A website in Kazakhstan, which bills itself as a platform for regional analysis, has reported that authorities in Uzbekistan are mulling the creation of a fake opposition group.
Polit-asia.kz claimed in an article published on November 8 that the proposition under consideration is to revive a banned political party called Ozod Dehkonlar (Free Peasants) that was founded by 52-year old Nigora Khidoyatova, a political emigre based in the United States.
The writer of the piece, Akbar Asanov, claimed that Uzbekistan is endeavoring to persuade the international community that it is embarking on a path of democratization in order to attract inward investment.
Askarov wrote that talks have taken place between the head of the security services, Rustam Inoyatov, acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Khidoyatova to allow for the Ozod Dehkonlar leader to return to Uzbekistan in exchange for acting as a pliant opposition force. Khidoyatova has been provided security guarantees for her, family and friends as part of the deal, Askarov wrote.
Asked for comment on the report, Khidoyatova told EurasiaNet.org that only some parts of the story were accurate.
“A lot of what is written there is true, but as far as coordinating with the government, that is a red herring,” Khidoyatova said.
Khidoyatova is a historian by training and the daughter of another celebrated Uzbek historian, Gogi Khidoyatov. Her political activities culminated in 2003 with the creation of the Ozod Dehkonlar party, which was refused registration. Party members were denied permission to stand in the 2004 parliamentary elections.
By the party’s own estimated, in 2012, when Khidoyatova finally fled the country fearing arrest, it counted around 100,000 rank-and-file members.
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament endorsed the composition of a tweaked cabinet on November 9 that will be backed by a new, slimmed-down coalition and led by an unchanged prime minister firmly allied to single-term President Almazbek Atambayev.
MPs voted 114 to 4 to endorse Jeenbekov’s reshaped cabinet wherein the most eyebrow-raising appointment was that of Ulan Israilov, Atambayev's former bodyguard and the ex-head of the government's main anti-corruption inspectorate, as Interior Minister.
Among other additions, Cholpon Sultanbekova, a member of the pro-Atambayev Kyrgyzstan party and most famous as the widow of a former mob boss from the south of the country, took up the position of deputy prime minister for social affairs.
Jamshitbek Kalilov became the new transport minister with predecessor Zamirbek Aidarov presently under investigation by Israilov's former unit for corruption in a road tender won by a Chinese company.
The overwhelming parliamentary backing for the new government has become a tradition in Kyrgyzstan's mixed political system and does not mean that all is well in the legislature.
Two parties previously in the ruling coalition, Onuguu Progress and Ata-Meken are no longer part of the alliance that collapsed last month following their opposition to a controversial, Atambayev-driven referendum set to take place on December 11.
That leaves Atambayev's Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) governing along with the Kyrgyzstan party that survived the collapse and new entrants Bir Bol.
Central Asia has looked at Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency and some of it likes what it sees. The rest seems unbothered.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev fired off a note of congratulations to his counterpart-to-be and suggested that Trump drop in for a visit.
“I believe that under your leadership, the United States will remain a mainstay in the preservation of stability, security and prosperity in the entire world,” Nazarbayev said in the statement.
The haste and palpable warmth of the statement are hard not to see as a ringing endorsement. Nazarbayev, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, clearly see in Trump a figure untroubled by such trifles as the promotion of democracy and human rights.
When Hillary Clinton last visited Kazakhstan, in 2010, she made a point of raising the plight of a jailed human rights defender, Yevgeny Zhovtis, while also hailing Astana for its progress on human rights.
Maulen Ashimbayev, a member of parliament with the ruling Nur Otan party, predicted that Trump’s victory would prove beneficial to Kazakhstan by virtue of the prospect of improving relations between Washington and Moscow.
On the cusp of what appears a new era of unpredictability in international affairs, countries in the Caucasus, that sensitive borderland between East and West, are wondering what to expect from Donald Trump, the United States’ choice for president.
In what many see as schadenfreude, Moscow is the only place in the larger region where politicians unabashedly hail Trump. The State Duma, in fact, met the news of Trump’s victory with a standing ovation.
“Man to man, I don’t envy Bill Clinton because his old lady, for whom he trailed around all the states like a threadbare backpack, will be going through the roof over losing,” predicted Sergei Mironov, leader of the social-democratic Fair Russia.
“Our dear Trump, congratulations on your victory,” chimed in the Liberal Democratic Party’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist known for his ebullient pre-election endorsement of Trump. “Babushka Hillary should go have a rest,” he advised.
The US Embassy in Tajikistan issued a warning on its website on November 9 about terrorist groups possibly targeting public gatherings or crossings on the border with Afghanistan.
The message claimed to be based on specific information received by the embassy and urged US citizens to take additional precautions.
Advice included avoiding large crowds and public transport. The embassy singled out the mountainous eastern region of Gorno-Badakhshan as a potential site of risk and warned against camping or biking in the dark there.
Clashes have taken place along Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan periodically, although the Tajik government’s accounts of those skirmishes are usually far from transparent about the causes.
Security officials in Dushanbe reported a surge of disturbances at the start of this year across several points of the border. But while in some instances links to Taliban-linked groups and individuals could be divined, in other cases it was evident that the incursions were the work of drug smugglers.
The singling out of Gorno-Badakhshan is likely linked to the mounting concern over Taliban gains into remote regions of Afghanistan previously thought to be immune to their incursions.
A recent Reuters report from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province was a sobering reminder of how militants are strengthening their hold of illegal gemstone mining operations in the area. In more heavily populated locations around the city of Kunduz too, the Taliban has shown it remains a formidable fighting machine with which to be reckoned.
Uzbekistan’s state-run Channel One aired a sensational segment during a show called Business Club on November 5 that featured the frustrated observations of an indignant entrepreneur.
In a unusual televised outburst, Olim Sulaimanov explained how employees with a branch of the anti-finance crime department of the Prosecutor General’s Office in Tashkent had tried to extort money from him. Sulaimanov named names and figures in his description of how tax officials have been targeting his company.
“An employee with the department, Dilshod Hazratkulov, intimidates businessmen with money on their [bank] account and extorts money from them,” Sulaimanov said.
In Sulaimanov’s telling, Hazratkulov dropped in on his office in April and demanded that he transfer 48 million sum (around $7,500 at the current black market rate) onto the account of some other unknown company. The businessman said that when he refused, he had his assets frozen. Sulaimanov said that as a result he lost a $1 million contract to deliver fruit and vegetables to Russia.
The appearance on Business Club came about after Sulaimanov posted a video on YouTube directly appealing to acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev for assistance. In the video, Sulaimanov asks that he be allowed to make his case during a television broadcast.
Sulaimanov, 61, founded and runs a company called Atlant Business Optima, which has been in operation since 2011 and deals primarily in exporting fruit and vegetables.
Now, whether this sequence of events is for real or otherwise is up for debate -- it is always possible it was a bit of theater for the viewers -- but what is clear is that Mirziyoyev is endeavoring to demonstrate that the rules of the game have changed for Uzbekistan’s long-suffering business community.
Like some human Stretch Armstrong doll, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili might have to stretch pretty far to play a political role in both Ukraine and Georgia after resigning from a key Ukrainian governorship on November 7.
At least one spectator, Russia, is likely to enjoy the sight, however. Particularly if the longtime nemesis of Russian President Vladimir Putin splits in the middle.
“How much can you lie and cheat?” the 48-year-old governor asked in a diatribe about Ukrainian corruption aimed both at his onetime university classmate, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and the president's political pals.
Poroshenko appears to have no regrets at seeing him go. He told reporters in Slovenia on November 8 that he hoped the Ukrainian cabinet approved Saakashvili’s resignation if he is bent on joining the country’s opposition. “We are a democratic state . . . “ he asserted, Interfax-Ukraine reported. The cabinet is expected to discuss the matter on November 9.
Russia’s state-run or associated press – in other words, most of it -- can barely contain its glee at the news, seeing it as a precursor of Saakashvili's general political evaporation. “A farewell tour or escaping from a sinking ship,” proclaimed a Vesti.ru headline about Saakashvili’s resignation.
Only some panicked, last-minute diplomacy has prevented Tajikistan being plunged into almost total isolation after Russia backed away from threats to suspend flights between the two countries.
In more positive aviation news, Uzbekistan’s plans to reopen air links with Tajikistan as of next year portends new possibilities in much-needed regional cooperation.
Russia last week dangled the threat of unilaterally closing air traffic with Tajikistan after the latter dragged its feet granting permission for flights to Dushanbe and the northern city of Khujand from Moscow region’s recently completed Zhukovsky International Airport.
That prospect would have been nothing short of cataclysmic for Tajikistan. Flights to and from Russia account for 95 percent of the totality of Tajikistan’s international air traffic. Passengers are in the main the labor migrants that keep the economy afloat. The remaining 5 percent of routes are accounted for by flights to Istanbul, Bishkek and Dubai and are, according to industry insiders, not nearly as profitable as those to Russia.
Last week, while Tajikistan was still sticking to its guns, the head of the aviation department at the ministry of transportation, Mahmadyusuf Rahmonov, explained that under a bilateral agreement, Russia and Tajikistan were automatically entitled to have two airlines each service routes between the countries’ capitals.
An international coalition of rights groups is calling on the European Parliament this week to reject a textile trade agreement between the EU and Uzbekistan that they say would fuel the scourge of forced labor in the cotton industry.
A letter address to the European Parliament Committee on International Trade published on Human Rights Watch’s website on November 7 said adopting the textile protocol would be to “ignore strong evidence of the government’s persistent and continued use of forced labour on a massive, nationwide scale in Uzbekistan.”
The European Parliament postponed a decision on the EU-Uzbekistan Textiles Protocol in December 2011 pending further monitoring of labour conditions in Uzbekistan by the International Labor Organization. The parliament acknowledged that the monitoring was intended to address allegations about the use of children and forced labor during the cotton harvest, but it is set to review its decision this week.
That postponement five years ago appeared to have had the requisite effect since the government in Uzbekistan relatively promptly allowed monitoring of its cotton harvests by the ILO.
A draft report in September from the European parliamentary trade committee signaled its satisfaction. It noted approvingly, citing the ILO’s findings from 2015, that “the use of children in the cotton harvest has become rare, sporadic and socially unacceptable, even if ongoing vigilance is needed.”
There is ample evidence, however, that the reduced reliance on child labor has transferred the pressure onto adults. This does not appear to have been reflected in ILO observations.
There is talk afoot that Uzbekistan is planning to rename a town near Samarkand in a tribute to the late President Islam Karimov in what would mark another progression in the leader’s post-death cult of personality.
Russian news agency Sputnik reported that rumors began circulating widely last week among resident of Kattakurgan, some 70 kilometers west of Samarkand, that their hometown of 100,000 people is set to get the name Islamabad.
Kattakurgan is best known in Uzbekistan for being the source of particularly prized Kishmish raisins and the site of an important reservoir.
Yulduz, a 50-year old resident of Kattakurgan, said that information about proposals to rename Kattakurgan in honor of Karimov first surfaced a few weeks ago.
“They are building roads and demolishing dilapidated houses and office buildings along the main road. The theater is being remodeled. A month ago, they fired the head of the city administration and he was replaced by the former mayor of a district of Samarkand,” Yulduz told EurasiaNet.org.
The re-designation of Kattakurgan, if it really happens, would come not a moment too soon. Only one factory there — a fat and oil processing plant — is still running. The cotton refinery, livestock breeding complex, meat and dairy processing plant and brick factory long ago closed shop.
“Unemployment levels are very high and young people go for work to Russia and Kazakhstan. What is more, the city suffers from chronic gas and power shortages,” one local journalist told EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity.