Afghanistan authorities are beefing up security in Hairaton, the border town with Uzbekistan, citing recent attempts by militants to lay mines on a road leading to the bridge to Uzbekistan.
Authorities didn't give details of the mine-laying, or of the increased security measures. The chief of police of Balkh province, Abdul Razak Kadiri said “This city has strategic significance for all countries, so we will continue to strengthen security measures,” according to a report in Afghanistan.ru.
In June, Balkh authorities established a new police post in Hairaton and the deployment of additional police units, also announcing it as an effort to increase security in the border town.
Without knowing too many details it's hard to say what this means, but the major activity in Hairaton is transportation of U.S. and NATO cargo to and from Uzbekistan. While military supply convoys have been repeatedly attacked in northern Afghanistan, as far as I'm aware there have been no attacks in Hairaton (or in Central Asia itself). As usual, we should always look with strong skepticism at any news that comes out of this area, especially with so few details, but if this is true it would certainly be raising some alarm in Tashkent.
A website that many Central Asia watchers have long believed airs leaks from Uzbekistan’s security services is taking a break after Uzbek authorities criticized its coverage of a border skirmish this week.
On July 25, Sergey Yezhkov, editor of Uzmetronom.com, said he would suspend the website indefinitely. Though Uzbekistan is one of the world’s worst countries for journalists, he expressed surprise that authorities would silence those who “utter any word which is out of tune with official propaganda.”
“We don’t understand whether it is a short-term hysteria caused by some momentary undercurrents, or a long-term program with full consequences,” Yezhkov wrote in an editorial. He also denied that the website – which proudly brands itself “blocked in Uzbekistan,” yet has operated from there since 2006 – is “close to the Uzbek security services.”
He tried to explain away this widespread belief: “[W]e did not even try to argue, although we never were ‘close.’ At least, we were not closer than others [...] unfiltered information coming from within the country is always preferable to what is produced outside.”
Moscow-based Fergana News said that Uzmetronom came under fire after publishing a report on a July 23 skirmish on the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border that left two dead. Uzmetronom received a letter on July 24 from the Military Prosecutor’s Office warning against covering the clash “without receiving accurate information on this incident from relevant bodies,” Fergana News quoted the letter as saying. The letter added that such reporting could destabilize the situation on the border.
Uzbekistan has moved forward with plans, announced in March, to build a railway link to the Fergana Valley that would bypass Tajikistan.
Citing Finance Ministry documents, Uzdaily.uz reported on July 24 that construction of the 125-kilometer electrified railway line from Angren in Tashkent Region to Pap in Namangan Region over the 2,200-meter Kamchik Pass has commenced.
"In 2016 we will complete the construction of the railway line and we will be able to get to the Fergana Valley, and Andijan in particular, by train," Uzdaily.uz quoted Uzbek President Islam Karimov as saying in April.
The $1.9 billion project, which envisions two tunnels through the mountains, is expected to be funded by the state budget, the national rail operator, and "loans from international financial organizations," the website noted, without providing details.
The project will allow Tashkent to abandon use of a Soviet-era, 110-kilometer rail link that cuts across Tajikistan's northern Sughd Province, and, thus, acquire transport independence.
Uzbekistan, which is already shipping freight to and from the Fergana Valley by road, now uses that international rail route for moving oil and petroleum products for a reported annual transit fee of $25 million.
Uzbek school kids enjoy their summer break by taking photos at the Crying Mother Monument in Tashkent's Independence Square. The monument, which also has a pit with an eternal flame, was erected in 1999 to honor the approximately 400,000 Uzbek soldiers who died in WWII.
At least one Uzbek border guard was killed in a clash with his Kyrgyz counterparts on July 23. But that’s about all the local media on both sides of the frontier agree on. Officials from the hostile neighbors are presenting differing accounts of the skirmish, including where it occurred.
Tashkent’s 12news.uz website describes a “provocation” on a farm in Namangan Region at around 9:30 a.m. Uzbek time (10:30 a.m. in Kyrgyzstan), when two Uzbek patrolmen tried to stop several “drunk” Kyrgyz guards armed with machine guns who had "intruded" onto Uzbekistan's territory. When the Uzbek guards tried to approach their Kyrgyz colleagues to "explain the seriousness of the situation," the latter opened fire without warning, killing one on the spot and seriously wounding the other in the chest. "Having finished their dirty job, the Kyrgyz bandits left our country," 12news.uz said.
The Uzbek Border Service found spent shells about 100 meters into Uzbek territory, the website said, adding that the second guard died in hospital.
Less than a week after news broke that Gulnara Karimova, the image-conscious daughter of Uzbekistan’s long-serving strongman, had lost her post as ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, she was home courting fans and drubbing a potential rival.
In a blog entry posted July 20, Karimova described her recent trip to the distressed market town of Kokand in the Fergana Valley. As she’s done previously to win sympathy with potential supporters, there Karimova championed small businesses. But she went further, using the opportunity to attack Rustam Azimov, the first deputy prime minister and finance minister – a man often mooted as a potential successor to her father, President Islam Karimov.
“Looking at the ads and signboards, you understand that you’re in a trading city, although the old posters and billboards that have been hanging there for ten years are a telltale sign that trade was more boisterous before the super financial regulator at the ministries of economy and finance introduced excise and other operational super limitations,” Karimova wrote in a clear reference to Azimov.
This just in from the Uzbek Ministry of No Fun: For the remainder of the holy month of Ramadan, government employees, which in authoritarian Uzbekistan includes not only ministry and law enforcement workers, but also those toiling for government-run banks and medical clinics, shall go straight home after work and not consort with anyone.
So reports the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe. Apparently, it is not bad enough that Ramadan, which requires Muslims to fast during the day and eat only after sundown, falls this year during the longest days and hottest part of summer in blistering Central Asia. As part of its continued crackdown on religion, the Uzbek government has decided to put the kibosh on the daily ritual celebrating the day’s end known as Iftar, which involves friends and family gathering for food and relaxation.
It’s not clear who issued the new rule, but it is leading to some predictable absurdities.
According to Radio Ozodliq, via the Russian-language Lenta.ru, for instance, employees of the state-owned Halk Bank have been asked to go straight home after work as per a special decree of the company’s human resources department. Eateries in Tashkent, the report says, have been forbidden from letting the pious break fast on their premises, despite the fact that reservation-takers find it impossible to distinguish those hoping to get a table for Iftar from those simply hoping to stop in for an evening meal.
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov meets NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during the former's visit to Brussels in 2011. (photo: NATO)
A recent piece in Uzbekistan's state-sanctioned media has advocated joining NATO and taking over the territory of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and most of the rest of Eurasia. The piece, published on 12news.uz, was taken down shortly after being published, but was preserved on inoSMI.ru.
The piece, at nearly 9,000 words, offers a number of controversial (to put it kindly) claims: that Tajiks are merely Persian-speaking Uzbeks, that Uzbekistan is the successor state to the Mongol Golden Horde, that the agreement between Russia and Kyrgyzstan to develop hydropower plants is invalid because it misspells "Kyrgyzstan," among many others. Its main thesis, however, is that the "threats of a natural-technical character" -- namely proposed hydropower plants in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- are the gravest security threats facing Uzbekistan, comparable to a nuclear bomb. And the solution is that Uzbekistan should join NATO.
The piece is a bit out there, but Uzbek analysts point out that it must have been officially sanctioned. “This site [12news.uz] is not just semi-official, it’s official,” dissident political analyst Tashpulat Yuldashev told uznews.net. "It's curated by Dilshod Nurullaev, former Security Commission chairman and advisor to the President," he said. "There is total censorship in Uzbekistan, and such a politically charged article would not have been allowed to be published without permission from the very top." That assertion was backed up by another Uzbek analyst to The Bug Pit.
The powerful, jet-setting daughter of Uzbekistan’s president is no longer her country’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. The accompanying loss of diplomatic immunity for Gulnara Karimova, who is embroiled in criminal investigations in Europe, could pave the way for her summons by prosecutors investigating hundreds of millions of dollars in telecoms-related corruptions charges that have her fingerprints all over them.
The Uzbek Foreign Ministry informed the Swiss Embassy in Tashkent last week that Karimova was no longer the country's permanent representative to the UN, the BBC’s Uzbek Service reported on July 13. Switzerland's RTS public service broadcaster said her exit had resulted in Karimova's loss of diplomatic immunity. The reports did not clarify if she quit or was asked to leave, but RTS added that French authorities had searched Karimova's French properties last month at the request of Swiss prosecutors.
Taking to Twitter, Karimova played down the loss of diplomatic immunity and blamed "other parties" for pressuring Swiss authorities, including Russian telecoms giant MTS, which had its Uzbek business expropriated last year: "[I]t's not true, but to know who and why spreading that [information on the loss of immunity] you can ask Swiss authorities and also other parties clearly involved in this PR 'action' from beginning like [R]ussian MTS!"
A Japanese minerals outfit has signed a deal with Tashkent to begin prospecting for uranium in northern Uzbekistan.
Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported this week, citing a source close to the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), that the company and the state-run Navoi Mining Combine had signed a five-year uranium exploration license for two blocks in Navoi Region. A minimum investment is set at $3 million.
The deal does not cover extraction: "If [uranium] deposits are found on the contract area, JOGMEC will be granted exclusive rights to hold direct talks and sign a production sharing agreement with Uzbekistan," the source told RIA Novosti.
According to the source, this would be the first agreement for a foreign firm to explore for uranium in Uzbekistan. Currently, Navoi Mining Combine has a monopoly to extract and export uranium.
In the past five years, Uzbekistan has tried to attract foreign investors to develop its black-shale uranium deposits, which require sizeable investment and expertise, RIA Novosti said. According to the London-based World Uranium Association, a trade group, Uzbekistan is the world's seventh-largest uranium producer with an annual output of around 2,400 metric tons.