Tajikistan’s president often enthuses about leaving behind a country better than the one he took over 23 years ago. But the impoverished Central Asian nation fares poorly in many studies – from transparency and doing business to health and education – often because of the corruption that plagues the country’s weak institutions.
A new appointment promises to change all that.
On March 16, President Emomali Rahmon appointed his 27-year-old son, Rustam Emomali, to head the national anti-corruption agency – the Agency for State Financial Control and Combating Corruption – according to a decree posted on the president’s website. Emomali will report to his father and leave his post at the Customs Agency, which he has led for almost a year and a half.
The president is entrusting his son with one of the most delicate tasks in the country. In the past, the anti-corruption agency has been accused of helping some of Tajikistan’s murky criminal-political factions gain ascendency over others, of being a political tool to snuff out rivals. At the least, it has been faulted for not fulfilling its mandate. Tajikistan, after all, ranks 152 out of 175 in Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ended a mysterious 11-day disappearance by materializing for a meeting with his Kyrgyz counterpart in St. Petersburg on March 16, Kremlin pool journalists at the meeting reported on Twitter just before 2 p.m. local time.
Kyrgyzstan’s aggressively pro-Putin president, Almazbek Atambayev, confirmed his counterpart was in good health, Russian state media reported. For his part, Putin dismissed reports on his health, saying “[life] would be boring without gossip.”
Putin had last been seen in public on March 5. There was no immediate explanation for his long absence.
The president rarely drops out of sight. So with his disappearance coming at a time of heightened anxieties in the West about Russia’s course, and rising militant nationalism at home, Russian and international media nervously speculated over his whereabouts. Pundits postulated that the president had died, was recovering from a botched Botox job, had been toppled in a place coup, or was on a secret mission to oversee the birth of a lovechild in Switzerland.
Even some of Russia’s urban liberals – no Putin lovers – became concerned that if the president had exited, who or what would come next. Had Putin been deposed in a coup by hardliners even more hardline than himself?
Putin’s spokesman tried in vain all last week to bat away the speculation, which was fueled by revelations that recent footage of presidential meetings had been pre-recorded.
In the hours before Putin appeared, as the suspense grew in St. Petersburg, some noted that Kyrgyz journalists had not been invited on the trip with Atambayev.
The long-serving strongman leader of Kazakhstan has confirmed his intention to stand for reelection in a snap vote next month. He is guaranteed to win a landslide.
Nursultan Nazarbayev accepted the nomination of his ruling Nur Otan party to stand in the April 26 election at a party congress on March 11, his Twitter feed reported.
“I declare my agreement to stand as a candidate for president from the Nur Otan party in the upcoming elections,” @AkordaPress, the Twitter account run by the presidential administration, quoted him as saying.
“We must move forward,” he told the congress in remarks quoted by Tengri News, after delegate after delegate had proposed in fawning speeches that the incumbent accept the nomination. Nazarbayev remarked that he was “not so young” but was ready to “do great deeds in the future.”
Tajikistan’s strongman President Emomali Rahmon has silenced the opposition at home without much of a fight. Abroad, his administration is employing help of Interpol – the avowedly non-political international police organization – to stifle dissident voices.
Acting on an Interpol all-points-bulletin, a so-called red notice, the Finnish authorities detained 31-year-old Sulaimon Davlatov on February 20. A long-time resident of St Petersburg, Russia, Davlatov was travelling to Lithuania when he was seized. The Tajik authorities accuse Davlatov of being a member of the outlawed Group 24 – and, without publicly presenting evidence, of sending citizens to fight in Syria.
Currently, the Interpol website lists 127 red notices for Tajik citizens. Their alleged crimes range from robbery and drug trafficking to terrorism.
Critics say the Interpol system is open to manipulation by authoritarians determined to track down their political rivals. The Warsaw-based Open Dialogue Foundation wrote in a February 24 report:
You can find donkeys at Bishkek’s theme parks painted to look like zebras. A Kyrgyz proverb has it that travelling on one to the jailoo, or mountain pasture, is a sign of social lowliness.
In a country that reveres – and eats – the horse, the humble donkey is a poor substitute, destined to spend its days poked and prodded by rural boys dreaming of stallions.
For this reason, allegations that a farm outside Bishkek is doing a spritely trade flogging donkey meat to eateries in Kyrgyzstan’s capital have caused mass consternation and soul searching. The parliament’s committee on agrarian policy threatened on March 2 that the government had until March 15 to deliver justice for Kyrgyz meat lovers, or face a vote of no confidence.
Investigators promptly opened a criminal case against the farm, which denies wrongdoing, on March 3.
The scandal began brewing on February 24 when journalists from state television followed up on the complaints of locals and visited a farm in Sololuk District, not far from Bishkek. Gruesome photos soon emerged online of piles of severed donkey heads and other donkey parts at the farm’s less-than-sterile-appearing slaughterhouse.
Selling donkey meat is not a crime in Kyrgyzstan, but the journalists claimed – without offering proof – that the animals were bound for Bishkek’s restaurants, where their cuts would masquerade as beef and lamb.
The party of Tajikistan’s strongman president, Emomali Rakhmon, has swept aside all opposition in a parliamentary vote that international observes say fell far short of democratic standards.
Since independnece, two mildly critical parties each held two seats in the largely rubber-stamp 63-seat Assembly of Representatives: the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) and the Communist Party. Though both had little power, their presence gave the body a democratic veneer. On March 1, neither met the 5 percent threshold needed to claim seats in parliament.
Instead, Rakhmon's ruling People’s Democratic Party increased its majority from 55 to 57 seats, local media reported. The remaining seven seats will be split among the Agrarian Party, the Party of Economic Reforms, and the Socialist Party, all of which have close links to Rakhmon’s regime.
The Communist leader called the poll a "farce," but said there was no point in challenging the results.
The Central Electoral Commission declared the vote valid, claiming that over 87 percent of the four-million-strong electorate had turned out at 3,209 polling stations around the country.
Tajikistan has never held a vote deemed free or fair by independent observers, and this one was no different.
Atambayev grinning through his teeth in Minsk last October.
The death of a Kyrgyz mobster in the Belarusian capital appears to have ignited another round of mudslinging between two erstwhile Soviet republics. Kyrgyzstan is still furious that, for five years, Belarus has sheltered the country’s ex-dictator and his family.
The diplomatic row flared February 27, a day after Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev released an incendiary statement accusing ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s brother Janysh of organizing the killing of 41-year-old Almanbet Anapiyaev last week in Minsk.
Atambayev, who has said he wanted to be a writer as a child, accused the Bakiyevs of being “cannibals” and poured scorn on Belarus and President Alexander Lukashenko for having “sheltered” the “beasts” since a bloody revolution in April 2010 forced the Bakiyev clan from power.
“The people remember how these beasts burned people alive, how they maimed and killed journalists, how they broke the arms and legs of businessmen, how they cut the ears and noses off their victims,” Atambayev’s statement reads.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s response to Atambayev drips with contempt.
It makes no sense to comment on the parallels and offensive statements made against Belarus by the Kyrgyz leadership. Such overheated emotional statements would not be possible at the level of the leader of a civilized state.
Tajikistan’s authoritarian government has enlisted the support of the state-appointed clergy ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary vote.
“We have to vote for those whose work has achieved results,” reads a sermon the government distributed to imams ahead of Friday prayers on February 27. “May God protect our head of state, who has devoted himself to saving our nation and delivering us from our troubles.”
The sermon, seen by EurasiaNet.org, was prepared by the state-run Council of Religious Affairs, which manages all of Tajikistan’s mosques, vets and pays all imams. As instructed, imams read the sermon at a number of mosques in Dushanbe today, a source in the capital told EurasiaNet.org. In the city’s central mosque, the source said, the imam paraphrased the sermon and highlighted long-serving President Emomali Rakhmon’s outstanding leadership qualities.
The sermon goes on to criticize the opposition. Although it does not name any parties, the target is clear: Tajikistan’s beleaguered and moderate Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), which the authorities have largely prevented from campaigning ahead of the March 1 election.
“Is it not this party that divided people? Is it not this party that brought you to Afghanistan [as refugees], bringing hunger, poverty and humiliation?” the sermon reads. It goes on to accuse the IRPT – which was born out of the 1997 peace treaty that ended Tajikistan’s civil war – of stockpiling weapons and seeking to return the country to civil war.
The only question to ask about Tajikistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections is whether the authorities will allow any opposition parties to win seats in the rubber-stamp body. A victory for the president’s party is guaranteed. But, just in case, authorities are making it almost impossible for anyone else to run.
Eight parties are fielding 288 candidates to contest 63 seats in parliament’s lower house on March 1. Tajikistan has never held an election judged free and fair by impartial observers.
During the previous election, in 2010, President Emomali Rakhmon’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won 55 of the 63 seats. The only opposition party to enter parliament, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), won just two seats. The other seats went to members of the loyal opposition—parties that bestow on Tajikistan the trappings of democracy, but kowtow to the president.
For starters, the Central Electoral Committee disqualified over half of the IRPT’s 160 proposed candidates – including Rakhmon’s former math teacher – on the grounds they allegedly failed their mandatory Tajik language test. Meanwhile, the State Television and Radio Committee blocked the IRPT’s attempt to air their promotional videos on television. An official explained to Asia Plus that the studio that produced the clips is not registered.
Three Central Asian men have been arrested in the United States and charged with conspiring to support the Islamic State. The charges underscore the threat of lone wolf attacks by people inspired to fight for the Islamic State without ever having traveled to the Middle East, American officials say.
The three live in Brooklyn, New York, news agencies reported.
Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, of Kazakhstan, was arrested February 25 when boarding a flight to Turkey, the Justice Department says. Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, of Uzbekistan, had purchased a flight to Istanbul for next month. Thirty-year-old Uzbekistani citizen Abror Habibov was arrested in Florida and accused of paying for Saidakhmetov’s efforts.
According to the New York Times, Juraboev and Saidakhmetov are permanent residents in the US; Habibov had overstayed his US visa. All three remain citizens of their countries, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, however.
It is unclear how many Central Asians are fighting for IS in Syria and Iraq, or if the suspects had any connection to compatriots there.
Investigators used a paid, confidential informant who posed as a sympathizer to record conversations between two of the men.
In those comments, Saidakhmetov allegedly said that if he were unable to travel to Syria, he would “just go a buy a machine gun, AK-47, go out and shoot all police,” Reuters reported: