The concept of term limits seems like a contradiction in terms when it comes to Tajikistan. The Central Asian state’s constitution specifies that the president can serve only two consecutive terms. Yet the incumbent, Imomali Rahmon, has been in office since 1994, and is widely expected to secure another seven-year term when a presidential vote is held in November.
Tajikistan is not a place that sees a lot of protests these days. So it is a cause for wonder when demonstrators spontaneously gather outside the US Embassy and United Nations offices in Dushanbe to air complaints that mirror authorities’ stated views – without facing any serious challenge from law enforcement authorities.
Early on March 15, a 58-year-old man put on his tracksuit and left home in Qurghonteppa, a 90-minute drive south of Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital. Morning exercise was a regular part of his routine, says Amnesty International. But on this morning the man, a prominent critic of President Imomali Rakhmon, did not return.
Longtime residents of Dushanbe say Tajikistan’s capital is changing, and they’re not talking about the destruction of city parks to make space for empty new skyscrapers. The use of the Russian language, once a unifier in multi-ethnic Tajik cities, is rapidly fading.
As the leader of a civil rights-related non-governmental organization, Dilrabo Samadova said she was used to getting hassled by authorities about her group’s activities. But recent government actions to put the clamps on civil society groups like hers in Tajikistan took her by surprise.
A court in Tajikistan has ordered the closure of a prominent rights group, citing a variety of alleged technical violations of its operating license, including moving offices without duly notifying authorities, engaging in unauthorized training sessions involving high school students and operating an improperly registered website.
Since surrendering to authorities over two months ago, Tajik commander Tolib Ayombekov has lived in relative comfort at home in Khorog, surrounded by supporters and able to move freely about town in a white Mercedes sedan.
Tajikistan has experienced bouts of internal violence in the past couple of years, but the bloody episodes in the Rasht Valley and in Gorno-Badakhshan have little to do with home-grown Islamic extremism, asserts Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, the only legally operating, religiously oriented political group in Central Asia today.
There’s a potentially huge story developing in Tajikistan: Central Asia’s poor cousin may be sitting atop a vast pool of oil and natural gas. Yet, no one in Dushanbe – neither government officials, nor energy company executives – seems eager to discuss the prospect of an energy boom.