Media outlets have in recent days reported on the death of senior Islamic State group militants from Tajikistan — including US-trained former riot police commander Gulmurod Khalimov — in what appears to amount to a devastating blow to the radical organization’s Central Asian contingent.
The Times of London cited military sources in Iraq as saying that Khalimov was killed by a missile strike on the city of Mosul, much of which has been recaptured by government troops after years under Islamic State control.
Khalimov has been described informally as the Islamic State group’s minister for war, so his death could prove meaningful. The Times cites its sources as saying he was believed to be behind the defense of Mosul and the organizer of a car bombing campaign against coalition forces.
Khalimov, 41, has been declared dead before, however, so the authorities in Tajikistan are holding their counsel so far.
Last year, the US, which has been sorely embarrassed by defection of a man it once trained to a terrorist group, placed a $3 million bounty on Khalimov.
As The Bug Pit has noted, the US State Department had approved five training courses for Khalimov — three of them in the US itself. At least one session appears to have been conducted under the auspices of US security firm Blackwater.
When the president of Tajikistan earlier this year appointed his son to become mayor of the capital, Dushanbe, he urged him to be a listening and compassionate leader.
Going by Rustam Emomali’s first actions in office, the advice does not appear to have made an impact.
Emomali has set his sights on overhauling the city’s transportation system, but the efforts are generating much misery.
On April 12, Dushanbe received a consignment of 40 large-capacity buses manufactured by Turkey’s Andalou Isuzu. Another 25 units are to be delivered in the summer. The cost of buying all those buses has set the government back around 3.4 million euros — 85,000 euros a pop.
The first buses will begin their routes in Dushanbe of April 15.
In conjunction with bringing these buses into commission, Dushanbe authorities have also been stepping up efforts to stamp out the so-called “three somoni” taxis that many people use to get around. For the last five years or so, these informally run shared taxis have operated a little like buses, running along established routes around the center of the city and charging people three somoni ($0.35) per ride.
Since the “three somoni” taxis are not properly licensed, the drivers routinely engage in cat-and-mouse games with the police. The chase is getting a little more serious now and the stakes have been increased, with fines for illegally driving the taxis being hiked to 1,000 somoni.
The “three somonis” are not the only vehicles in the crosshairs.
A man in northern Tajikistan has reportedly been arrested and potentially faces several years in jail for being slightly disrespectful to a poster of President Emomali Rahmon.
Akhbor news website reported last week that Hasan Abdurazokov, an unemployed father of three in the Sughd region, offended Rahmon ahead of the recent Nowruz holidays.
“In public view, he took a picture of Rahmon down from the wall, he threw it to the ground and said: ‘You have everything, you have a good life, and me, I have nothing with which to continue my life,’” an unnamed source familiar with the case was quoted as telling Akhbor.
At the end of 2015, Rahmon was officially named "Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation” — a status that gave him de facto powers for life. And last year, a law was added to the statute books making it an offense to in any way insult the Leader of the Nation.
If the prosecution goes ahead, it would be the first ever to be pursued under the law criminalizing insulting the Leader of the Nation, which is punishable by up to five years in jail. It is worth noting, however, that legislation already exists to make insulting the president punishable by prison, so Abdurazokov in effect violated two laws at the same time. However, while presidents may come and go, Rahmon will remain the only Leader of the Nation.
Authorities have avoided commenting publicly on Abdurazokov’s case and sources have said no lawyers have agreed to take up the case. Lawyers taking on cases on behalf of politically problematic figures have themselves ended up object of harassment and, in some instances, received draconian prison terms on flimsy charges.
In a repeat of events in 2015, the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan are experiencing a wave of landslides, although careful preventative appears so far to have averted any loss of human life.
Since January, the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region, GBAO, has endured a string of catastrophes. In the last week alone, the situation has been particularly bad in the regional center, Khorog.
“There was a lot of snow this year … And the consequences are being felt now. The mountains are loosening and because of that we are getting rocks falling. Thank God, there are no human casualties,” one Khorog resident told EurasiaNet.org.
According to residents, the authorities have issued warning all those living in high-risk zones to relocate to safer places, so as to avoid any loss of life. But few options have been offered as to where exactly people can move.
“They told us to evacuate, but the Pamirs are all mountains, where should we evacuate to? Anybody with relatives in safe places just moves there, but there is no other choice,” said another local resident, who spoke to EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity.
In many areas electricity supply has been patchy as power lines have been damaged by disasters. That has in turn put water-pumping stations out of commission. The Shugnan and Rushan districts have reportedly been particularly badly affected.
RFE/RL’s Tajikistan service, Radio Ozodi, has cited GBAO administration spokeswoman Nilufar Aslamshoyeva as providing an official damage tally for the past week at five partially damaged houses and five completely destroyed houses. More than 300 families have been evacuated and most gone to live with their relatives, she said.
Russia has once again slapped major restrictions on Tajikistan-based private carrier Somon Air in the latest installment of a long-running saga.
The Transportation Ministry in Moscow was candid in a statement over the weekend that it adopted the measure in a tit-for-tat response to Tajikistan’s refusal to grant landing rights to Russia’s Yamal Airlines.
The dispute stems from a petty disagreement over what airlines are allowed to operate which routes and has been rolling on since early November, so some background is in order.
Dushanbe fired the first salvo by refusing to give clearance to flights arriving from the Zhukovsky airport in the Moscow region, to which Russia reacted by threatening a complete halt of all flights to Tajikistan.
After multiple rounds of bickering, Tajikistan agreed to allow Yamal Airlines, a Russian airline based in the northern Siberian town of Salekhard, to fly once a week to Dushanbe and the northern city of Khujand.
The matter appeared to have been definitively put to rest following the visit to Dushanbe from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov in late January.
Tajikistan’s Somon Air was again granted the right to fly to four Russian cities — Krasnoyarsk, Krasnodar, Orenburg and Ufa. And for its part, Dushanbe relented by finally giving clearance to flights arriving from Zhukovsky airport.
Not so fast.
It would now appear that Yamal Airlines is now intent on securing yet more flights — four weekly to Dushanbe and three to Khujand — but Tajikistan does not seem to think that was part of any deal.
An earlier version of this story offered a regrettably inaccurate snapshot of the state of remittances paid by migrant laborers from Russia to Central Asia in 2016.
Contrary to what was asserted in that report, remittances have not been rising but mostly falling.
As stated before, the Russian Central Bank did note this week that money transfers by individuals to Uzbekistan had hit $2.74 billion in 2016, but this actually represented a drop not a rise, since the figure for 2015 was $3 billion.
Second place among cash transfers made from Russia to former Soviet states is taken by Tajikistan. The figure for remittances in 2016 was $1.9 billion — a global figure smaller than Uzbekistan, but one that accounts for a far greater proportion of the nation’s economy as a whole. This is a fall from the previous year, when it was $2.2 billion.
In third place in Kyrgyzstan, with $1.7 billion. Now, this is an improvement, from the $1.5 billion recorded in 2015
This picture affects the prior evaluation of the figures somewhat, and indeed in a way that makes more sense.
One obvious takeaway is that Kyrgyzstan’s decision to join the European Economic Union may indeed be starting to bear some scanty fruit, since the uptick in the inflow of remittances is likely connected to the greater ease with which Kyrgyz workers can now settle in Russia for employment.
A jailed lawyer in Tajikistan has had his lengthy sentence extended by two years for contempt of court for quoting the words of an 11th century Persian philosopher and poet during his original trial.
The ruling handed down on March 16 means Buzurgmehr Yorov now faces 25 years in jail. He was sentenced in October on what his supporters say were trumped-up charges of fraud and inciting hatred and extremism, among other offenses.
Rights advocates argue Yorov was targeted for reprisal because he was one of the few lawyers willing to take up the case of arrested members of the now-banned opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).
During hearings at his trial in October, Yorov quoted Avicenna to say that “society is spoiled by a few ignorant people who believe themselves the wisest; those that would make infidels of all who do not abide by their wishes.” The court was sufficiently offended by the words to file a criminal case of charges of contempt and offending a state representative.
And that isn’t all.
Yorov’s sister, Hosiyat, has told EurasiaNet.org that the Firdavs district court in Dushanbe is now bracing for hearings into yet another case, again on fraud charges, which envision anything up to another 12 years in jail.
In addition to defending the IRPT members, Yorov was the first person to make a public statement about the apparent physical abuse being meted out to the jailed party leadership. That appears to have precipitated in his arrest in September 2015.
State media cast Yorov as a defender of terrorists, which is how the IRPT is now characterized.
“He must be a terrorist himself if he defends terrorists,” one article argued.
The car of a 67-year security guard in the southern Tajikistan city of Qurghonteppa exploded late at night on March 12 in the vicinity of a military prosecutors’ office, prompting official claims of possible terrorism afoot.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the blast was caused by an incendiary device.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported that the prosecutor’s office in the Khatlon region is investigating the incident as a potential terrorist act, but it has provided few specific details. According to a source cited by Ozodi, investigators are considering the possibility that the security guard, Hasanboi Rahmonov, who was the only person killed in the explosion, was also possibly a perpetrator.
Investigators are questioning Rahmonov’s friends and acquaintances for more details on his background, Ozodi reported.
Meanwhile, news website Asia-Plus reported that the rumor mill in Qurghonteppa is insisting that Rahmonov was but an unfortunate bystander, who might just have been carrying a suspect package to the prosecutor’s office. By way of a supporting argument, people point to the fact that his place of work, a technical lyceum, is right next door to the prosecutor’s office.
Officials have declined to comment on this line of speculation, however.
US Ambassador to Tajikistan Elisabeth Millard meeting with new Dushanbe Mayor Rustam Emomali on March 8. (Photo: US Embassy website)
The net is tightening around the former mayor of Tajikistan’s capital as investigators reportedly question him over suspicious movements in the city budget.
Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev had proven the ultimate loyalist, serving as mayor of Dushanbe for almost two decades before resigning, likely under pressure, on January 12. But with the president’s son on the ascendancy, room at the top is getting tight for anybody who is not family.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, cited unnamed sources on March 8 as saying that anticorruption officials are questioning Ubaidulloev over the disappearance of state funds during construction of the Dushanbe-Plaza multistory complex and other government projects.
None of this has come as much of a surprise. At the end of January, the deputy head of the state anticorruption agency, Abdukarim Zarifzoda, announced that his office was auditing the City Hall.
The shot across Ubaidulloev’s bow came from the new Dushanbe mayor, Rustam Emomali, who is the son of President Emomali Rahmon.
“Even though the mayor’s office is inspected every two years, and the next inspection was due in 2018, the mayor of Dushanbe submitted a request to the anticorruption agency to check on the mayor’s activities,” Zarifzoda said in January.
In what is presumably only a coincidence, Emomali ran the anticorruption agency from March 2015 until his appointment as Dushanbe mayor in January.
Ubaidulloev is among other things being probed in connection to expenditures made during construction of the Istiqlol Medical Center.
“This clinic was built with funds from Dushanbe City Hall. He was in part questioned in connection to explanations provided by the head of the capital construction department at the mayor’s office in relation to money spent on this building,” Ozodi’s source stated.
Spare a thought for Tajikistan’s state-employed journalists.
For the best part of a couple of years, it is independent reporters that have felt the pain amid an ever-intensifying wave of pressure from the authorities. Now, employees with state broadcasters and print media are feeling the pinch as the government cuts budgets.
The state budget for 2017 envisions a 20 percent cut in expenses for state media.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, earlier this week reported that while journalists can now expect to continue getting their salaries paid by the state, the expense of per-story fees have to be met by the outlet itself. Journalists in much of Central Asia typically are paid by volume of work done rather than being given a set monthly rate. As a rule of thumb, reporters in Tajikistan are believed to earn around half their monthly income on the basis of volume of work produced.
Ozodi said official state media was allocated around 100 million somoni ($12 million) in 2016. Of that total, seven-tenths went to TV and radio, with the remainder going to print outlets. Around 10 TV stations, seven radio stations, 110 print publications and the Khovar national news agency are funded with that money.
Media experts predict the drop in financing is likely to lead to an increase in the practice of forcing government employees to take out subscriptions of state-run newspapers and magazines. Also, EurasiaNet.org has learned that private companies are being pressured into placing adverts in state media, thereby providing another source of revenue.
There were times when things were better for state media workers. Back during the 2013 presidential elections, the authorities made the possibly strategic decision to keep staff onside by hiking salaries across the board.