Almost inevitably, a group of deputies in Tajikistan has proposed a draft bill to designate President Emomali Rahmon the “leader of the nation.”
Nothing is known yet about what specific additional powers the honorific might endow on Rahmon, but the proposal fits into a broader pattern of state-sponsored adulation of the president.
Asia-Plus reported that the legislation to create the title — the full name of which is “Founder of Peace and Harmony: Leader of the Nation” — is being studied at committee stage in parliament. Since 51 out of the 63 seats in parliament are held by the ruling People’s Democratic Party, there can be little doubt how that is going to pan out.
Perhaps the only surprising aspect of this proposal is that is has not come earlier. Rahmon’s portraits are a ubiquitous sight across the country and power has been increasingly consolidated in his hands with the elimination of all political opponents.
Central Asia is familiar with such personalized styles of leadership.
Under legislation approved in 2010, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev was named “Leader of the Nation,” a title that gave him and his family lifelong immunity and bestowed Nazarbayev with the right to intervene in policy-making following his retirement.
Rahmon’s elevation to the made-up leader of the nation status may in part be designed to do away with the legalities technically limiting his right to seek reelection in perpetuity.
Even supporters of the president concede that Rahmon would not be permitted to run again once his current seven-year term runs out in 2020.
Residents of Tajikistan's southern city of Kulyab are lamenting the imminent departure of the Russian military presence there, which is slated to move to the capital, Dushanbe in two months.
News of the base closure broke last week, after which it emerged that the Russian soldiers in Kulyab would be moving to other facilities within Tajikistan and that the Kulyab facility would be handed over to the government of Tajikistan.
"The redeployment was agreed with the Ministry of Defense of Tajikistan and is going according to plan. It is in the interests of increasing the military readiness and the growth of the military potential of the units," said Yaroslav Roshchupkin, a spokesman for Russia's Central Military District, reported RIA Novosti. "The military base in Kulyab will be handed over to the jurisdiction of the government organs of Tajikistan."
The overall size of the Russian military presence in Tajikistan won't change, Roshchupkin added. "Of the three Russian military objects in the region, two will remain -- the Kurgan-Tyube motor rifle regiment and the 'Okno' optical-electrionic structure of the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces."
But that didn't really answer the question of why the move was being made. It's particularly curious given the amount of attention Russia has been paying to the purported threat of radical Islamists militants spilling over from Afghanistan into Central Asia. Kulyab is only about 40 kilometers from the Afghan border, and as such would seem to be ideally placed to protect against that spillover threat.
Tajikistan has met its quota for the fall military conscription drive 10 days ahead of time this year, state news agency Khovar reported on November 20.
If true, it is a remarkable achievement for a country where so many able-bodied young men have left for overseas in search of work.
This year’s conscript recruitment drive was tinged with bloodshed after two officers with the military mobilization office were killed after being attacked in the capital, Dushanbe, early November 7. Two men have been arrested on suspicion of committing the killings, although authorities have said they still are uncertain over the motive. Investigators said after the incident that the killings were not linked to recruitment drive, although since the two suspects are unemployed and of conscription age, it seems possible that assertion may need to be revisited.
Khovar said the first provinces to meet the quota were Khatlon and Gorno-Badakhshan, followed by Dushanbe, the Sughd province and finally the Districts of Republican Subordination, an area that surrounds Dushanbe.
The two month-long fall military enlistment season had been due to end on November 30. Male adults aged 18 to 27 are eligible for call-up, which boosts the ranks of the military by up to 16,000 draftees every year, according to Defense Ministry figures.
As Khovar notes, there are 600,000 people of eligible age, but 150,000 are exempt for various reasons, while another 100,000 are working abroad. It is unclear though if that larger figure also includes those that have already done their service. The figure for the number of people living abroad may strike some as seeming surprisingly low. An exact calculation on that is difficult as many young men travel to Russia for work without going through much of the necessary bureaucratic procedures.
A group of students from Tajikistan’s universities — not known to be hotbeds of political activity — are purportedly up in arms that Western governments will not deport wanted members of the opposition.
For all the claimed wide-scale anger, however, demonstrations in front of the U.S. and German embassies on November 19 managed to draw only a handful of young people.
In October, a petition was started up at the Tajik National University demanding the extradition of prominent critics of the government currently based abroad. Backers of the petition, which has called for countries hosting Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) leader Mukhiddin Kabiri, the head of the Vatandor opposition movement, Dodojon Atovulloyev, and former Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullajanov to be handed over, say they have got signatures of support from 400 students across multiple universities.
That enthusiasm was decidedly absent at the pickets, to which nobody thought to bring banners or placards.
The appeals were submitted to legislators in the United States, Germany, and the European Union, and, on somewhat spurious grounds, to the University of Heidelberg in Germany, according to organizers of the initiative.
“Kabiri spoke at Heidelberg University and criticized the policies of Tajikistan’s government,” explained picket organizer Asliddin Khushvakhtov.
The IRPT was a vaguely tolerated nominal opposition force until this summer, but authorities seized on the opportunity of what it claimed was an uprising by disaffected former defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda to finally crush the party. Prosecutors claimed the party was involved in the alleged revolt and designated it a terrorist organization.
Khushvakhtov was eager to recite the government’s line on the IRPT.
Tajikistan’s Asia-Plus news website is reporting that Russian troops are pulling out of their base in the southern city of Kulyab in an unexpected and, so far, unexplained development.
The website based its report on November 18 on an official order from Russian military command obtained by local residents with ties to the base.
“We inform you that in connection with a [Russian Central Military District] directive, this military facility is being relocated as of October 15, 2015. The relocation will be completed within two months of receipt of this directive,” reads the summons, as reproduced by Asia-Plus.
No details are provided about where the garrison is to be relocated.
Kulyab is one of the three cities in Tajikistan where the Russian 201st Motor Rifle Division is deployed — the others are Dushanbe and Kurgan-Tyube.
Russian troops numbers in the country are estimated to stand at around between 6,000 and 7,000.
The presence of the base in Kulyab provokes mixed feelings. While adding to the local economy, the military presence has also been at the root of much scandal in recent years.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported in July on an incident of drunken Russian soldiers going on the rampage in Kulyab and getting into a mass brawl with some local men.
In an earlier incident in February, a Russian officer was charged with grievously assaulting a waiter in Kulyab, RFE/RL reported.
And although the base is a valuable economic input, even that aspect has on occasion fallen short of people’s expectations.
Tajikistan is the latest country in Central Asia to get a bad news update on its economy, although probably to nobody’s great surprise.
The World Bank said on November 17, during its latest bi-annual update on the state of the country’s economy, that gross domestic product growth is set to slow to 4.2 percent this year.
That dip in performance is down to the widely reported decrease in remittances from Russia, as well as reduced demand and prices for Tajikistan’s main export commodities — aluminum and cotton.
“Remittances are the second largest source of household income in Tajikistan, so this sharp decline in remittances is limiting household consumption and is putting the sustainability of recent gains in poverty reduction at risk,” World Bank country manager Patricia Veevers-Carter said in a statement.
The figure offered for this year marks a decline from the 6.7 percent growth registered in 2014, but is still higher than the deep slump to 3.8 percent growth seen in 2009, when the world was in the throes of a financial meltdown. But the immediate post-crash recovery seen at that time is unlikely to be repeated as swiftly since Russia’s economy is set to remain in the doldrums for some time to come at current estimates.
The World Bank suggested that Tajikistan’s way out of crisis will be to support job creation in the private sector, improve workforce skills and enable access to labor among the most vulnerable.
The country has the region’s most parlous foreign exchange reserves situation, chronically loss-making state enterprises and a dismal banking sector, which is compounding matters even further.
About 4,500 Islamist militants are operating in northern Afghanistan near the borders of Central Asia, and are planning to create an "emirate" consisting of much of the territory of the region, Russian officials have said.
"According to the information we have, in that area groups of militants are moving toward the border of the [former Soviet Union], in particular to the borders of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan," said Alexander Manilov, coordinator of the Commonwealth of Independent States border guard services, at a meeting on Thursday of the group in Astana. (The CIS is an organization of post-Soviet states.)
"Therefore one of our tasks today is to discuss how to liquidate these threats on the border and that they don't cross into the CIS countries," he said. "According to estimates about the Afghan border, around 4,500 militants, terrorists, are located in the Afghan territories bordering immediately on the CIS countries."
"I believe this is significantly more than it used to be before," Manilov added. "I think there are real threats - from penetrations across the border to attempts to destabilize the states on the [Afghan] border."
A soldier at the Russian military base in Tajikistan is suspected by police of murdering a Tajik citizen in an occurrence with apparent echoes of another killing in the country last year.
State news agency Khovar reported on November 10 that Tajik and Russian law enforcement officers jointly detained the suspect. Officials have said the killing took place on the grounds of the Russian military base in the capital, Dushanbe.
The Russian Defense Ministry is dispatching a Central Military District commission to investigate the circumstances that led to the suspected killing.
Khovar named the suspect as Ivan Scherbakov, a senior lieutenant with the 201st Russian military base, and the victim as Shoira Jabborova.
Scherbakov told investigators that he had no memory of the events of which he stands accused as he was heavily intoxicated at the time, Khovar reported.
Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Dushanbe to express its concern over the case.
“In the meeting, the ambassador was informed that these events are not in conformity with the spirit of traditional friendship and strategic partnership between our two nations,” the ministry said in an emailed statement.
The Foreign Ministry said it demanded that Russia objectively assess the incident and take necessary measures to avoid such acts being committed by Russian military personnel.
The fate of the accused will be watched closely, since murders committed by Russian soldiers have in the past led — not only in Tajikistan — to disputes about jurisdiction.
Two officers with the military mobilization office in Tajikistan were killed over the weekend in a yet unexplained incident in the capital, police said in a statement on November 9.
The Interior Ministry said that around 7:20 a.m. on November 7, unknown people attacked a group of four officers with knives in the Sino district and then fled the scene. Major Pulod Mirzoyev died on the spot, while warrant officer Hamza Nasibov succumbed to his injuries in the hospital several hours later.
Police are now trying to confirm the identity of the attackers and are appealing to the public for help and offering a $10,000 reward for any information leading to arrest.
The details of the case are still hazy, but there will already be strong suspicions the cause of the incident may have been to do with the work the military officers were performing. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has cited Defense Ministry spokesman Faridun Mahmadaliev as denying the link.
Tajikistan is currently going through its bi-annual two month-long military enlistment season. Male adults aged 18 to 27 are eligible for call-up, which boosts the ranks of the military by up to 16,000 draftees every year, according to Defense Ministry figures. The autumn call-up season opens on October 1 and ends on November 30.
Radio Free Europe’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported earlier this year that some 600,000 Tajik men fall within the 18-27 age group, but that many are exempt for reasons of ill-health or because they are the only sons in the famliy. The conscription drive is further complicated by the large number of eligible and able-bodied men living abroad for work.
U.S. and Azerbaijani military officials meet in Baku during the visit of U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. (photo: U.S. Navy)
The United States Secretary of the Navy has visited Azerbaijan amid heightened tensions on the Caspian Sea.
Secretary Ray Mabus visited Baku on Saturday and met with President Ilham Aliyev as well as Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov. There were no details announced about the content of the discussions, but the visit seems to have been heavily covered in Azerbaijan. And Aliyev, according to the state news agency AzerTac, "noted that the situation in the region has changed a lot recently."
Some of those changes include Russia's repeated launching of cruise missiles from ships in the Caspian; the abrupt cancelation of what would have been the first-ever Iranian naval visit to Baku; and increasingly vocal support by Western officials for construction of a trans-Caspian pipeline to carry gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan and on to Europe. All of that, presumably, would have given Mabus and Aliyev a lot to talk about.
Mabus arrived in Baku from Dushanbe where, curiously, the local media seems to have ignored the visit and the U.S. account only mentions him visiting American diplomatic and military officers in Tajikistan. Tajikistan, being landlocked, doesn't have a navy but Mabus also oversees the U.S. Marine Corps, who have been involved in training Tajikistan's special forces units.