Kazakhstan in the focus of radical movements


A recent series of terrorist attacks in Kazakhstan shattered the entire region and led to speculations about the strengthening of radical elements in Central Asia. Mr. Aidar Amrebayev, a political expert from Kazakhstan, shares his opinion about what could await his country in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, in the light of fluctuating oil prices and Eurasian integration.


Interviewer: Rusif Huseynov



After the terrorist attacks in Kazakhstan, initial news was that they were carried out by the members of religious groups, however later different news was spread that the attacks were coup attempt against the government.  To what extent it affected religious and political stability in the country?  


Before going into the details of versions about who is behind the abovementioned attacks, it should be noted that Kazakhstan is very far from the officially declared stability today. The government puts utmost efforts to maintain the stability and capacity of the management of political and economic institutions. This post-Soviet country, keeping the features of a Soviet-style autocracy, is concurrently trying to maintain control over the situation by the Soviet methods. In the political sphere, it is actually manifested through the “clean-up” of the political arena in Kazakhstan and creation a one-man regime of monopolistic power. Stability here means preserving and strengthening of the status quo. In the religious sphere, complicated relations between various trends are observed in the development of the national spiritual identity. In fact, coexistence of 1) post-Soviet state atheism, 2) attempts to revive traditional Kazakh religious identity and 3) quite aggressive external religious and pseudo-religious trends (and not only Islamic-based) in the same spiritual and cultural area infringe upon the dominance of the public opinion among people. I am far from simplifying this spiritual sphere as an arena of struggle among religious extremists and monolithic secular society of Kazakhstan. The situation is much more mosaic and contradictory. The religious factor is considered one of the possible “trump card” in the “cast” of the future balance of power in Kazakhstan by some internal and external players. The Aktobe events and a number of the following attacks can be considered a kind of testing of forces of different groups in the forthcoming struggle for power, as well as future economic and cultural control of the country.



How can instability in the country be attributed to the economic problems risen after the falling oil prices? Can we consider this instability as a mean to divert people’s attention from the crisis? 


In petrostates of authoritarian type, oil price fluctuations have a direct influence on the stability of the existing regimes. This factor is used by external powers in the market by controlling oil prices for implementing various geopolitical projects that is happening before our eyes. In their turn, governments of those petrostates often attribute their own incompetence to the negative dynamics of prices. As for its impact on the lives of ordinary people, it is not strongly associated with the situation regarding oil prices. The social life of the people is exacerbated in times of crisis, as this social group bears all burdens due to the reduction of revenues to the state budget, while administrative and influential economic elite in all circumstances - both at high and at low oil prices - maintains its profit margins. The instability of the state system is the result of discrepancy in the interests of the current elite and aspirations of the majority of the people.



Considering Kazakhstan’s role in Eurasian integration process leading to strengthening of Russia as a regional power, how instability in Kazakhstan along Russian border will affect Russian Federation?


Indeed, Kazakhstan`s participation in the Eurasian integration extends post-imperial existence of the authoritarian Russia. And the deterioration of the situation in Kazakhstan to a certain extent reduces the potential autocracy in the country and its imperial ambitions, likewise, potentially, the fall of the authoritarian regime in Russia is able to positively influence modernization processes in Kazakhstan and its liberation from “obsessive geopolitical custody by Russia” contributing to the attainment of our country's de facto sovereignty.

As for the problem of “overflow” of political and religious extremists from one country to another, it is not uncommon in ineffective states. Let me express myself tougher: today, this country can hardly play any substantial role in regional policy let alone being a global power, increasingly sliding down to the group of failed states. Therefore, one should be afraid of a situation when the Russian Federation will become a source of instability, political extremism and religious radicalism, economic, social and environmental disaster for the neighboring countries.



It was said that the West has significant role in the terrorist attacks. Although Kazakhstan has fairly close relations with Russia, how it can affect Kazakhstan’s foreign policy with the West while trying to keep balance between them? 


I do not trust the opinion that the affluent West could be a sponsor of terrorism. “Money and comfort loves silence!” On the contrary, for ineffective political and economic regimes, terrorism and political extremism are preferred ways of holding on to power at any cost, even at the expense of prosperous neighboring countries. In Kazakhstan`s relations with Russia and the West, the latter seems a positive and promising alternative path of development. Yet, in the existing political reality of confrontation, Kazakhstan is compelled to play the role of a “buffer zone”. So far both the West and Russia are satisfied with this role of Kazakhstan. However, it is temporary, as we will need to set our priorities when the situation escalates into a hot phase. 



Generally, what is the impact of radical Islam in Kazakhstan? Is the flow of Islamist groups from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan possible after the death of President Karimov?  


Any form of radicalism, including the use of religious factor in politics is a serious risk for Kazakhstan during its transition period. We are seeking to find the adequate model of national, as well as religious identity. Sunni Hanafi Islam is one of historical religious sources of our national identity. Moreover, this is also a common source for many fraternal peoples of Central Asia, including Uzbekistan. We are now in the focus of radical movements, including Islam-based, which are alien to our traditions. Mistakes in the religious and cultural policies of our state in the dawn of its independence have created favorable conditions for penetration of foreign radical elements and their strengthening in our society. It rooted in society along with inefficient and uncoordinated policies of states in this sphere, and in the conditions of large-scale social crisis the situation can be escalated in any country of the region. The stimulus for these processes may be any sudden event that changes the configuration of power in any country, including the recent death of President Karimov. Nevertheless, the closed and repressive Uzbek political regime is capable of keeping the situation under control till now. I do not think this is the best way to deal with Islamic radicalism, but this is all we can do presently.