NATO reached an agreement with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to ship military equipment out of Afghanistan through Central Asia, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reported today:
We also reached agreement on reverse transit from Afghanistan with three Central Asian partners: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. These agreements will give us a range of new options and the robust and flexible transport network we need....
With Russia we have a transit arrangement, a reverse transit arrangement already, and the fact that we have now concluded a transit arrangement, three concrete transit arrangements with Central Asian countries at the Chicago Summit, will make the use of the Russian transit arrangement even more effective.
In response to a question on payment for the reverse transit, he implied that there was some, but wouldn't specify: "I do not comment on details in the transit arrangements, but it goes without saying that we have concluded agreements that are of mutual satisfaction of the involved partners."
Meanwhile, he said negotiations with Pakistan on reopening those lines of communication continue: "I'm not going to comment on details in negotiations with Pakistan. I'll just reiterate that I still hope that a solution can be found in the very near future."
These NATO deals are not related to separate deals the U.S. has reached. Obviously the U.S. is a member of NATO, and it's not clear if this new NATO deal now covers all NATO member countries besides the U.S., or what.
The most interesting subplot here is what this means for Pakistan. The AP story on Rasmussen's comments had an intriguing bit of analysis:
Twelve border guards have been found dead at a frontier post in southeastern Kazakhstan, local media report.
A top Border Service official confirmed on May 31 that an investigation was under way after the “charred remains of 13 people” had been discovered in a burnt-out border post the previous day.
The bodies of 12 border guards and one national park ranger have so far been found at the Argkankergen post on the Chinese frontier and the search continues for others, Turganbek Stambekov, first deputy director of the Border Service (which comes under the jurisdiction of Kazakhstan’s domestic intelligence service, the KNB), said. He did not specify if the fire was the cause of death.
Fuelling media suspicions of foul play, Stambekov said the border post is usually staffed by 15 guards in the summer, but gave no indication of the whereabouts of the missing three.
Speculating about what might be behind this unusual incident, local reports suggested an attack on the border detachment (though the possible motive is unclear) or hazing -- it is common in post-Soviet military units for senior soldiers to ritually harass and bully their juniors.
Initial reports that the frontier guards’ weapons were missing were not true, a Border Service source told the Kazinform state news agency. The source said the weapons had been found and sent for tests to see if they had been fired.
Five police officers have received prison sentences for shooting protestors in Zhanaozen during unrest last December in which at least 16 protestors died, media in Kazakhstan are reporting.
The officers, who denied the charges they abused their office, were sentenced on May 28 to between five and seven years for the December 16 shootings.
State prosecutors alleged that the officers fired on protestors when they could have used non-lethal force. Prosecutors showed the court video of police shooting fleeing demonstrators in the back.
Kabdygali Utegaliyev, former deputy police chief of Mangystau Region, received seven years, the longest sentence. Three other officers (Yerlan Bakytkaliuly, deputy police chief of Zhanaozen; Rinat Zholdybayev, senior operations officer; and Bekzhan Bagdabayev, head of the department for combating extremism) were sentenced to six years. Nurlan Yesbergenov, a senior interrogator, got five years.
The sentencing brings the number of police officers who have received jail terms over the deaths to six: The former head of Zhanaozen’s remand center received a five-year sentence over the death of a detainee in police custody.
Over 500 rare Central Asian antelopes have been found dead from unknown causes in northern Kazakhstan.
The news will disappoint conservationists trying to boost numbers of the endangered saiga, a distinctive creature with a long, humped nose that permits it to filter air during the dusty summer months and breathe warm air during cold spells.
A total of 543 saiga corpses have been found in Kostanay Region in the far north of the country, Kazakhstan Today quoted the Emergencies Ministry as saying. The majority were does (508); 31 calves were also found dead. The cause of death is being investigated.
As well as roaming the steppes of Kazakhstan, the saiga also lives in remote areas of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Mongolia and Russia. It is classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.
Kazakhstan is home to the largest numbers of saigas in the world, but a population that numbered over a million in the 1970s has been decimated.
The World Wildlife Fund identifies loss of habitat and poaching as the major threats: The horn of the male saiga is particularly prized in Chinese medicine for use as a painkiller and antibiotic, creating a thriving and illegal trade.
Nevertheless, conservation efforts appear to be paying off in Kazakhstan: Last year officials estimated that the country’s saiga population had reached 100,000, up from 85,000 the year before.
The trial of 12 people on charges related to December’s violence in and around Zhanaozen has ended with 11 found guilty of involvement and one acquitted. Four will serve time in prison.
All 11 are from the town of Shetpe, where one person was shot dead during the violence. At least 16 people died when a six-month-old industrial dispute spun out of control during celebrations for Kazakhstan’s Independence Day in nearby Zhanaozen on December 16.
Six of the 11 were sentenced to two years in prison but were immediately amnestied and released; four received prison sentences of between four and seven years; another was given a suspended sentence.
The release of over half of the defendants may go some way toward calming tensions in the west, where both protestors and police officers are on trial over last year’s turmoil. Nevertheless, activists in Kazakhstan were unhappy with the verdicts and immediately took to Facebook and Twitter to condemn the imprisonments.
Last week one police officer became the first person convicted on related charges: Zhenisbek Temirov, former head of Zhanaozen’s remand center, received a five-year prison sentence over the death of detainee Bazarbay Kenzhebayev following a beating in police custody.
Five more police officers are on trial for shooting protestors. Yet almost ten times as many protestors as police have faced charges: In addition to the 12 from Shetpe, 37 from Zhanaozen are on trial.
A new report by the United Nations drug agency sheds light on the nuts and bolts of narcotics transit from Afghanistan through Central Asia, highlighting the former Soviet republics’ lackluster efforts at interdiction.
The 106-page report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), released this month, describes how smugglers traffic heroin and opium from Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer, to Russia, the world’s largest consumer. Ninety tons of highly pure heroin, roughly a quarter of the substance exiting Afghanistan, passes through Central Asia annually. Yet in 2010 authorities in the region seized less than 3 percent of it. And despite international efforts to help, that number keeps falling.
Central Asia’s entrenched corruption makes the region a perfect smuggling route, says the report. Senior officials are complicit in the trade, or at least take bribes to look the other way, especially in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. A lack of cooperation among neighbors also offers a boon to traffickers.
The stakes are huge.
“UNODC estimates that in 2010 drug traffickers in Central Asia made a net profit of $1.4 billion from heroin sales. Much of this profit was likely incurred by Tajik traffickers, given that Tajikistan is estimated to handle most of the flow,” said the report. They profit by marking up the heroin by as much as 600 percent once it gets to Russia. Between 70 and 75 percent of the drugs travel by road, leaving a trail of new addicts across Central Asia.
One police officer has become the first person sentenced for a role in fatal unrest in western Kazakhstan last December. But the trials of five other officers are sparking almost as much controversy as the proceedings against the protesting oil workers they are accused of firing on.
Zhenisbek Temirov, former head of Zhanaozen’s remand center, received a five-year prison sentence on May 17 over the death of detainee Bazarbay Kenzhebayev following a beating in police custody.
Handing down the conviction days before sentences are passed on the 49 protestors standing trial was a symbolic nod to tensions in the energy-rich town.
But critics say Temirov is just a scapegoat. Those who inflicted the vicious beating on Kenzhebayev have never been found, the critics say, and Temirov was appointed to head the remand center just the day before the violence.
The officer may have “become a scapegoat for all those who tortured, raped and abused the people of Zhanaozen during those tragic days,” wrote activist Galym Ageleuov, who has been observing the trials, on Facebook.
A quiet residential street in Almaty got an up-close look at death and destruction on May 15: It was adorned with a collection of shocking photos of last December’s unrest in the western energy hub of Zhanaozen.
Activists organized the exhibition to mark a year since energy workers in Zhanaozen went on strike. The workers’ protest festered for seven months before culminating in a fatal clash with armed police in December.
The exhibition featured photographs of the early days of the strike through to pictures of the trials of 49 demonstrators, now drawing to a close in western Kazakhstan. One poignant picture showed a group of hunger strikers protesting over their dismissal, sitting under a propaganda poster directed at the towns’ workers, which reads: “Thank you for your labor.”
The scenes of December’s violence included pictures of two young men lying on Zhanaozen’s central square bleeding after being shot by police. Others showed burning buildings and a charred poster of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The show – which drew around 50 people – was not meant to take place outdoors, but the organizers (photographer Asylkhan Abdirayymuly and the Janaozen.net website) found themselves pushed out on to the street after their efforts to secure an indoor venue were thwarted.
When exhibition centers in Almaty declined to host the show, they hired a private house to display the photos, organizer Inga Imanbay told EurasiaNet.org. But on the morning of the exhibition the owners declined to let them in and returned their money.
Sartay’s is a peace-loving village. But when marauding Mongolian Dzungars brutally slay most of the inhabitants, including his parents, the Kazakh youth has no choice but to raise an army of teenagers to fight back, courageously attacking the Mongolians and rallying other youths to the cause.
Across Kazakhstan, an epic historical movie with an unabashedly patriotic tale is playing to packed theaters.
Directed by Akhan Satayev for the state-run Kazakhfilm studio, “Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe” opens with the Dzungars’ vicious attack and the making of our hero. Myn Bala in Kazakh means 1,000 children – Sartay (played by Asylkhan Tolepov) actually raises an army of 100, but he tells them before the final battle scene that together they are worth 1,000 warriors.
Director Satayev is better known for making movies with subtle plot twists that tackle modern-day problems such as organized crime, but audiences don’t seem to mind the black-and-white approach to history in his latest film. At a recent showing in Almaty, viewers applauded at the end. As Tengri News reported, Myn Bala is proving a blockbuster, taking a million dollars at the box office in the first weekend after its release on May 3, a Kazakh record.
The film’s success is notable since it was shot in Kazakh (with a bit of Mongolian). Films in Kazakh often struggle in a country where only about two-thirds of people speak the language, but the movie (called “Zhauzhurek Myn Bala” in Kazakh, or “The Brave Thousand Children”) is showing in the original language with Russian subtitles in many theaters.
Forbes Kazakhstan has published a list of the petro-state’s 50 wealthiest people. Unsurprisingly, a number of the country's multimillionaires swim close to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
According to the list, published in the magazine's May issue and not available online, Kazakhstan’s richest man is copper magnate Vladimir Kim, who is worth a cool $3.5 billion.
He is followed by mining boss Alidzhan Ibragimov, part owner of the ENRC resource group, with $2.9 billion. (Ibragimov’s partners Aleksandr Mashkevich and Patokh Shodiyev are excluded from the list as they hold foreign passports).
So far, so predictable – Kim and Ibragimov feature as Kazakhstan’s wealthiest people on the international Forbes rich list too – but from here the rankings diverge.
The world rich list features mining and banking entrepreneur Bolat Utemuratov as Kazakhstan’s third wealthiest person – but, according to Forbes Kazakhstan, Utemuratov’s wealth of $1.6 billion is surpassed by oil magnate Rashid Sarsenov’s $1.8 billion. Sarsenov is best known as the one-time business partner of Rakhat Aliyev, the Malta-based disgraced (and wanted) son-in-law of the president.
Sarsenov’s sister Sofya Sarsenova also features (at number 12), with a fortune of $660 million, which she made after acquiring a majority stake in Nurbank from Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva in 2010.