By Kumar David –
The outside world didn’t realise that a volcano was smouldering in Kazakhstan. Long standing legitimate grievances were accumulating and a spark set off an explosion. To that extent the background is like Sri Lanka today. Prices have been rising for three years, the income gap has been widening and the population in poorer Eastern Kazakhstan has been as badly-off as the majority here. Another similarity is that corruption has been running out of control. The spark that ignites an inferno is always unforeseeable and in Kazakhstan it was in the oil rich western part of the country that an uprising broke out last week. Large crowds then took over the centre of Almaty the country’s biggest city, occupied the airport and brought the government to a halt. The President, a dictatorial lout panicked, dismissed the Cabinet and sent out the troops. Over a hundred including about twenty soldiers have died; thousands are locked up.
The lower levels of the military DID NOT MUTINY though every soldier knew how worthless the government was (Anura Kumara Dissanayake please note). The army shot compatriots from tanks and machine guns. Any Marxist worth his salt knows that the principal purpose of a military is to oppress the grassroots in the interests of ruling classes and corrupt regimes. Armies are trained, drilled and brainwashed over decades to obey orders like robots. It is extremely rarely that it mutinies and passes over to the side of the people as in October-November 1917. A lesson of today’s international conjuncture that the JVP needs to assimilate is the conduct of the military, including rank-and-file soldiers in conflicts against the people – Burma, Sudan, many African theatres in 2020-21, and now Kazakhstan. One would have thought that the JVP would have learnt at least this lesson from its own experiences in 1971 and 1989.
Parallels between Lanka and Kazakhstan do not hold in many other ways; for example the military intervention in the guise of peacekeeping by Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. Putin is no peacemaker, he lent forces to prop up a dictator. A mass uprising that overthrows a bloody dictator in an ex-USSR country that shares a 7000 km border with Russia is poison for his authoritarian regime. “Order” seems to have been restored by 11 Jan but if order is not consolidated, make no mistake Russian guns will be trained on the Kazak people, just as the IPKF eventually turned its guns on the Tamils of the North and East because a part of its mission, stabilising the JR-Premadasa regime fell apart. The IPKF’s compact with the JR-Premadasa regime unravelled because nobody could manage the flames that Sinhala and Tamil extremists fanned.
Demonstrations started in oil hub Zhanaozen spread across the country when the government removed its price cap on LPG (now recapped) after people had converted cars to LPG. For 29 years, Kazakhstan was ruled by Nursultan Nazarbayev – a former Soviet CP apparatchik and a Putin buddy. Statues of Nazarbayev in the capital, Astana, renamed Nur-Sultan by his cronies are now being pulled down and current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has instructed the army “to shoot to kill protesters without warning”. The leader of one of the invading Russian-led countries declared that the rebellion was the “work of foreign agents”. The way things are moving is ominous. A showdown between Russian troops and the Kazak people will be another bloodbath like Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968 and Afghanistan 1979-94. But the Kazak insurrection is also a fly in Putin’s ointment that he did not want. With NATO pressure on his eastern front (Ukraine) he could well do without a “second front” on his southern flank.
Wealth has not trickled down to the population, who have an average annual income of less than $3000 though the per capita annual GDP is $10,000. Kazakhstan was the world’s largest producer of uranium in 2018. “It has the second largest uranium, chromium, lead, and zinc reserves; third largest manganese reserves; fifth largest copper reserves; and ranks in the top ten for coal, iron, and gold. It has the 11th largest proven reserves of both petroleum and natural gas” says Wikipedia. The new China-Europe railway pass through the country. Clearly the global importance of Kazakhstan is far greater than Sri Lanka. No one (India, China or the US) will dispatch troops to Sri Lanka in the event of civil disorder. However Kazakhstan proves that when conditions go beyond a certain tipping point a spark can set off widespread instability. With a rout staring him in the face, threats by the beleaguered Sri Lankan President to postpone presidential elections, if attempted, could well be that spark.