The protests in Kazakhstan are important and rightly so

By Aditya Vashisht

Kazakhstan has witnessed a lot of drama in recent times. This relatively stable nation maintained by a strong grip sees many of its inhabitants speak out and display their resentment in ways that have led to the closure of many shopping malls, cafes and restaurants, the vandalism of the city hall of the largest city in the country and the internet being blocked.

To date, more than 20 demonstrators have been killed, not to mention that more than 15 security agents have lost their lives and more than 4,000 have been arrested. President Kassym Tokayev denounced the demonstration as the work of foreign elements, while asserting that he had personally ordered to shoot the “terrorists” and that the Collective Security Treaty Organization had sent a peacekeeping force. the peace of 2,500 men to contain the situation, or Russia, as some like to say.

Protests have grown against rising fuel prices, but as it stands, the grievance is more than that. These protests bear witness to the frustration many Kazakhs feel with a system that has failed to address their concerns. It is a system which has allowed only one party to hold power since its independence and to add with it the absence of opposition is obviously a reason for anger. Economic disparity has also been a strong point, and it is surely the result of a touch of corruption.

These protests do not concern only Kazakhstan, but also other Central Asian Stans. In all of these states you will see corruption, substandard elections and the rule of one leader or one party. Presidents or parties collecting more than 80% of the votes cast are nothing new for this region. But this mode of government is unsustainable and the people are obliged to raise their voices against it, if not today, then tomorrow.

This is a concern that Central Asian leaders are also taking note of and which has led them to introduce at least a series of reforms, such as Uzbekistan, whose recent presidential elections have been described as an improvement. But the important thing is the concrete reform and given that if the enthusiasm and tendency of the demonstrators in Kazakhstan continues for a long time in the future, it might be forced to introduce changes.

That is why Russia must watch them carefully and would like the protests to be quelled. The power structure in Russia is a replica of these nations. The rise of the people and the amplification of their efforts to subvert the system with their subsequent success will undoubtedly become an example for many in Russia who oppose President Putin. They would surely be happy to find a way to break the political monopoly in their country, and will try to implement it in Russia as well.

In 2020, Russia’s Khabarvosk province witnessed large-scale public protests against their governor’s arrest for murder which they claimed was politically supported because the man was from a party. different and therefore was a symbol of the anti-acting feeling in the region. At least the popularity of Governor Sergei Furgal in the region said it. Likewise, the popularity of famous Kremlin activist and critic Alexei Navalny has been strong and although he is currently in prison, it seems unlikely that the voice is dead. In fact, President Putin is said to have more approval ratings in Tajikistan than in Russia! This point also highlights that the same effect would be felt in other Central Asian countries as well, as they all live on the same model which, if broken by one wedge, will collapse as a whole.

Another worrying aspect of the protests in Kazakhstan is that their overall success could also lead to a resurrection of Islamist extremism across the region. It is certain that the general agitation will enable the religious radicals to espouse their cause. All Central Asian Stans are witnessing a revival of their traditional Islamic cultures. An example can be the visit to Mecca by the Tajik President in 2015 who, in the previous century, was an atheist as the leader of the Communist Party. The terrorist groups originating in this region are well known and the general unrest would give them a boon.

This is a question that worries China. One of their main concerns regarding the situation in Afghanistan was preventing the spread of extremism in its neighborhood which could also affect its troubled province of Xinjiang where it is known to control the Muslim population with a strong nationalist grip, denounced. like genocide by the West. Otherwise too, the growing share of the popular voice in Central Asia is anathema to Beijing, as a substantial proportion of the population of Central Asia has a negative opinion of China, which is motivated by its treatment of Muslims as well as the perception of the Belt and Road Initiative investments fueling corruption in their own country. A 2019 survey showed that over 60% of Kazakhs believe China is a threat to their country. However, Beijing remains at present a valued partner of the Stans, rather as an economic arm, complementing Moscow which provides them with military assistance.

One can also wonder what the situation in Kazakhstan means for the West. It is clearly not very substantial. There is no concrete sign that a break in the power structure would automatically tip these countries towards the West. The worship of the West among the general population is a result of its impact on popular culture, which in Central Asia leans heavily towards Russia, although there are economic agreements between Kazakhstan and Western countries. For example, the UK was the third-largest investor in the country in 2013. But strategically, all Central Asian states are part of alliances and organizations designed by Russia and China. Whatever military relations some of them have with the United States and NATO have eroded with the withdrawal in August of last year. Economic relations in the region do not claim to have a serious presence. Perhaps the West could gain a foothold if a large-scale overhaul took place that also involved its big rivals.

(The author is a Lucknow-based student and blogger. The views expressed are the personal opinion of the author. He can be contacted at [email protected])