By Oleg Salimov (04/01/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On March 5, 2015 the leader of the Tajik opposition organization Group 24, Umarali Kuvatov, was assassinated in Istanbul. Kuvatov has previously been accused of extremism in Tajikistan, and Tajik law enforcement has pursued him since 2011. He was previously arrested in Dubai in December 2012 at the Tajik government’s request on charges of fraud. In April 2013, a Dubai court allowed Kuvatov’s extradition to Tajikistan, which was later postponed and Kuvatov was released from custody in August 2013, at the request of human rights organizations and European parliament representatives.
Kuvatov was arrested anew in Istanbul on December 14, 2014 while awaiting refugee status, according to the Human Rights in Central Asia association, and released on February 3, 2015. On March 5, 2015 Kuvatov was shot in the head in Istanbul and pronounced dead at the scene. Turkish authorities arrested three Tajik citizens on March 9 in connection to the crime. The investigation revealed that Kuvatov was poisoned that night while having dinner with one of the suspects. No motives are yet announced for the meticulously organized assassination. Tajik authorities refrain from commenting the incident.
Previously, Maxud Ibrogimov, leader of the Tajik opposition group Youth for Revival of Tajikistan, who disappeared in Russia at the beginning of this year, reappeared in Tajikistan. Tajikistan’s Prosecutor General’s office confirmed in January, 2015 that Ibrogimov is in the custody of the State Committee of National Security (former KGB) in Dushanbe. The Prosecutor General’s representative Rizo Khalifazoda stated that Ibrogimov is charged on several counts of Tajikistan’s Criminal Code, including extremism, although no other details on the charges were provided.
Prior to the kidnapping, Ibrogimov received numerous threats and survived an assassination attempt in Moscow in November 2014, which Ibrogimov’s supporters believe were linked to his political views. Ibrogimov’s organization, formed in October 2014, focuses on fighting corruption and the clan system, and engaging Tajik youth in political processes. The opposition coalition New Tajikistan, in which Ibrogimov holds an administrative position, is convinced that the kidnapping is a result of protest actions against Tajikistan’s government, which the coalition organized in several Russian cities.
Tajikistan’s government outlawed Youth for Revival of Tajikistan on October 7, 2014, soon after Group 24, also part of the New Tajikistan coalition, announced plans for an unsanctioned demonstration against President Emomali Rakhmon in Dushanbe on October 10, 2014. Although the demonstration never took place and Ibrogimov officially denounced any violence in his organization’s political activity, he still drew the attention of Tajik authorities.
On November 27, 2014 an unidentified person attacked Ibrogimov in Moscow. Ibrogimov was delivered to a hospital in a severe condition with multiple stab wounds. In an official statement, New Tajikistan directly accused Tajikistan’s secret services and Rakhmon of the assassination attempt. Meanwhile, Tajik law enforcement requested Ibrogimov’s extradition on charges of extremism. Ibrogimov spent two days in confinement in Moscow awaiting extradition to Tajikistan but was released as a holder of Russian citizenship. His kidnapping followed soon after. A similar assassination attempt on a Tajik journalist, Dodojon Atovuloev, took place in Moscow in January 2013. A profound critic of Rakhmon, Atovuloev was stabbed multiple times by an unidentified person but survived.
Tajikistan’s extradition request to Spain of another member of Group 24, Sharofiddin Gadoev, in July 2014, was declined by Spanish authorities. Ukraine also denied extradition to Tajikistan of a former presidential candidate and rival to Rakhmon, Abdumalik Abdulojonov, in April 2013 after holding him in detention for nearly two months. As seen in the cases of Atovuloev, Ibrogimov, and Kuvatov’s, Tajik opposition activists in exile have become targets of assassinations and kidnappings.
Tajik authorities have previously resorted to kidnapping members of Tajikistan’s political opposition. In April 2005, the ex-chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Makhmadruzi Iskandarov, was kidnapped in Moscow and secretly transported to Dushanbe. Iskandarov was sentenced to 23 years in prison in October 2005. Another Tajik citizen, Savriddin Juraev, was kidnapped in Moscow and reappeared in Dushanbe to stand trial on charges of extremism in November 2011. Juraev received 26 years in prison in spring 2012.
While investigations into previous assassination attempts on members of Tajikistan’s opposition have never proven any involvement of Tajik authorities, these events clearly intimidate those who confront the ruling elite at home and abroad. Unless the problem draws wider attention from human rights organizations, Tajikistan’s international partners, and proponents of civil society and democracy, these practices will likely continue.
By Oleg Salimov (03/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan held parliamentary elections on March 1. Eight political parties participated, including the National Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, Communist Party of Tajikistan, Agrarian Party, Socialist Party, Social-Democratic Party, Economic Reforms Party, and Democratic Party. The predictable outcome of the elections was the sweeping victory of the National Democratic Party (NDPT) with 65.2 percent of votes. Alongside NDPT, the newly elected parliament will include the Agrarian Party, the Economic Reforms Party and the Socialist Party.
Two opposition parties, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) and the Communist Party, failed to reach the five percent threshold for entering parliament. It is the first time in Tajikistan’s political history that the Communist Party was voted out of parliament. The Islamic Renaissance Party made its previously most unsuccessful elections in 2005, when it received only two seats in parliament and refused to acknowledge the election results.
Soon after Tajikistan’s Central Election Committee (CEC) announced the voting tally, IRPT leader Mukhiddin Kabiri and Communist Party leader Shodi Shabdolov disavowed the official election results. According to the CEC, IRPT gained only 1.5 percent and the Communist Party 2.3 percent of the votes. In the most recent elections in 2010, IRPT received 7.74 percent and the Communists 7.22 percent, respectively. In 2005, the Communists gained as much as 20.63 percent and the IRPT 7.48 percent. While refusing to recognize the results of elections, which they consider falsified, both opposition leaders emphasized that they would refrain from public protests for the sake of peace and stability in the republic.
The failure to conduct fair, open, and democratic parliamentary elections in Tajikistan was also reported by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). OSCE observers recorded numerous violations of the voting process, including multiple voting, voting ballots provided without confirmed identification, and an unreliable and untrustworthy vote counting process. Overall, observers noted the orchestrated character of the elections with the Tajik government exercising oversight and control of the entire process.
Besides violations on Election Day, the OSCE observers also described other abuses against the opposition in the months preceding the elections. In particular, opposition parties were deprived of fair media coverage and unable to present and explain their political platform to the public and, more importantly, frequent government persecution of opposition representatives by the government. In Tajikistan’s previous parliamentary elections as well as presidential elections, the OSCE issued similar statements of unfair treatment of the opposition and undemocratic nature of the election process.
Reports of election fraud were issued also by other local and international organizations. In an official letter prior to March 1, Reporters without Borders asked the Tajik government to respect the freedom of speech and refrain from pressuring journalists reporting on the elections. Representatives of IRPT in Tajikistan’s southern regions, where the party commonly draws its widest support, reported violations similar to those registered by OSCE observers. The CEC rejected the allegations from the OSCE and opposition parties, noting a high turnout attendance and a lack of complains from the public.
At the same time, the observer mission from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) recognized the elections as satisfying democratic norms and standards. Although acknowledging some violations, the CIS observers considered them minor and not decisive to the election process and results. Overall, the CIS observers praised the successful organization and conduct of the election process. The contrast between assessments issued by the OSCE and CIS observers was similar during Tajikistan’s previous parliamentary elections.
Election Day was also marked by a country-wide disruption of cellular service. All but one of Tajikistan’s major cellular companies blocked access to SMS services. According to company representatives, the disruption was the result of temporary technical difficulties. Limitations to cellular and internet services are common in Tajikistan ahead of major political events. The most recent was reported on October 10, 2014, prior to an anti-government protest action planned by “Group 24.”
The newly elected Tajik parliament can be considered fully pro-government. Agrarian Party, the second largest in parliament, openly positions itself as a partner and supporter of the ruling NDPT. The entry of other political parties, like Economic Reforms Party and Socialist Party, to parliament effectively ousted the actual opposition formed by the Communists and IRPT, creating an illusory counterbalance to Rakhmon’s NDPT.
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IS “TURKISH STREAM” A SERIOUS THREAT TO THE TRANS-CASPIAN PIPELINE?, by Juraj Beskid, Tomáš Baranec
CASA-1,000 – HIGH VOLTAGE IN CENTRAL ASIA, by Franz J. Marty
KYRGYZSTAN’S RESIGNED PROSECUTOR-GENERAL GIVES WORRYING PRESS CONFERENCE, by Arslan Sabyrbekov
MOSCOW PLEDGES TO COUNTERACT GEORGIA’S INTEGRATION WITH NATO, by Eka Janashia
ARMENIA TOUGHENS ITS STANCE AGAINST TURKEY, by Erik Davtyan
FOREIGN MINISTERS OF TURKEY, AZERBAIJAN AND TURKMENISTAN DISCUSS ENERGY AND TRANSPORTATION IN ASHGABAT, by Tavus Rejepova
By Franz J. Marty (03/04/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
CASA-1,000 envisages hydro-electricity exports from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Due to the security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a study designated CASA-1,000 a high risk project. Recently concluded agreements between the participating countries, the currently ongoing procurement and the completed construction of another transmission line nonetheless promise a realization.
By Oleg Salimov (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon addressed the parliament in his annual speech on January 23, 2015. Rakhmon reviewed Tajikistan’s accomplishments in the socioeconomic sphere in 2014 and outlined his proposals for the country’s development in 2015. Rakhmon presented a highly detailed review of the work done by the Tajik government in 2014, highlighting numerous improvements supported by meticulous statistical data. In the speech, summaries of specific accomplishments were followed by appeals for further improvement.
In his annual address, Rakhmon focused mostly on economics, social problems, energy independence, transportation infrastructure, water resources, education and youth problems, and terrorism. Rakhmon specifically addressed the importance of developing a strong ideological basis in order to unify the people of Tajikistan and enhance their patriotism. Rakhmon also announced 2015 as the “Year of the Family,” translating into a separate set of tasks for the government and legislature in 2015. The president only cursorily mentioned Tajikistan’s parliamentary elections, even though these are scheduled to take place on March 1, 2015.
A few points in Rakhmon’s speech require closer attention. When speaking about economics, Rakhmon stressed the role of heavy industry, natural resources extraction, and Tajikistan’s hydroelectric power potential as it seeks to find its niche in the global market. In Rakhmon’s vision, the development of the agricultural sector is essential mostly for the country’s internal consumption and substitution of imported produce. According to Rakhmon’s speech, Tajikistan’s mid-term goal to transform from a largely agricultural society into a resource-supplying country with a perspective, in the long-run, to become a self-sufficient industrialized economy.
This enormous task can encounter such problems as insufficient human capital, technological deficiency, and inability of the state to attract necessary financial investments. Rakhmon touched on these problems as part of Tajikistan’s broader socioeconomic challenges, yet he made no direct reference to his proposal for economic transformation. The country’s transportation gridlock creates another obstacle for Tajikistan on its way to industrialization. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railroad project, which started in March 2013 and would have provided Tajikistan with access to the Caspian and South-Asian markets, stalled as the participating countries disagree on the route of the railroad.
Tajikistan also continually suffers from an energy crisis. Although the country possesses a significant hydroelectric power capability, it suffers from a constant deficit of electricity vital for industrialization. While Rakhmon reports a significant increase in electricity production, the power limit for residential consumption remains at 6 hours daily in the winter time. Additionally, the hydroelectric power company Barki Tojik, which Rakhmon sees as an important player in advancing Tajikistan’s energy independence and hydroelectric power export, struggles with considerable financial difficulties. The company’s debt to suppliers and Tajikistan’s Taxation Department totals US$ 300 million as of August 2014. Tajikistan’s state budget is also cash strained as the export of aluminum, the main income-generating item, was cut from 216,000 tons in 2013 to 121,200 tons in 2014, according to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade Sharif Rakhimzoda.
Another significant part of Rakhmon’s speech was an appeal for constructing an ideological platform for Tajikistan, which must encourage patriotism, pride of the national and cultural heritage, and loyalty to the country’s interests. This task was in large part delegated to the Tajik Academy of Sciences. The ideology has to counterbalance propaganda hostile to Tajikistan. Rakhmon also underlined that, among other tasks, the Academy has to intensify its efforts to study the Tajik Civil War of 1992-97 and presenting more accurate and objective information on the issue as compared to other sources. It should be noted that last year a Tajik scholar from Canada was arrested in Tajikistan when trying to conduct research on the Tajik Civil War, unauthorized by the Tajik government. The apparent motive behind these proposals is to increase the legitimacy of the current regime. Rakhmon’s image as a peacemaker has helped him retain power for almost two decades and he intends to continue to do so in the future.
In general, Rakhmon’s annual address to parliament presented the same set of issues that the country has been trying to resolve since independence. As in last year’s speech, the current proposals for export increases, industrialization, energy independence, and resolution of the transportation impasse lacked specific plans for action and follow-up reviews. Besides, several factors and actors supposedly assisting the economic development process have collapsed or struggle to function, as seen in the example of the TAT railroad and Barki Tojik. Therefore, Rakhmon’s proposals constitute the acknowledgment of problems rather solutions to them.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with Johns Hopkins University's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst brings cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.