Kazakhstan’s security services say they have detained members of an extremist organization plotting a series of terror attacks.
The National Security Committee, or KNB in its Russian initials, said in a statement on August 22 that that the four people captured in the Almaty region in a special operation were citizens of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The operation took place on August 18.
The KNB said that they found components of improvised explosive devices and extremist religious material in the places where the group resided.
“The plan of the radicals to mount armed attacks on staff and places of deployment of KNB officers and police and on military bases have been neutralized. Their next stage was to be terrorist attacks on places where the public gather in large groups,” the KNB said.
The statement was typically perfunctory and similar in tone and detail to one in late June, when the KNB said it had intercepted a group in the central Karaganda region that it believed was also planning a series of terrorist strikes. Initial reports spoke of seven suspected plotters being arrested, but that figure was increased to eight in the first half of August.
And that is as much of a public update as has been provided, other than that the group is to be tried on terrorism and a variety of arms-related charges. The line is that in the interests of the investigation, no more details are being released.
This lack of transparency or even the slightest insight into what might be motivating would-be attackers is standard operating procedure for Kazakhstan’s security services.
Police in Tajikistan have taken to drawing up lists of women known to wear the hijab in a fresh measure to combat signs of what they perceive as excess Islamic piety.
Asia-Plus news last week cited the head of police in the northern city of Khujand, Emin Jalilov, as saying that raids have been mounted in markets with the aim of maintaining security and upholding national customs. That translates in practical terms to clamping down on any clothing deemed suggestive of radical Islamic beliefs.
“During raids we found that at 38 retail points in the city there were saleswomen wearing (veils),” Jalilov said.
Jalilov noted with regret that many bazaar directors are failing to clamp down on the phenomenon.
“At the moment, the city police has a list of 643 women that wear the hijab. Of those, 513 are residents of the city. These neighborhoods are under the close supervision of the police,” he said.
Authorities are always eager to stress that the threat is not hypothetical but real.
As Jalilov noted, 30 residents of Khujand have been detained on suspicion of associating with radical and terrorist Islamic groups so far this year. At least 245 members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir group and 226 followers of the Salafi movement have been recorded in Khujand, he said. Most of those have received criminal sentences of some kind.
These figures are of questionable value, however, given how arbitrarily police and courts assign membership status in underground groups to anybody they deem even mildly suspicious. True membership or affiliation figures may be much smaller, or for that matter, much greater.
Starting from August 1, internet service providers in Kazakhstan have reportedly massively hiked fees for online services to companies in neighbor and fellow Eurasian Economic Union member Kyrgyzstan.
Media in Kyrgyzstan are warning that internet users should expect their traffic bills to increase substantially in the future.
Kazakhstan is Kyrgyzstan’s only dependable, high-quality link to global online infrastructure, so any shift in the former’s market inevitably has a knock-on effect in the latter.
The Association of Communication Operators has called in a letter for the government to intervene by raising the issue at the Eurasian Economic Commission, the executive body of the EEU.
According to the letter, addressed to Prime Minister Oleg Pankratov, Kazakhstani operators, who they say have raised their tariffs by two- to threefold, are playing hardball. Any attempts by Kyrgyz to shop around for alternative providers will result in automatic cutoffs.
“Also, Kazakhstani operators are increasing transit prices for European and Russian operators which supply internet services to Kyrgyzstan,” the letter said.
Non-Kazakhstani-sourced internet dominates supply, accounting for 90 percent of the total in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan’s only medal winner thus far at the Rio Olympics, weightlifter Izzat Artykov, has been stripped of his bronze medal after testing positive for strychnine.
Artykov, who won bronze in the 69-kilogram category, became the first athlete to be excluded from these Olympics for doping after he tested positive for strychnine, a banned performance enhancer more commonly used to kill pesky rodents.
Strange though it may seem, strychnine has history in the Olympics. Way back in 1904, Thomas Hicks won the marathon after receiving a reviving mix of strychnine and egg whites washed down with a hefty measure of brandy after he started to falter on his way to the finish line. At the time, strychnine was in common use as a stimulant.
It’s not clear what reception Artykov will get on returning home, but he shouldn’t expect any sympathy from Kanat Amankulov, director of Kyrgyzstan’s State Agency for Youth, Physical Culture and Sport, who publicly upbraided wrestler Aisuluu Tynybekova after she narrowly missed out on a bronze medal.
In other Olympics news concerning Central Asia, Kazakhstani boxer Vasily Levit, who controversially lost out on a gold medal to Russia’s Evgeny Tischchenko, is to receive the reward for a gold medal finish from Astana — a cool $250,000.
No sooner had Kyrgyzstan’s parliament canceled deals with Russian companies to build two major hydropower plant in January, talk began of having to pay money back.
With more than six months having elapsed since that decision, Russia is now raising the issue anew, demanding the return of $37 million its companies sunk into the projects, RFE/RL has reported.
The deal agreed between Kyrgyzstan and Russia on construction of the Upper Naryn cascade and Kambarata-1 hydropower projects, which were to be built by RusHydro and Inter RAO UES, respectively, officially expired on August 9.
Kyrgyzstan has, on paper at least, been candid about its obligations since day one. In January, deputy Economy Minister Nurlan Sadykov said that $37 million spent on a worker dormitory, cement production facility and other items would be reimbursed.
There was one catch though.
Sadykov added that money would be returned only once Kyrgyzstan had found new investors for the projects in question.
“Kyrgyzstan has fully abided by the obligations placed upon it by the project [agreement],” he said.
Sadykov said that while Kyrgyzstan allocated the necessary land for work, Russia had failed to provide funds required develop it in the required timeframe.
“The lack of financing was what became the cause of the cancellation of the deal,” he said.
No alternative has materialized and it does not appear that Bishkek has made especially concerted efforts to seek out such a party. Generating interest from individuals, companies or states will be tough given the likely costs. RFE/RL explains how the initial estimate for the Upper Naryn cascade was calculated at $400 million, but that this figure later rose to $700 million. And Inter RAO UES was contemplating $2 billion investments into Kambarata-1.
A high-ranking member of a banned opposition party in Tajikistan jailed for purportedly masterminding the hoisting of an Islamic State flag in his town has died in prison, Ozadagon news website has reported.
Ozadagon reported on August 16 that Kurbon Mannonov, who was head of the local branch of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan in the town of Nurek, died at detention facility (SIZO) NO. 1 in Dushanbe overnight. At the time of his sentencing, in February, Mannonov was 73 years old.
Ozadagon cited sources in the IRPT as saying that Mannonov had recently complained of ill-health and bleeding.
A couple of cases involving Islamic State flags over the past year have revealed the new depths being probed by the arch-paranoid government as it seeks to crush all those opposed to its rule. Tajikistan’s Western partners have registered only mute condemnation of the regime embrace of outright authoritarian practices and the United States continues to lavish the government with security assistance.
The Khatlon regional court in February sentenced Mannonov and 12 others to jail terms between 10 and 25 years for putting up the terrorist group’s distinctive black flag. Formally, the group was charged with membership in a criminal organization, public calls for the overturning of the constitutional order and extremist activity.
The group was arrested in August, just as the authorities were beginning to ratchet up their pressure against the IRPT, which has since been banned.
Barely day passes at Tajikistan’s most troubled bank without some grim or bizarre news.
At the start of the week, Firdavs Berdiyev, the would-be fugitive deputy chairman of Tajikistan’s troubled Tojiksodirotbank, resurfaced to give interviews to local media about his whereabouts and plans.
As people close to Berdiyev told EurasiaNet.org last week, the banker has said he is on an international tour in search of potential investors to Tajikistan.
Speaking to Asia-Plus, Berdiyev said that he was in New York looking for people willing to put money into Tojiksodirotbank and its daughter company, the Development Bank of Tajikistan.
“It is indispensable that we attract cheap and long-term resources (ie. funds) and to settle things with our account-holders. I and (Tojiksodirotbank part owner and former chairman) Tojidin Pirzoda have already been in Saudi Arabia, China, Kazakhstan and Russia. I myself was in Moscow for a week and met with bankers there. After that I flew to Europe and from there to New York, where I am holding talks with representatives of American banks,” Berdiyev said, adding that he planned to return to Dushanbe on August 25.
Berdiyev insisted that he was allowed to leave the country unimpeded and that he informed Tojiksodirotbank temporary administration of his plans.
These remarks are transparently addressed at constantly rumbling rumors that the authorities might at some stage initiate legal proceedings against the banks’s management over its chronic insolvency issues.
After a lengthy hiatus, Kazakhstan’s prime minister returned to his Twitter account with a vengeance earlier this year. Karim Masimov’s tweets have been notable largely for their teeth-grinding tediousness, however.
So his social media team (if it exists) must have imagined they would turn the tide around on August 9, when Masimov invited followers to adopt the hashtag #25летнезависимости (#25yearsofindependence) to crowdsource examples of major national achievements over the past quarter century.
State news agency Khabar bizarrely tried to get the ball rolling with some usefully encouraging, if anodyne, examples.
“Madina Yerkin: Did you know that Kazakhstan belongs to 70 international organizations? #25летнезависимости,” read one.
“Bazaraiyim Akzhan: This is interesting! Did you know that at Cambridge University you can study Kazakh language, history and culture? #25летнезависимости,” bragged another.
These did not appear to be real social media postings, but rather the kind of thing Khabar that wanted people to tweet. In the way that post-Soviet governments are convinced that a flash mob is a pre-organized rally organized by the authorities, Khabar and Masimov seem to believe this is how trending is done.
Alas, scrutiny of Twitter reveals that this initiative has failed completely. Jaded tech-savvy Kazakhstanis have, contrary to the intended spirit of the hashtag, used #25летнезависимости to express their bitter irony about their lot.
Twitter user @AlmiriKarpykov wrote: “Our national currency embarked on a bright path of devaluation from 4.75 to 345 to the dollar. And we know this isn’t the end #25летнезависимости”
There are more rumblings of discontent at Tajikistan’s doomed Tojiksodirotbank.
Online news outlet TojNews reported on August 11 that deputy chairman Firdavs Berdiyev had fled the country to Switzerland.
There are a few theories circulating about Berdiyev’s flight, according to the website. One is that he has made himself scarce for fear of being made target of criminal investigation, possibly over the bank’s slow-motion meltdown. Another is that he has left in a mutual agreement with the bank’s management.
Workers at Tojiksodirotbank, which is the country’s second largest lender, say Berdiyev was suspended from his post before his departure, TojNews reported.
Tojiksodirotbank has declined to comment on the report, leaving the banker’s whereabouts in doubt.
Meanwhile, people in Berdiyev’s inner circle have told EurasiaNet.org that he is currently in New York, supposedly in talks to drum up investment in Tojiksodirotbank and a daughter institution of the bank from New York-based Citibank.
“Berdiyev is the deputy chairman and deals with investments,” the source close to the banker told EurasiaNet.org. “In relation to this position, he has spent the last month and a half on business trips. He has been in Moscow and in European countries, and now he is in the United States. On [August] 20, he should be back in Dushanbe. If he wanted to flee, he would have taken out his family first, but all his relatives are still in Dushanbe. The rest of the management at Tojiksodirotbank is also in Tajikistan.”
Then again, what interest Citibank could possibly have in investing in a deeply indebted bank halfway across the world in the former Soviet Union’s poorest economy is anybody’s guess.
Authorities in Kazakhstan have had to mount a rearguard battle against claims that they have dipped into the state pension pot to fund the showcase EXPO-2017 fair in Astana.
A few media outlets, news agency Interfax-Kazakhstan first and foremost, put the cat among the pigeons on August 9 by citing the Kazakhstan Development Bank as saying that it would use 15 billion tenge ($43 million) sourced from the state pension fund to build unspecified facilities on the grounds of EXPO-2017.
Perhaps understandably, the news was immediately and widely interpreted (maliciously misinterpreted, official say) as the government throwing the cash of future retirees at a loss-making vanity project.
The government has steadily been outlining plans on how it intends to use its pension fund bounty, which is gathered through 10 percent levies on the salaries of Kazakhstani workers, to kickstart an economy hamstrung by reliance on low oil prices. Last October, then-National Bank chairman Kairat Kelimbetov announced that 1 trillion tenge out of the fund would be used to support the budget and sunk into stimulus-generating construction and investment projects.
In March, the government clearly listed what kind of investment opportunities pension fund cash could be used for — namely shares, bonds and gold.
The general public is brimming with distrust for its officials, whom they already suspect of trying to auction off land to foreigners over their heads.
RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq, illustrated the mood well with a series of vox pops some months back in which people queried expressed their skepticism about the fate of the pension fund.