Kyrgyzstan’s parliament endorsed the composition of a tweaked cabinet on November 9 that will be backed by a new, slimmed-down coalition and led by an unchanged prime minister firmly allied to single-term President Almazbek Atambayev.
MPs voted 114 to 4 to endorse Jeenbekov’s reshaped cabinet wherein the most eyebrow-raising appointment was that of Ulan Israilov, Atambayev's former bodyguard and the ex-head of the government's main anti-corruption inspectorate, as Interior Minister.
Among other additions, Cholpon Sultanbekova, a member of the pro-Atambayev Kyrgyzstan party and most famous as the widow of a former mob boss from the south of the country, took up the position of deputy prime minister for social affairs.
Jamshitbek Kalilov became the new transport minister with predecessor Zamirbek Aidarov presently under investigation by Israilov's former unit for corruption in a road tender won by a Chinese company.
The overwhelming parliamentary backing for the new government has become a tradition in Kyrgyzstan's mixed political system and does not mean that all is well in the legislature.
Two parties previously in the ruling coalition, Onuguu Progress and Ata-Meken are no longer part of the alliance that collapsed last month following their opposition to a controversial, Atambayev-driven referendum set to take place on December 11.
That leaves Atambayev's Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) governing along with the Kyrgyzstan party that survived the collapse and new entrants Bir Bol.
Central Asia has looked at Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency and some of it likes what it sees. The rest seems unbothered.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev fired off a note of congratulations to his counterpart-to-be and suggested that Trump drop in for a visit.
“I believe that under your leadership, the United States will remain a mainstay in the preservation of stability, security and prosperity in the entire world,” Nazarbayev said in the statement.
The haste and palpable warmth of the statement are hard not to see as a ringing endorsement. Nazarbayev, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, clearly see in Trump a figure untroubled by such trifles as the promotion of democracy and human rights.
When Hillary Clinton last visited Kazakhstan, in 2010, she made a point of raising the plight of a jailed human rights defender, Yevgeny Zhovtis, while also hailing Astana for its progress on human rights.
Maulen Ashimbayev, a member of parliament with the ruling Nur Otan party, predicted that Trump’s victory would prove beneficial to Kazakhstan by virtue of the prospect of improving relations between Washington and Moscow.
The US Embassy in Tajikistan issued a warning on its website on November 9 about terrorist groups possibly targeting public gatherings or crossings on the border with Afghanistan.
The message claimed to be based on specific information received by the embassy and urged US citizens to take additional precautions.
Advice included avoiding large crowds and public transport. The embassy singled out the mountainous eastern region of Gorno-Badakhshan as a potential site of risk and warned against camping or biking in the dark there.
Clashes have taken place along Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan periodically, although the Tajik government’s accounts of those skirmishes are usually far from transparent about the causes.
Security officials in Dushanbe reported a surge of disturbances at the start of this year across several points of the border. But while in some instances links to Taliban-linked groups and individuals could be divined, in other cases it was evident that the incursions were the work of drug smugglers.
The singling out of Gorno-Badakhshan is likely linked to the mounting concern over Taliban gains into remote regions of Afghanistan previously thought to be immune to their incursions.
A recent Reuters report from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province was a sobering reminder of how militants are strengthening their hold of illegal gemstone mining operations in the area. In more heavily populated locations around the city of Kunduz too, the Taliban has shown it remains a formidable fighting machine with which to be reckoned.
Only some panicked, last-minute diplomacy has prevented Tajikistan being plunged into almost total isolation after Russia backed away from threats to suspend flights between the two countries.
In more positive aviation news, Uzbekistan’s plans to reopen air links with Tajikistan as of next year portends new possibilities in much-needed regional cooperation.
Russia last week dangled the threat of unilaterally closing air traffic with Tajikistan after the latter dragged its feet granting permission for flights to Dushanbe and the northern city of Khujand from Moscow region’s recently completed Zhukovsky International Airport.
That prospect would have been nothing short of cataclysmic for Tajikistan. Flights to and from Russia account for 95 percent of the totality of Tajikistan’s international air traffic. Passengers are in the main the labor migrants that keep the economy afloat. The remaining 5 percent of routes are accounted for by flights to Istanbul, Bishkek and Dubai and are, according to industry insiders, not nearly as profitable as those to Russia.
Last week, while Tajikistan was still sticking to its guns, the head of the aviation department at the ministry of transportation, Mahmadyusuf Rahmonov, explained that under a bilateral agreement, Russia and Tajikistan were automatically entitled to have two airlines each service routes between the countries’ capitals.
The founders of an independent newspaper in Tajikistan have decided to suspend operations on the eve of the publication’s 10th anniversary following what appears to have been pressure from the authorities.
The Indem think tank, which owned Nigoh newspaper, said in a statement earlier this week that it was halting its print edition because of a “lack of appropriate conditions."
It is evident that the problems do not appear to have been financial since the newspaper has pledged to keep paying its employees until 2017. Nigoh could also boast having no debts to its printing house or outstanding tax liabilities.
“Unfortunately, we can make no further comment,” Indem said in its statement.
EurasiaNet.org has learned, however, that Nigoh’s fate was sealed by a pattern of reporting disliked by the authorities and, most recently, an unfortunately typographical error.
The latest issue featured a piece on the front page about the banned Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT). Authorities have given clear signals to the media to refrain from even alluding to the IRPT, whose leadership was jailed last year amid accusations of involvement in a purported coup plot. Nigoh argued in its article that the closure of the party had simply precipitated an exodus of members from Tajikistan and promoted IRPT’s status to an international party.
Nigoh had previously published critical pieces about the trial against the lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, who was sentenced to 23 years in jail on fraud charges in what was transparently a reprisal for him agreeing to represent the IRPT.
A perversely trifling solecism in the last issue of Nigoh may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, however.
Kyrgyzstan has introduced new migration rules for visiting foreign citizens that limit unregistered stays in the country from 60 to five days.
The rule is intended to combat illegal migration, although there are concerns that it could harm the country’s fledging tourism sector.
The law, which was proposed by the Interior Ministry in May and received backing from parliament, will come into force on November 4.
Almost all foreigners will be required to register within five days or face a $145 fine. The only country exempt from the rule is Russia, which has signed a bilateral agreement with Kyrgyzstan requiring its citizens to register only for stays longer than 30 days.
It is not yet clear that the government departments responsible for registering foreigners are even going to be able to cope with the sudden increase in foreigners requiring registration given that they already struggle to cope with large amounts of Kyrgyz citizens applying for passports, birth certificates and other local documents.
And of course, there is also serious concern this new situation will simply give rise to more corruption, since many might prefer to part with cash instead dealing with inefficient Kyrgyz bureaucracy.
An explanatory note with the newly adopted regulation explains that the move was prompted by anxieties over illegal migration.
“Foreign citizens open various private companies, joint ventures and other organizations, and bring in their compatriots, violating established procedures,” the note reads. “Foreign citizens working in the republic mostly do so without work permits, therefore they are violating the migration laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.”
A court in Kazakhstan has taken the rare step of handing down a death sentence on the man found guilty of embarking on a shooting spree that ended with the death of eight policemen and two civilians.
The sentence is particularly remarkable as the death penalty is formally subject to a moratorium passed in 2004.
Ruslan Kulekbayev on November 2 accordingly became the first person to receive the death sentence in the last decade. The last person to receive the same sentence was Rustam Ibragimov, who was found guilty in 2006 of murdering prominent politician Altynbek Sarsenbayev. Ibragimov’s sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
Kulekbayev’s lawyer, Gabit Kusainov, said there are no plans to appeal.
“The defendant himself didn’t want this and stated that it went against his positions, convictions and the beliefs of Salafism,” Kusainov told the court.
Kulekbayev freely admits to the killings during his rampage on July 18 and has told the court he has no regrets. The motivation for the attack, Kulekbayev told the court during the trial, stemmed from his perception that police were mistreating devout Muslims.
Another five accomplices on trial who did not face charges connected to the mass shooting, but were accused of planning to rob a businessman together with Kulekbayev received jail terms ranging from three to 11 years.
Reactions to the sentencing have been mixed, with many favoring it as a reasonable redress for a crime that shocked the population.
Mobile phone operators in Tajikistan have begun the process of re-registering all SIM cards in the country as part of a strategy to combat terrorist threats.
Khovar state news agency this week cited a representative for the government communications agency, Alibek Beknazarov, as saying the policy is intended to uphold security and help investigators solve crimes.
“There are subscribers who have several SIM cards and give them to their relatives, friends, acquaintances, who are sometimes living abroad, to use. So when it becomes necessary to do so, it is difficult to find the real user, since the actual person using it is not the registered party. Moreover, re-registering SIM cards is indispensable because of the dangers of terrorism. This measure will enable us to create a database of genuine users,” Beknazarov said.
Re-registering will require phone users to bring passports and the SIM card to official service centers of the mobile companies. SIM cards will be deactivated within a year in the event of failure to re-register.
Officials say there are already 11 million registered SIM cards in the country — 6 million of those accounts are used regularly. That figure illustrates how many people own several SIM cards that they use strategically to keep the size of their phone bills down.
One point of apparent concern for Tajik officials is the popularity of local SIM cards with users across the border in northern Afghanistan. That point came up during discussions in parliament late last year, when the chamber was considering the rules about requiring mobile phone users to re-register SIM cards.
A lavish wedding in Moscow has drawn gasps of envious amazement even from Russians inured to garish displays of wealth.
Observers of the inner workings of Central Asian politics, however, may be more interested in the identity and background of the bride’s father, of whom little is known publicly.
But to the wedding first. Madina Shokirova has provoked jealously all around with her flowing $600,000 dress designed by British haute couture fashion house Ralph & Russo. As online tabloid life.rureported, the dress was made of several layers of tulle, embroidered with metallic threads and inlayed with silver and several thousand pearls and Swarovski crystals.
As is customary for such events, a number of Russian rent-a-celebrities turned out to entertain the guests.
The man paying for all this was Shokirova’s father, Ilhom Shokirov. His wealth ostensibly stems from his ownership of several hotels — the high-class Grand hotel in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and several hotels outside Moscow. life.ru reported that he also has a 65 percent stake in the Demir shopping and entertainment complex in Tashkent.
And there is speculation that there are some dynastic and political dimensions to these nuptials.
A Khujand-based writer for ferghana.ru, Aziz Rustamov, recently reported rumors that Shokirov offered up his daughter in marriage to a relative of the acting president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. It isn’t immediately clear, but it is possible that this was an allusion to the wedding that just took place in Moscow.
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have reached an agreement on 49 non-demarcated sections of the border, signaling another positive development in neighborly relations.
Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on November 1 that the accord was the result of field surveys by working groups in the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Batken on October 22-31.
This momentum is the result of a telephone conversation on October 26 between Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev and acting Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who discussed the mutual advantageousness of successfully concluding joint work on delimitation, the Uzbek statement said.
Further working group coordination is due to take place in Uzbekistan.
The language about the agreements on disputed sections of the border remains provisional so far, but the number is impressive all the same. The border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is almost 1,400 kilometers long, but 324 kilometers of it in almost 60 separate locations have heretofore remained unresolved.
Such uncertainty has precipitated on occasion in flareups along unmarked portions of the border. Earlier this year, Uzbek troops parked armored personnel carriers along a Kyrgyz road in one such spot in a reprisal at Kyrgyz unwillingness to allow Uzbek workers to travel freely to a reservoir under their management.