Religious buildings in Kazakhstan to be labeled 16+
New restrictions on religious activities are emerging in Kazakhstan. Will they help to fight extremism?
According to the Government bill introducing amendments to the laws on religious activities and associations, adolescents should be forbidden from attending mosques, churches and synagogues if they are not accompanied by one of the parents and don’t have written consent of another parent.
Schools and the media are going to be forbidden from talking about the belief systems of various religions as well.
By implementing these and other measures, Astana intends to combat religious extremism. However, the crackdown on religion has already set the country four years back: in 2017 the Republic of Kazakhstan returned on the list of countries where the religious situation arouses concern of the US State Department Commission on International Religious Freedom. Kazakhstan last appeared on the list along with Afghanistan, India, Indonesia and Laos in 2013.
Is the proposed bill really going to help to contain the spread of radical Islam, and to what extent does it conform with international human rights standards?
The Concept of State Policy towards Religion, adopted in 2017, shows that the authorities strive to expel religion from public space altogether and promote an ideology of “secularism”. Their thinking is understandable: with no contact between members of differentreligions, there will be no inter-religious conflicts.
However, according to the European experience, prohibitive policy does not bring the expected results. In a multicultural society, the lack of information about the beliefs of other religions only increases tensions. Silencing the matter of religion and obstructing religious education reduces the ability to critically evaluate the extremist ideologies,while increasing the opportunityto spread false information aimed to promote inter-religious discord.
In addition, various summer camps, excursion and pilgrimage activities organized by religious communities are going to be banned if the bill is adopted. It includes those traditional religious confessions that the Government routinely thanks for promoting the inter-civilizational dialogue, youth development and the maintenance of stability, peace and prosperity in the society. A large number of children and teenagers will be deprived of their usual social circles and leisure activities.
As a result of such unconstitutional state interference and bureaucratic obstacles, children and teenagers will be denied the right to practice the religion of their family even when outside educational, medical and other state institutions. Not to mention that parents will be entitledby law to restrict the right of their children under the age of 16 to choose their faith.
Moreover, according to the proposed legislation, if a minor is found in a prayer room“illegally”, the responsibility will fall on the religious organization in question. Consequently, the clergy will need to alienate and discourage the younger generations from attending their own churches, so as not to get fined and fall within the scope of the restrictions on the religious activities!
At the same time, actual extremist organizations will go underground and get more freedom than their peaceful competitors. Obviously, the unruly youth will turn not to those imams, priests or rabbis unable to go beyond the restrictive framework of formal prohibitions. They will go to the “real” preachers who offer communion, new religious experience, something to devote yourself to, a sense of self-worth (even if as suicide bombers).
It is in the interests of all religious leaders, and indeed the whole world, to prevent such a terrible scenario from happening and to return Kazakhstan on the path of civilizational dialogue and inter-confessional cooperation. Otherwise, any participation in the VI Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in the Astana Palace of Peace and Reconciliation can be seen as not only dishonorable and hypocritical, but also unsafe.
Russia and Central Asia: A Great Peaceful Game
The fact that Russia assumed responsibility for the security and development of the peoples of Central Asia was historically accidental, although it was connected with obvious geopolitical circumstances. Now relations between our countries are undergoing a new transition period, as is the internal development of Moscow’s partners in this vast but sparsely populated region. Inevitably, there is a temptation to assess their prospects by comparing them with existing practices of interaction between major European powers, or the United States, and their immediate neighbours. Such comparisons reveal that there is only one example where a neighbour of a large industrial power does not find itself in distress — this is Canada, which shares its main cultural practices and political institutions with America. In all other cases, whether we are talking about countries south of the United States, or about the states of North Africa and the Middle East, being in the same neighbourhood as a powerful nation does not benefit the southern neighbours. However, what provides relative confidence in the future is that Russia, by its nature and in the perception of its neighbours, is not a typical country of the developed North. Therefore, getting into a situation similar to Mexico or Libya will require much more effort from the countries of Central Asia than it might seem at first glance.
So far, the states of Central Asia are showing rather contradictory signs in their internal political and socio-economic evolution. On the one hand, all of them emerged as independent countries within a fairly short historical period of 30 years. Despite numerous internal political conflicts, none of these states collapsed, as many in the West expected, and even hoped, in the first stages of their independence process after the collapse of the USSR. Each of the countries in the region is developing along its own unique path, reflecting historical experience and cultural characteristics. Speaking of public administration practices, it is hard to find anything in Central Asia from the era of modernisation in the 20th century with a legacy powerful enough to overshadow earlier practices of maintaining comparative stability. Virtually none of the current development trends have destroyed Central Asian societies; rather, they are absorbed by them, adapted by the powerful cultural and civilisational layers accumulated over the centuries.
Due to its geopolitical and ethnic composition, the Central Asian region cannot serve as a jumping-off point for the formation of states or their unions that would pose a danger to neighbouring powers. Here, first and foremost, we are talking about the interests of Russia and China, connected with the region by long common borders on both sides, where ethnically and religiously related people often live. Theoretically, the Central Asian countries could be considered by the West as an excellent territorial base for launching an offensive against the rear of Moscow and Beijing. However, the lack of direct access to these countries, as well as their own responsible policies, makes such a prospect unlikely. Moreover, these same factors determine the serious influence of Russia on the security of Central Asia and potentially significant influence from China. Although Beijing has so far shown no desire to take direct responsibility for security in Central Asia, in the future we may see a more active policy from the Chinese government.
We have observed that clandestine American and European diplomacy is doing more and more to undermine the internal stability of the countries of Central Asia. The mood of segments of urban population (albeit extremely insignificant given the general background) is partly related to these efforts, and the authorities, who also seek to use external factors to channel public discontent, respond to them. It seems that numerous initiatives whose content is directed against the interests of Russia and, to a lesser extent, China, sometimes feel invisible support from those who make political decisions. At the same time, the governments of the Central Asian countries themselves feel confident and have no doubt about their ability to keep such destructive moods under control. This confidence deserves respect — in 30 years of independence, we have not seen a single example when movements inspired from abroad became strong enough to threaten social stability. Moreover, a significant proportion of the resources allocated by the West to undermine internal stability in the region is successfully absorbed within the framework of traditional public institutions.
The most striking examples of an internal crisis were after the dramatic civil war in Tajikistan (1992-1997) as well as the mass protests in Kazakhstan in January 2022, when the authorities even had to turn to Russia and other CSTO allies for help normalise the situation in the country. However, most observers still believe that there were very few driving factors of foreign origin in these incidents. The main reasons lay in internal socio-economic problems, the “facade” economy and public institutions. Now the Kazakh government is showing a desire to rebuild the state and society that it received from the hands of its first president Nursultan Nazarbayev. But recent protests by oil workers in Kazakhstan’s westernmost regions show that these efforts are still struggling to meet the needs of the population. According to reports, the situation in the infrastructure inherited by independent Kazakhstan from the USSR is not getting much better either. Thus, the question arises of how long the country’s peaceful development period will last and what may follow. To a lesser extent, this applies to smaller Kyrgyzstan, which also experienced several revolutionary episodes over the past 15 years, the results of which were consolidated for the time being.
Now the efforts of all the governments of the countries of Central Asia, without exception, are aimed at gradually increasing the degree of economic openness and involvement in international relations. The leader in this regard is Uzbekistan, where a policy of openness has been pursued for several years, often bringing very impressive results. Other states act less consistently or do not have such serious demographic resources as those that are at the disposal of Tashkent. However, in general, we can be quite optimistic about the stability of the state systems in the region and should not be afraid that they may fall into the abyss of disasters in the coming years, as has happened with Afghanistan, Syria and a number of African countries.
This, however, does not mean that it will be easy for the Central Asian states to achieve the level and quality of life of their largest neighbours — Russia and China. Taking into account the fact that all five countries are relatively protected from the most terrible existential challenges, the most important question may be their ability to overcome the trap where they’re at a level of development when the destruction of the state is impossible, but so is reaching a new level in terms of the quality of life of the population. A number of countries have followed this path, often showing relatively good figures for the overall development of their economies: Mexico, Algeria, Morocco, and some of the countries of Southeast Asia. It is unlikely that Russia wants its most important southern neighbours to be in a position where the gap is insurmountable. The answer to this challenge can be, among others, more active regional integration, the creation of common labour markets and the spread of related social policy practices, as well as the avoidance of the archaisation of society through the formation of a common cultural and educational space.
From our partner RIAC
New Frontier: China Makes Inroads into Kazakhstan
China has made significant inroads into the central Asia region during Russia-Ukraine crisis. Russia has award the Chinese many opportunities in efforts to strengthen bilateral relations within the context of pushing forward multipolar solidarity.
Kazakhstan is currently widening its economic cooperation with the Chinese, thus China has gained stronger economic muscles in the region. Kazakhstan and China signed 47 agreements worth $22 billion during Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s visit to China, Tokayev’s press service said following a Kazakh-Chinese investment round table.
“Last year, bilateral trade reached a record $31 billion. China is one of the five largest investors in the Kazakh economy with total investment amounting to $23 billion,” the head of state was quoted as saying. Tokayev said that despite the challenging economic situation in the world, trade and economic relations between Kazakhstan and China continue to develop dynamically.
The Kazakhstan-China oil pipeline expansion will cost about $200 million, said Magzum Mirzagaliyev, the chief executive officer Kazakh national oil and gas company KazMunayGas (KMG). “The cost of the expansion project will be about $200 million. We intend to start work next year and complete it in two or three years,” Mirzagaliyev said on the sidelines of the Kazakh-Chinese talks in Xi’an, according to Orda.kz.
The project will allow Kazakhstan to increase oil exports. Today’s throughput capacity of the Atyrau-Kenkiyak and Kenkiyak-Kumkol sections of the oil pipeline is only 6 million tonnes, so KMG and CNPC have signed today an agreement to expand the capacity of these pipelines, Mirzagaliyev said.
Theoretically, Kazakhstan could boost oil exports to 20 million tonnes from today’s 1 million-2 million tonnes, according to Mirzagaliyev. “The throughput capacity of the Atasu-Alashankou section is 20 million tonnes, which, theoretically, could be filled with our oil. Today, the transit of Russian oil is 10 million tonnes, and Kazakhstan exports about 1-2 million tonnes. That is why, we have reached agreement on the expansion [of the pipeline capacity],” the head of KMG said.
In addition, construction of Kazakhstan’s logistics center gets underway at Xi’an Dry Port. “This hub linking the Shaanxi region with Kazakhstan and Central Asia will open the way to Europe, Turkey and Iran. The project will give a new impetus to cooperation between the two countries,” Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said at the groundbreaking ceremony.
He said that last year 23 million tonnes of cargo was shipped between the two countries by rail, which is a record-high figure. Transit shipping of goods in the first quarter of this year increased by 35% and exceeded 7 million tonnes. Tokayev said that over the past 15 years, Kazakhstan had invested $35 billion in the freight transportation sector.
From next year, the dry port is expected to handle electronics and computer components, automobiles and auto components, textiles, clothing, footwear and accessories, food and agricultural products, construction products and building materials, as well as ores, metals and chemical products.
Leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan would take part in this special economic summit. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying announced that China’s Xi’an would host the China-Central Asia Summit on May 18-19 in the city of Xi’an in the Shaanxi Province.
Anticipating China’s New Paradigm for Central Asia
In what is the first instance of China hosting an offline summit with all five Central Asian states, the event is expected to bring significant results dwarfing other major players’ ambitions in the region.
On May 18-19, China will be convening the leaders of the five Central Asian countries in Xi’an for a summit which is expected to mark a significant milestone in the relations between Beijing and the strategically located region.
This will be the first such event. Usually, Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Central Asian leaders either separately or within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as last year in Samarkand (Uzbekistan). The upcoming summit will no doubt be watched particularly closely by the Russian leadership.
Central Asian Expectations
We do not know much about what topics will be discussed during the summit. Yet China is setting the expectations high. In a congratulatory message to the Tajikistani President, Emomali Rahmon, Xi Jinping mentioned that Beijing was working on a “grandiose plan” to be unveiled in Xi’an.
Expectations run high in Central Asia as well. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the announcement of the massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which, should be noted, happened in 2013 in Kazakhstan, and Beijing is expected to demonstrate the staying power of its project by intensifying investments in Central Asia which serve as a gateway for reaching Western Asia and Europe. More specifically, Uzbekistan is particularly hopeful about the implementation of the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) Railway and Line D of the Central Asia-China Gas Pipeline.
Yet, for China to implement a more successful Central Asian strategy, it needs to look at the region not in isolation but rather in tandem with the wider Black Sea space and the Caspian Sea. Even if Central Asia becomes a viable transit alternative to the ailing Russian corridor, it is still but a first geographic step for China to reach the EU market.
Since the war in Ukraine has changed trade routes and made the transit through Russia more difficult, the trans-Caspian and South Caucasus have become more attractive not just to China, but also Central Asia and the EU. This is reflected in the statement made by the Chinese ambassador to Georgia when he argued about the good chances of the Middle Corridor but also stressed the need for the participation of the EU and China.
Central Asian countries might also welcome China playing a more active political and security role in the region (especially after the Beijing-facilitated diplomatic coup between Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), if not in completely resolving political differences, then certainly in acting as a stabilizer. This is especially necessary in the case of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which have vied for small, disputed territories along their common border.
Kyrgyzstan could well be interested in having China play a more active security role in the region especially after Bishkek was essentially abandoned by its CSTO ally, Russia, in September 2022 when Tajik forces inflicted significant losses on Kyrgyzstan along the common border.
Opening for China
In the increasingly congested geopolitical space of Central Asia, India, Japan, Iran and others vie for influence through promoting trade corridors and making investments in critical infrastructure to outplay other contenders. China is still well-positioned to make a difference – it has a lot of cash on hand and is a close geographic neighbor, with a lot of experience in engaging the region.
The timing of the summit is interesting as it comes amid Russia’s distraction with its protracted war effort against Ukraine. This has created a certain power vacuum in Central Asia and the five regional states clearly see an opportunity to test Moscow’s positions. When Tajikistan scored points against its neighbor Kyrgyzstan last year, with Russia virtually absent, the ailing nature of Kremlin’s regional standing was laid bare.
Kazakhstan too, traditionally weary of potential Russian military moves, has made a series of foreign policy gestures to solidify its ties with Turkey, the EU, and China, thus aiming to hedge against Moscow’s unpredictable behavior. Similar motives have driven Uzbekistan’s foreign policy as of late.
China has likewise seen an opportunity in Russia’s war in Ukraine. Increasingly beholden to Beijing, Moscow cannot openly oppose Chinese moves in Central Asia. Kremlin still continues to regard what is taking place within the context of regionalism – basic understanding between Russia and China that non-regional powers should be excluded from shaping the regional politics.
While this might still be the baseline for China’s and Russia’s interests, the balance of power between the two Eurasian actors is heavily tilting in China’s favor. The latter has made serious progress in expanding its security and economic footprint in the region, and with the upcoming summit, it has made tremendous efforts to do the same in the political area.
China’s decision to upgrade the level of the summit with the Central Asian states also coincides with the growing interest of other players in the region. Russia remains a powerful actor but there is also a host of others rushing to gain from Moscow’s weaknesses. Germany is among the latest examples. During Uzbek President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to Germany in early May, an agreement was reached to launch Germany + C5 format similar to the Russian, American, Chinese, and the EU initiatives.
If for decades, China has been more focused on the economic side of the cooperation with Central Asia, over the last years and especially since 2022, the focus has notably shifted. Beijing’s interests have widened to include political area and the summit in Xi’an might well officially usher in a new stage of bilateral cooperation.
In the longer run, the geopolitical situation favors China. As Russia’s war in Ukraine is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, Beijing will be seeing increasingly larger space for its political and economic involvement across the heart of Eurasia. This is especially the case as other actors lack geographic outreach and economic potential to rival China in the region. A real test for Beijing therefore will be how to carefully navigate its engagement in the region so that it does not cause grievances among the fives Central Asian states and does not push them to seek alternatives by building closer ties with Russia, the EU and others.
Author’s note: first published at chinaobservers
Larry Johnson: The aftermath of Bakhmut and why the CIA is in trouble
The West is desperate to avoid having any meaningful discussion or review of the Battle of Bakhmut because it was...
Drone attack on Moscow
The Russian Defence Ministry: – This morning, the Kiev regime has launched a terrorist drone attack on the city of...
Horn of Africa Crisis: Critical Challenges Ahead
Ultimately the situation in the Horn of Africa is rapidly deteriorating due to frequent militant attacks and terrorists’ pressures in...
Can Erdogan repay the people’s trust?
The Turkiye nation has concluded the most important election in the country’s modern history. The people of modern Turkey came...
The Sino-Russian-led World Order: A Better Choice for the Globe?
International forums, which were once established to promote cooperation and dialogue among the world’s states, are now increasingly being used...
Political Crisis, Power Distribution and Taliban in Pakistan
The political crisis in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan tends to evolve. Elite groups in the government and the opposition...
Sino-European Relations Souring as Russia-Ukrainian War Intensifies
Since the establishment of Sino–European relations in 1975, there have been significant changes toward building a China-driven agenda in the...
Southeast Asia4 days ago
Behind the cancellation of Tesla’s investment in Indonesia
Economy4 days ago
The Impact of Globalization on the South Asian Economy
Economy4 days ago
Promoting Economic Security: Enhancing Stability and Well-being
World News3 days ago
Gen. Milley: “F-16s won’t be a ‘magic weapon’ for Ukraine”
Middle East4 days ago
The 32nd Arab League meeting will have a far-reaching impact
Africa3 days ago
Africa Day 2023: Remembering the Past and Looking for a Better Future
Europe3 days ago
Genocide, Serbia and the Ukraine War: Geopolitics Matters
Health & Wellness3 days ago
6 Ways to Effectively Treat Trauma and Take Charge of Your Life