Some rare good news from the Aral Sea, Central Asia’s most infamous manmade environmental disaster: Efforts to save the northern part of the sea have notched up a success. The water is getting ever closer to the town of Aral, which once stood on the seashore but was left high and dry when the sea started steadily shrinking in the 1960s.
At one point the waters retreated 74 kilometers from the town (formerly called Aralsk) as the rivers feeding the inland sea were diverted by Soviet central planners to Central Asia's thirsty cotton and rice fields.
“This means the sea is returning,” he said in remarks quoted by Kazinform. “This data has been proven by satellite observation.”
Efforts to restore the fish population are also bearing fruit. At one point there was only one type of fish left in the waters, Kusherbayev said, but now there are 22. Salinity levels have dropped from 34 grams per liter to eight.
The recovery of the Northern Aral Sea has been brought about by a 13-kilometer dike that opened in 2005, an ambitious project that cost $86 million, of which $64.5 million came from a World Bank loan.
The potential for radical Islamist militants to appear in Central Asia after the U.S./NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan is perhaps the biggest fear in the region. But real information about militants' intentions vis-a-vis Central Asia is scarce, allowing speculation, and often fear-mongering, to fill the vacuum. So a new project by the website Registan to investigate the strategy of the biggest such group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, is very much overdue. As the site's managing editor, Noah Tucker, put it in the first post on the topic:
It seems sometimes that in all the chatter about the supposedly imminent threat of an IMU invasion of Central Asia the only people not talking about it are the IMU themselves. In contrast, earlier this year the movement splintered for at least the second time to create a special unit in cooperation with the Tehrik-e Taliban’s (TTP) Adnan Rashid to focus on prison-break operations inside Pakistan. In the latest interview Hikmatiy claims, “our jihad is part of the completion of the Hind G’azasi [the (Holy) Conquest of Greater India] that our Prophet foretold and that was longed for by his honored companions [sahoba].” The reference to this particular obscure hadith, popular mostly with the Pakistani jihadi groups, is a sign of just how deeply the IMU has been pulled into the Af/Pak political labyrinth....
The lights went out in more ways than one in Tashkent on September 10 as Uzbekistan was dumped from football's World Cup play-offs. Jordan edged past the home team 9-8 in a penalty shootout to advance to the next stage, after an embarrassing power outage plunged Pakhtakor Stadium into darkness on Tashkent's showcase night.
The marathon game, which lasted three and a half hours, was decided when Uzbekistan's hero of the first half, Anzur Ismailov, missed his penalty shot, shattering Uzbekistan's hopes of going to the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. The teams took a remarkable 20 penalty kicks to finally break the deadlock.
Uzbekistan came into the game as slight favorites after securing a 1-1 draw in Jordan on September 6. The home team got off to a bright start with Ismailov scoring in the fifth minute before Jordan's Saeed Al Murjan got an equalizer at 42 minutes. After a scoreless second half, the teams were all square at an aggregate score of 2-2, triggering 30 minutes of extra time.
Uzbekistan's creaking energy system was put on display to viewers around the world in the first period of extra time when the floodlights died for 18 minutes. When the match resumed, the teams remained deadlocked, so it was left to a penalty shootout to decide who would advance to a meeting with a South American team for the right to play at the finals.
Back in June, Uzbekistan stood at the top of its qualification group with two matches to play. Then an own goal by Akmal Shorakhmedov condemned the Uzbeks to a 1-0 defeat in South Korea, who took over the top spot.
China’s president clinched another round of multi-billion-dollar oil and gas deals in Uzbekistan on September 9 as he continued vacuuming up the region’s energy resources on his tour of Central Asia.
Xi Jinping and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov signed agreements worth $15 billion in Tashkent, AFP reported.
Details were not immediately released, but the report said the deals included contracts in the oil and gas industry, where Sino-Uzbek economic cooperation has been expanding since Uzbekistan started exporting gas to China in September 2012, and also agreements in the uranium sector, which Tashkent is eager to develop.
Other deals covering trade, energy, investment and financing were also signed, a report on the People’s Daily website added. Uzbek media, which are notoriously slow to react to events, had not reported the deals by late evening on September 9; neither had the presidential or Foreign Ministry websites.
During his visit Xi called for China and Uzbekistan to boost bilateral trade, which stood at $3.4 billion last year, to $5 billion by 2017. Xi suggested opening negotiations to set up a Sino-Uzbek free trade zone, and looking at measures to promote infrastructure connectivity between the two countries, which do not share a direct border but are linked via Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan.
In Uzbekistan, where courts are widely believed to bend to the will of prosecutors, sexual assault charges seem like a convenient way to target critics. The charges are difficult to disprove, believable in principle, and have the added benefit of tarnishing the accused's character.
A member of the opposition Erk party, Fakhriddin Tillayev, says a naked female neighbor turned up at his doorstep last week and started screaming that he was raping her, the independent Uznews.net website reported on August 28. The woman said she would seek a medical examination to back up her allegations.
But adding to the impression that Tillayev had been set-up, during the mayhem several unidentified men rushed into Tillayev's apartment where they destroyed his computer and two mobile phones, he said. Tillayev went to his neighborhood committee and police to report the incident: The neighborhood committee did not take it seriously because of the naked neighbor's well-established drinking habits, says Uznews.net, and Tillayev was unable to find a police officer to investigate.
"I am certain that this is a provocation staged by authorities and is linked to Tillayev's public activities," Uznews.net quoted human rights activist Abdullo Tojiboy-ugli as saying.
This isn’t the first time in recent weeks that allegations of sexual assault have come close to an opposition figure.
August has been a bad month at the pump in Uzbekistan.
Over the past few weeks, the country has seen two sudden and poorly explained gasoline shortages, according to local press reports and the state-run gasoline distributor.
First, on August 6, Uzmetronom, a site believed to be linked to the Uzbek security services, said some gas stations had stopped selling regular gasoline at government-set prices and begun selling only premium at a mark-up. It blamed shortages. Then, on August 20, the semi-official Podrobno.uz reported that motorists could buy only premium gasoline for 2,500 sums per liter ($1.20 at the official exchange rate), an increase of 25 percent over the price authorities set in April. Other octanes are not available in Tashkent, the site said. Presumably the shortages are also affecting other areas.
The shortages have given rise to all kinds of rumors. One holds that the government will soon increase the price of gasoline so traders with stockpiles are waiting for new prices to be announced. A second rumor is that the government will soon give up regulating gasoline prices altogether, leaving prices to the market, where they would likely rise dramatically. Another is that the government has started building up stocks of fuel for the forthcoming cotton-harvesting campaign, hence the shortages.
A boy plays on a camel sculpture while families and tourists gather at cafes, restaurants, and shops surrounding Bukhara's Lab-i-Hauz - a square flanked by 15th- and 16th-Century madrases with its center featuring one of the few remaining pools in the ancient Silk Road city. Bukhara's old city center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its several blue-tiled mosques and madrases and its history as a former center of Islamic academia, trade, and culture.
Dushanbe hosted a conference on water this week, attended by some 900 representatives from over 70 countries and organizations. Despite a heartening appearance by a delegation from Tajikistan’s archrival, Uzbekistan, the conference didn’t appear to do much to help end one of the region’s most pernicious conflicts.
Discussing water-related cooperation in Dushanbe seems like a good idea considering the long-running friction over water in the region. Upstream, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are planning giant hydropower dams to harness the potential of their mountain rivers. Downstream, agriculture-dependent Uzbekistan is vehemently opposed, using economic blockades to prevent Tajikistan proceeding. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has even suggested the projects – Rogun in Tajikistan and Kambara-Ata in Kyrgyzstan – could spark war.
So the biggest surprise is that Uzbekistan sent a delegation at all. Tashkent and Dushanbe hardly speak these days, largely thanks to the Rogun project, which, at a planned 335 meters, would be the tallest in the world.
With family members watching, soldiers are awarded certificates and are dismissed from military service during a ceremony at the Gur Emir mausoleum in Samarkand in late July. The mausoleum, which dates from the end of the 14th Century, contains the tombs of Central Asian conqueror and ruler Tamerlane, along with those of two sons, two grandsons, and one of his teachers.
Chevrolet is having a hard time satisfying demand in Uzbekistan.
Though the country's flagship industrial enterprise, a General Motors plant, recently produced its two-millionth unit since opening in 1996, that’s not enough to go around in Uzbekistan, where the economy is tightly controlled and high tariffs push imports out of most people’s reach. Adding to the shortages, many of the cars, produced under a joint venture with the hard currency-strapped Uzbek government, are sold in Russia and Kazakhstan.
So GM, which took the joint venture over from Daewoo in 2008, enjoys something of a monopoly in the country and yet fails to satisfy local demand.
Demand spilled into chaos this week when potential buyers of the Chevrolet Matiz, Nexia and Cobalt stampeded a dealership in Tashkent, a video shared by Olam.uz (and above on YouTube) purports to show.
Acquiring a car in Uzbekistan is not a simple process: Much like in the era of Soviet shortages, buyers must queue and leave an 85-percent deposit to get on a list. At that Tashkent cash collection point (oh yeah, and the cars, in practice, can only be purchased for dollars) on August 7, fears of yet another shortage lead to the chaos (and the bloodcurdling screaming), reported Olam.uz.
Though it’s unclear if anything other than Tashkent’s image was hurt, the Uzbek government may wish to think if exporting its limited supply of cars (and gas…) is worth these kinds of scenes.