As the death toll grows, the most recent violence in southern Kyrgyzstan threatens both the legitimacy and the very existence of Roza Otunbayeva’s weak interim government. At least three destabilizing factors could further undermine its fragile hold on power:
1) Only two weeks remain until the scheduled referendum, where Kyrgyz voters will be asked to approve a new constitution and accept Otunbayeva as president until the end of 2011.
Under Kyrgyz law, a vote cannot be held during a state of emergency like the current one in Osh, declared on the morning of June 11 and scheduled to last until June 20. And, even if the referendum is held as scheduled on June 27, will it be considered legitimate if a significant segment of the population – in this case, ethnic Uzbeks – is too afraid to come out and vote?
2) What role has former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev played in the unrest and what role will he play in the coming days and weeks?
On June 12, via twitter, Bakiyev declared he’d like to resume power and take control of the situation.
Blaming the interim government for the deaths, he tweeted, “We demand UN peacekeeping troops to come to Osh and return K. Bakiyev and his family to Kyrgyzstan. President Bakiyev must adjudicate the referendum.”
Interim government leaders have accused Bakiyev’s family for inciting the unrest, adding that they were expecting disturbances before the referendum, but were surprised by how quickly they unfolded, Otunbaeva said on June 12, 24.kg reported.
Clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have left residents of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city, fearful of protracted ethnic violence, witnesses tell EurasiaNet.
The disturbances started around midnight, June 11, reportedly after a small fight between a local Uzbek and Kyrgyz.
Thousands reportedly rallied into early morning. Cars are on fire and some shops have been looted. Shots have been heard in different parts of the city.
AKIpress reports that authorities have declared a state of emergency. Acting Defense Minister Ismail Isakov is also reportedly en route to the South.
One cause for the chaos may be the recent move of Osh Police Chief Kursant Asanov to Bishkek. Asanov was well respected by both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the ethnically mixed city. He is credited with calming the situation after tensions on May 1.
The newly appointed official from Bishkek does not have the respect of either group in Osh, a source well-connected with the local government told EurasiaNet.org early on June 11.
Summer has traditionally been the season when Islamic radicals stir up trouble in Central Asia. Some experts believe the risk of radical activity may be higher this year, due to ongoing instability in Kyrgyzstan following the April ouster of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Others, however, believe the Islamic threat is overblown.
Central Asia's royals are always competing for most-loved status. While Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan contemplates accepting a set of awe-inspiring new powers, in Uzbekistan the president's official fan club is begging their dear leader to found the Karimov Dynasty.
Uzbek academic Rustam Abdullayev appealed to the citizens of the country to think about the benefits of absolute monarchy, since, according to him, a republican form of government is not justifying itself. As an example of the ineffectiveness of European models of government [i.e. democracy] for Central Asia, the academic cites the situations in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. Earlier, the same academic spoke about handing over power by inheritance and sang a tender song for the oldest daughter of the Uzbek president, stating: “let her have any property that gives her independence in her personal life as well in the political and social life of the country."
(Someone get this guy tenure.)
Some analysts whom we asked to comment on the extraordinary idea of the Uzbek scientist said they did not take him seriously, but others, noting that in Uzbekistan not a single word appears by accident, saw in it an attempt by authorities to probe the public's reaction to the planned policy reform.
Prices for mutton fell in a Tashkent bazaar on June 7 when security forces dumped special cuts at 50 percent discounts, according to local media.
At the Eski Zhuva Bazaar, the rumps, racks and flanks all arrived affixed with tags listing local law enforcement agencies, ca-news.org reported, though no one seemed sure how the markdown ruminants got to market.
"For example, you could buy meat from the State Tax Inspectorate, the city prosecutor's office or the General Directorate of Internal Affairs of Tashkent," uznews.net added.
Tashkent will host the annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting this week, leading one analyst to speculate the authorities are sheepishly trying to beef up local support before the high profile event.
On June 6, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Moscow is “not happy with what the world community [i.e. NATO] is doing in the anti-drug war" in Afghanistan, agencies reported. Without elaborating, he said Russia is ready to "make several counter-drugs rings around Afghanistan to intercept drugs."
It is unclear how Russia would make such a cordon without involving Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors, but Moscow is clearly frustrated with Tajikistan’s languid drug war. Indeed, Ivanov singled out Tajikistan as a primary trafficking conduit.
At least 30 percent of Afghan drugs transit Central Asia – most through Tajikistan – en route to Russia and Europe, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Yet Central Asian states only stop 5 percent of the flow. Russians consume 21 percent of the world’s heroin.
Has Moscow had enough? Some Tajiks think so.
The infamous Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky (a Duma deputy chairman) recently remarked that Tajikistan had failed to achieve statehood and should become a Russian protectorate. At the same time, Moscow banned Tajik nuts and dried fruits because of a polio outbreak in the country (no, dried snacks cannot transmit polio).
Tajik officials say they have killed two alleged terrorists (masquerading as drug smugglers) in a sweep just north of the capital, Dushanbe, Interfax reports.
The operation started after the two shot at police officers at a routine checkpoint, Tajik news agencies reported earlier. One police officer died in the shootout.
Authorities claim the two were planning a terrorist attack in Dushanbe.
Asia-Plus, via BBC monitoring, reported on the suspects:
According to the [unnamed government] source, they were residents of Sughd Region's Isfara District - 32-year-old Abdurahim Umarov and 31-year-old Abdurahmon Vahhobov.
It was established that the first man was an active member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and had been on the wanted list since 1999 on suspicion of terrorism, illegal storage of firearms, organization of criminal society and committing other crimes.
"As for Abdurahmon Vahhobov, he was also a member of an underground extremist organization and had been wanted by the law-enforcement agencies since 2004," the source said.
It was also established that both of them undergone terror training in special camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Last summer, Tajik officials said they battled drug smugglers in the Rasht Valley and nearby Tavildara region in an operation they dubbed “Poppy 2009.”
Darika Mambetova lives in a two-room apartment in Kyrgyzstan with her three adolescent grandsons. Her son and daughter-in-law, the boys’ parents, haven’t been back from Russia since they left two years ago in search of work. Another daughter lives in Kazakhstan.
Mambetova, 63, fears she is unable to provide the boys the kind of guidance and discipline that they need.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, has declined a motion to expand his powers and bestow on him the title "Leader of the Nation," Interfax Kazakhstan reports.
In early May, Kazakhstan's rubber-stamp parliament approved draft legislation that would have expanded Nazarbayev's already impressive powers to include de facto veto rights over state policy if he ever leaves office. It would have also fortified his immunity from prosecution and protected the property of his family members.
Thanking his people for their "confidence" in his rule, on June 3 Nazarbayev said, "I believe that the status of the leader of the nation does not need to be bound by any legislation."
Was this just a dance? The proposal, and Nazarbayev's rejection, conveniently burnish his democratic credentials. Astana is the current chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an honorific that appalls many human rights and democracy advocates.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has called on Turkmenistan’s youth to avoid the curse of drug abuse, the daily Neytralnyy Turkmenistan has reported (via BBC monitoring):
As you begin an independent life, you should never forget that drug addiction is the destiny of only those who are slaves of their weakness and who do not have high moral principles. You should be ready at any moment to give a swift blow to this destructive vice. We all have to combine our efforts in the die-hard struggle against this social evil for the sake of the prosperity of our state and the progress of our sacred homeland, sovereign Turkmenistan.
(Turkmenistan lies on one of the major heroin trafficking routes between Afghanistan and Europe.)