A government commission has been formed to investigate the explosion on the Termez-Kurgan-Tyube rail line, "for the purposes of determining the reasons and conditions for the crime committed," according to Uzbekistan's state newspapers and the pro-government site gazeta.uz. There were no casualties according to official reports.
The explosion too place in the south of Surkhandarya region, near the Uzbek-Afghan border and not from from the border with Tajikistan.
The semi-official website uzmetronom.com, which often gets leaks from Uzbekistan's power ministries, says an official announcement of the explosion only appeared in the government and parliament newspapers today.
Uzmetronom.com didn't have much more to add to the official announcement, except that the Interior Ministry held an emergency session on the 17th and that their main version of events is that it was a terrorist act.
The Russian daily news service regnum.ru also waited two days to report the Russian Railways announcement of November 17 that tickets would not be sold from Galaba to Amuzang because the line was closed, and also that tickets on the Moscow-Kulyab line would not be sold for Amuzang and Kulyab because "the supports for the rail bridge had been destroyed."
An explosion on a railroad on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border was a "terrorist act," according to local media, via RIA Novosti (in Russian). The explosion apparently happened on the line between Termez, at the southern tip of Uzbekistan, and Kurgan-Tyube in Tajikistan, between the Galaba and Amuzang stations. I can't find either of those stations on any map, but the stretch of that route that's inside Uzbekistan is pretty short, and hugs the Amu Darya river, the border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The explosion took place the night of November 17, there were no injuries and local authorities are investigating.
There is very little information about this so far, but there hasn't been a terror attack in Uzbekistan for several years. And the fact that it's so near to Termez, the hub of the U.S.'s Northern Distribution Network that carries military cargo through Central Asia to Afghanistan, has to have people worrying in Tashkent and the Pentagon. This line isn't the main line of NDN train traffic, which goes a more northerly route from Termez to Karshi, which would be an argument that it may not be NDN-related. Nonetheless, the location of the (alleged) attack is suggestive. Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov's number one fear is the rise of Islamist extremism in his country, and so if this does turn out to be NDN-related -- meaning that cooperation with the U.S. has brought terrorism back to Uzbekistan -- expect discussions between the U.S. and Uzbekistan over the NDN to get a lot more difficult.
Still, it's too early to jump to many conclusions. We'll see what more information emerges.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the wheel of a Chevrolet Spark in Tashkent, October 2011.
As expected, General Motors (GM) has formally opened up its new plant in Uzbekistan with local joint venture partner UzAvtosanoat (GM has a 52 percent stake). Like all firms in Uzbekistan, UzAvtosanoat is state controlled and was even founded by President Islam Karimov himself in 1992. The new facility is slated to employ 1,200 people and produce more than 225,000 engines.
GM's plant has become something of a showcase for the US Administration's new Silk Road initiative, and is supposed to be emblematic of the opportunities coming for Uzbek business people/government officials to make money from cooperation with the US. That's why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demonstratively paid a visit last month.
At a conference November 14 on Central Asia organized by conservative think-tank Jamestown Foundation, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert O. Blake, Jr. responded to an audience question about why Uzbekistan didn't sign the recent Istanbul declaration on post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan -- first with a dodge (he said he couldn't speak for Tashkent) and then with an enthusiastic appreciation for GM:
Secretary Clinton as many of you know was recently in Uzbekistan and also in Tajikistan. She had the opportunity to tour the General Motors plant in Tashkent. That plant itself is quite an interesting example of how Uzbekistan itself can benefit from greater integration. The plant itself is now producing 200,000 vehicles and drive trains. And most of those or a good portion of those are being exported to other parts of the region.
Yet another trial of devout Muslims is under way in Tashkent region, involving 16 Muslims who worshipped outside strict state controls, the independent site uznews.net reports. The men are accused of "creation or leadership of, or participation in an extremist religious, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organization" under Art. 223 of the Uzbek Criminal Code, the usual charge against such believers.
Sukrat Ikramov, leader of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists in Uzbekistan, says the number of such cases in increasing with every year, uznews.net reported. The suspects are all tried behind closed doors.
In March 2011, when she came to visit her son in prison, Mirkarimova learned that he had been brutally beaten, and she was not allowed to see him -- he had been thrown in a punishment cell. She was told to return in two weeks, and then later found he still had bruises on his body. In May, her son was moved to a prison hospital in Tashkent, and she brought him medicine, and took some letters from him. In one letter he asked to transmit an appeal from prisoners about beatings in prison which was addressed to an official whose job involved oversight of prison conditions. The official promised Mirkarimova that he would investigate her son's beating, but then he later refused to meet with her.
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev on a 2009 state visit to India.
The chief of India's army is visiting Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the latest stops in what seems like a growing push by New Delhi to build military relations in Central Asia. IndianDefence.com reports:
Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh, “This proposed visit to Khazakhastan would be recorded as the first for the past 16 years by an Indian Army Chief after General Shankur Roy Chaudhury visited Kazakhstan. As for Uzebekistan, this would be the first time an Army General will be visiting,” he informed.
“The objective of these visits is to develop India’s relationship with the CAR countries,” they went further saying.
The visit will last three days in each country (Singh arrived in Uzbekistan yesterday), which seems substantial. Recall that, after getting pushed aside by Russia in its attempt to set up an air base in Tajikistan, India has regrouped and set up new military arrangements with Tajikiistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. But obviously Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the heavyweights in the region, and I'll be curious to see where this is all heading.
As the Old Spice man might say, some people who look at the Arab Spring demonstrations, then look at Central Asia, then look at the Arab spring demonstrations, then back at Central Asia, say sadly, Central Asia is not like the Middle East, but it could be if only...people were less timid...or the West stopped supporting the regime ...or if more people joined Facebook groups.
Of course, even with similarities, like a dictator in power for a long time (President Islam Karimov has ruled for 22 years in Uzbekistan), even with the US seemingly interested in downplaying human rights problems over the greater need for a supply route to the Afghanistan war, there are major differences between Uzbekistan and say, Egypt or Tunisia.
The virtual absence of independent local or foreign media in Uzbekistan is one of those differences. There are almost no independent media outlets outside of a few brave web sites or newsletters emailed by dissidents -- and very few civic groups able to function independently. So when people *do* protest, we don't always hear about it -- or at least not right away. The problem is exacerbated when Uzbekistan becomes a foreign policy story and drives the other local stories off the top of the Google news results.
Uzbek authorities are finding new ways to curb the birth rate, Radio Ozodlik reports. According to health providers who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, the medical community is being forced to take action to curb fertility, in accordance with President Islam Karimov's Decree No. PP-1096, "On additional measures to protect the health of the mother and child, the formation of a healthy generation."
An official of the Ministry of Health said the presidential decrees were prompted by a mounting birth rate: in 2007, 480,000 infants were born in Uzbekistan; this number increased to 500,000 in 2008, then 650,000 in 2009, and then 650-700,000 in 2010.
Reports have continued to be received that doctors are urging women to be "voluntarily" sterilized after a certain number of births. Now pregnant women who already have multiple children are told that there is no room for them at the clinic, because "the plan for births has already been fulfilled," the human rights group Ezgulik reports.
A 24-year-old woman born in Tashkent named Ziyoda told Radio Ozodlik that two years ago, she married a man from Samarkand. When she went to the clinic where she had originally lived before she was married, she was told that she wasn't registered in the district to access the local clinic. She then managed to get a propiska, or residence permit at her parents' home, and went back to the clinic for prenatal care. But the second time she was told that the district had already fulfilled its norm for births, and that the authorities had ordered the reduction of the birth rate. The clinic declined to answer questions from a reporter.
A human rights leader in Uzbekistan says she is suffering backlash for her work.
Police have come to the home of Elena Urlaeva of the Human Rights Alliance in Tashkent and attempted to remove her 7-year-old foster child, Muhammad, the independent website uznews.net reported.
The aim of the visit was quite simple: he [the policeman] said he had been asked to take Muhammad Mashurov away to a children’s home. But he didn’t show me any proof that he had the right to take a child away from their family. It never occurred to me that a small child could be made a victim of such an unlawful and arbitrary procedure.
The boy is the nephew of Urlayeva's partner, Mansur Mashurov.
In recent months, Urlayeva has been monitoring the use of forced child labor in the cotton fields and has taken on other injustices in this Central Asian dictatorship, such as the persecution of journalists.
Now that the Bush administration has been gone a few years, its principals are coming out with memoirs of their time in the White House, and with them come a little more insight into U.S. government policymaking in the oughts. My colleague Giorgi Lomsadze has already reported on the small furor that Condoleezza Rice's new book has made among Armenian-Americans, but she's probably not going to make Donald Rumsfeld, or the government of Uzbekistan, any happier.
Like Rumsfeld, she recounts into the internal debate in the administration about how to respond to the massacre at Andijan, which was particularly delicate given that the U.S. was then maintaining a key air base at Karshi-Khanabad. Rumsfeld, you'll recall, in his own memoir called the U.S. response to Andijan “one of the most unfortunate, if unnoticed, foreign policy mistakes of our administration" because it privileged human rights concerns over strategic interests. In her book, Rice explains her side of the story, and how she won over President George W. Bush:
We'd crossed swords, for instance, on Uzbekistan where, after bloody riots in May 2005, State had issued a tough human rights report against the regime. The Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, had responded by threatening to expel us from the military base that he'd allowed us into at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan. Let us recall that we'd paid a small fortune for the privilege, but the dictator felt no obligation to honor that deal and said so.
The independent news site fergananews.com has released sensational videos made in 2005 purporting to be the confessions of Aleksandr Rakhmanov, a former agent of Uzbekistan's secret police said to have participated in death squads.
The editors of fergananews.com say they received the videos back in 2006, but were concerned that publishing them would lead to retaliation against Rakhamanov. When the editors received word recently that he had died, they decided to show the videos. The editors are hoping someone might help identify him and confirm the stories.
In the video series, titled "Confessions of a Henchman," Rakhmanov, who also went by the nickname "Uncle Shuryan," describes how, as a prison inmate, he was allegedly recruited to a special team of agents created in the 1980s to break prisoners to get them to confess, or, if necessary, kill them. According to Rakhmanov, the operation was organized by Rifkat Gubaydullin, a police agent, and Zakir Almatov, before he was made Interior Minister of Uzbekistan. Rakhmanov says he made his confession because his own role in taking part in the torture and killing of hundreds of people was beginning to weight on his conscience.
In January 2006, the Almaty newspaper Megapolis published an article about the Rakhmanov's claims in 2006, and