Did the official Uzbek media report the story of the assassination of Osama bin Laden?
It doesn't seem so -- or at least, the reports came very belatedly.
The official sites like gazeta.uz or uzreport.com or uza.uz did not have any stories on the day of the killing, or the day after -- nor did the semi-official uzmetronom.com. There didn't seem to be any Uzbeks tweeting anything (but there aren't that many on Twitter).
According to uznews.net, only one news portal, 12.uz, covered the Al Qaeda leader's death, a day after the rest of the world's news outlets.
Uznews.net reporters called around to find out why state-controlled journalists weren't reporting the world's top news story. A reporter for the official daily Pravda Vostoka [the Russian phrase for "Truth of the East"], the organ of Uzbekistan's Cabinet of Ministers, who didn't provide his name said he hadn't heard the news, and apparently didn't have an Internet connection. He added that "he didn't think the story was important for their audience."
The reporter also said he hadn't seen an official notice from the official wire service UzA.uz -- which uznews.net saw as a sign that state reporters wait for such signals before reporting news stories.
Russia is planning some ambitious additions to its Caspian Flotilla, its top naval commander has said. Via Xinhua:
Russia would deploy new coastal missiles and warships in the Caspian Sea, Chief Commander of the Russian Navy Vladimir Vysotsky said Wednesday.
In 2011, Russia's Caspian Fleet would receive two new missile boats and three landing ships, Vysotsky told a meeting of the Maritime Board held in Caspian town of Astrakhan, adding that the fleet would receive at least 16 new warships and missile boats by 2020.
Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov added that the current fleet is "uncompetitive":
"The fleet which is currently in service in the Caspian Sea could be characterized as outdated and uncompetitive," Ivanov, a former defense minister, said at a government meeting in the Caspian port city of Astrakhan.
He said most of its 148 ships were over 30 years old.
Although Russia recently announced plans to beef up its coastal defenses around the Caspian, it has thus far not said much about plans to add any ships to the fleet. So -- assuming this comes to pass -- it's a significant move.
It's worth recalling the words of a Russian representative to a Caspian Sea meeting, just last week, in Baku:
[Golovin] stressed that "all the littoral states agree that the Caspian should be a sea of peace and friendship." "And accordingly, none of the littoral states is going to start up the arms race, or compete in the military sphere with each other," Golovin said. This is not the field of activity on which the littoral states must spend their efforts, he said.
Are the U.S.'s supply lines to Afghanistan threatened by negative U.S. government reporting on child labor in Uzbekistan? That's the contention of a two-partanalysis in Jamestown's Eurasia Daily Monitor, which will raise eyebrows among those who worry that the U.S.'s military cooperation with Uzbekistan is coming at the expense of human rights in that country. By the end of this year fully 75 percent of the U.S.'s (non-lethal) military cargo will be shipped to Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network through the former Soviet Union, and almost all of that goes through Uzbekistan. Or will it?...
The importance of the NDN to the Afghanistan war effort cannot be overstated given the constant interdiction of supplies through Pakistan by the Taliban and its Pakistani supporters in recent years. However, this fragile US-Uzbek relationship appears to be on the verge of possible collapse due to arcane and illogical actions by the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G-TIP).
What that office has done is to ding Uzbekistan for using forced child labor in the annual cotton harvest. The author, Umida Hashimova, argues that this doesn't strictly fall under the rubric of trafficking in persons, and that the State Department thus "has taken up the cause of a number of anti-Uzbekistan NGOs and possibly competing cotton exporters to vilify Uzbekistan over the continuation of the Soviet-era policy of mobilizing students and government officials to assist in annual agricultural harvests."
Niko Pirosmanashvili [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Georgian Politics in Action
Washington-based analyst Vladimir Socor has a new briefing out that takes a look at the political opposition in Georgia and its possible upcoming activities. I was particularly struck by a passage that focussed on how wine is figuring into the opposition's (and Moscow's) calculus. From Socor's piece:
Some media outlets -- including a few respected ones -- are jumping on an obscure diplomatic cable as proof that Tajikistan knew the location of Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani hideaway in 2009. These blogs and articles seem to be crediting Tajikistan with providing intelligence that helped Washington find bin Laden—a dubious assertion.
While it’s easy to pluck out a detail from one leaked cable, in the grander scheme of things it could be dangerous to praise Tajikistan for contributing something it didn’t. Central Asian officials often exaggerate the threat of terrorism -- to get international funding? -- and then domestically do battle with local Muslims in such a heavy-handed and indiscriminate way that it’s highly likely they are doing more to bolster terrorism than to battle it.
In the cable, released by WikiLeaks this February, a Tajik counterterrorism official from the State Committee on National Security (GKNB), General Abdullo Sadulloevich Nazarov, told an American Embassy official that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan. Speaking of terrorist groups in general -- of which Tajikistan claims to have many, while offering limited proof -- the American official paraphrased Nazarov as saying:
“For instance, in Pakistan Osama Bin Laden wasn't an invisible man, and many knew his whereabouts in North Waziristan, but whenever security forces attempted a raid on his hideouts, the enemy received warning of their approach from sources in the security forces.”
Human Rights Watch has an interesting new report out that looks at domestic violence in Turkey and the gap between the laws that are in place to protect women and how those laws are being (or, actually, not being) applied.
"With strong laws in place, it is inexcusable that Turkish authorities are depriving family violence victims of basic protections," Gauri van Gulik, women's rights advocate and researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, said in a release. "Turkey has gone through exemplary reform on women's human rights, but police, prosecutors, judges, and social workers need to make the system exemplary in practice, not just on paper."
Russian news agency Interfax is reporting that Russia is pressing Tajikistan to allow its troops to resume border defense duties in an effort to stem the flow of drugs coming from Afghanistan.
The border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is long and hard to guard. In some sections, all that separates the two countries in narrow high-walled gullies is a shallow, unfenced and fast-moving river. It is often possible to drive for hours on the barely paved road running alongside the border before coming across any signs of a military presence.
Not surprising, therefore, that Moscow should be applying relentless pressure to be enabled to supplement Tajikistan's tightly stretched frontier forces. But, as one unnamed Tajik source tells Interfax: "Very complex negotiations are under way; Russia wants to return to this geopolitically important southern border of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States], but Tajikistan is still cool to the idea."
Reuters cites anonymous security sources and analysts saying Russia may seek to send up to 3,000 border guards to Tajikistan.
Russian border troops left Tajikistan in 2005 in a development that seemed to mark yet another stage of Moscow's gradual strategic withdrawal from the region. But with the drug problem in Russia showing no sign of abating, the emphasis has now moved from broad issues of strategy to more pragmatic areas.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization has played a variety of roles in the ten years of its existence -- a proto-military alliance, a counterbalance to U.S. presence in Central Asia, an instrument for cracking down on dissidents across borders. The organization, it seems, is still finding its identity, and is still the subject of a lot of curiosity and suspicion. The Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted an event today discussing where it's headed. Some takeaways:
-- While the focus of the SCO so far has been on security, it is trending toward a more economic orientation or, as one of the speakers, Alexander Cooley, put it, "a regional goods provider." Cooley suggested that could include using the SCO as a mechanism for providing Russian and Chinese technical aid, in a model comparable to the US Agency for International Development, to poorer SCO members like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; using the organization as a clearinghouse for large-scale investments in strategic infrastructure projects in Central Asia; or to use it to manage the various oil and natural gas pipelines from Central Asia to China on issues from security to pricing.
The writer and illustrator of a comic book that portrays modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, being beaten and bloodied, could face prison time for insulting the memory of the iconic figure. More details here. And an article of mine about the ongoing struggle over just how to portray Ataturk on the big screen here.
Taking e-security matters in hand, Azerbaijan plans to update its criminal code with some thoughts on "cyber crimes." The amendments are "expected to be adopted in the near future," according to one security official.
What exactly those crimes will entail is not clear, but, already, steps are being taken to address the needs of the most frequent of Facebook and Skype users -- youth.
A selection of student activists and young Azerbaijanis "who succeeded in different fields" gathered "the most pleasant impressions" from an April 21 meeting with President Ilham Aliyev, News.az tells us.
(Not among their number was opposition youth activist Jabbar Savalan, who was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison on May 4 for alleged possession of narcotics, Contact.az reports. )
The chitchat focused on a youth program that plans to bolster employment, make home mortgages affordable, encourage physical activity, and, now, for good measure, "amend" Azerbaijan's history textbooks.