Governments in Tajikistan will under new rules now have to swear an oath of office to the president before they can begin doing their jobs.
Although the requirement is largely symbolic, it will serve to further elevate the office of the president and the status of its current occupant, Emomali Rahmon, to a quasi-regal level. As such, the change is in keeping with Tajikistan’s devolution into an autocracy underpinned by a cult of personality.
Member of parliament Mavzuna Sharofiddinova told RFE/RL’s Tajik serice, Radio Ozodi, that the oath to the president would make the government more effective and improve its performance.
Parliament, however, will continue to swear fealty to the people rather than the president himself.
In another episode of toadying, parliament on June 22 also approved the creation of a new holiday with a symbolic date. Diplomat’s Day will be observed on September 29, which falls on the anniversary of Rahmon’s first ever address before the UN General Assembly in 1993.
On point of fact though, the first address by a Tajik official to the UN was actually in 1992 by the then foreign minister, Hudoiberdi Holiknazar.
In the hope of earning such lavish adulation, Rahmon has been making some lofty promises this week.
In a speech on June 21, he promised that average life expectancy would in the next 15 years be raised to 80, up from around 69 at the moment. Child mortality rates will be lowered to “international standards” over that same span, he pledged.
Rahmon also vowed the level of formal employment will be increased from 40 percent to 70 percent of the work-able population and that preschool places will be made available to 50 percent of eligible children, up from 12 percent at the moment.
One of the most notorious figures in Tajikistan’s post-independence history and a once-indispensable ally of President Emomali Rahmon was released from jail on June 21.
Yakub Salimov, whose storied life includes stints as a racketeer, pogrom organizer, warlord and Interior Minister, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2005 on charges of treason for attempting to mount an attempted coup in the late 1990s. Unusually for Tajikistan, the charges were almost certainly justified. The sentence was subsequently shortened by amnesty.
Salimov’s release has long been trailed but remains no less surprising considering the extent of the bad blood between him and Rahmon.
The coup charges against Salimov were filed in 1998, but he managed to evade arrest for several years before finally being deported from Russia in 2003.
His rise to the post of Interior Minister came in April 1992, when the exiled Supreme Soviet, based in the northern city of Khujand, appointed a Cabinet composed almost entirely of natives of Kulyab — Rahmon’s primary power base — and Khujand, where most of the Soviet-era Tajik elite emerged. Dushanbe was under armed opposition control at the time.
With his experience as a feared gangster, Salimov became one of the tough men of the hour. Still, notwithstanding the unfolding war of the time, that a man with his past should have been picked to become head of the police provoked much disbelief.
Authorities in Tajikistan have said they have all but contained a breakout from a jail in the northern city of Khujand, while at least one media outlet has reported that numerous prisoners have escaped.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that one man was shot dead while trying to flee the prison in a breakout that occurred at 8:45 p.m on June 17. Another prisoner was wounded and captured during the breakout, while a third managed to escape, despite sustaining injuries, the statement said.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that a prison guard, 52-year-old Ermamad Alimamadov, was stabbed to death during the escape.
Officials have variously speculated to the media that the fugitives were plotting to cross over to Afghanistan and possibly attempt to join the ranks of the Islamic State group.
The escapees were named as Ramzullohon Dodohonov, Habibjon Yusupov, Mirzozarif Kayumov. Dodohonov was sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2013 for allegedly participating in militant activities in Pakistan’s tribal region of Waziristan. Kayumov was serving a 14-year jail sentence handed down in December for fighting alongside Islamist radicals in Iraq. The standout figure in the trio was Yusupov, who was also sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2014, but over a non-religious extremism-related case. He took part in the robbery of a money exchange point that culminated with the death of an employee.
Kayumov was shot dead by guards as he was trying to flee. Yusupov was wounded and detained. Dodohonov incurred injuries too, but managed to escape.
The U.S.'s primary interests in Central Asia are making sure the region doesn't become a terrorist sanctuary and protecting it from Russian influence, a senior State Department official has testified. The statement suggests a shift in Washington (rhetorically, at least) toward a Central Asia policy oriented toward security and away from political reforms and human rights.
U.S. official statements about Central Asia policy usually describe Washington's interests as threefold: promoting political and economic reform, developing the region's oil and gas resources, and improving security. The introduction to the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Daniel Rosenblum at a congressional hearing last year was typical:
Since the fall of the Soviet Union nearly 25 years ago, the United States has supported the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of the states of Central Asia, while also promoting the political and economic reforms that can ensure their long-term stability and prosperity. U.S. security is directly tied to a stable Central Asia. Central Asia’s energy resources and transport corridors can help drive regional and global economic growth in the decades to come. And some of Central Asia’s most serious challenges – such as transnational crime, terrorism, violent extremism, and climate change – affect our national interests as well, and require us to work closely together with them.
Condemnations have been rolling in over the past few days for the trial in Tajikistan that culminated last week with lengthy jail sentences for numerous opposition politicians.
With palpable reluctance, the US Embassy joined in with the chorus on June 9 with a remarkably feeble statement on the proceedings at the widely condemned trial of the Islamic Renaissance Party’s leadership. The statement reiterated that the embassy had earlier urged Tajikistan to conduct a fair and transparent trial, but signally avoided observing whether the court had in fact lived up to those standards. Such criticism as was formulated was tepid in the extreme.
“The U.S. Embassy has also raised with the government its concerns that the public was not allowed to attend and observe the proceedings,” the statement said.
The Supreme Court in Dushanbe on June 2 sentenced Mahmadali Hayit and Saidumar Khusaini, deputy leaders of the now-banned IRPT, to life in prison on flimsy charges of involvement in a purported attempted coup in September. Another 12 leading party figures were handed sentences of between two and 28 years in jail at the end of the closed-doors trial.
Not only were the public, journalists and diplomats prevented from attending the trial, but independent media have been informally warned against reporting any statements from the IRPT in future on pain of having their licenses revoked.
The US Embassy statement was decidedly understated about what the IRPT trial has put at stake.
“These and other recent actions silence opposition voices and discourage free and open participation in Tajikistan’s democratic development,” the statement said. “The long-term security, stability, and prosperity that Tajikistan desires can only come through a strong commitment to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
Qahhor Mahkamov, the first president of Tajikistan, who led the country until the eve of independence and at a time of profound political convulsions, has died at the age of 84.
Asia-Plus website reported on June 8 that Mahkamov had long been suffering from illness.
Mahkamov was born to a peasant family on April 16, 1932, in the northern city of Khujand, which produced much of Tajikistan Soviet elite. His career followed a classic Soviet trajectory.
In 1953, he graduated from the Leningrad mountain mining institute and that same year began working as an engineer at a coal mine in Shurab, a village straddling the border with Kyrgyzstan. While progressing steadily up the ranks of the mining sector, in 1957, he joined the Communist Party.
In 1961, he was appointed chairman of the city executive committee of Leninabad, as Khujand was known at the time. Two years later, he was promoted to chairman of the Tajik SSR’s State Planning Committee, or Gosplan, a position he occupied for 19 years. From 1965, he simultaneously acted as deputy chairman of ministers in the Tajik SSR. And then from 1982 to 1986, he served as chairman of ministers in the Tajik SSR.
In December 1984, Mahkamov was appointed first secretary of the central committee of the Communist Party of Tajikistan, de facto making him the republic’s leader. From 1986, he became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Despite being a true-believer in the communist system, Mahkamov embraced the reforms that came with perestroika and thought they would enable to flourishing of national self-awareness.
The leadership of what was once Tajikistan’s last surviving genuine opposition party has been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, ending a trial that has sealed the country’s inexorable descent into full-fledged authoritarianism.
The Supreme Court in Dushanbe sentenced Mahmadali Hayit and Saidumar Khusaini, deputy leaders of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, to life in prison, RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Ozodi, reported on June 2.
IRPT faced accusations that it was involved in an alleged attempted coup in September that authorities say was mounted by a disaffected deputy defense minister.
Another 12 leading party figures were handed sentences of between two and 28 years in jail at the end of the closed-doors trial, according to lawyers and relatives of the accused.
The mildest sentence, two years in jail, was reserved for Zarafo Rahmoni, the only woman on trial. The others senteced were Rahmatullo Rajab, Kiemiddin Avazov, Abdukahhor Davlat, Sattor Karimov (28 years), Zubaydulloh Roziq (25 years), Fayzmuhammad Muhammadalii (23 years), Rustam Sadiddin (20 years), Vohidkhon Qosiddinov (20 years), Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda (16 years), Mahmadsharif Nabiev and Abdusamad Ghairatov (14 years). All were members of IRPT political council, except for Ghairatov, who led the party cell in the southern Kulob region.
The sentences are in line with what had been expected and reflect the rapid decline of Tajikistan’s political freedoms and human rights.
Villages in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan and Afghanistan have been joined by an electricity transmission line that will bring power to 3,000 Afghans for the first time in their history.
A ceremony to commemorate the event was observed by representatives from the US Embassy and the Aga Khan Foundation, who jointly funded the project, and Tajik and Afghan government officials, a US Embassy said in a statement issued on May 31.
The tortuous road that snakes along the Panj River, which marks the boundary between Tajikistan’s Pamir region and Afghanistan, presents a scene of stark contrasts. Villages on the Tajik side receive steady supplies of electricity from Pamir Energy, an energy company founded in 2002 as a public-private partnership between the government of Tajikistan, the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development and the International Finance Cooperation. When night falls, Afghan villages are largely plunged into darkness, while countless electric lights almost a literal stone’s throw away twinkle in the Tajik villages.
The US Embassy statement said that joining the Afghan villages to the electricity grid in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast
was completed with $1 million grant from USAID and a complementary $464,000 contribution from the Aga Khan Foundation.
“In addition to the newly connected villages, the project helped Pamir Energy upgrade its existing systems and infrastructure, laying the groundwork for further expansion and service improvement to customers on both sides of the Tajik-Afghan border,” the statement said.
Similar stories of cross-border cooperation are all too rare, but this precedent is a heartening change from the stories of violence and drug-trafficking more typically associated with the Afghan border.
With the referendum out of the way, Tajikistan is back to usual business: banning things.
On May 24, Education and Science Minister Nuriddin Said issued a decree abolishing the cherished tradition of the “final bell,” wherein graduating secondary school students celebrate their last day of class.
Terms ends this year on June 7, but instead of the usual merriment, students will simply attend class and then presumably be expected to forlornly file home.
According to Said, failure to enforce this new order will result in punitive measures against education ministry officials and headmasters.
Unaccountable as it may seem for a country’s whose educational system is so riddled with shortcomings, the final bell has become something of an obsession. Every year has brought new amendments and restrictions.
In 2007, the name of the final day was changed from “final bell,” as it is known across most of the former Soviet space, to “bell of maturity” and the date pushed back from May 25 to June 6. That provision was intended to dampen the ardor of revelry and was accompanied by a ban on parties in restaurants, whip-rounds for graduating students, gift-giving and mass outdoor gatherings.
Typically, the day begins at 8 a.m. with a 45-minute assembly at students bring balloons, dance and sing. Diplomas, medals and awards are handed out.
The ban on grand last-day celebrations is based in part, it would seem, on concerns that some parties can on occasion get out of control. Some students mark the day by riding in cars, often recklessly and great speed, around their neighborhoods and on occasion cause fatal accidents.
It has been an open secret for months that Tajikistan’s No. 2 bank is completely broke, but the lender has finally come out into the open with a plea for international assistance.
bne Intellinews reported on May 11 that Tojiksodirotbank this week discussed a possible cash injection with officials from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in exchange for a 50 percent equity stake.
Tojiksodirotbank chairman Pirzoda Tojidin told the financial news website that he had already met with EBRD top brass and agreed on an assistance program.
"We have another meeting with them [on May 12], but it remains to be seen if we can meet the EBRD's conditions,” Tojidin told bne Intellinews.
This marks the first time Tojiksodirotbank has admitted to its severe liquidity problems, which has been no mystery to anybody unlucky enough to have their savings in the bank.
The lender tried in vain to downplay insistent media reports about its difficulties in March, when it issued a statement attributing interruptions in its services to a switchover in its money-processing system.
“Short-term disruptions in the functioning of bank cards are possible. We apologize for the inconvenience,” the statement said.
Countless deposit-holders at Tojiksodirotbank remain unable to get their cash to this day, however.
Negotiations with EBRD to facilitate some kind of rescue package have been in the works for some months.