Uzbekistan, the most populous country of the region, was admitted as the last of five countries in the region to join the development bank that now boasts 55 members.

Based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the IDB is an international financial institution established in 1973 with the purpose of fostering the economic development and social progress of member countries and Muslim communities individually as well as jointly in accordance with the principles of Islamic Law.

IDB funding of projects in Central Asia now totals US $450 million as of March 2003, an increase of some 20 percent compared to a year ago. But observers said the IDB had maintained a low profile in the region to date. "They have not been very prominent in doing any development work or funding development projects in Central Asia," Ahmed Rashid, a prominent author and expert on Central Asia, told IRIN from the Pakistani capital Islamabad, adding that the bank was more involved in trade financing rather than anything else. He suggested that perhaps the bank was holding its annual meeting in the region in an effort to raise its profile.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, speaking at the conference, said on Tuesday the Kazakh leadership highly appreciated the support given by the IDB to the developing Kazakhstan's economy. "With financial support from the IDB we expect to successfully accomplish the ongoing projects in the sphere of building and rehabilitation of motorways, and are looking forward to further cooperation in the sphere of transport, communications and transit, particularly in the development of the infrastructure for transportation of Kazakh oil," Nazarbaev said.

The bank announced a further allocation to Kazakhstan of US $32 million at the conference for upgrading water and postal systems and establishing a "legal and humanitarian" university. Loans by the IDB totalled some US $2.9 billion in the Islamic year ending 4 March, the IDB's chairman of governors Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, said.

The Central Asian nations began to join the IDB after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Kyrgyz Republic joined the bank in 1993 followed by Turkmenistan in 1994, Kazakhstan in 1995 and Tajikistan in 1996. An IDB office in Almaty was opened in 1997 to serve as a link between IDB member countries and Central Asian ex-Soviet republics.

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