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The protests in Kazakhstan: Its implications in the neighbourhood

The protests in Kazakhstan: Its implications in the neighbourhood

The widespread and unprecedented public protests that have roiled Kazakhstan this week, forcing President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to impose a nationwide emergency and seek help from a Russia-led military alliance, could not have come at a worse time for India. The protests — which had their roots in anger over the doubling of the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which most Kazakhs use as car fuel — engulfed the capital Nur-Sultan on Wednesday as the military was called out to contain violence that has so far left dozens of protestors and 12 law enforcement officers dead. Though the government said on Tuesday fuel prices will be reduced to a level lower than before the increase, and Tokayev sacked his cabinet on Wednesday, the protests are continuing. Protesters in Almaty, the country’s largest metropolis, stormed the presidential residence and the mayor’s office and set both on fire on Wednesday. They also stormed the airport in Almaty and seized government buildings and facilities around the country. As the violence escalated, Tokayev sought help from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a military alliance of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, to overcome what he said was a “terrorist threat” that was “undermining the integrity of the state”. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has announced that CSTO peacekeeping troops will be sent to help stabilise Kazakhstan. Though neither India nor the Central Asian states have made an official announcement, it has been widely reported that the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are expected to be the chief guests at this year’s Republic Day celebrations. The move is in line with India’s ambitions to forge greater connectivity, trade and security linkages with the strategic region to counter China’s growing influence. If the protests in Kazakhstan continue and linger, there will be a question mark against Tokayev’s possible participation in the Republic Day events. Kazakhstan, which has the second-largest uranium reserves or almost 15% of the world’s recoverable uranium, is also the largest supplier of uranium to India. The country supplied 5,000 tonnes of uranium to India during 2015-19. India’s external affairs ministry describes the Central Asian states as part of the country’s “extended neighbourhood” and perceives them as crucial for efforts to build peace and stability across the region, especially in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August. The Central Asian states, too, are keen to work with India to counter terrorism and radicalisation in the region, as was reflected by the presence of top security officials of the five countries at a regional security dialogue on Afghanistan hosted by New Delhi last November. Though Kazakhstan is not one of the three Central Asian states that share borders with Afghanistan, the protests could take the region’s attention away from the situation in the war-torn country — something that should be of concern to India’s security planners. Though the Central Asian states are nominally democracies, most of them have been ruled for long periods by leaders who have shown little tolerance for dissidence and Opposition parties. The elections in most Central Asian states are tightly controlled affairs and internet shutdowns are frequent. Nursultan Nazarbayev, who served as Kazakhstan’s president from 1990 to 2019, has been among the main targets of protestors. Despite stepping down almost three years ago, the 81-year-old ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to head the powerful Security Council and was only stripped of the post by Tokayev on Wednesday. Members of Nazarbayev’s family are believed to control much of the Kazakh economy. A so-called “People’s Committee of Kazakhstan” has now demanded the lowering of fuel prices, the release of all political prisoners and a change in government. Tokayev’s response to such demands could have far-reaching implications for Central Asia and the extended neighbourhood. Rezaul H Laskar is the Foreign Affairs Editor at Hindustan Times. His interests include movies and music. ...view detail .

world-news 2022-01-07 hindustantimes