'Color revolution' shadow over Central Asia
With protests against rising fuel prices turning violent and prompting the Kazakhstan government to declare a state of emergency, Central Asia has encountered a new challenge at the beginning of the new year.
After Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev asked the Collective Security Treaty Organization, an intergovernmental military alliance of selected post-Soviet republics, to help restore normalcy, the chaotic situation was brought under control. The CSTO peacekeeping contingent is now withdrawing from the country.
The situation in Kazakhstan may have been controlled and despite Central Asian countries encountering multiple crises in the past years, the unrest in Kazakhstan was much more complicated and therefore will have a profound impact on the region.
But what really makes the Central Asian countries' problems complicated is the involvement of outside forces, which have been trying to foment unrest.
Five states in Central Asia gained independence with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and they have been encountering difficulties right from their birth in their efforts to expedite their political, economic and social development. Plus, economic reforms had not yielded the desired results in the five countries till 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic further complicated their problems by causing mass unemployment and hyperinflation.
Worse, the pandemic is yet to be effectively contained, making people in the five countries more vulnerable to instigation and prone to violence, a weakness that some external forces have exploited to foment trouble in the Central Asian region, even encourage a "color revolution" in some countries.
The mayhem in Kazakhstan, the worst since its independence, has almost wiped out the country's three decades of development dividends, and could trigger a chain reaction which could compromise its energy security.
The Central Asian countries also face diplomatic challenges, even though they pursue a balanced foreign policy. On the one hand, they seek international support to develop their economy and safeguard their national security by opening up their economies, and are dependent on foreign countries in key domains. On the other hand, they cherish their independence and sovereignty to the extent of being ultra-sensitive to foreign investments in some key areas.
Also, despite being keen on establishing cooperation with major developing as well as developed economies and regional powers, they are forced by some foreign powers to take sides and find it hard to balance their ties with major powers that are locked in irreconcilable disputes.
Besides, the Central Asian countries differ greatly in terms of resources, geographical conditions and economic development, and their development efforts over the past 30 years have created some problems. And although Kazakhstan is the most economically developed country in Central Asia thanks to its government's efforts, it needs to do more to improve governance, boost development, and stabilize society by promoting equality, and ensuring justice for all.
Fortunately the Kazakhstan government has already said it will give top priority to improving people's well-being. For instance, it will take stricter measures to protect the interests of vulnerable groups and ensure equitable distribution of national wealth. It has also vowed to take steps to end corruption, by bringing all corrupt officials to book and crack down on the vested interest groups.
More importantly, the Kazakhstan authorities should also combat extremism and terrorism, especially because many of the extremist forces, which seem to have played a key role in the political turmoil in Central Asian countries, have links with overseas extremist groups and use ethnicity and religion, among other things, to stir up trouble.
While making joint efforts to maintain regional stability, the Central Asian countries should continue following the development path that suit their respective national situations, and participate in multilateral cooperation.
Now that Kazakhstan has controlled the riots, let's hope all the Central Asian countries will take measures in earnest to boost development and strengthen their security so as to deter foreign forces from interfering in their internal affairs.
The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.
The author is director of the Institute of Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.