Kazakhstan passes through difficult times

ARTICLES DEFENCE & SECURITY MEHMOOD-UL-HASSAN KHAN

Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

The Republic of Kazakhstan is now passing through difficult times. Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev termed the ongoing widespread riots as “external aggression’ against his country. Since the eruption of this riots he has been trying his best to calm people from violent activities and advised them to stay away from these enemies.

Unexpected series of demonstrations surfaced on 2 January in the town of Zhanaozen, an oil hub and the site of deadly clashes between protesters and police just over 10 years ago. Protests then spread across the rest of the country. The security forces claim they killed rioters in Almaty while trying to restore order.

Sudden start and widespread of violent riots in most of the region of Kazakhstan has rattled policy makers sitting in Nur Sultan and Almaty. It immediately, transmitted element of insecurity and uncertainty among the neighboring countries and even shocking to China and Russia being two of the largest trade, economic and investment partners of Kazakhstan.

Initially, as the Head of the State President Tokayev declared state of emergency and took all possible measures to unruffled the protesters who originally raised their voices against lifting price caps on energy fuels but ultimately were unmasked and intrigued and indulged into severe civil disobedience, destruction and vicious violent activities from North to South and from East to West.

Consequently, major cities/regions became hostage to protesters and they started destroying government installations and attacking on police and military personnel. Kazak President instructed the current government to submit its resignation and consequently he sacked prime minister and appointed new one, a loyalist to incumbent state.    

The Head of the State President Tokayev sought help from The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and afterward phoned to the Russian president Putin for help who immediately dispatched more than 3000 soldiers to Kazakhstan for rescue and securing peace and stability. The Kazak foreign minister also contacted with foreign ministers of Organization of Turkic World which showed their solidarity with the Kazakhstan government and its people. 

Meanwhile due to unstoppable violent euphoria of protesters forced President Tokayev to take some unavoidable policy/administrative measures and immediate removal of Karim Massimov, the former head of the national security committee was the prime outcome of this. On Saturday January 8, 2022 the authorities in Kazakhstan have now detained Karim Massimov, the former head of the national security committee, on suspicion of treason. Thus massive national “rectification process” is still going on to curb the intensity of protest and processions in the country.  

If we look into the scale and intensity of the ongoing protests and resultantly policy measures of the State, we come to know that even national harmony, political consensus, ethnic unity and last but not least multiculturalism has been somehow compromised. Clash between clans and cronies, invisible struggle for ultimate political domination and protection of vested interests may be the core reasons of this ongoing spells of disorder, deformity and disharmony in the country during which even national unity is at stake.

Unfortunately, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former leader and president of Kazakhstan was the main target of popular anger and agony in the recently held mass protests in the country. It raised certain questions which need to be answered. The System was apparently entangled and dis-functional somehow between old guard/guarantor-ship and new enlightenment and old King and new Knight. Nevertheless, thanks God Kazakhstan President Tokayev took various essential diversified but integrated measures to maintain peace and stability in the country. Interestingly President Tokayev authorized security personnel to shoot at sight which clearly shows that peace and stability has not yet been completely restored.  

The West as usual termed its new wave of “Color Revolution” in Central Asia because of so-called of denial of democracy and human rights which is totally misquoted, misjudged and misinterpreted. The Republic of Kazakhstan is a democratic country although different and unique but as good as any modern western country. Most recently held of direct elections of head of cities/regions and villages are the prime example of rigorous politicization and democratization in Kazakhstan. Moreover, further increase in women empowerment in electoral process is another example of the strength of Kazakhstan democracy. Moreover, provision of basic necessities of life and protection of human rights are secured by its pragmatic “Constitution”. Thus Western poor assessment is irrelevant to current situation of Kazakhstan. However, some regional experts termed these riots as “George Soros” conspiracy theory. Only time will decide.

Being prominent regional expert of Kazakhstan & CIS I evaluate that the current unfortunate prevailing situation in the country seemingly has larger complex and complicated picture. China being the biggest investor in Kazakhstan especially in One Belt One Road (BRI) and many other mega energy and infrastructural projects has now faced tough time. The completion of the BRI projects in Kazakhstan may be further derailed and delayed as well.  

Furthermore, ongoing “China Containment Policy” perpetuated by the US and the West has now discovered another land for a new proxy. The prevailing game theory and unwritten and undocumented conspiracy theories against “China Rise” in Africa, Middle East and now in Central Asia, all clearly indicate another “secretive plot” of the Western forces to derail Kazakhstan and its ally China. Thus Western penetration should not be discarded.       

Now let us talk about Russian dimension in the ongoing riots in Kazakhstan because most of the regional media have been taking although “in between the lines” about Russian suspected role in the current situation of Kazakhstan. In this connection, let me clarify that although Russia has not been happy with the increasing influence of the West in Kazakhstan and showed its displeasure on many times in the past but never indulged into any blame game.

Moreover, it is not a most “appropriate” time to open another “battle front” in addition to ongoing diplomatic rift and border escalations with Ukraine. But one of the Turkish media has now disclosed four point conditions of Russia to assist Kazakhstan which is alarming, if these are true.       

After five days now city police patrols the debris strewn streets of Almaty after the worst violence that Kazakhstan, long viewed as a bastion of stability in Central Asia, has experienced in three decades of independence. 

Kazakhstan, located between Russia and China and also sharing borders with three other Central Asian Countries Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is the largest economy in Central Asia, with rich hydrocarbon and metal deposits. It has attracted hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment since becoming independent in 1991. It just celebrated its 30 years of independence. 

Moreover, it strategically, it links the large and fast-growing markets of China and South Asia with those of Russia and Europe by road, rail, and a port on the Caspian Sea. It has described itself as the buckle in China’s huge ‘Belt and Road’ trade project.

Kazakhstan is the top global producer of uranium and this week’s unrest prompted an 8 percent increase in the price of the metal that fuels nuclear power plants.  It is the world’s ninth biggest oil exporter, producing some 85.7 million tonnes in 2021, and its 10th largest producer of coal.

Furthermore, it is also the world’s second largest miner of BITCON after the United States which dropped by over 10 percent on Wednesday after Kazakhstan’s internet was shut off.

To conclude, the government reforms in energy sector aimed at easing oil shortages quickly backfired as prices more than doubled. The protests spread, tapping into a wider sense of discontent.

Although Kazakhstan is the richest of the Central Asian republics in per capita income, half of the population in Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest country by territory still lives in rural, often isolated communities with poor access to public services. Thus there is an urgent need to initiate a “rational” and “balanced” socio-economic policy in all the regions of Kazakhstan in order to remove all kinds of “disparities” as soon as possible. So continuation and implementation of genuine institutional economic reforms are the need of the hour. 

It seems that the country’s vast natural resources have not yet been produced any “trickle-down” effect in Kazakhstan which needs to spread “economic feel good gesture” among all the people in the country.

On his part, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was elected president in 2019 and pledged to continue the broadly pro-business policies. Frankly speaking President Tokayev initiated many meaningful policies to give some economic comfort to his people which have now increased their incomes. Listing State Doctrine has not yet been proved effective which should be revisited for achieving the greater good.  

Since ancient times, it has had been bitter lesson of human civilization, governance, political survival and administrative maturity that “Kingship needs no kingship” and more precisely two “popes even cannot live together in holy city of Vatican”. This remote operated style of governance or axis of convenience between two “poles of power” could not achieve any success previously in Kyrgyzstan, Russia but somehow achieved very tiny success in Georgia. Thus to stop further instability and chaos President Tokayev rightly resumed post of “Chief” of the powerful “Security Council” and removed Nursultan Nazarbayev.

I personally think that sacking of Nazarbayev’s nephew, Samat Abish, as second-in-command of the security police is another bold administrative step because “halfhearted” policy might have dangerous consequences.

According to World Bank data (2021) Kazakhstan’s per capita gross domestic product in 2020 was $9,122, slightly above that of Turkey and Mexico but below its annual peak of nearly $14,000 in 2013. Tokayev’s government introduced a stimulus package worth 6 percent of national output to help smaller and medium-sized businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this connection, the World Bank has forecast economic growth of 3.5 percent in 2021, rising to 3.7 percent this year and 4.8 percent  in 2023. It is suggested that Kazakhstan should boost competition and limit the role of large state-owned enterprises in the national economy, sincerely tackle social inequality and create a more level economic playing field for everybody especially its private sector.

It is also suggested that the State should announce and implement numerous social development policies, programs and projects to help the common people living in far-flung areas of Kazakhstan.  

Security forces appeared to have reclaimed the streets of Kazakhstan’s main city on Friday after days of violence, and the Russian-backed president said he had ordered his troops to shoot to kill to put down a countrywide uprising.

According to latest international news dozens have died and public buildings across Kazakhstan unfortunately have been ransacked and torched in the worst violence the country has experienced in 30 years of independence.

Moscow said more than 70 planes were ferrying Russian troops into Kazakhstan, and that these were now helping control Almaty’s main airport, recaptured on Thursday from protesters. But extra quick response of Russia circulated spirits of fear among many countries which termed it “KGB Style” assistance which needs to be clarified.

Rightly, Kazakh President Tokayev blamed foreign-trained terrorists for the unrest. But it also shows total failure of national security system of Kazakhstan which could not trace out any clue for this kind of massive disorder in the country. Massive distribution or guns and arms among the protesters should be eye opening for the State and its secretive apparatus. Unfortunately, the militants have not laid down their arms, they continue to commit crimes.

Ironically, the majority of protesters in Almaty appeared mainly to come from the city’s poor outskirts or surrounding towns and villages. The violence has come as a shock to urban Kazakhs. But critical analysis shows that there was a “distinctive” method behind this madness. The protesters symmetrically captured financial hubs, energy centers and important regions just to “paralyze” the writ of the State. Thus they committed a serious crime against the State and indulged in an act of treason. 

On its part, the Interior Ministry said 26 “armed criminals” had been “liquidated”, while 18 police and National Guard members had been killed.

Still incidents of gunfire and violent combat are going on between the protesters and security agencies in many regions. Armoured personnel carriers and troops are trying their best to recapture the fallen regions.

In this regard, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated Washington’s concerns about the situation in Kazakhstan and the involvement of Russian-led forces. China, has also backed Tokayev. State television said President Xi Jinping had told him Beijing opposed any use of force to destabilise Kazakhstan.

I humbly request to all the protesters not to play in the hands of infiltrators who are the real enemy of your beloved country. They are the real schemers of destruction, disharmony and disorder. Please raise above your self-defined notions of tolerance, interfaith harmony and multiculturalism and obey the instruction of your President Tokayev. Long live Kazakhstan and Long live President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Kazakhstan is the jewel of Central Asia and definitely will be again above the skies.