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30 years of Nazarbayev’s foreign policy: What Kazakhstan can teach the world in the new era

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The COVID-19 pandemic has completely shaken the very foundations of the world order that we were all accustomed to. The world is entering a qualitatively new stage of development, which is characterized by increased conflicts and intense competition in international relations.

Over the past months, we have seen how the relations between the two largest powers in the world, the United States and China, have dramatically escalated.

The aftershocks of the coronavirus crisis are felt in almost all regions of the world, especially in the so-called “transit zones”, where the interests of key players intersect. The South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait – this is the incomplete list of tension points, which can violate global stability at any moment.

Against this backdrop, Kazakhstan looks like a kind of “positive anomaly” – a post-Soviet state with rich natural resources, the world’s ninth largest country by area, and located in the very geographical center of Eurasia. Despite the extremely unfavorable geopolitical context and its own position at the junction of the interests of global players, Kazakhstan, to this day, confidently maintains both domestic political stability and constructive relations with all the main actors of the global game.

The case of Kazakhstan is of particular interest since historically the region of Central Asia, located at the intersection of Europe and Asia, has been a hostage to the Great Game between world powers. The strategically important geographical location, rich natural resources practically doom the region to the inevitable fate of being “geopolitically torn” between the interests of world powers.

However, Kazakhstan, which shares one of the longest land borders with two world powers, Russia and China, manages to masterfully manoeuvre in the dark waters of world politics.

In the current geopolitical situation, Kazakhstan’s external positioning is of particular interest to many countries that have faced the problem of worsening geopolitical conditions amid growing new global bipolarity.

The Kazakh “success story” is based on the foreign policy strategy of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the First President of the country, which gained independence in 1991. Nazarbayev, like Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, is the de facto architect of modern Kazakhstan. He ruled the country for almost 30 years, and voluntarily resigned in 2019. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Nazarbayev’s successor and the former Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, won the national elections in 2019, and continued the line of his predecessor.

I would like to briefly outline several key components of this strategy.

The first one is a system of “hedging” foreign policy risks through the balanced development of external relations in all strategic areas. This strategy is based on the “multi-vector” principle, which has doctrinal significance for Kazakhstani diplomacy.

Obviously, Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy is not a unique case, because a number of other post-Soviet governments de facto apply this principle too. However, what distinguishes Kazakhstan is a combination of consistency and flexibility in the implementation of this principle.

The basis of this approach is not “unscrupulousness” but reasonable pragmatism and the desire “not to put all eggs in one basket”. For Kazakhstan, the “multi-vector” principle has a cross-cutting nature, penetrating almost all spheres of its international cooperation.

One example is the sphere of security, the area of crucial interest for the Central Asian region.

Of course, many observers, who monitor the processes in the region, may note that Kazakhstan remains under Moscow’s ‘umbrella’ in the security sphere.

However, to understand the full picture, it is necessary to take into account the whole system of partnerships that Kazakhstan has built over the past years. It is impossible not to mention the Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO). Today, it is represented not only by China, but also by another Asian nuclear giant – India, which joined the organization in 2017 along with Pakistan.

Kazakhstan is also an active participant in the NATO Partnership for Peace program, and maintains close cooperation with the United States, which, despite irritation in Moscow and Beijing, plays an important stabilizing role in the region from the point of view of Kazakhstan’s interests

On top of this, Nazarbayev sought to expand the orbit of his interests, intentionally associating himself with a broader international agenda. So, in the Asian direction, Kazakhstan initiated the creation of the CICA (Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building measures in Asia)- the only international platform providing a stable dialogue on security issues in Asia as a whole. Through chairmanship in the OSCE in 2010, Kazakhstan was able to identify its presence in the European security architecture too.

The second aspect of the Kazakhstani path is the principle of economic pragmatism, which was the main criteria for all strategic decisions made by Nursultan Nazarbayev.“Economy first, then politics”, the catchy phrase coined by Nazarbayev, is the quintessence of this approach.

This message has been intended not only to block political radicalism within the country, but also in the external arena, in relations with strategic partners.

A typical example is the position of Kazakhstan in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), where Kazakhstan invariably emphasizes the purely economic nature of this organization. Of course, Russia aims to create a deeper form of political integration, but it was Nazarbayev’s principled position in favor of economic pragmatism that blocked all attempts to politicize the union.

Another case is Turkic integration, which is often regarded by external observers exclusively from the perspective of issues of pan-Turkic identity and “big politics” in the region.

The “Astana process” on Syria, as well Nazarbayev’s successful mission to reconcile Putin with Erdogan in 2016became possible in particular because of special relations with Turkey. In the latter case, Nazarbayev’s personal trusting relationship with both leaders played a special role: as a result, the tensions between Moscow and Ankara were resolved in the spirit of classical old diplomacy, transmitting the letter from hand to hand.

The third point that deserves attention is related to Nazarbayev’s anti-crisis diplomacy, thanks to which Kazakhstan was able to avoid the risk of being drawn into contradictions between world powers.

The Russian-Georgian conflict of August 2008 became a certain test for the multi-vector policy of the country. Refusing to openly accuse the Kremlin at the start of the conflict, Nazarbayev, at the same time, was able to withstand the pressure from Moscow to recognize South Ossetia’s independence. Then, the Kazakh side actively supported the resolution calling “for preserving the territorial integrity of states.” at the SCO summit.

However, a more significant “balancing” step was the decision of Kazakhstan to begin exporting oil to the West through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in the fall of the same year, which was aimed at partially reducing the dependence on the transport and communication systems of Russia.

The Kazakhstani experience shows the importance of proactive actions in moments of international crisis, when the country does not try to “sit out and wait” for the end of the conflict, but seeks to independently create favorable external conditions.

For example, against the backdrop of aggravation in relations between the West and Russia, as well as deepening contradictions between the US and China, Kazakhstan has created the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC), operating under the norms and principles of English common law.

Kazakhstan’s strategic calculation, not to a small degree, boils down to the fact that Western capital, which has become a hostage to geopolitical friction, can receive a strategic springboard for entering the Russian and Chinese markets through the AIFC.

This approach perfectly demonstrates Kazakhstan’s ability to skillfully integrate itself into the dynamics of relations between different poles of power, effectively capitalizing its competitive advantages as a transit zone.

Finally, the fourth component of the “Kazakhstani recipe” is bonded with Nazarbayev’s systematic efforts to integrate Kazakhstan’s foreign policy initiatives into the very center of international politics. In addition to the image dividends, this policy pursues a number of specific tasks, such as preventing a peripheralization of Kazakhstan, as well as the Central Asian region in the international arena.

One of the most important steps in this direction was the unilateral rejection of nuclear weapons arsenal by Kazakhstan at the very dawn of its independence. It should be mentioned that back then Kazakhstan possessed the 4th largest nuclear capability in the world, which was more than what China, the UK, and France had combined.

Voluntary rejection of WMD initiated by Nazarbayev himself, first of all, was the strongest political move. This immediately served to increase the country’s credibility in the West and among the international community in general.

Besides, the abandonment of nuclear potential has also brought quite tangible dividends. Since 1991, Kazakhstan has attracted more than $300 billion of foreign direct investment, accounting for 75% of all investments in Central Asia as a whole.

Another classic example is Nazarbayev’s initiative to create “Greater Eurasia”, based on the unification of the Eurasian Economic Union, the Silk Road Economic Belt, and the European Union into a single mega-project (announced at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in 2015).

The idea of Greater Eurasia is exactly where the emerging contours of a fundamentally new, non-bloc policy for the future world can be spotted. The stability of the new architecture will be reliably ensured, first of all, by the deep and objective interdependence of the interests for all players.

In such a world, along with the great powers, a significant role will be played by the active position of small and medium-sized countries, which constitute the absolute majority of the modern world. Its architecture will be based on the principle of “indivisibility of security”, first voiced in the framework of the CICA.

In a word, for small or medium-sized countries, proactive politics is now the best way to stay “afloat”, which makes it possible not to become a passive hostage of a steadily escalating rivalry between major powers.

In a wider context, we have every reason to believe that Kazakhstan’s peacekeeping potential is far from being exhausted. This potential is based on the already accumulated political baggage of trusting relationships with various centers of power.

It should be remembered that the capital of Kazakhstan has already played the role of a mediating platform, thanks to which an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program was reached.

Furthermore, a new format for meetings of political and business elites in the capital of Kazakhstan – Astana club – was launched on the initiative of Nazarbayev. This is a unique forum where the most influential representatives of the USA, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, and 30 other, mainly Eurasian, countries gather at the same table.

In the near future, the “Asian Vienna” might be of considerable interest, first of all, for resolving contradictions along the USA-Russia, USA-China, USA-Iran lines. It should be emphasized that in all three cases we are talking not only about a conflict of interests, but also about the deep-rooted distrust between the parties. And this is the main aspect, in which Nazarbayev himself and Kazakhstan’s diplomatic and mediating experience may turn out to be very valuable assets, worthy of being examined more closely.

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Paths to Regionalism in Central Asia: Internal Struggles Preclude External Change

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At the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the newly formed Central Asian republics were quickly thrust into a world of uncertainty, security issues, economic dilemmas, and more importantly, opportunity.  The lack of transformative policies prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union would exacerbate these issues while limiting immediate growth potential.  The rapid disintegration of trade and manufacturing linkages previously established in the Soviet Union led to recession, with per capita incomes falling to half of its pre-independence levels by the mid-1990s.Geography has condemned Central Asia to influence from both regional and global superpowers, namely that of Iran, Russia, and China.  And while somewhat separate, Turkey remains an important political and religious influence in the Central Asia republics.  Given these circumstances and others, we must determine what, if anything in particular, has stunted the development of a Central Asian region that could become a prominent and impactful actor on the world stage. Remaining susceptible to economic, political, and militaristic influence, as well as being landlocked and in close proximity to ongoing wars against terrorism and extremism, is there any hope at all for a regional institution to take hold and grow?

Building the “Region”

Foremost, a suitable definition for regionalism must be reached. Though despite widespread interest in the subject, we lack a consensus on what its true definition is, in part because many observers do not agree on what constitutes a region.  Common definitions of the concept range from geographic proximity, social and cultural homogeneity, shared political attitudes, political institutions, and lastly, economic interdependence. Other definitions include Joseph Nye’s idea of states linked together by both a geographical relationship and a degree of mutual interdependence, or a more general theory of states or peoples held together by common experience and identity, custom, and practice.  While it is arguable that Central Asia has qualified as a region in each of these categories, it is not that easy to solidify the construct.  More in-depth debates on the subject are torn between what constitutes regionalism and what is instead, regionalization. Regionalism is widely understood as the political process marked by cooperation and policy coordination, while the concept of regionalization is instead, an economic process in which trade and investment within the “region” grow more rapidly than it does so with the rest of the world

A concise definition for the potential prospects of a region, or regional construct, is significant due to the effects it can have on the outcome of the region itself.  Being precise in defining the size and membership of the region in question, can be enormously important for some states and actors as higher levels of cohesion and commonality may prevail in smaller, tightly defined geographical areas whereas loosely defined regions can be manipulated to permit or deny inclusions to states at will.  As critical, is the distinction between regionalism and multilateralism.  The former, I define similar to Joseph Nye’s, as a geographically contiguous collection of states and non-state actors who’s shared past, present a cultural, economic, and political interdependence that must be sustained to achieve a profitable future.  The latter, I will define as a collection of state actors who act in the interest of a common goal that will be mutually beneficial to all involved but is not required for independent state progression.  The key difference being the necessary interdependence of a region vice the opportunistic cooperation between actors in multilateral arrangements.  With origins in the 1940s and the rise of the Cold War, the oldest and most ambitious of post-World War II examples of regional cooperation is the European Union (EU), which will be our benchmark from which to judge regionalism around the world.  Over the years and through economic, political, and security cooperation, the EU has deepened integration and transformed into a successful, worldwide entity.  The EU should represent the goal of Central Asian regionalism, but to date, there has been nothing worthy of the comparison. 

Why Hasn’t it Worked Yet?

There has been a general resurgence of regionalism in the post-Cold War international order and with that, has come a proliferation of regional and subregional groupings that have involved the Central Asia states.  Unfortunately, behind the lofty rhetoric of national leaders and the hollow statements of cooperation between the Central Asian republics, the region has been embroiled with increasing frequency of internal conflicts, trade wars, border disputes, and disagreements of the use of water and energy resources.  One of the most prominent regionalist projects in Central Asia was the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which was designed to manage the collapse of the Soviet Union and foster a unified post-Soviet cooperation among the newly formed republics.  By the end of the 1990s, it was obvious that due to a failure to integrate any Soviet successor states in any meaningful sense, constituted of multiple, helpless structures that created an illusion of commonality, and with political leaders admitting there was much left to be desired, the CIS had failed.  Examining the failure of regionalism attempts like the CIS in Central Asia, we should find that domestic issues have precluded greater external cooperation among Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.  In particular, border conflicts between the republics, political reform, resource security, and sustainable economic institutions must first be dealt with in order to set the conditions for a successful regionalism effort. 

Internal border conflicts, like that of the Fergana Valley, are hindering a larger regional construct and preventing Central Asia from balancing against the world powers of China, Iran, and Russia, as a single entity.  National boundaries have been a primary interest to Central Asia nations since their inception due to cultural unity, natural resources, and infrastructure management.  Just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were almost immediately border disputes that erupted all over Central Asia, with countries trying to settle the old debts and old scores. It was then agreed that each country would maintain the borders created by the Soviet Union in the different territories. The problem is that these borders, drawn by the Soviet Union, deemed areas like the Fergana Valley as “unstable” and created few enclaves, which led to problems ranging from resource management, restrictive movement of various ethnic peoples across borders, and instigated issues over food, energy, and water distribution.  These internal disputes had become so serious in some cases, as in the Fergana Valley, it has led states like Uzbekistan to mine their borders

Even with the fact that Central Asia has maintained their sovereignty since the early 1990s and embarked on their own political journeys, there is a consensus that Russia, being the key regional actor, sets the political agenda and is consistently exporting and supporting authoritarian values there.  The leaders of the new republics mirror Russia in the use of patrimonial-authoritarian regimes and a “menu of manipulation” developed during Soviet rule to manage potentially challenging processes for a variety of scenarios, while importing external influence from Russian parties.  Referencing our model of the European Union, we can see that a region that maintains the political institutions of patrimonial-authoritarian rule will make cooperation on the level of the EU difficult to achieve as these regimes are only seen to effectively cooperate in security issues.  The reason for only involving themselves in security cooperation is that it does not require immediate political or economic reform in the state.

Modern democratic institutions are defined by four criteria: executives and legislatures are chosen in free/open elections, virtually all adults have a right to vote, political rights and civil liberties are prevalent, and elected authorities possess “real” authority to govern the population.  In Central Asia’s internal political institutions, manipulation of all four of these criteria is overwhelming.  Presidents would remove obstacles to extend term limits, elections were organized to maintain power with the illusion of competition, the timing of the elections was carefully selected for optimization of regime survival, and the states still emplace significant barriers to stop the elevation and creation of opposition or new political parties.  In terms of developmental issues, the common trend that brings Central Asia together is called “focusing” – namely, the idea of nations focusing on their own internal issues with mutual success depending on their combined potential.  Political reform has been missing from past attempts and remains critical to the future.

Central Asia has been given the gift of an abundance of natural resources; however, they are unfortunately, very unevenly distributed.  While it may be logical to assume that resource abundant nations have a given economic advantage over those of less fortune, there is widespread debate about this truth, and empirical evidence that would suggest the opposite.  One possible explanation for this “natural resource curse” argues that a large majority of commodity exporters focus on a rather narrow range of primary products, and so a lack of diversification exposes them to price fluctuations which could then lead to large swings in national incomes.  Over the past 20 years, all of the countries in the region except Uzbekistan have seen an increase in the concentration of their exports, with fewer products accounting for a larger share.  “Moreover,” as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) points out, “the vulnerability of Central Asian countries extends to shocks affecting trade partners, as their exports are concentrated in a limited number of markets.  Landlocked geography and the ‘distance penalty’ mean that a few neighbors almost exclusively make up the export markets for Central Asian economies.”  With the limited ability to diversify resources and the high cost of trading across regional borders, Central Asia has become a free-for-all in resource utilization, which given the resource nexus of the region, has exacerbated issues leading to a failure of regional cooperation and political division. 

Despite the façade of economic recovery post-recession, the output in most of the Central Asian republics depends on a limited number of export commodities and external financing to support economic growth and has not provided sufficient employment opportunities in the formal economy.  External financing can be a source of stimulation for economic growth in the region, but the heavy external debt burden faced by several of the states poses a significant risk for long-term economic growth, especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  The International Monetary Fund or IMF, posits that for Central Asia, looking forward and removing tariff and non-tariff barriers as well as inefficient systems and uncertainty around changes to tariff schedules are steps in the right direction.  Further integration in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and World Trade Organization (WTO) would be the most beneficial internal actions that Central Asia could take.  Regional adherence to EEU policies, trade customs, trade regulations, and removal of inefficient border policies would help to create a “growth friendly” fiscal adjustment as well as capture the full benefits of global and Central Asian trade.  Historically, the high cost of doing business across borders has limited regional cooperation or really, motivation, to attempt more in-depth economic arrangements.  This is due to the fact that not all Central Asia nations have accepted common economic norms like those of the WTO when it comes to trade; creating a need for these republics to enhance their attractiveness for trade transit options

A Central Asian region has not developed because internal border strife has precluded larger levels of cooperation.  Political turmoil and enduring influence from the Soviet-style patrimonial-authoritarian regimes are creating dysfunctional institutions that are incapable of solving domestic issues and leave Central Asian republics open to the direction of the most influential neighbor.  Natural resource allocations and climate change are impacting resource security and creating a need for sustainable development and crisis management across borders, which has thus far,not come to pass.  And lastly, economic insecurity leaves individual republics competing with one another for momentary gain, while missing the future prospects of a regional institution created by mutual support and integration.

Future Outlook for Central Asian Regionalism

International integration – the theory in which supranational institutions replace national ones and gradually shift upward from individual sovereignty to regionalism or global structures – is helpful in explaining the emergence of the EU and as a model to emulate.  In practice, this integration had rarely gone beyond a “partial and uneasy sharing of power” between states, as most have been unwilling to give up their exclusive claim to sovereignty and have severely limited the power of the supranational institution.  Despite having cultural, linguistic, religious, and ethnic differences, as well as hundreds of years locked in intermittent war, the EU has become the most successful example of the process of integration through functionalism, neofunctionalism, and a security community

What is seen in the case of the EU’s development is short-term progressive institutions and constructs that would eventually lead to a greater identity.  It began with supranational organizations that would perform the basic functions required between states such as reducing barriers to trade, delivering mail, or the coordination of resources and goods across borders.  This created a need for closer political ties between the states.  The European Parliament was developed in order to facilitate this closer political dynamic, the sense of a community among Europe, and a security structure.  We now see the expansion of the EU ranging from a common market, a parliament, a council of ministers, common agricultural policies, the European Commission, a European Court of Justice, and even the development of a regional currency – the Euro.  The key in the continued success of the European Union is the evolved development of a shared integration format and a robust structure of institutions that encompass and act on behalf of the larger region.

Can Central Asia accomplish this?  The region would have much to gain from the formulation of a regional identity like the EU.  Four often theorized reasons for the benefits of international institutions are: constraining the great powers, providing information, and reducing transaction costs, facilitating reciprocity, and promoting reform in domestic politics. Unfortunately, border conflicts, resource disputes and mismanagement, political authoritarian regimes, and economic security are currently inhibiting the region from embracing any of these four benefits.  This results in the need for a realistic outlook on Central Asia’s regional future with both short-term and long-term expectations in respect to the new globalized environment these states will develop in – an acknowledged difference from the European Union’s circumstances.

Short-term, being the next 5-10 years, expect to see more of the same: domestic turmoil overflowing to interregional issues that exacerbate inadequate political and economic structures.  A continuation of the corruption and patrimonialism that sees only the elite benefit from exploitation of the state’s given authority.  The uncertainty that lies in the actions of neighboring actors as well as the conviction that all states are primarily concerned with survival, will limit Central Asia to mostly insincere political promises and a “self, before others” mentality that will delay the creation of these functional supranational organizations that benefited the initial onset of the European Union construct.  Long-term (>20 years) is where the effects of globalization begin to impact the prospects for regionalism.  Looking at a political map of the world, it would seem that Central Asia is in the center of it all.  The Chinese have directly linked their “One Belt, One Road” initiative to the legacy of the ancient “Silk Road”, and presented it as a project based on equality, mutual benefit, open-mindedness, sharing of culture, and sharing of tradition with one another.  This plays directly to the advantage of a regional Central Asian institution. As the passage between China and Europe, Central Asian republics will need to formulate transnational organizations that would mirror those of the European Union in policies of low costs and ease of access functionality to reduce barriers, making the use of Central Asia as a land bridge between major world players attractive. Whereas the European Union formulated on geopolitical means, the Central Asian region may very well be formed in the wake of a new Eurasian geoeconomic strategy.  To create the sustainable structures that will enable regionalism, there will need to be drastic political regime and ideal reform in Central Asia that is showing no signs of imminent change. 

In conclusion, globalization provides the best catalyst for Central Asia to develop a regional institution that would enable it to become a major entity on the world stage.  However, the domestic issues are hindering this effort in the short-term, while long-term goals are lofty and require major reform in the republics.  The increasing interaction between Asia and Europe, to include the Belt & Road Initiative, has given Central Asia a shared reason to limit the effects of interregional strife and provide a unified and accessible image to the global market, and a reason for the geopolitical world to invest itself in the region.  This transformation will take time and cannot be a forced overnight change as the “west” would like.  There is hope for the region, and with sound strategy and economic investment in the republics, dependent on reform, Central Asia can be the next iteration of regionalism, or quite possibly the instigator of a “Eurasian Union” capable of parity with the global powers of today.

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Chronicles of Revolt in Kyrgyzstan: Implications and Consequences

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I Theoretical Analysis:

According to Leon Festinger, Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving a group of people having contradictory beliefs leading to conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviours. This produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviours to reduce the discomfort and restore balance. This psychological theory can be best applied to the scenario of civil revolts in Kyrgyzstan, as the revolts were basically a purge by the citizens of Kyrgyzstan against the Autocratic regimes of the ruling elites and corrupt leaders. The word revolt on its own justifies the theory in hand, as a revolt particularly means an effort to change the existing situation and that can only be a problem of there is a contradiction between the beliefs of those in power and the civil population of the state. However, to thoroughly understand the main causes and how it all started in the first place, then read the contents below to grasp a better understanding of the topic under discussion.

II Research Methodology:

This paper provides a qualitative analytical research of the subject matter, based on data collected through mostly secondary sources and a primary source. The paper is descriptive and provides a thematic qualitative analysis to interpret the subject matter under discussion.

III Introduction:

Central Asia has always been seen as a hub of ethnic diversity ever since world’s major powers got their eye on it. Most of the unrests and civil upheavals were not merely purges against the ruling Autocrats and their unsubtle regimes, but in fact, because of the ethnic clashes and rivalries in the region. To elaborate Kyrgyzstan’s internal collapse and non-stop civil unrests, there is a dire need to understand what is Clan politics and how it affected the political and governmental infrastructures in the state[1]. A clan could be addressed as a group of people or a community that serves a common motive and each individual may bring a certain spice of its own, when in power, however, there is no specific boundaries of a clan or a way to measure the strength of a clan, neither can an individual be legally linked to a specific clan, which is why there has been no media reportage that addressed a specific clan as a core reason behind an event or incident. In Kyrgyzstan, these clans can be addressed as those in the Southern region and their opposition in the Northern region. During the reign of Soviet Moscow, people were to be appointed in the Kyrgyz Communist Party from these clans and they in turn would appoint their fellow clan members or colleagues in the ruling party. There has always been a competition for economic and miscellaneous resources among the clans, which led to an open ground for corruption and theft. Whenever Moscow would find a political worker submerged in such acts then would suspend those individuals and appoint those who were more loyal to the state than the clans. The major difference between the situation after the demise of Soviet Union and before, was the fact that the clans had to answer to the ruling Communists in Moscow. At the time of Soviet Collapse, Moscow appointed an outsider, an electrical engineer named Askar Akayev, who rose to power in the early 90’s and continuously appointed members of his clan who promoted his motive of Autocratic form of governance, until there was no more opposition left to stop purge against Akayev and that is how civil unrests began in the first place. Therefore, this paper not only thoroughly examines the process of escalation of the major revolts in the state but also explains the existing and future implication of such revolts. The paper also predicts the possibility of future events that may happen in the coming years.

IV Revolts in Kyrgyzstan:

The civil unrests and the two major revolts in 2005 and 2010 were merely an accentuation of how bad and complex is the actual situation in Kyrgyzstan. Although the 2005 revolution can be summed up as a purge to Autocratic form of governance, however the dynamics were very complex.

The brief historic background of Askar Akayev and the clan politics was essential as a reference point to this debate, as things got ridiculously complicated later on in 2005 parliamentary elections. On February 27, 2005, the parliamentary elections were held and 29 clear winners were declared. From which there were members of the Post-Bakiyev government (Azimbek Beknazarov and Tamir Sariyev) and most importantly, Aydar Akayev; the president’s son. On the very next day 1000-3000 protestors gathered to protest against electoral violations in the Avaran district of Osh province but no lethal force was used. After a few days span, an attempt was made to blast Roza Otunbayva (the leader of the opposition party; Ata Dzhurt Movement), which led to swarming rallies in Jalal-Abad. In response to these rallies, a group of pro-government forces manged to gather approximately 500 protestors to demand the opposition rallies to be stopped and thus promoting Akayev’s policies once again[2]. On march 9th, protestors gathered in the Osh province, demanding a resignation from the President Askar Akayev for his failure of conducting fair elections. The rest of Akayev’s demise was a domino effect, as the opposition parties gathered up with the fellow protestors and targeted governmental institutions and infrastructures. The arrest of opposition protestors emboldened the charade and protestors also took government hostages later on. In the time of chaos, many criminals and looters found a golden opportunity to exploit the country’s capital resources and that too added to the injury of the existing crises. Along with that, inter-ethnic rivalries also grew in number and the state was a complete failure during this period of “Tulip Revolution”. Ultimately, Akayev fled the stage and had to resign from his presidency on April 9, 2005.

Succession of the 2005 “Tulip Revolution”, the 2010 “Roza Revolution”, incorporated a genuine hope for Kyrgyz people for actual reforms in the political and economic sectors, or at least that there would be more resource and power sharing among clans. Over the years Bakiyev became more authoritarian and appointed his family and clan members to positions of power, instead of distributing power more widely[3]. As Bakiyev became more powerful, he became paranoid of another revolution and consolidated control over political, military, and security positions. Bakiyev also came under fire because of a deal he made with Russia where Kyrgyzstan would receive a several billion-dollar economic investment package in return for removing the U.S. military from the Manas Air Transit Centre outside Bishkek. Bakiyev never removed the U.S. from Manas, frustrating Russia because a portion of the investment had already been paid[4]. On April 3, 2010, Kyrgyz police intervened a demonstration outside the Kyrgyz Parliament building where UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon met with members of parliament. The protestors included opposition activists, journalists, and human rights advocates – Temir Sariyev was among those protesting[5]. Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who fled Bishkek on April 7, is in Jalal-Abad and trying to rally enough support to return to power[6].

The protestors followed the same pattern of targeting the governmental institutions and infrastructures and it was seen for the first time that someone in power ordered a use of lethal force. Bakiyev gave direct orders to shoot down people in the square and people were literally shot dead on the square, most received brutal headshots. This made Bakiyev to leave the state on April 15, 2010, in accordance with direct orders of OSCE Chairman Kanat Saudabayev and had to resign the very next day, April the 16th.

V Implications:

 “As manifested in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, a spark can start a big fire. Each new upheaval carries the risk of setting dangerous processes in motion that may ultimately be very difficult to control, especially in an internally divided country like Kyrgyzstan”, says JohanEngvall (CACI Analyst). In short, the situation the state is once again dicey, as conflicts or contradictions of smallest in magnitude can set forth humungous political and economic disasters. On the other hand, north-south divide can also be exploited through political channels, which may be internal and also external, to an extremely dangerous level and it may inflict long lasting damages in the inter-ethnic ties of the citizens in the country. Up till now, following are the consequences observed from the never-ending civil unrests in the country;

  • Kyrgyzstan is now being addressed as a failed state in the world’s political stature.
  • There is an open stage for political and military exploitation in the country because of the north-south divide.
  • Alongside the Clan politics, the inter-ethnic violence has also been increased and the rivalries have grown to big numbers.
  • Human Rights violations have also been increased over the years.
  • The influence of Moscow never vanished but diminished and now, it has grown once again with the passage of time and its role in each civil rest.
  • The US military interests in Kyrgyzstan have also grown as Russia’s influence has once again grown in Central Asian states.
  • There utopian false hope functional democracy in the state of Kyrgyzstan have led the people of the state extremely disheartened and many have left the state as this charade is seemed to be a never-ending one.
  • Regrouping of clans and modified clan politics may once again disrupt the state as there is no system that could let ones lead the political system who are actually loyal to the state and not the clan.
  • The diverse Kyrgyz opposition has been unable to unite around political programs or visions for the country. In the end, the incumbent power provided the only common denominator against which to unite.

VI Conclusion:

The revolts and consequences of those revolts were a product of an internalized narrative of politics in the country, as Kyrgyzstan itself was sought to be a state which was solely to be ruled politically. How is that different? Well, the idea of politics in the state is that people treat the authoritative rights as their own rights, official goods as their own goods, which implies that the political narrative from the past two decades has never been shifted from resource extraction; it revolves around corruption. This means that it is not about encouraging political pluralism or managing a diverse ethnic society, but to change the narratives that have been deeply internalised. This would require restructuring of the governmental and political infrastructures and formation of new institutions that would not fail to provide political, economic and civil goods to the deserving society. The latter may also diminish or even eradicate the inter-ethnic violence on the streets which always rise to a dangerous level. Although the current situation of the state would lead it towards another revolution but are these really revolutions that had nothing to do with “change for the good of its people” rather than change of dynamics? Conclusively, there’s a possibility of a lot of things that may be hard to enumerate, there may be another “so-called” revolution (another false alarm as I would like to denote it), there may be major political exploitation of the north-south divide and there can also be peace if the system realizes the actual deep-rooted problems in the political narratives of the state.


[1]Matthew Stein, “Revolutions of Kyrgyzstan Timeline: An Open Source Look at

Key Events,” Foreign Military Studies Office, (2020): 1-3, December 24, 2020.

[2] Matthew Stein, “Revolutions of Kyrgyzstan Timeline: An Open Source Look at

Key Events,” Foreign Military Studies Office, (2020): 2-3, December 24, 2020.

[3] Matthew Stein, “Revolutions of Kyrgyzstan Timeline: An Open Source Look at

Key Events,” Foreign Military Studies Office, (2020): 6-8, December 24, 2020.

[4] Matthew Stein, “Revolutions of Kyrgyzstan Timeline: An Open Source Look at

Key Events,” Foreign Military Studies Office, (2020): 9-10, December 24, 2020.

[5] Matthew Stein, “Revolutions of Kyrgyzstan Timeline: An Open Source Look at

Key Events,” Foreign Military Studies Office, (2020): 10-11, December 24, 2020.

[6] Matthew Stein, “Revolutions of Kyrgyzstan Timeline: An Open Source Look at

Key Events,” Foreign Military Studies Office, (2020): 10-11, December 24, 2020.

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Central Asia

The State of Human rights in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan: Principles vs. Practices

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Central Asian countries share much in common in terms of their post-Soviet authoritarian legacy and weakness of democratic institutions. As a matter of fact, their post-soviet transition has been marred by a series of authoritarian malpractices, ranging from centralization and personalization of power to extensive crackdown on civil liberties and political freedoms. According to widely- held beliefs many factors can account for this state, including economic slowdown, traditional culture, weak civil societies, post-Soviet authoritarian legacies, as well as ethnic cleavages. A question arises as to how the leadership changes in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have influenced the state of human rights in these Central Asian countries.

While the three Central Asian states have signed up to   major international conventions on human rights, their implementation remains a significant problem. Notably, the three countries are members of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) with ensuing commitments to respect human rights in compliance with CSCE Helsinki Final Act 1975, The Copenhagen Document 1990 and other related OSCE documents. Moreover, Kyrgyzstan has ratified the 1995 Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

 Table 1 (UN Treaty Body Database)

Human rights treatiesKazakhstanKyrgyzstanUzbekistan
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or PunishmentAccessionAccessionAccession
Optional Protocol of the Convention against TortureRatificationRatification
International Covenant on Civil and Political RightsRatificationAccessionAccession
Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced DisappearanceAccession
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against WomenAccessionAccessionAccession
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial DiscriminationAccessionAccessionAccession
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural RightsRatificationAccessionAccession
Convention on the Rights of the ChildrenRatificationAccessionAccession
Convention on the Rights of Persons with DisabilitiesRatificationSignedSigned

To assess the implementation level of the commitments assumed under these treaties, it is necessary to refer to the concluding observations made by the international human rights treaty monitoring bodies. 

 On the freedom of expression in Kazakhstan, Human Rights Committee (hereinafter – Committee) notes, “laws and practices that violate freedom of opinion and expression, including: (a) the extensive application of criminal law provisions to individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression..; (b) the blocking of social media on national security grounds..; (c) the shutting down of independent newspapers and magazines, television channels and news websites for reportedly minor irregularities or on extremism-related charges”. Regarding Kyrgyzstan, the reports of persecution of human rights defenders, journalists, and other individuals for expressing their opinion remain of serious concern. As for Uzbekistan, the Committee notes that defamation, insult of the President, dissemination of false information continues to be criminalized. Moreover, the existing legislation regulating mass communication, information technologies and the use of the Internet unduly restricts freedom of expression. Another set of concerns has to do with ongoing imprisonment of individuals on extremism-related and other politically motivated charges. It has not been uncommon for the authorities to target independent journalists, human rights defenders, and bloggers, for the mere reason of being outspoken and critical.

On the torture and ill-treatment, main concerns include the reported high rates of torture and the high number of claims of torture dismissed at threshold due to the allegedly excessive evidentiary standard required to pursue an investigation under the new Criminal Procedure Code; the reported unduly prolonged duration of investigations into allegations of torture and/or ill-treatment; failure to provide full reparation to victims of torture or ill-treatment, etc. With respect to Kyrgyzstan, while welcoming legislative and administrative measures aimed at preventing torture, including the amendments to the Criminal Code, the Committee emphasizes a series of malpractices, including the practices of torture and ill-treatment of detainees; the number of deaths in custody and the fact that none of the cases reported to the Committee led to any conviction. As for Uzbekistan, the Committee notes that the definition of torture in article 235 of the Criminal Code limits the range of possible victims to “participants in criminal proceedings or their close relatives” and does not apply to all types of perpetrators.

On violence against women, the Committee alarmingly notes that domestic violence remains prevalent and largely underreported in Kazakhstan due to the prevailing stereotypes. Protective measures and support services for victims of violence, including State funding for crisis centers, remain insufficient. Similarly, violence against women remains underreported in Kyrgyzstan, where domestic violence seems to be socially acceptable to a great extent. As for Uzbekistan, main concerns include the reports of forced and early marriage; the fact that domestic violence is not explicitly criminalized in the newly adopted relevant legislation; limited protection, as well as insufficient psychological, social, legal, and rehabilitative services provided to the victims of domestic violence and their families, etc.

Moreover, the Committee expresses concerns over the reports that no independent, impartial, and effective investigation has been conducted into the human rights violations committed regarding the protests in Zhanaozen on December 16th and 17th of 2011, that led to casualties. Similarly, the Kyrgyz government’s failure to fully investigate human rights violations committed during and in the aftermath of the June 2010 ethnic conflict in the south of Kyrgyzstan remains of serious concern. The situation seems to be even worse in Uzbekistan. The Committee repeatedly expresses concerns over lack of an in-depth investigation into the atrocities committed by military and security services during the Andijan events in May 2005.

In terms of minority rights, even a quick glance at the international human right watchdogs’ reports shows severe violations of LGBT rights the Central Asian countries. Even though the LGBT climate in Kazakhstan is better than in the rest of Central Asia, but violence and discrimination still exist. Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Defense classifies homosexuality as a “mental disorder” and bans gays from performing military service. A 2017 NGO survey within the LGBT community, shows that almost half of the respondents experienced violence or hate because of their sexual orientation. Meanwhile, there were no prosecutions of anti-LGBT violence.

In Uzbekistan homosexuality is still officially illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison. Anti-LGBT discrimination permeates every section of the society with ensuing adverse effects on all aspects of LGBT persons’ lives, including employment, housing, family relations, and access to education and health care.  Meanwhile, there are no known LGBT organizations to advocate the community members.

As for Kyrgyzstan, even though the country does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults or speech that supports LGBT issues, LGBT persons whose sexual orientation or gender identity was publicly known tend to face a bunch of problems, including physical and verbal abuse, possible loss of employment, and unwanted attention from police and other authorities. Moreover, the events hosted by LGBT groups tend to get targeted by nationalist groups who constantly harass and mistreat sexual minorities.

Similarly, persons with disabilities get routinely subjected to discrimination in the three countries. UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has repeatedly expressed concerns about the plight of this vulnerable group in Kazakhstan and recommended to “to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy unhindered access to all social services, including education and employment, by providing reasonable accommodation in school and in the workplace and improving the accessibility of facilities and services provided and open to the public”. While in May2019 the Government adopted the State Plan to ensure rights and better quality of life for people with disabilities until 2025, it does not seem to offer any immediate measures of support for disadvantaged citizens. The situation is not much different in Uzbekistan, where persons of face formidable challenges in their everyday lives. A well-informed observer notes that “the fact that people with disabilities rarely come out of their houses and do not stand for their rights. The laws are available only on paper, and they will become effective only when people with 10 disabilities will start standing for the accessibility for themselves, including accessible recreation”.

Even though the lives of persons with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan are not a lot easier, in May 2019, Kyrgyzstani Prime Minister Muhammedkaly Abylgaziev took a considerable step towards alleviating their plight. He signed a decree to create an inter-agency working group to implement articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. According to Amnesty International, the main work aims at providing persons with disabilities with rehabilitation services, increasing their life expectancy, taking measures to prevent disability, providing medical and social assistance, ensuring equal access to education, justice, and employment, and ensuring freedom of movement. 

To sum up, despite their obligations assumed under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights, their actual implementation remains a significant problem in all three countries. The reasons range from centralization of power and weakness of democratic institutions to the prevalence of Soviet authoritarian culture and illiberal norms.

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