Developments put into motion this week are setting the stage for Tajikistan’s irreversible transformation into an autocracy where all power is concentrated in the hands of the president.
On May 22, the country is to hold a referendum to approve amendments to the Constitution that will allow President Emomali Rahmon to run for office indefinitely. Since elections are but a mere formality, the change will in effect allow Rahmon to become a president-for-life.
The existing Constitution limits the president to a two-term limit, but Rahmon is being exempted under the newly enshrined Leader of the Nation title.
Asia-Plus news website reported that the referendum date will be confirmed in parliament on February 10. The legislature is overwhelmingly dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party, while the other deputies all belong to pocket opposition parties.
A few other provisions are envisioned. Amendments to Article 28 of the Constitution, which regulates the creation of political parties, will bar the formation of parties on a religious or atheist basis. That could potentially presage not just the return in a different form of a party built from the ashes of the banned Islamic Renaissane Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), but even the toothless Communist Party, which has two seats in the lower house of parliament.
The role of parties is in any case to be devalued in accordance with a change to Article 1 of the Constitution, which will, once the referendum is approved, designate Tajikistan as a presidential system, according to a draft seen by EurasiaNet.org.
Ever since Russia’s Defense Ministry announced it is to convert its military presence in Tajikistan from a division into a brigade, watchers of the region have been scratching their heads trying to work out the significance of the development.
Authorities in Tajikistan appear no more certain than anybody else what to make of it.
Russian news agency TASS on January 30 cited the commander of the Central Military District, Colonel General Vladimir Zarudnitsky, as saying that the reformatting of the base would make Russian forces more mobile, while reducing the volume of enlisted personnel.
“All the same, the role [of the base] as a Russian outpost in Central Asia and guarantor for peace and stability in the region will remain unchanged,” Zarudnitsky was quoted as saying.
A drastic reorganization of Russian forces in Tajikistan has been in progress since late last year, when news emerged that troops were redeploying away from a base near the southern city of Kulyab. The explanation for the move offered at the time was that it was part of plans to enhance combat readiness.
The motivations for the conversion to brigade status appear even more nebulous, and even Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Aslov confessed to being in the dark.
“Questions about changes to the organizational and staff structure of the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan, as far as increasing or decreasing its size goes, have not been discussed at the official level,” Aslov told Deutsche Welle.
It seems remarkable that Russia’s armed forces are adopting strategic military decisions without bothering to consult their hosts, but the episode is characteristic of Moscow’s high-handed attitude toward Dushanbe in its dealings over the base.
Dwindling remittances from Russia to Tajikistan are being squeezed yet again by government measures preventing migrant laborers from wiring Russian rubles.
New rules that came into effect on February 2 obliged people in Tajikistan receiving transfers made in rubles to collect the funds exclusively in the domestic currency, the somoni.
That appears on first analysis to have been motivated by a desperate urgency at the national bank to build up its foreign cash reserves and keep the somoni on an even keel.
At least two major wire companies popular with migrant laborers in Russia have in turn reacted by stopping the transfer of rubles to Tajikistan, and accepting only other currencies, such as dollar or euros. An employee at one of the wire companies, Zolotaya Korona, said the ruble ban had come into effect on February 4.
In effect, this arrangement will require Tajik workers in Russia to first convert their increasingly devalued ruble salaries into a foreign currency, thereby incurring a commission, and then sending that cash home, also against payment. Although people collecting the cash in Tajikistan can still draw the funds in whatever currency they were wired (as long as it is not rubles), there are concerns the government could soon extend the restrictions to dollars and euros.
The fall in the value of the ruble against the dollar has been slower than that of the somoni since the start of the year, so the value of the remittances is being pinched. The ruble has lost 5 percent against the dollar over that period, while the somoni has fallen by around 13 percent.
The picture is grim as it is.
Remittances for the January-September period in 2015 dropped about 65 percent to $1.054 billion, compared to $3.016 billion over the same period the previous year.
A court in Tajikistan has ruled to extend the detention of jailed lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov by two months, according to a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi.
Ozodi cites the press service of the Ismoil Somoni district court in Dushanbe as saying that the extension is required for further investigation into the case.
Yorov was arrested in September on charges of fraud and forging documents only days after he agreed to represent 13 members of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), whose entire leadership stands accused of attempting to topple the government. The case against Yorov relates to an alleged incident in 2010, when he is said to have received $4,000 dollars from an individual in the city of Istaravshan.
Yorov’s relatives said that court decision on the extension of his detention was adopted in their presence on January 28, Ozodi reported. “We saw him close up, and he felt fine,” one relative told the broadcaster.
Unrelenting pressure against the opposition is par for the course for a government increasingly reliant on unfettered authoritarian measures, but the mistreatment of lawyers is a particularly grim harbinger.
Another lawyer acting for the IRPT, Nuriddin Mahkamov, was arrested on October 22.
Compounding their international reputation for legal nihilism, the authorities earlier this month detained three foreign lawyers — two from Turkey, another from Russia — who had traveled to Tajikistan in the hope of meeting the jailed IRPT members and lawyers.
Unemployment fears are a constant for most people in Tajikistan, but they have never bothered the family of President Emomali Rahmon.
The clan leading the country continued to cement its positions in power on January 27 with the appointment of Rahmon’s daughter, Ozoda, as head of the presidential executive apparatus.
Ozoda Rahmon, 38, previously served as first deputy foreign minister and head of the foreign ministry’s consular section. She has five children and has, according to her official biography, studied at both Georgetown University and in the languages department at the University of Maryland, both in the United States. She is the second of Rahmon’s nine children.
Ozoda’s husband, Jamoliddin Nuraliyev, is the first deputy chairman of the central bank.
Another son-in-law, Shamsullo Sohibov, is Tajikistan’s trade representative to Great Britain. And then there is another son-in-law, Ashraf Gulov, who is Tajikistan’s Consul General to Russia.
Best known among Rahmon’s offspring is, of course, 29-year old Rustam Emomali, who is often touted as a possible successor to the presidency. Emomali currently heads the anticorruption agency — a job that comes on the heels of his appointment to the rank of general at the tender age of 25, when he was also named head of the customs service.
Another Rahmon daughter, Zarrina, is married to the son of the notorious Beg Zukhurov, head of the communications service. Zukhurov is best known for his predilection for blocking websites and phone services, and for accumulating a vast array of business interests while in post.
Tajikistan’s security services have broken their usual silence to deny rumors that several members of the Alfa antiterrorist crack force have fled their post in the remote Gorno-Badakhshan province.
The speculation is an unwelcome reminder of a particularly shattering defection last year, when high-ranking OMON paramilitary police commander Gulmurod Halimov left for Syria and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The State Committee for National Security, or GKNB as the body is known by its Russian initials, said in a statement on January 26 that the rumors were being spread by people inside and outside the country that are seeking to sow instability
“At the current time, all GKNB units are continuing their professional activity as normal and strictly abiding by their service duties,” the statement said.
The incendiary claims of a fresh defection appear to have initially surfaced on the Payhom website, which is linked to the now-banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan.
According to the report on Payhom, a group of around 11-12 Alfa troops dispatched to the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) on the night of January 21 disobeyed their orders and absconded with all their weapons in tow. The report claimed, although without providing sources for its information, that relatives of the Alfa troops in question have been detained in Dushanbe to compel the men to hand themselves in.
Payhom also said GKNB chief Saimumin Yatimov had personally traveled to GBAO to oversee the situation.
Tajikistan is planning to create "special reconnaissance units" to guard the border with Afghanistan, a senior security official has said.
The units will be part of Tajikistan's State Committee for National Security (known by its Russian acronym, GKNB), which oversees the border, according to the commander of the border forces, Radzhabali Rakhmonali.
"The situation on the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border is complex. In Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces the 'Taliban' movement is working actively. So it's been proposed that we restructure the border forces and form special reconnaissance units," Rakhmonali said in parliament on Friday. Last week, Tajikistan suspended operations at its consulates in Kunduz and Badakhshan because of security concerns.
More than 1,000 troops will serve in the new units to start, a military source told AFP. Radzhabali also said that "there are financial means" for attracting more contract troops to the border force.
The proposed restructuring also would make the commander of the border forces responsible directly to the president rather than to the government as is the case now. The restructuring has been approved by the lower house of the parliament, and must be approved by the upper house and then the president. Given the top-down nature of politics in Tajikistan, there's no reason to believe the proposal won't be eventually approved.
As economic anxieties begin escalating into panic across many former Soviet republics, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon has delivered an annual address to parliament brimming with unvarnished optimism.
On the economic front, Rahmon argued in his January 20 speech, that it was all looking pretty good in 2015. Economic growth hit 6 percent, with inflation contained at a very manageable 5 percent. The proportion of the population living in poverty has fallen to 31 percent and gross domestic product per capita has increased by 3.8 percent. Child mortality has dropped by two-and-a-half-fold in the last five years, Rahmon said.
On and on came the figures.
Some claims are embellished, not to speak of outright wrong, while others are stripped of context. That boast of 5 percent growth looks less impressive when you realize that is the fourth consecutive annual drop in the rate of economic expansion. The figures for 2014 is 6.7 percent, and it is 7.4 percent for the year before that.
Without spelling out the details, Rahmon admits to external problems buffeting the economy. Remittances from Russia, where most Tajik migrant laborers work, fell by 65 percent in January-September 2015 ($1.54 billion), compared to the same period in 2014 ($3.16 billion). And that trend looks set to continue.
Leaders in Central Asia are fond of arguing that their plight is caused by the global economic crisis, but it is countries that are reliant on energy and Russia that are really feeling the pinch, as The Economist pointed out in a piece this past week.
Azizamo Asadullayeva seen during a visit to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, on January 4, 2016.
While never passing on an opportunity to bash strict Muslims, Tajikistan’s leaders are trying to have their cake and eat it by casting themselves as pious upholders of the faith.
The latest wheeze about to descend upon the Tajik public is a suggestion to endow President Emomali Rahmon’s little-seen wife with the title of “Leader of Muslim Women in Tajikistan.”
That proposal is the brainchild of Abdullo Muhakkik, a religious commentator best known for his broadsides against Salafist movements, who expanded on the idea in a January 19 editorial carried by state news agency Khovar. The idea may be exotic, but its appearance in Khovar makes it more than likely it will come to pass.
Underpinning Azizamo Asadullayeva’s claim to this newly devised titled is the fact that she has become, according to Muhakkik, the first woman from Central Asia ever to enter the Kabaa, the building at the center of Mecca’s most sacred mosque. Asadullayeva was part of the large delegation, headed by Rahmon, that visited Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
“Until now, dozens of Tajik women have performed the hajj, but have not been inside the Kabaa,” Muhakkik noted admiringly.
Muhakkik said this historic event should serve as example to Tajik women, and that Asadullayeva should stand as a role model for the devout.
The Saudi caretakers of Mecca purportedly bestow this honor on a select few, although they have been especially generous with their Tajik guests. Even one of Rahmon’s daughters, Ozoda Emomali, got to pop into the Kabaa.
Fresh from President Emomali Rahmon’s visit to Mecca, the government in Tajikistan has dreamt up a new way to further curtail the rights of devout Muslims.
Asia-Plus website reported on January 15 that citizens under the age of 40 will no longer be allowed to perform the hajj.
An official on the religious affairs committee, Husein Shokirov, told Asia-Plus that the restrictions would give older Tajiks more of a chance to undertake the pilgrimage.
One ongoing development motivating the move, Shokirov said, are the stricter quotas being put in place by the authorities of Saudi Arabia.
The number of people from Tajikistan allowed to do the hajj in 2015 was 6,300.
Critics of the new age limit of 40, which has been raised from the limit of 35 that was instituted in April, will object that the authorities are attempting crudely to stamp out religiosity among the younger generations. The intent is apparently to prevent instances of radicalization.
Shokirov has also said that imams are to receive training on how to identify extremists and terrorists among worshippers at the mosque.
The courses will be led by representatives of officials religious organizations, who will teach imams how to spot the telltale signs of a terrorist at prayer.
“All imams in the mosques of Tajikistan are well acquainted with the behavior of adherents to our school — the school of Hanafi — and can distinguish them from others,” Shokirov said.
Where that will leave non-orthodox Hanafi practitioners who happen not to be terrorists isn’t clear.