Fresh revelations have emerged about the war of attrition between Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev.
According to The New York Times, since falling out spectacularly in 2007, the two sides have unleashed “an extraordinary lobbying and public relations war” in Washington that was once described by an unnamed State Department official as a “blood feud to the death.”
The report details how the two camps hired “dueling lobbyists” that recruited members of Congress to their rival causes. Aliyev hooked up with RJI Government Strategies to promote himself as a wronged democrat (though that idea is seen in Kazakhstan by the administration and the opposition alike as risible), while the Kazakh Embassy riposted with three lobbying deals worth $3.7 million, the report explained. Lobbyists for Astana – which says these PR agreements are not linked to Aliyev’s attacks – include APCO Worldwide and Policy Impact Communications.
Academic institutions also got involved in the mudslinging. “Kazakhstan paid institutes affiliated with Johns Hopkins University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies more than $350,000 in the three years [studied] to subsidize research, resulting in largely favorable reports on the nation,” The New York Times found.
Kyrgyzstan’s leaders just can’t accept the international response to last June’s ethnic violence. Responding to the latest in a series of independent studies that dare say more Kyrgyz killed Uzbeks (though it did clearly point out that Uzbeks killed Kyrgyz, too), on May 26 parliament banned the report’s author, Finnish politician Kimmo Kiljunen, from entering Kyrgyzstan.
Not a single deputy in the 120-seat legislature was brave enough to vote against the proposal, which passed with 95 votes and one abstention.
As Kyrgyzstan approaches presidential elections, the country is becoming a bastion of intolerance. Anyone who challenges the dominant nationalist discourse, which essentially holds that Uzbeks got what they deserved during the ethnic bloodletting -- and, by the way, members of the minority are ungrateful separatist-terrorists -- is accused of conspiring against the nation. The majority, in turn, takes increasingly drastic measures to make sure all they hear is that they are correct.
Say you’re the leader of an impoverished country in a region known for bling envy. Your richer neighbors build themselves palace after palace; in twenty years of power, you’ve only managed to score one. But you’ve got well-heeled foreigner donors paying for your people’s most urgent needs. So how do you spend those extra millions sitting around?
Move over Uncle Washington and Aunt Brussels: The world's tallest flagpole, calculated to cost over $32 million, is being completed this week in Tajikistan’s capital,Dushanbe. At 165 meters, the structure takes the record from Azerbaijan (now three meters short), which took it from Turkmenistan last May.
What does $32ish million -- the figure is the reported cost of the Azeri flagpole, so add three meters and do the math -- buy in Tajikistan?
A car has blown up in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, near a facility run by the security services, Interfax news agency reported. The agency said a BMW had exploded at 3:30 a.m. on May 24 outside a remand center belonging to the National Security Committee (KNB).
The Interior Ministry confirmed the blast – the second outside KNB offices in a week – and said in a statement quoted by the Kazakhstan Today news agency that two men “of European appearance” had died, the driver and a passenger.
While some media outlets concluded it had been a suicide bombing, officials moved quickly to rule out any link with terrorism, though they acknowledged that an explosive device had detonated in the car.
“The aforementioned circumstances attest to the absence of signs of a terrorist act,” the Interior Ministry statement said, while KNB spokesman Kenzhebulat Beknazarov described the explosion in remarks quoted by CA-news as “a usual incident that could have taken place in any district.”
The men in the car “have no involvement in any religious or extremist organizations,” Interior Minister Kalmukhambet Kasymov said in comments carried by state news agency Kazinform.
Grigoriy Marchenko, chief of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, has emerged as a surprise contender for the hot seat at the International Monetary Fund. The previous head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, stepped down this week amid allegations he attacked a hotel maid in New York.
The CIS Heads of Government Council put Marchenko's candidacy forward at their summit in Minsk on May 19 as the preferred candidate on behalf of the post-Soviet Union bloc. He received further endorsement from Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Karim Masimov at the EBRD's annual gathering in Astana on May 20.
Marchenko, 52, is a career banker who has done time inside both state and private banks. At the helm of the Kazakhstan's central bank since January 2009, and from 1999 to 2004, CIS bank chiefs see him as a safe pair of hands. Since resuming that position, he has carefully steered the Kazakh economy through the global financial crisis and overseen a series of controversial bank bailouts.
Given the basket-case economies of the other CIS member states, Marchenko looks like a rational choice. Though by tradition the IMF's top job is reserved for a European -- with the World Bank top slot reserved for Americans -- there have been some calls to break this European stranglehold. A candidate from Kazakhstan, which straddles both Europe and Asia, could provide a suitable compromise.
The office of Tajikistan’s Human Rights Ombudsman has published its first annual report since being formed in May 2009.
Although it is heartening that both the office and the report exist, Ombudsman Safarali Gulomov appears the first to admit he may not have been up to the job. "We did not even know what to begin with," he said, speaking of the 300-page report at its presentation on May 19.
According to Asia-Plus, the ombudsman seems to have placed much of his emphasis on children's issues. The report states that although children and their mothers are due special state protection under the law, the real situation leaves "much to be desired."
Areas singled out for concern are the nonpayment of child support (presumably by errant fathers), abuse at the hands of parents, and the growing number of street children.
Perhaps the most pressing question addressed in the report is the use of children as cheap, and illegal, labor.
Asia-Plus does not dwell on the details and the Human Rights Ombudsman's website is still under construction, so we do not know precisely how deep this state-sponsored body looks into the issue of child labor. Since so many children are employed in cotton fields as extra hands in the desperate effort by loan-crippled farmers to produce enough goods, it is hard to believe the issue is thoroughly examined.
Gulnara Karimova, the unconvincingly glamorous daughter of Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov, has entered the twittersphere. But so has her shadow. The neweurasia blog platform has a fun post about two twits competing for the most elegant username in Uzbekistan.
@GulnaraKarimova “from Jaslyk, Uzbekistan,” describes herself: “Fashion is my passion, dahling! Don’t believe the lies about our family in Uzbekistan. We don’t really boil our critics to death as often as they say we do.” Well, that’s not what we’re hearing about Jaslyk, scene of Uzbekistan’s most notorious prison.
“I’m often asked how I stay looking so young. No, it’s not bathing in blood of little peasant girls as some say. We need them to pick cotton,” she announces in one of her first tweets.
@GulnaraKarimova seems obsessed with the hashtag #boiling. Is she trying to give her followers some advice for dealing with their foes? She has weighed in on the assault charges facing the former IMF director: “Mr Strauss-Kahn seemed so smart but what a basic mistake! If you want to assault people, put them in police custody first. Silly boy!”
Nearly a year after Central Asia witnessed a bout of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, a new study conducted in cosmopolitan Kazakhstan – which is fond of touting its positive record on relations between its 130 ethnic groups – shows that, while people are generally positive, public opinion’s a bit out of sync with the official line that the country is a bastion of ethnic harmony.
The poll, conducted nationwide from May 10-14 by Almaty’s Institute of Political Solutions (IPS) think-tank and published on May 18, shows that while over half (56 percent) rate relations between ethnic groups in their region as “friendly,” 11 percent see “hidden tension,” and just under 2 percent say relations are tense and “conflicts often arise.” A tiny 0.7 percent saw “open enmity”; 20 percent said there were “no relations, interests do not intersect,” and 10 percent couldn’t answer.
Just over a third (37 percent) ruled out taking part in a conflict “if it concerns the interests of your ethnic group,” while 40 percent said it depended on the circumstances, 11 percent would definitely take part, and 13 percent couldn’t answer.
Tensions were highest in central and western Kazakhstan, the IPS’s Madina Nurgaliyeva told a press conference, suggesting that high numbers of foreign laborers (often resented by local workers for earning higher salaries) may contribute to nationalist moods in the oil-rich west. The reason for the spike in tensions in central Kazakhstan needs further study, she added.
Sometimes the quarrelsome Central Asian republics need a father figure. Lucky for them, Moscow is more than happy to play surrogate.
Officials in Kyrgyzstan are complaining that Uzbekistan has been illegally stealing gas in a disputed border region since the two countries became independent.
"The gas issue has been Kyrgyzstan's main headache for 20 years. Today they [Uzbekistan] owe us some $5 million. We should consider this issue and adopt relevant provisions," a parliamentarian from the ruling Social Democratic Party said on May 13, CA-News.org reported. Kyrgyzstan should seek “the return of the underground gas storage facility Severniy Sokh and the Congara-Galcha gas and oil fields located in Batken Region which are being used by the national [oil and gas] holding company, Uzbekneftegaz," deputy Egemberdi Ermatov said.
Kyrgyzstan has few gas fields and limited technical expertise. So at the same time, officials are lining up an eager partner: Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom.
Also on May 13, Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Atakhanov announced talks with Gazprom to form a new joint venture to supply gas to Kyrgyzstan. The deal will “break our dependence on Uzbek gas,” he said in comments carried by the KyrTAG news agency, and, he hopes, will win Kyrgyzstan back the disputed fields.
The central mosque in Aktobe. An official said today's suicide bombing had nothing to do with Islam. But analysts say western Kazakhstan could become a breeding ground for radicalism.
A suicide bomber has detonated a bomb at the security service HQ in Kazakhstan’s western oil city of Aktobe, Kazakhstan Today news agency reports. The suicide attacker reportedly entered the National Security Committee (KNB) and set off a bomb early on May 17, injuring two people, a KNB employee and a watchman, Prosecutor-General’s Office spokesman Zhandos Umiraliyev clarified.
He moved to quash initial media speculation that an Islamic radical had attacked the security service – instead, he said, it was a criminal kingpin who blew himself up in what must be the first known mafia suicide attack in Central Asia, and possibly beyond.
Umiraliyev identified the bomber as Rakhimzhan Makatov, who was “suspected of committing a number of crimes within an organized crime group.” His motive? Makatov blew himself up “with the aim of avoiding responsibility” for his alleged crimes, Umiraliyev added.
An Aktobe resident told EurasiaNet.org that the KNB building had been cordoned off since the morning and there was a heavy police presence in the city, though most residents are going about their business as usual.