Tajikistan likes to brand itself as the last Central Asian Eldorado, a place that (once the deep-pocketed foreigners get over their corruption concerns) will be swimming in hydrocarbon and mineral wealth – or at least look something like Kazakhstan.
So far though, in its 20-plus years of independence, Tajikistan has enjoyed little foreign investment, even though it boasts over 600 documented mineral stores, including what’s believed to be one of the largest silver deposits in the world.
A new poll has found that nearly half of Tajiks would welcome foreign investment in their mining sector, while more than a fifth were against it. These figures are almost the mirror opposite of sentiments in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Asked how they “feel about foreign companies developing mineral resources,” 45 percent of Tajiks said they were in favor, while 21 percent said they were opposed. In Kyrgyzstan, only 25 percent responded positively, with 43 percent opposed. (The poll was released on August 5 by regional pollster M-Vector, covering 1,008 respondents across Tajikistan and 2,656 in Kyrgyzstan.)
The pollsters offer no hypotheses about the difference, but why not bounce around some unscientific ideas about the possible reasons that people in two desperately poor, mountainous post-Soviet states bordering China have such different views on outsiders extracting their natural wealth for a fee?
Tajikistan, the country more dependent than any other on labor migrant remittances, will no longer release cash transfer data because the information could be “politicized,” the head of the National Bank says.
The government stopped publishing information on the volume of remittances sent to Tajikistan in May, the Asia-Plus news agency reported this week, citing the head of the National Bank of Tajikistan. "I'd rather not talk about migrants' funds because this issue may be politicized," Abdujabbor Shirinov said.
Tajikistan boasts the world’s most remittance-dependent economy. According to the World Bank, labor migrants abroad, mostly in Russia, transferred the equivalent of 47 percent of GDP back to Tajikistan last year. The Bank expects the amount to rise again this year. And the transfers the Bank measures do not include cash that individuals carry home, so the number in reality is likely higher.
Shirinov insisted that not all cash transfers from individuals are labor migrant remittances, noting that some of the money could be returns from small businesses. Certainly that is also possible, but it doesn’t change the fact that Tajikistan is utterly dependent on Russia.
Over a third of Russians believe an influx of “other ethnicities” poses a “very real” threat to Russia’s national security, a poll released July 22 says. Fewer Russians fear terrorism or environmental disaster, the poll found.
According to the state-run All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), 35 percent of Russians feel migrants from abroad are a top threat to Russia’s security. Thirty-three percent believes the “degradation of culture, science and education” poses a grave threat. Twenty-eight percent names terrorism and the same proportion cites ecological catastrophe as “very real” threats.
A VTsIOM spokeswoman told RIA Novosti that the question about “other ethnicities” referred to “migration from abroad.” Migration is seen as less of a threat than it was eight years ago, however; in 2005, 58 percent of Russians named it a top threat facing the country.
VTsIOM interviewed 1,600 people across the country in June for the poll, asking them to rate the likelihood of 20 potential security threats.
The influx of foreign laborers has climbed considerably over the last decade as Russia has experienced an oil-fueled economic boom and its own population continues to decline. Russia’s Federal Migration Service estimates the number of migrant workers in Russia is around 5 million, of which 60 percent are illegals. The number is growing quickly, too. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Russia is more dependent on illegal migrants than any other country. They account for approximately 7 percent of the workforce.
Update, July 18: A trusty source close to Washington tells EurasiaNet.org that Economics Minister Temir Sariev's allegations are "way off" and characterized him as a "populist" with an unclear agenda. But someone is going to be very unpopular when that money doesn't come home. Stay tuned.
The son of Kyrgyzstan’s deposed dictator might be living a cushy life in the United Kingdom, but money he stashed in the United States is reportedly now sitting behind bars.
Russia’s Kommersant daily, citing Kyrgyzstan’s Economics Minister, reported on July 17 that Washington has frozen three of Maxim Bakiyev’s American bank accounts, which held $74.4 million.
Bakiyev is the son of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted amid street violence in April 2010. The younger Bakiyev, who fled to the UK, was known in Kyrgyzstan as the “prince” for parlaying his father’s influence into lucrative and opaque business deals. To this day, in Kyrgyzstan he might be more reviled than his father. In March, a Bishkek court found the younger Bakiyev guilty in absentia of embezzling over $100 million in state funds. He received a 25-year prison sentence.
Late last year, the Department of Justice tried to extradite the younger Bakiyev from London to the United States to face charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and obstruction of justice. An affidavit, filed last April in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, appeared to finger Maxim as “co-conspirator #1” in an insider trading case involving US securities. (The affidavit did not name Maxim Bakiyev.)
The United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its annual World Drug Report today. There are not a lot of surprises for Central Asia watchers, but the study is a good reminder of just how entrenched Afghan narcotics are in the region.
Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of illicit opiates, accounting for 74 percent of global production in 2012. Those narcotics continue to pass relatively unhindered from Afghanistan through Central Asia for markets in Russia and Eastern Europe. On the way, they wreck havoc, as increasing numbers of Central Asians succumb to heroin addiction and HIV.
What’s being done? The striking chart to the right shows how, over the past ten years, interdiction in the region has actually fallen, especially in Tajikistan (shown in pink).
Over the same period, Afghan drug production generally increased (with the exception of 2012, when, due to adverse weather and disease, production fell by 36 percent). “A preliminary assessment of opium poppy cultivation trends in Afghanistan in 2013 revealed that such cultivation is likely to increase in the main opium growing regions, which would be the third consecutive increase since 2010,” the report says.
Why, then, the dramatic decline in seizures in Central Asia? The UNODC sort of sidesteps issue:
Five shepherds and at least a thousand head of sheep seem to have become the latest victims in the ongoing border dispute between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Uzbek border guards seized the wandering ruminants earlier this month, Fergananews reported on June 24, citing the Tajik service of Radio Liberty, which in turn cited Tajik border guards in the northern province of Sughd. A father of one of the disappeared shepherds said the number of abducted animals was 2,200 sheep plus 41 cows.
No comment was immediately available from the Uzbek side, which has reportedly not responded to Tajik requests for negotiations.
The two countries have long been at odds over their 1,200-kilometer border, much of which remains undefined.
The troublesome boundary is not the main source of friction, however. Dushanbe and Tashkent barely speak with one another. The Uzbeks are furious over Tajik plans to build the world’s tallest hydropower dam, Rogun, upstream, claiming it will give Tajikistan unfair control over regional water resources and could harm the environment. Tajikistan, for its part, cites Uzbekistan’s constant gas cuts as a reason it needs the giant project. The antagonism is often described as deeply personal between the two countries’ autocratic rulers.
Uzbekistan has mined much of the border since it became an international frontier in 1991 at the collapse of the Soviet Union, splitting families who once lived in the same country. Shootings are common, often of stray shepherds chasing their livestock and of smugglers who have failed to pay off the right border guards at night.
Never known for compassion, the strongman president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, has lashed out at Uzbek migrant workers in Russia, calling them “lazy people” who “disgrace all of us” by looking for work abroad.
"I call lazy people those who go to Moscow and sweep its streets and squares. One feels disgusted with the fact that Uzbeks have to travel there for a piece of bread. Nobody is starving to death in Uzbekistan,” state-run television quoted Karimov as saying on June 20.
“The Uzbek nation's honor makes us different from others. Is not it better to die [than scrounge]? Therefore, I call lazy those people who disgrace all of us by wanting to make a lot of money faster there,” Karimov added (transcript from BBC Monitoring).
Easy for him to say. In Karimov’s breathtakingly corrupt dictatorship, major industries are allegedly controlled by a coterie of senior government officials and their families. Unemployment and underemployment are rife and Karimov has done little to foster a more transparent system that might attract investors and create jobs.
A Bishkek court has acquitted and released three opposition leaders previously convicted for attempting to seize power violently. In March, Kamchybek Tashiev and two other lawmakers from the nationalist Ata-Jurt party received sentences of between six months and one year for leading unrest outside parliament last autumn.
But the end to this saga did not come without more violence. Tashiev, Sadyr Japarov and Talant Mamytov were released on June 17 after their supporters threw shoes and bottles at the judge and a prosecutor who was demanding an even longer sentence, AKIpress reports.
The Prosecutor General’s office told 24.kg that the court caved to public pressure and said it intends to pursue charges at the Supreme Court.
The case of Tashiev et al. is linked to regular protests over the fate of the lucrative Kumtor gold mine in Issyk-Kul Province. At the October rally, where Tashiev led protestors over the fence surrounding parliament and vowed to “replace this government,” the three Ata-Jurt deputies demanded the nationalization of Kumtor, the largest foreign-run gold mine in Central Asia, which accounts for over 50 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s exports.
Almost 24 hours after the vote, and after a widespread public outcry in Bishkek, parliament has published the text of the controversial resolution it passed last night. It turns out, though MP Irgal Kadyralieva is still insisting to the press that she wishes to protect the Kyrgyz "gene pool,” the final resolution does not limit travel for women based on their age.
In the confusion -- fueled by multiple press appearances where Kadyralieva insisted women under age 22 or 23 must be forbidden from traveling abroad without a parent's consent -- early on June 13 activists in Bishkek lashed out at the resolution.
“This legal act is absurd,” Vechernii Bishkek quoted Aikanysh Jeenbaeva, co-founder of the Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ as saying. “It's not going to protect anyone. It will only increase corruption. Now girls will have to pay bribes at the border.”
“Deputies acted ignorantly by passing the resolution,” human rights Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun was quoted as saying. “Don't they know that they're violating the Constitution, civil rights, and freedom of movement?”
Glance at the parking lot outside parliament, at the fleet of Lexus SUVs kitted out with chrome, and you might think Bishkek is the capital of a wealthy country. A block down Chui Avenue, a shiny new Range Rover is parked on the sidewalk. Police drive their own BMWs.
Look a little closer, though, and the real Kyrgyzstan comes into focus.