It may be just an accident: the consequence, for example, of aging infrastructure. But a derailed troop train from Tajikistan passing through rival Uzbekistan is likely to draw scrutiny.
The train carrying almost 300 passengers en route from Dushanbe to northern Tajikistan slipped off the tracks early October 10 in Uzbekistan’s Jizzakh Region, injuring several dozen people, most of them conscripts, Asia-Plus reported. Radio Ozodi reported 52 injuries. There are no reports of fatalities.
Asia-Plus said there were about 200 recruits and several officers on board.
No rail lines connect Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, with northern Sughd Province, which is in the Fergana Valley, forcing all train traffic to pass through Uzbekistan. This arrangement worked fine until the late 1980s, when both countries were constituent republics of the Soviet Union. But today the two independent countries barely speak. Uzbekistan is vehemently opposed to Tajikistan’s plans to build a giant hydropower plan upstream, fearing it will give Dushanbe economic leverage and control over the region’s limited water resources. Uzbekistan's president has said it could lead to war. Tashkent often looks like it is trying to blockade isolated Tajikistan – closing borders, halting freight, turning off gas supplies – in apparent attempts to prevent construction at Rogun.
NATO logistics officers dependent on Uzbekistan’s rail network to haul supplies out of Afghanistan are likely to take notice.
The governor of Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul Province was taken hostage for several hours on October 7 in the latest bout of unrest related to a controversial, Canadian-owned gold mine. Hundreds of protestors, including some on horseback, continued to clash with police late in the evening.
Protestors grabbed Emil Kaptagaev, who has been governor only since a summer shakeup that followed violent riots outside the nearby mine in May, and stuffed him into a car. Some reports said the rioters wanted to nationalize the mine, Kumtor; others said they wanted the government’s stake in any future deal to be no less than 70 percent.
Kaptagaev was released around 7 p.m. local time amid unconfirmed reports he had been drenched in gasoline and threatened with matches.
Several hours later, protests flared up again, with police reportedly employing stun grenades and tear gas in failed attempts to disperse rioters throwing rocks and pouring petrol on the road, according to Kloop.kg.
A press officer for the local police told Kloop.kg earlier in the day that the protestors were supporters of Bakhtiar Kurmanov and Ermek Dzhunushbaev, who were arrested last month for allegedly trying to extort $3 million from Kumtor.
Few in Bishkek believe protests like this happen spontaneously. Instead, they are often attributed to criminal gangs or politicians trying to extort money from the mine, the largest legitimate business in Kyrgyzstan. In a good year Kumtor accounts for 12 percent of GDP and half of industrial output.
One of the biggest businessmen operating in Tajikistan’s capital has admitted he’s been laundering Iranian oil money for years.
In August, EurasiaNet.org highlighted the Tajik wing of Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani’s transcontinental financial empire. The US Treasury had frozen Zanjani’s accounts earlier this year for allegedly helping Iran sell its oil, despite international sanctions. The EU has blacklisted him for the same. Now, under pressure at home, he says that’s exactly what he’s been doing all along, the New York Times reports, referencing an interview with the weekly Aseman magazine.
Beginning in 2010, Mr. Zanjani, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told the magazine and, in a separate meeting, the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency that he used a spider web of 64 companies in Dubai, Turkey and Malaysia to sell millions of barrels of oil, earning $17.5 billion in desperately needed foreign exchange for Iran’s Oil Ministry, Revolutionary Guards and central bank.
“The central bank was running out of money,” he said in the Aseman interview, published last week. In 2010, “they asked me to bring their oil money into Iran so the system could use it,” Mr. Zanjani said of Iran’s political establishment. “So that is what I did.” […]
“This is what I do — antisanctions operations,” Mr. Zanjani said. “I am a businessman who has done his job well. Since I was placed under sanctions they haven’t managed to sell even three million barrels of oil.”
The lead author of a controversial bill that would label most of Kyrgyzstan’s non-profit organizations “foreign agents” says the country must protect itself from foreign “sabotage” and “sexual emancipation.”
In an interview with EurasiaNet.org this week, MP Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a former human rights ombudsman, said he was inspired by almost identical legislation that came into effect in Russia last November, but that he’d been musing over the idea since 2006. The bill would require organizations that accept foreign funding and supposedly engage in “political activities” to identify as “foreign agents,” a term widely understood throughout the former Soviet Union to denote traitors and spies.
Though President Almazbek Atambayev said on September 19, during a visit to Brussels, that he would not support the bill, Bakir uulu says the president has made a “shallow statement to please the West” and would eventually fall into line.
Noting that the bill mirrors the Russian law, on September 27 a coalition of human rights groups led by the International Partnership for Human Rights, said the sweeping draft law “appears primarily aimed at the same category of groups that has been the main target in Russia, i.e. human rights NGOs and other groups that are inconvenient for those in power.”
Critics have also noted that foreign governments fund parts of Kyrgyzstan’s budget, in effect turning Bakir uulu himself, as a paid government employee, into a foreign agent.
When confronted with this irony, Bakir uulu said the questioning suggested EurasiaNet.org was a foreign agent.
The interview has been translated from Russian and edited for length.
A member of Kazakhstan’s parliament has called for a new law banning “homosexual relations,” upping the ante in the homophobic rhetoric that erupts from time to time in the legislature.
Deputy Bakhytbek Smagul urged Kazakhstan to follow the lead of countries that criminalize homosexuality and draw up a bill to “root out homosexual relations,” and ban anything perceived to promote homosexuality (following Russia’s lead).
The arguments put forward by Smagul – who sits in parliament for the ruling Nur Otan party, headed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev – were convoluted, touching on family values, demographics, and the “national mentality,” before invoking the ancient cultures of Central Asia and Kazakhstan’s location in a “strategic region.”
“It is obvious that when the Kazakhstani national ideology is being shaped we cannot look at the future of the nation outside the family,” Smagul told parliament on October 2 in remarks quoted by Tengri News.
“However, it is worth pondering what the level of development of the institution of the family will be in a country if such homosexual relations are openly advocated. In Central Asia, where ancient cultures intersect, and [in Kazakhstan,] as a state that is an active member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, this phenomenon damages the image of our country and its domestic policy.”
The World Bank released summaries of the first two studies in a series of long-awaited reports on Tajikistan’s controversial Rogun hydropower dam this week. Prepared by French consultancy Coyne et Bellier, the technical assessments are designed to help Tajikistan make informed engineering decisions about the complicated project.
Depending on how you read the carefully worded reports, which have been reviewed by Tajik officials, they could be seen as a victory for either Tajikistan or downstream Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is vehemently opposed to the project, arguing that it is not safe and that it will give Tajikistan unfair control over water resources. President Islam Karimov has even said that such a project could lead to war.
Yet the reports also allow Tajik officials to argue that everything is under control, that the consultants outlined necessary, but manageable repairs.
For certain, the reports recommend what sounds like a lot of repairs to previously built structures, and expensive-sounding mitigation efforts to address an underground threat.
Kazakhstan faces crucial challenges as the end of strongman leader Nursultan Nazarbayev’s long rule approaches, a new report says, with the country’s veneer of wealth and stability papering over cracks in the system that threaten to overwhelm the next president.
“Kazakhstan has long been viewed from the outside as the most prosperous and stable country in a region widely regarded as fragile and dysfunctional,” says the International Crisis Group (ICG) in its September 30 report. Yet the country’s oil-fueled wealth conceals “a multitude of challenges.”
“An aging authoritarian leader with no designated successor, labor unrest, growing Islamism, corruption, and a state apparatus that, when confronted even with limited security challenges, seems hard-pressed to respond, all indicate that the Kazakh state is not as robust as it first appears,” the study, entitled Kazakhstan: Waiting for Change, says.
Astana cultivates the image of an economic powerhouse and an oasis of political stability in a volatile region, but the ICG singles out serious challenges that it suggests Astana is doing little to tackle. These include a growing rich-poor divide that is fueling disaffection (particularly in the oil-rich west); rampant corruption; and a rising tide of radicalism that has led to a spate of terrorist attacks.
A long-running conflict between Latvian banker Valeri Belokon and the government of Kyrgyzstan seems to be heading toward its denouement.
In an interview with EurasiaNet.org, Belokon said an arbitration hearing was scheduled for late December in Paris to resolve his dispute with Kyrgyz authorities. The legal tussle stems from the Kyrgyz government’s takeover of Manas Bank following the 2010 ouster of former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. “There should be a decision not too long after that,” Belokon said, referring to the hearing.
Belokon was the owner of Kyrgyzstan-based Manas Bank at the time of the 2010 Kyrgyz upheaval. Kyrgyz authorities who took over from Bakiyev subsequently took control of the bank and opened a criminal case against Belokon, alleging that he assisted the former president’s son, Maxim Bakiyev, in laundering money and improperly shipping assets out of the country. Belokon countered by seeking damages via international arbitration for what he contends was the improper seizure of his bank.
The Latvian banker vigorously denies the criminal allegations against him. He acknowledges that he had business relations with Maxim Bakiyev, but insists their dealings were confined to the operations of Latvia-based Maval Aktivi AS, a holding company in which the duo were partners. “I was open with everything we did,” Belokon said. He stressed that he and the younger Bakiyev did not have any offshore dealings.
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.
One of Kazakhstan’s few remaining opposition leaders has announced that he is quitting politics, a move that comes amid Astana’s ongoing crackdown on dissent and leaves a dearth of dissenting voices in the country.
Bolat Abilov said in a statement quoted by Tengri News on September 19 that he had taken the “difficult decision” to leave politics (at least for a few years) and concentrate on media, movie and book projects around Kazakhstan.
Abilov, one of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, had been head of the Azat (Freedom) party, which was in a prickly alliance with the OSDP social democrats. That union collapsed earlier this year amid much acrimony, with OSDP leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay falling out publicly with his deputy, Amirzhan Kosanov, leaving the party in tatters.
Abilov’s departure from politics and the collapse of the OSDP Azat alliance mean that Kazakhstan now has no genuine, functioning opposition parties to take on the difficult job of holding President Nursultan Nazarbayev to account.
The opposition has always struggled to operate in Kazakhstan’s restrictive environment, where it is shut out of the rubber-stamp parliament and has little access to mainstream media, but until a couple of years ago it was given limited room for maneuver.
All that changed after a bout of fatal unrest in December 2011, when an oil strike in the western town of Zhanaozen turned violent and 15 people died in clashes with the security forces.