As the U.S. and NATO prepare to pull their troops out of Afghanistan starting in 2014, everyone is wondering how to keep the country -- and its neighbors -- from the instability that seems inevitable. And the preferred strategy seems to be regional integration: the U.S. is convening a regional conference in Istanbul next month to coordinate strategies with Afghanistan and its neighbors, of which the U.S.'s new Silk Road Strategy is one component. Russia, too, is promoting the CSTO as the security component of what promises to be a larger, regional diplomatic effort including Pakistan, China and other neighbors.
But as an excellent analysis by George Gavrilis in Foreign Affairs suggests, the countries surrounding Afghanistan are not likely to be too invested in any regional coordination:
It's a bird … It's a plane … It's Kyrgyz Superboy!
A man in Kyrgyzstan has developed what might be the country’s proudest toy.
The die-cast plastic boy -- wearing a national hat, the kalpak, vest and riding boots -- sings Kyrgyzstan’s national anthem as well as three patriotic Kyrgyz songs. His kneeling sidekick, sold separately, recites verses from the Koran, AKIpress reported. (With video, too).
Akyikat – named after designer Irisbek Zhabirov’s son – could be an inspiring figure for Kyrgyz children. But what will he inspire? Nationalism or something more benign? A rabid anti-foreigner sentiment is flourishing in Kyrgyzstan, particularly since ethnic violence last year left hundreds dead. What kind of values, then, shall we hope for from Akyikat?
The little guy also faces a congenital struggle: He’s made in China – the target of much Kyrgyz xenophobia.
But parents, don’t worry. The $6 price tag includes a guarantee from the manufacturer: All its Chinese-made toys are non-toxic and harmless to your children. So hurry, there are only 10,000 copies of each available.
The Turkmen government is furious again this week at Russian media attacks questioning Ashgabat's ability to extract and deliver its considerable gas reserves and ship them through pipelines yet to be constructed to Europe. The tensions with the Kremlin have been brewing for awhile, but this week's denunciations from the Turkmen Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies lets us know the situation is becoming a crisis for Ashgabat. While expressing "bewilderment" at Russia's "counterproductive" claims and delivering resounding rebuttals, the Turkmen leadership still doesn't quite make it clear what its commitments will in fact be to the long-stalled Nabucco pipeline to skirt Russian energy corridors, or to the more immediately-relevant Trans Caspian pipeline to deliver Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan.
The hold-ups on these projects aren't new -- Turkmenistan still hasn't demarcated disputed Caspian Sea borders with Azerbaijan and is only at the discussion level with the EU about a tri-partite agreement to build the Trans Caspian pipeline and ship its gas.
Yet by stating these obvious obstacles aloud, Russian experts are perceived by the Turkmen government as trying to throw a wrench in the works out of petulance and spite, now that yes, indeed, Ashgabat seems to be moving to end any lingering dependency on Russia.
President Obama and the First Lady with President Berdymukhamedov at the Metropolituan Museum of Art in 2008.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov's visit to New York last month to attend the UN General Assembly wasn't as impressive as past trips, and he seemed overshadowed by other Central Asian leaders -- Kyrgyzstan is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council and Uzbekistan is now newly-engaged by the US for the sake of the supply route to Afghanistan, the Northern Distribution Network (NDN).
Yet there were still those who wanted to cultivate ties to the Turkmen leader for the same reasons of energy and security and the NDN -- it's just that the efforts haven't gone as successfully as they have with other Central Asian nations.
Eric Stewart, Executive Director of the Turkmenistan-US Business Council, and James Albaugh, Executive Vice President of the Boeing Company, and other business people (not named) did meet with President Berdymukhamedov, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH) reported. But they don't seem to be doing as well as the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce which had a high-profile all-day conference in Washington, DC recently. If there are any new big contracts for US businesses in Turkmenistan, we haven't heard of them -- Chevron and others are still waiting for drilling permits.
In recent weeks, the mammoth Friday edition of Vechernii Bishkek, the newspaper of record for Russian-speaking Bishkek, has featured two full-page editorials warning that “the future of the secular state” is in danger.
So one would have expected the October 14 editorial to reference the “terrorist” hunt last week, in which one individual was shot dead near Osh and 10 more arrested. Perhaps the government’s story -- that the arrests disrupted a multi-ethnic Islamic Jihad Union cell determined to destabilize the country ahead of a presidential election on October 30 -- was too much for even Vechernii Bishkek to stomach.
Yet the October 14 editorial does sound the alarm about “groups of partisans of different varieties of Islam” working within the state-sponsored Muslim Spiritual Board, or Muftiate. On this score, Mufti Chubak hajji Jalilov appears to have gotten the message.
Last month, after stoking protests over a de facto ban on headscarves in public schools, the Muftiate quickly retreated and backed the government line – that no ban was in place. Islamic civil society groups were not satisfied, however, and some may now be taking their anger to the mosque.
Ex-Chief of General Staff of the Moldovan Army, Iurie Dominic, sacked after an arms deal with Armenia
Armenia has bought some weapons from Moldova, and Azerbaijan is not happy about it, reports RFE/RL:
Azerbaijan has expressed serious concern over Armenia’s reported purchase from Moldova last month of rockets and other weapons worth millions of dollars, saying that it will complicate a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Elnur Aslanov, head of an analytical unit at President Ilham Aliyev’s administration, on Friday described this and other arms acquisitions by Yerevan as a “serious destabilizing factor” in the region.
“The policy on Nagorno-Karabakh pursued by Armenia testifies to the destructive position of that state in the region,” Russian and Azerbaijani news agencies quoted him as telling journalists in Baku. “Any arms acquisition, any increase in the number of weapons in the region certainly does not lay the groundwork for establishing peace and stability and, on the contrary, impedes that.”
The Hurriyet Daily News has an interesting article up about the long-awaited opening of a Kurdish language program at Artuklu University in southeast Turkey's Mardin. The program, for which 21 students have registered, is the first of its kind to be offered at a Turkish university. From the article:
After years of efforts, a number of rejections and strong debates, Turkey’s first undergraduate-level Kurdish language and literature department is welcoming students for its first class today in the southeastern province Mardin’s Artuklu University.
The beginning of the first undergraduate-level Kurdish program, which many consider a positive development, comes at a time of recent tension over discussions on Turkey’s new constitution, which are about to commence between the ruling and oppositional parties, including the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is primarily focused on the Kurdish issue.
While tension among the delegates is expected to rise especially on the first three articles, which discuss “the characteristics of the Republic,” an academic move to officially integrate Kurdish culture into Turkey’s education system is already regarded as a sign of development.
“When we established the School of Eastern Languages, I had planned to set up a Kurdish Language and Literature Department and kept re-applying to YÖK [Higher Education Board]. This city is the center of upper Mesopotamia, and Kurdish [culture] is a major part of this,” Artuklu University Rector Serdar Bedii Omay said.
As recently reported on this blog, the once-famous culinary scene in the Kyrgyz town of Osh has been struggling to live up to its former glory after the ethnic riots of 2010. Registan's Joshu Foust recently visited the city and filed an initial report from there, including some interesting information about a new spot serving a local version of fajitas. His report can be found here.
Party politics in Kazakhstan isn’t the liveliest of scenes. In recent years Astana has extended its iron grip over most parties, squeezing out alternative voices to the extent that since 2007 only one party – Nur Otan, led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev – has sat in the lower house of parliament.
That is set to change: Due to constitutional amendments passed in 2008, the next parliament will contain at least two parties. And there are persistent rumors that a snap election may supplant the next vote scheduled for August 2012.
Speculation about the spontaneous ballot prompted the Guljan website to take a satirical look at Kazakhstan’s political parties in a video presented by analyst Dosym Satpayev.
The film offered bestial characterizations for parties, starting with the lumbering political behemoth Nur Otan, which was compared to a dinosaur – a diplodocus whose “large body was clearly not in line with the small size of its brain.”
The Ak Zhol party, which has changed political hue many times, earned a comparison with a chameleon. Under new leader Azat Peruashev, Ak Zhol is the favorite to win parliamentary seats and form a tame “opposition” to Nur Otan.
Genuine opposition parties fared no better in the caustic video: OSDP Azat was likened to an electric eel, which often “serves as a decoration in large public aquariums.” The Communist Party of Kazakhstan (CPK) was compared to a tortoise that has existed “for more than 220 million years.”