Tajikistan’s central bankers have issued another round of reassurances that they are not running out of cash, but they are again lobbying International Monetary Fund for a bailout just to be on the safe side.
Asia-Plus website on July 25 cited National Bank chairman Jamshed Nurmahmadzoda as saying that the amount of cash in circulation at the moment stands at around 6.6 billion somoni ($838 million), which he said was 36 percent more than at the same period in 2015.
Apparently pointing to the success of policies such as the widespread closure of small money exchange offices and the introduction of stiff criminal penalties for unauthorized money exchange operations, Nurmahmadzoda said it had now become the norm to conduct transactions in the local currency.
"Of course, this has created a great demand for the national currency and so we have accordingly increased its volumes in circulation to meet demand,” he said.
While it is hard to disprove any claims Nurmahmadzoda might care to make, it only takes a visit to one of Tajikistan’s several distressed banks to know that liquidity is far from healthy. At least three banks are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Some lenders have imposed withdrawal limits of 2,500 somoni ($315). And customers at the country’s largest bank, Tojiksodirotbank, are as much as it is possible choosing to move their accounts to other banks.
Nurmahmadzoda dismissed such worries, saying that Tojiksodirotbank is just suffering from management issues and that the country’s second biggest bank, Agroinvestbank, is doing perfectly fine. Even the normally circumspect IMF put lie to such brazen deception months ago.
Kazakhstan launched a rare exercise in consulting with the general public earlier this year to defuse spreading discontent, but the authorities are now bracing to pull the plug on the experiment and return to its more trusted heavy-handed measures.
This weekend, the government-initiated outreach commission on the land reforms rolled into the western city of Atyrau, which is notable for having mounted the largest protest rally against the proposed reforms in the spring.
While much of the discussion on July 23 was centered on the reforms themselves, there were also multiple impassioned demands for the release of jailed activists Max Bokayev and his friend, Talgat Ayan.
Organization of this session of the commission had not gone smoothly. One prominent member opposed to the reforms, Mukhtar Taizhan, had announced on his Facebook account that it was to be held on July 16, but the event was postponed. Commission chair and Agriculture Minister Askar Myrzakhmetov told Ak Zhaiyk newspaper that it was taking an unexpectedly long time to arrange the equipment to stream the event over the internet.
Once the date came around though, only 25 people in of 75-member body actually turned up, although the event was at least open to the public.
Amendments to the land law approved in November extended the period for which farming land could be rented to foreigners from 10 to 25 years. The law also set the terms for a series of land auctions that would have been open only to citizens of Kazakhstan. All the provisions have since been reversed amid widespread public opposition.
The Tajikistan edition of Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda has been shuttered following publication of an article that officials say cast aspersions on the country.
The offending piece, written by Russian journalist Sergei Ponomaryov, was indeed an exercise in crude stereotypes and drew on characters popularized by sketch show “Nasha Russia.”
The opening paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the article: “On the plane from Moscow to the ancient city of Khujand, the capital of northern Tajikistan and the second city in the country, mine was the only Slavic countenance. The rest was straight-up Ravshan and Jamshuds.”
The premise of the sketches featuring those migrant laborer characters was to show Tajiks as primitive and dimwitted, although nonetheless sometimes besting their exasperated Russian taskmasters. The 2011 film made from the TV show was banned in Tajikistan.
Sharif Hamdampur, editor of the Tajikistan edition of the tabloid, was quick to agree about the offensiveness of the article.
“When I read the article I understood that it respected neither journalistic nor professional ethical standards. In the article there are statements that insult Tajiks and the country as a whole,” Hamdampur said on July 21.
The editor said he appealed in vain with the newspaper’s top management to have the article spiked.
“Within two days, I took the decision to halt the activities of this newspaper in Tajikistan,” he said.”This is because this newspaper, with which I cooperate, has offended my nation and my government. He [the journalist] even says: ‘I went to the country of Ravshan and Jamshud’ and not to Tajikistan.”
In the wake of the deadly Almaty shootings, authorities in Kazakhstan are drawing up measures to step up the fight against extremism and considering the creation of a fingerprint and DNA register.
“Penalties for crimes of an extremist or terrorist character will be intensified through an increase in the minimum and maximum prison sentences. Rules will be brought in on the confiscation of property as a mandatory form of punishment for extremism and terrorism,” National Security Committee chief Vladimir Zhumakanov said at a government meeting on July 19.
The measures proposed had been drawn up before the July 18 events in Almaty, which authorities have said were the single-handed work of 26-year old Ruslan Kulekbayev, but they are now being discussed with fresh urgency.
One plank of the suggested new measures includes tightening control over the circulation of firearms.
“It is planned that there will be a strengthening of control over the circulation of firearms, and administrative penalties for violating rules in that area will be made stricter,” Zhumakanov said.
Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov proposed at the same meeting that citizenship be stripped from people that had left the country to join extremist organizations overseas.
Kasymov’s ministry is now developing legislation on fingerprinting and DNA registration that will be brought to parliament by the end of the year. No details are forthcoming yet, however, about who would be included in such registers, which have sparked concern about privacy rights and ethical-legal objections over citizens’ right to presumption of innocence elsewhere in the world.
A court in Tajikistan has sentenced the leader of an ultraconservative Islamic Salafist movement to eight years in prison on charges of membership in an extremist organization.
As RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported on July 19, Muhammadi Rahmatullo’s case has been shrouded in secrecy and marked as classified information, so few details are known. This is not so unusual in Tajikistan of late as the government has become increasingly opaque about the multitude of criminal cases it pursues against its real and perceived opponents.
Not much is known about Rahmatullo.
He first emerged as a self-described Salafist in the early 2000s, when the current first established itself in the country, having been brought back by Tajiks that had taken refuge in Pakistan during the civil war. In 2008, Rahmatullo claimed in an interview that his movement counted 20,000 Tajik citizens.
The movement was banned by a Supreme Court decision after a wave of mysterious blasts in Dushanbe in 2009. Rahmatullo fell out of public view around that time. During that time, it is believed he busied himself converting migrants working outside Tajikistan, particularly in the regions of Russia, and studying at the Faculty of Shariah and Law of the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan. According to Radio Ozodi, Rahmatullo returned to Tajikistan in 2011, but what he got up is not a matter of public record.
At least four people, including three policemen and one civilian, were killed on July 18 in the heart of Kazakhstan’s largest city following an attack on a police station.
Police in Almaty said that the attack began around 11 a.m. local time as a man attempted to force his way into the Almaly district police station. The attacker shot a sentry guard and stole his weapon, officials said in a statement.
The suspect then shot two pursuing officers, the statement said.
Police say that during his escape, the gunmen tried to carjack a civilian, killing him in the process.
Authorities have detained a 27-year old native of the southern Kyzylorda region who is also suspected of killing a woman over the weekend. Police earlier said that another person connected to the attack remained on the loose.
There have scattered reports of separate attack around the city, suggesting a coordinated action, but the details remain highly confused.
Soon after the unrest began, police issued a statement to say an antiterrorism operation was underway and asked the public to avoid large crowds.
“Law enforcement authorities will in good time provide information about all suspect individuals and asks the public to be understanding toward the actions of police and special forces,” the Almaty police said in a statement.
The National Security Committee, or KNB, said in a statement that it had raised the terrorism alert in Almaty to red, which stands for critical. The statement said gunmen attacked the Almaly district police station and an Almaty branch of the KNB.
Tajikistan’s Finance Ministry has conceded that the national currency will continue to lose value, although it only expects it to happen gradually, over the coming three years.
Reuters reported on July 14 that Finance Ministry forecasts, drawn up as part of budget planning, see the somoni slipping from its current 7.9 to the dollar to 9.6 in 2017, 10.4 in 2018 and 11.2 in 2019. Inflation for those years is seen at 7 percent.
“This is just a forecast. There will be no devaluation. The rate depends on many factor, mainly external ones, and indicators of the gold and currency reserves,” a National Bank source told Reuters.
External factors indeed.
Russia’s Central Bank announced in March that the amount of money transferred to Tajikistan last year has fallen almost 67 percent, from $3.8 billion in 2014 to $1.28 billion last year. The figure in 2013 was $4.16 billion.
Still the National Bank appears bullish about the prospects.
“We believe that there will not be so much external pressure as in 2014, since we see a certain degree of progress in the Russian economy, despite the negative prognosis,” the National Bank source told Reuters.
Tajikistan’s arsenal for stabilizing the currency is severely depleted. Foreign reserves are dwindling at dangerously low levels. And the banking system is teetering on the verge of a total meltdown.
Accountholders at the main two banks — Tojiksodirotbank and Agroinvestbank — have for months had trouble getting their hands on their savings or withdrawing salaries paid through the lenders. And there is anecdotal evidence the rot is now spreading to more of the country’s half a dozen or so systemic banks. Customers at Eskhata Bank and Imon International have reported some instances of reduced liquidity.
The controversy surrounding a series of billboards in Kyrgyzstan’s capital that condemned the spread of conservative Islam has now drawn in President Almaz Atambayev.
Quizzed by journalists on July 14, the president said that not only was he all in favor of the posters’ message, but he is now proposing dotting more of them around the country.
The billboard consists of three pictures side by side. Starting from the left, there is a row of women in traditional Kyrgyz headdresses. Next are women in white hijabs. On the right are women in black niqabs, a form of all-body dress that obscures almost the entire face. Underneath the collage is the tagline “Oh poor nation, where are we headed?” — a suggestion of disapproval at the adoption of what many in Kyrgyzstan see as alien forms of dress.
Atambayev said that it was important to resist the spread of outside customs.
“Let us not confuse Arabian, Pakistani, and I don’t know, Bangladeshi culture with Kyrgyz culture. This is an imposition of foreign culture. A foreign culture of dress. We have our own clothes,” Atambayev said.
While not taking responsibility for the existing handful of billboards that sprung up in Bishkek on July 13, Atambayev urged spreading the message further.
“I have ordered the presidential administration to give funding so that banners like these can be hung up across Kyrgyzstan,” he said. “We need banners like these. It doesn’t say anything bad on them. There are just three photos and one question.”
It is still something of a mystery, however, who was behind the billboards.
Residents of Kyrgyzstan’s capital woke up on July 13 to find stark and, to some, provocative billboards on some of the city’s main thoroughfares.
The huge poster shows three groups of women in a variety of female head covers — some of them in the niqab veil that covers almost the entire face — and the words “Oh poor nation, where are we headed?”
The meaning of the image is slightly cryptic. But the arrangement of the pictures — traditional Kyrgyz dress on the left, niqabs on the right and something looking like a halfway version of those two forms of dress in the middle — would suggest that whoever is behind the stunt is concerned at the stealthy spread of ultra-orthodox Muslim customs in the country.
The first public reaction to the billboard came from prominent religious affairs commentators Kadyr Malikov, who has made a name for himself forecasting the rise of radical Islam in Kyrgyzstan.
Malikov described the poster as a “provocation.”
“Article 299 of the criminal code [on incitment to religious hatred and offending religious feelings) states that actions like this can lead to spread of hatred and cause divisions within the state. These are highly dangerous shenanigans,” Malikov wrote in a public appeal calling for the authorities to get involved.
While Malikov is concerned about the potential for a surge in radical Islam, he has also registered anxiety about a concomitant increase in Islamophobic sentiment, which he sees in the posters.
The pictures were, in any case, misleading, Malikov wrote.
As it presented its case this week to prove that Tohtar Tuleshov was plotting to seize power, Kazakhstan’s security services revealed that the businessman was involved in, of all things, film production. And not especially successfully at that.
In truth, Tuleshov’s Shymkent Pictures studio, named after the city where he was based, was not much to write home about. Its only known complete production was leaked to the internet before it was officially released, damaging its already dubious commercial prospects. The IMDB film website lists the 2007 movie under the name “Blizhniy Boy: The Ultimate Fighter.” (The Russian term “Blizhniy Boy” means “close quarters combat”).
Depending on how generous one is willing to be, it could be said that the movie, which reportedly had a $4 million budget, included some illustrious bit players: the late David Carradine, Gary Busey, and Eric Roberts, brother of the more famous Julia Roberts.
In the main role, Vietnamese-American former multiple martial arts fighter Cung Le played a man called Eric, who returns from the United States to his native Kazakhstan (yes) only to accidentally become witness to a crime being committed by a gangland kingpin. Eric escapes back to the United States, which is when all the trouble begins.
The criminal underworld plot-line is curious given that Kazakhstan’s authorities are now accusing Tuleshov of also being a member of the notorious and murky trans-national criminal group known as the Brothers’ Circle. Such is the ill-repute of this organization that some of its suspected members have been targeted for sanctions by the US Treasury Department.