Uzbekistan and Tajikistan signed an agreement this week for flights to resume between the two countries for the first time in 24 years.
Uzbek news website Podrobno.uz cited Dushanbe international airport on November 30 as saying that that under the agreement there will be twice-weekly flights between Dushanbe and Tashkent serviced by Uzbekistan Airlines and Tajikistan’s Somoni Air.
On the same day, an Uzbek charter plane made a flight to Dushanbe, setting the model for the way forward. The route is due to begin operating regularly in January.
Asia-Plus reported that both countries agreed on conditions for transit flights and air cargo traffic.
Air links between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were suspended in 1992 at Tashkent’s initiative as Tajikistan began its descent into several years of bloody civil conflict. The late President Islam Karimov had previously made tentative gestures toward restarting the flights, but those overtures were dashed by Tajikistan’s plans to build the Roghun hyrdropower dam, which Tashkent strongly opposed.
Observers note that initial passenger traffic is unlikely to be great, however, since a visa regime has been in place between the countries since 2001 — sign of how much mutual trust had deteriorated between the former Soviet republics.
Tajik journalist Muzafar Yunusov told EurasiaNet.org that he believed that unless the visa system was annulled, “flights would only be for a select few.”
Tajikistan’s Interior Minister has reportedly written a poem in honor of the president, and the head of the security services has written a warm review of the work.
The recent national outbreak of lyrical devotion to Emomali Rahmon was the result of a poetry competition announced by the Interior Ministry to mark the newly created President’s Day, to be henceforth observed annually on November 16.
The requisite tone was set in state-run newspaper Jumhuriyat, which on November 9 published a ripe piece of verse consisting of 55 couplets entitled “In Praise of the Leader of the Nation.” The poem was signed under the enigmatic nom de plume Nihon, the Tajik word for secretive.
And nobody would likely have given the doggerel a second — or even a first — glance had the head of the State Committee for National Security, Saymumin Yatimov, not published a complimentary review of the poem on President’s Day.
As Tajik news website Akhbor has revealed, Nihon is none other than Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda.
According to Akhbor’s investigations, Rahimzoda has been honing his lyrical skills ever since he was a mere stripling of man, although he has refrained thus far from sharing his oeuvre with the world.
The revelation of Rahimzoda’s artistic bent has given rise to suspicions that it is this that may lie behind his ministry’s predilection for holding regular evening poetry and musical performances. Notices for such events are routinely posted on the Interior Ministry website, in between wanted bulletins and statements about the latest arrests, many of them involving members of the opposition.
Tajikistan’s hasty decision to revoke accreditation for six journalists working for RFE/RL’s local affiliate, Radio Ozodi, has sparked broad dismay, including from the US government.
The cancellation of the reporters’ accreditation followed publication on Radio Ozodi’s website of a story about one of President Emomali Rahmon’s daughters, Rukhshona Rahmonova, being nominated to a plum post in the Foreign Ministry.
In customary fashion, the Foreign Ministry called Radio Ozodi warning them to pull the article, but the broadcaster refused, precipitating the reprisal.
RFE/RL President Thomas Kent described the Tajik government’s action as a “blatant attack on our ability to do our jobs as journalists.”
“This is an abuse of an administrative procedure for political purposes that we expect to be reversed without delay,” Kent said in a statement on the RFE/RL website
RFE/RL has said this is not the only recent instance of Tajik authorities trying to force content off its website. Earlier in November, the authorities demanded the broadcaster pull a news item about a statement posted on the US Embassy website warning of a possible imminent terrorist attack on the border with Afghanistan.
This pressure forms part of a systematic campaign of intimidation against Radio Ozodi.
“The Service’s website has been blocked since September, 2015, requiring users to employ alternative means to access it. Radio Ozodi journalists have been portrayed as being ‘unpatriotic’ and damaging the country’s image in official media, interrogated by security service agents, and proffered ‘friendly advice’ by authorities to avoid problems,” RFE/RL said.
Quick on the heels of independent newspaper Nigoh, another media outlet has closed it doors in Tajikistan. TojNews news agency announced its demise on its own website on November 14 and predicted that it would soon be curtains for other outlets.
Both Nigoh and TojNews were run by Dushanbe-based think tank Indem.
“After we announced on November 2 that we were closing Nigoh, we expected the news agency would follow. It will soon also be the turn of some other private publications. This reason is clear: the conditions in Tajikistan no longer exist for independent media and free journalism. We do not believe this situation will be permanent,” Indem said in a statement.
Nigoh declared it was suspending operations earlier this month on the eve of the publication’s 10th anniversary, citing an unspecified “lack of appropriate conditions.” While doing so, the newspaper made it clear that its finances were in good order, thereby heavily suggesting a political subtext to its demise.
Soon after Nigoh’s closure, the National Association of Independent Mass Media of Tajikistan, or NANSMIT, released a statement conveying its concern and describing the news as a further blow to the country’s media landscape.
“For 10 years operating as a national publication, Nigoh has sough to serve as an alternative news source. But the newspaper’s editorial policy, whose independence was guaranteed under the law, did not suit certain officials and state bodies. We have documented attempts to intimidate the publication’s reporters, harassment of their operations and interference in Nigoh’s editorial output,” NANSMIT said in its statement.
The US Embassy in Tajikistan issued a warning on its website on November 9 about terrorist groups possibly targeting public gatherings or crossings on the border with Afghanistan.
The message claimed to be based on specific information received by the embassy and urged US citizens to take additional precautions.
Advice included avoiding large crowds and public transport. The embassy singled out the mountainous eastern region of Gorno-Badakhshan as a potential site of risk and warned against camping or biking in the dark there.
Clashes have taken place along Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan periodically, although the Tajik government’s accounts of those skirmishes are usually far from transparent about the causes.
Security officials in Dushanbe reported a surge of disturbances at the start of this year across several points of the border. But while in some instances links to Taliban-linked groups and individuals could be divined, in other cases it was evident that the incursions were the work of drug smugglers.
The singling out of Gorno-Badakhshan is likely linked to the mounting concern over Taliban gains into remote regions of Afghanistan previously thought to be immune to their incursions.
A recent Reuters report from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province was a sobering reminder of how militants are strengthening their hold of illegal gemstone mining operations in the area. In more heavily populated locations around the city of Kunduz too, the Taliban has shown it remains a formidable fighting machine with which to be reckoned.
Only some panicked, last-minute diplomacy has prevented Tajikistan being plunged into almost total isolation after Russia backed away from threats to suspend flights between the two countries.
In more positive aviation news, Uzbekistan’s plans to reopen air links with Tajikistan as of next year portends new possibilities in much-needed regional cooperation.
Russia last week dangled the threat of unilaterally closing air traffic with Tajikistan after the latter dragged its feet granting permission for flights to Dushanbe and the northern city of Khujand from Moscow region’s recently completed Zhukovsky International Airport.
That prospect would have been nothing short of cataclysmic for Tajikistan. Flights to and from Russia account for 95 percent of the totality of Tajikistan’s international air traffic. Passengers are in the main the labor migrants that keep the economy afloat. The remaining 5 percent of routes are accounted for by flights to Istanbul, Bishkek and Dubai and are, according to industry insiders, not nearly as profitable as those to Russia.
Last week, while Tajikistan was still sticking to its guns, the head of the aviation department at the ministry of transportation, Mahmadyusuf Rahmonov, explained that under a bilateral agreement, Russia and Tajikistan were automatically entitled to have two airlines each service routes between the countries’ capitals.
The founders of an independent newspaper in Tajikistan have decided to suspend operations on the eve of the publication’s 10th anniversary following what appears to have been pressure from the authorities.
The Indem think tank, which owned Nigoh newspaper, said in a statement earlier this week that it was halting its print edition because of a “lack of appropriate conditions."
It is evident that the problems do not appear to have been financial since the newspaper has pledged to keep paying its employees until 2017. Nigoh could also boast having no debts to its printing house or outstanding tax liabilities.
“Unfortunately, we can make no further comment,” Indem said in its statement.
EurasiaNet.org has learned, however, that Nigoh’s fate was sealed by a pattern of reporting disliked by the authorities and, most recently, an unfortunately typographical error.
The latest issue featured a piece on the front page about the banned Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT). Authorities have given clear signals to the media to refrain from even alluding to the IRPT, whose leadership was jailed last year amid accusations of involvement in a purported coup plot. Nigoh argued in its article that the closure of the party had simply precipitated an exodus of members from Tajikistan and promoted IRPT’s status to an international party.
Nigoh had previously published critical pieces about the trial against the lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, who was sentenced to 23 years in jail on fraud charges in what was transparently a reprisal for him agreeing to represent the IRPT.
A perversely trifling solecism in the last issue of Nigoh may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, however.
Mobile phone operators in Tajikistan have begun the process of re-registering all SIM cards in the country as part of a strategy to combat terrorist threats.
Khovar state news agency this week cited a representative for the government communications agency, Alibek Beknazarov, as saying the policy is intended to uphold security and help investigators solve crimes.
“There are subscribers who have several SIM cards and give them to their relatives, friends, acquaintances, who are sometimes living abroad, to use. So when it becomes necessary to do so, it is difficult to find the real user, since the actual person using it is not the registered party. Moreover, re-registering SIM cards is indispensable because of the dangers of terrorism. This measure will enable us to create a database of genuine users,” Beknazarov said.
Re-registering will require phone users to bring passports and the SIM card to official service centers of the mobile companies. SIM cards will be deactivated within a year in the event of failure to re-register.
Officials say there are already 11 million registered SIM cards in the country — 6 million of those accounts are used regularly. That figure illustrates how many people own several SIM cards that they use strategically to keep the size of their phone bills down.
One point of apparent concern for Tajik officials is the popularity of local SIM cards with users across the border in northern Afghanistan. That point came up during discussions in parliament late last year, when the chamber was considering the rules about requiring mobile phone users to re-register SIM cards.
A lavish wedding in Moscow has drawn gasps of envious amazement even from Russians inured to garish displays of wealth.
Observers of the inner workings of Central Asian politics, however, may be more interested in the identity and background of the bride’s father, of whom little is known publicly.
But to the wedding first. Madina Shokirova has provoked jealously all around with her flowing $600,000 dress designed by British haute couture fashion house Ralph & Russo. As online tabloid life.rureported, the dress was made of several layers of tulle, embroidered with metallic threads and inlayed with silver and several thousand pearls and Swarovski crystals.
As is customary for such events, a number of Russian rent-a-celebrities turned out to entertain the guests.
The man paying for all this was Shokirova’s father, Ilhom Shokirov. His wealth ostensibly stems from his ownership of several hotels — the high-class Grand hotel in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and several hotels outside Moscow. life.ru reported that he also has a 65 percent stake in the Demir shopping and entertainment complex in Tashkent.
And there is speculation that there are some dynastic and political dimensions to these nuptials.
A Khujand-based writer for ferghana.ru, Aziz Rustamov, recently reported rumors that Shokirov offered up his daughter in marriage to a relative of the acting president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. It isn’t immediately clear, but it is possible that this was an allusion to the wedding that just took place in Moscow.
The capital of Tajikistan has been plunged into darkness by an unexpected electricity blackout — an embarrassing crisis only one day before the start of major work on an important hydropower dam.
Residents in Dushanbe said the electricity gave out at after 6:30 pm on October 28 and had still not returned by nightfall. Scheduled blackouts are a common occurrence in Tajikistan, although mostly in the regions and at the height of winter, but this appears to be an unplanned event.
President Emomali Rahmon is due on October 29 to oversee a ceremony marking the start of work on stemming the flow of the Vakhsh River as part of construction work on the Rogun mega-dam. It is unclear if the outage is in any way related to preparations for that event.
Russian state-run news agency Sputnik cited unnamed sources as saying the blackout affects 90 percent of the country and that two possible causes are being considered.
“The first is that the authorities have decided to insure themselves during the stemming of the Vakhsh, while they were carrying out explosions. The issue there is to do with building work on Rogun. The second version is more plausible — that there has been an accident on the LEP-500 power line, which provides electricity to most of the country,” the agency reported.
Officials neither gave any advance warning of the blackout nor offered any explanation afterward.
The lack of information has already begun giving rise to rumors and speculation, largely along the lines proposed by Sputnik. But some commenters on social media have even alluded to reports of a blackout in the Pamirs, which is normally relatively immune to such electricity failure as it is fed by the Agha Khan Fund-run Pamir Energy power producer. Others on social media denied the reports about the Pamirs.