The 29-year old son of Tajikistan’s president continued his speedy ascendancy through high office on January 12 with his appointment as mayor of the capital city.
Rustam Emomali will take over from the long-serving Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, an ultimate insider who has run Dushanbe for 19 years.
A statement on the president’s website notes that Ubaidulloev’s three deputies also resigned their “of their own will,” ensuring that Emomali will be able to smoothly move in his own team.
Nothing in Emomali’s professional background gives any indication he has the requisite skill-set to manage a city that is home to hundreds of thousands of people.
He graduated from the Tajik National University in 2008 with a degree in international economic relations and also did some courses at the foreign ministry’s diplomatic academy. In 2011, he completed legal studies at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in Moscow.
He has served as head of the anti-corruption agency since 2015, prior to which he led the state customs service.
Despite his youth, Emomali already holds the rank of general. This is a particularly remarkable achievement considering he has not served a single day in the armed forces, as countless young Tajiks are required to do by law. None of the normal get-out exemptions from military service appear to apply to Emomali. He is not the only son in his family and is not known to suffer of any debilitating conditions. A real mystery.
The pieces are all falling into place.
It now only remains to be seen what happens with the Senate, which is currently chaired by Ubaidulloev. If the now ex-mayor decides to quit that job “of his own will” as well, Emomali may claim the post, in effect making him the formal successor to his father.
As of January 20, mobile phone operators in Tajikistan will have to increase the cost of outgoing calls to Russia by 20 percent, up to 1.20 somoni ($0.15) per minute. Only four months ago, the cost of a call to Russia per minute was only 0.69 somoni.
The price increase comes by order of the antimonopoly service and at the suggestion of the state communications agency and stands to adversely affect both mobile phone companies and people wishing to keep in touch with their relatives working abroad.
Mobile phone companies have noted on their official websites that the additional cost has been incurred by the fact that calls are now rerouted through the Unified Electronic Communications Switching Center, a network gateway run by state-owned telecommunications company Tojiktelecom, which is in turn owned by the state communications agency.
The aim behind creating the gateway, which is known by its Russian abbreviation EKTs, was said last year to be that of “ensuring national and information security.” In cruder terms, the system theoretically gives authorities complete monitoring powers over internet and mobile phone traffic.
The state communications agency is run by the notorious Beg Zukhurov, a relative of President Emomali Rahmon by marriage.
A brouhaha between Azerbaijan and Armenia is threatening to hamper the operations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in multiple member nations, including Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
OSCE country mandates are the responsibility of the organization’s permanent council, which deals with all the OSCE day-to-day business and is comprised of representatives of all 57 member states. But as the OSCE told EurasiaNet.org “participating states have not yet reached consensus on extension of mandates of a number of OSCE field operations.”
“The Chairmanship continues to lead negotiations on this with the aim of early agreement,” an OSCE press officer said in an email
A source familiar with the situation has said the holdup is down to a battle of wills between Azerbaijan and Armenia over budgets for certain security-related programs. The standoff between the two foes has precipitated a veto from Armenia on the normally automatic extension of field office mandates.
The OSCE has said that its field operations will, this impasse notwithstanding, remain open and continue administrative and non-mandate-related work pending agreement on this issue.
Meanwhile, Moscow-based news website ferghana.ru has cited its own sources as saying the existing situation has had a negative impact of moods within the staff and fostered much disillusionment about the organization’s inability to fulfill its stated missions.
“There is growing disappointment over the nature and purpose of the OSCE, which is supposed to prevent conflicts and yet is powerless when it comes to pursuing consensus, even in such basic matters as the extension of mandates,” the source told the website.
The exodus of Tajikistan’s best minds has reached record levels, according to figures coming out of Russia.
In 2016, 14,000 Tajik family units filed residency applications withs Russia’s Interior Ministry under a state resettlement program designed for former citizens of the Soviet Union.
The number of applications marks a notable increase from 13,000 in 2015 and 10,000 in 2014.
Of those, in 2015, 1,200 families received residence permits, and that figure rose to 1,850 in 2016.
The Russian Interior Ministry’s representative for migration affairs in Tajikistan, Vladislav Makarevich, noted that preference is given to highly qualified applicants.
“First of all education and work experience are considered. Almost everybody who takes part in the program has higher or at least basic education. We are talking about medics, teachers, accountants, entrepreneurs,” Makarevich told Asia-Plus website.
Among all former Soviet nations, Tajikistan generates the greatest number of applications to relocate to Russia.
Russia’s gain naturally translates into Tajikistan’s loss, which continues in a climate of enduring economic stagnation to struggle in holding onto its qualified workforce.
Once families decided to relocate, the move is typically permanent.
The number of Tajik citizens that has received Russian citizenship in the past two deacdes is by some estimates placed at anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000. Arriving at an exact number is complicated by the fact that some people move to Russia for work and only apply for citizenship for several years after residing there.
The gate at Tajikistan's Ayni air base. (photo: The Bug Pit)
Russia is seeking to expand its military presence in Tajikistan by renting the Ayni airbase, Moscow's ambassador to Dushanbe has said.
Tajikistan already hosts the 201st military base, Russia's largest base outside its borders, but the base "needs an air component," said Igor Lyakin-Frolov at a December 27 news conference in Dushanbe. Russia is currently in talks with Tajikistan about the base, which lies on the outskirts of Dushanbe, Lyakin-Frolov added.
Russian media reported in 2013 that Moscow had started negotiations with Dushanbe over the base. "Signing of an additional agreement on the Ayni air force base, which Moscow also intends to rent and to consider part of the 201st military base, is expected," Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported at the time, citing unnamed officials, though that apparently went nowhere. That Lyakin-Frolov said this on the record gives it a bit more credibility, but the recent history of Ayni has featured a lot of disappointed expectations.
In the 2000s India renovated the base at a cost of $70 million, obviously intending to use it themselves, but that never came to pass, as by 2010 Russia had apparently thwarted India's designs. The Indian press still consistently promotes Ayni as India's military foothold in Central Asia, though Delhi officially seems to have given up.
With the New Year holidays approaching, Russia and Tajikistan have decided to engage in a fresh round of battle of flight bans.
The dispute is sowing deep uncertainty among passengers and affecting those most vulnerable, the Tajik migrant laborers upon whom Tajikistan’s economy strongly depends.
The first to be hit by the new bans were the passengers expecting to fly on December 23 on Somoni Air from the Russian city of Orenburg after aviation authorities in Russia stopped the company from operating in its skies. Somoni Air is now barred from flying at another four Russian cities.
The history of the dispute dates back to early November. Dushanbe fired the first salvo by refusing to give clearance to flights arriving from the Moscow region airport of Zhukovo, to which Russia reacted by threatening a complete halt to all flights to Tajikistan.
A Tajik delegation travel to Moscow on November 7 and managed after some panicked negotiations to reach a workable compromise and avert the embargo.
Trouble resumed on December 21, when Russia again threatened to close its airspace to Tajik airlines if Dushanbe would not agree to admit flights from Yamal Airlines, a company based in the northern Siberian town of Salekhard. More than 100 tickets had been sold for this route.
But Tajikistan’s Transportation Ministry said that during the November negotiations, Tajikistan agreed only to flights for Ural Airlines and Tajik Air, and that there was no mention of Yamal Airlines.
The Transportation Ministry noted that Yamal had no right to sell tickets without receiving a permit from the the government.
The yawning, decades-long divide between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will get that little bit narrower next week when a senior Uzbek delegation travels to Dushanbe for talks on trade and economic cooperation.
The delegation will travel to Tajikistan on December 26 and be led by Uzbek deputy prime minister Rustam Azimov, whose recent removal as finance minister appears for now to signal his transition to a role as the lead on development of Uzbekistan’s external economic ties.
Talks will focus on reopening railway and road links that have now been closed for several years. At the heart of the historic disaccord is Tajikistan’s plan to build a giant hydropower dam that Uzbekistan could threaten its access to vital irrigation water. Tashkent has tried by multiple means — mainly by imposing a de facto transit embargo — to hinder progress on that dam and force Dushanbe to back down.
Dushanbe-based news website Asia Plus reported that the Uzbek-Tajik intergovernmental commission convening in Dushanbe will agree on the reopening of specific railway and road links, suggesting the talks may go beyond an rhetoric exchange of goodwill messages. The website cited unnamed Tajik government sources as saying the two sides will agree on the opening on new border crossings.
This comes on the heels of an announcement in November that flights are set to resume between the two countries in January for the first time in 24 years.
The game of pass the parcel with one of Tajikistan’s rare industrial success stories has now led to a promising fertilizer plant being taken over by Chinese investors.
The lower house of parliament on December 14 ratified a deal between Tajikistan and China for Henan Zhong-Ya holding group to assume control of OAO Azot in a deal that will require the company to invest $360 million over the coming three years.
All in all, the deal is a sweet one for Henan Zhong-Ya. Azot will enjoy a tax holiday for a six-year period as it gradually ramps up production. The plant specializing in the production of carbamide, or urea, an organic compound used in fertilizer.
The plant has been standing idle since it was nationalized at the expense of Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash in 2014.
For the first 10 years of resumed operations, the plant will be 51 percent owned by the Chinese, while the remainder will be held by the Tajik government. The general director of the company will be Chinese.
Annual demand for carbamide in Tajikistan is around 360,000 tons, an amount it now imports at a cost of $50 million. The plant, which is situated in the southern Khatlon region, is slated to reach annual output of 200,000 tons of carbamide within the first two years.
Under the bilateral agreement, 30 percent of profits will go to the Tajik state and the rest to the Chinese partner.
There is a requirement, however, that half the employees must be Tajik nationals at the start to operations, and that this number must increase to 90 percent within 18 months.
A deeply troubled bank in Tajikistan is promising its customers that there is light at the end of the tunnel, although it is a mystery how it is pulling off the trick.
Tojiksodirotbank, the country’s second-largest lender, told some account-holders on December 13 that it will soon be in a position to pay out savings, ending months of worry for clients unable to get their hands on their money.
Signs that some things have begun to revert to a semblance of normality came earlier in the day with news that the bank’s former chairman and part owner, Tojidin Pirzoda, was being reinstated. Pirzoda was reportedly squeezed out of the bank in May along with six top executives as the lender was bing taken into administration by the National Bank of Tajikistan. Only Pirzoda is back so far, according to EurasiaNet.org sources.
An official announcement about the payment of deposits has not yet been made, but it is reportedly imminent.
The riddle is who or what is stumping up the cash. Tojiksodirotbank has been badly hit by its exposure to bad loans and collapse in the value of migrant remittances. It has previously announced it was in talks of a buyout by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), but that has yet to materialise.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, cited Pirzoda as saying the money came in the form of a rescue package from the government. It is this money that will be pass on to account-holders, he said.
Asia-Plus news website reported, citing its own sources, that the bailout package was for 2 billion somoni ($250 million at the official rate) and that the government now owns an 80 percent stake in Tojiksodirotbank.
The defense ministers of Russia and Tajikistan, Sergey Shoigu and Sherali Mirzo, respectively, sign a military aid agreement in Moscow. (photo: mil.ru)
Russia has promised a "large quantity" of military aircraft to Tajikistan over the next year. The aid is part of a deal that the two countries signed in 2012, but which has taken on more urgency since Moscow began worrying about China's military/diplomatic advances in Tajikistan.
The deal was announced on November 30 at a meeting of defense ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow.
“Next year the key phase of our military-technical cooperation will begin, the delivery of weaponry and military equipment,” said Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said after a meeting with his Tajikistan counterpart, Sherali Mirzo. “In particular, this is a large quantity of aviation equipment, airplanes and helicopters. I think this will be implemented according to plan and on schedule.”
Shoigu didn't provide any additional information about the aircraft. On December 2, the newspaper Asia Plus, citing an unnamed Tajikistan defense ministry source, said that all of the equipment would be new, not used. And it wouldn't be only aircraft. “The forthcoming Russia’s armament supplies to Tajikistan will include a large number of aviation equipment, including combat aircraft, as well as armored vehicles and communication means,” the source said.