A US Marine expeditionary force will invade Tajikistan to battle the Chinese People’s Liberation Army: at least, that’s the plot of a new shoot-em-up video game getting attention on gamer websites.
Operation Flashpoint: Red River, to be released by Codemasters in 2011, is the sequel to another anti-Sino-sounding simulation: "Dragon Rising.” Codemasters has chosen Tajikistan’s Vakhsh River Valley - home to several high-profile (and unpopular downstream) hydropower dam construction sites - as the scene of it's latest take on virtual imperialism. Some EurasiaNet readers will be eager to see if the game includes an Uzbek sabotage scene and how the American presence affects regional stability.
The game will be played on the battlefield in the territory of Tajikistan along the Vakhsh River. The region has 1,461,896 males of age 16-49 and 1,642,240 females aging 16-49, who will be enjoying the military activities.
Not sure how much the locals “enjoy” being invaded. But the designers appear to have done their homework. An image from the prototype shows a large dam aflame.
Finally, we have some good news for Central Asia’s poverty-stricken masses. Remittances are up in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, various sources confirm.
The National Bank of Kyrgyzstan reports that in the first five months of this year, remittances rose 32.6 percent over the same period in 2009 ($398.5 million versus $300.4 million). Most of the money came via banks in Russia and Kazakhstan.
In Tajikistan, in the first four months of 2010, wages sent into the country from workers abroad were up 24 percent over the same period in 2009, according to the UNDP’s senior economist for Europe and Central Asia, Ben Slay.
Slay calls “remittances the best – in many cases, the only – social safety net in Central Asia.”
His office publishes a variety of statistics measuring regional economic trends. The Tajikistan macroeconomic vulnerability database, for example, also demonstrates how the country's industrial output and remittances together took a negative dip throughout 2009, but have both registered positive growth since the beginning of 2010.
Kyrgyzstan’s interim government is addressing some of the root economic causes of the political instability in the Central Asian nation this year, in particular energy-sector woes. But as officials take steps to reform the ailing sector, some civil society activists are worrying about the government’s commitment to genuine change.
First Kyrgyzstan's economy suffered when Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan closed their borders. Then, in some parts of the South, farmers couldn’t plant their annual second crops due to the unrest, market closures, and their inability to access seeds and fuels from abroad.
Now regional grain supplies may be under threat. Oxford Analytical reports that fears of an ongoing Russian drought have sent European grain prices higher.
European milling wheat futures have jumped by nearly 2.8% this morning on worries that this summer's persistent drought will force Russia to cut total grain exports in the 2010-11 crop year (which began on July 1) by some 45.5% compared with the previous season. Respected Moscow-based agricultural consultancy SovEcon has predicted that wheat exports will fall from 18.2 to 11.0 million tonnes, and that barley exports will fall from 2.8 to 0.5 million tonnes. SovEcon predicted that the authorities would have to impose export restrictions.
Though worldwide supplies of grain remain healthy, in Russian markets (and the CIS), “food prices could rise significantly in coming months,” the report warned.
At a donor meeting today, Kyrgyzstan's leaders revised upward the amount they say is needed to get their economy back on track. The new magic number: $1.2 billion, or over 25 percent of Kyrgyzstan's GDP (roughly $4.7 billion in 2009, according to US government figures).
That's a lot, though the UN has backed up this figure as have the usual Bretton Woods supranational suspects, including the International Monetary Fund. Certainly the economic projections are disheartening. At the conference, provisional President Roza Otunbayeva said Kyrgyzstan's economy would shrink by 5 percent this year thanks to the recent bout of instability. Finance Minister Chorobek Imashev said the country faces a budget shortfall of $619 million.
Observers in Bishkek wonder how the country will handle such a huge cash infusion. As Inside the Cocoon noted yesterday, Kyrgyzstan isn't exactly a fiscally clean place. In fact, it's among the most corrupt countries on the planet.
And what about reconciliation initiatives involving Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan? Government officials framed their appeal to the international community in a way that sounded as if Kyrgyzstan had just suffered a natural disaster, rather than inter-ethnic conflict.
Two boys restrain a mare as a butcher prepares to slaughter her on July 23 for a Kyrgyz wedding. Never ridden and thus more tender and costly, she fed more than 200 people at the Bishkek celebration the next day.
The butcher has a full-service slaughterhouse in Bishkek’s western suburbs, roasting the ribs and rumps and stuffing the intestines as sausages, all within 24 hours, and then delivering to the wedding venue. Horse meat is slightly sweeter than beef or lamb, and lower in fat, but pricey. This horse cost roughly $1000. Though a popular part of the Kyrgyz diet, due to the cost and size of the animal, horse meat is often reserved for special occasions, such as weddings and funerals.
The slaughter, cooking and delivery cost was $90.
David Trilling is the Central Asia news editor for EurasiaNet.
Before international donors and local officials gather tomorrow to discuss a financial aid package for Kyrgyzstan, one figure is already getting attention: $1 billion. Yep, the damage from the recent violence and political turmoil, and subsequent economic collapse, cost exactly a billion, says newly appointed Senior Vice Prime Minister Amangeldi Muraliev.
But Muraliev did not pull that number out of thin air. The sonorous figure is floating around the international donor community and is expected to be center stage during the July 27 donor conference in Bishkek.
“The preliminary assessment for the country’s needs … are about $1 billon,” said a Bishkek-based source at one of the major multilateral donor organizations.
Kyrgyzstan certainly has huge financial hurdles ahead. The World Bank estimates the country’s GDP, on track to grow 4.5 percent before the April uprising, will actually shrink by 3.5 percent in 2010.
It will be interesting to see how the government itemizes its request, and how donors respond. Kyrgyzstan ranks in the top 20 most corrupt countries worldwide by Transparency International. So far, the UN, in its most recent revised flash appeal, has sought just under $100 million.
Protests against the deployment of 52 unarmed OSCE police advisors in Kyrgyzstan’s troubled south appear to be growing in strength. On July 26, demonstrators outside parliament in Bishkek burned an effigy of an OSCE police officer. Simultaneously, in Osh, up to 400 people marched from the mayor's office to the police station, witnesses told EurasiaNet.org, demanding the government rescind its request for foreign police.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe approved the deployment on July 22 after weeks of appeals from provisional President Roza Otunbayeva.
This growing opposition could intimidate the mission. In this heated atmosphere, it wouldn’t take much for a crazed nationalist to send the OSCE packing.
One official even hinted ominously that Kyrgyz authorities could not protect the OSCE police.
Remember those train wagons regularly stuck on the Uzbek side of the Tajik fronteir? Well, Tashkent is now drawing those borders up in the sky as well, and assessing fees for crossing.
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have agreed to charge for flights transiting each other's airspace, Asia-Plus reports, at Tashkent's insistence. Authorities have not yet announced how much the fees will total.
Uzbekistan unilaterally annulled an air traffic agreement with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in late June, asking that pilots from those countries no longer begin descents over Uzbek airspace (prompting some sudden descents into Osh). Tashkent insisted that air traffic controllers from each country take responsibility for their own planes. Previously, air-traffic controllers would help guide planes over their airspace, a common practice throughout the world.
Analysts believe that Uzbekistan’s insistence on the new payment regime is simply another attempt to stifle Tajikistan’s economic growth. Tajik planes must transit Uzbek airspace on almost all of the country’s international routes, and often begin their decent into Khujand’s airport, in the North, over Uzbek airspace.