Tuesday, 05 August 2014 08:57

Shootout at the Kyrgyz-Tajik Border

By Arslan Sabyrbekov (08/05/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On July 10, an exchange of fire on a disputed section of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border reportedly left at least seven border guards from both sides injured. One Tajik citizen died of gunshot wounds at the scene of the incident. The foreign Ministries of the neighboring countries, which generally enjoy good relations, exchanged official notes of protest accusing one another of breaching international law and asking for clarification of the circumstances.

The shootout took place on the outskirts of the Vorukh, an exclave of Tajik territory entirely enclosed within Kyrgyzstan’s southern region of Batken. The Vorukh enclave is a densely populated area with a population of 40,000 residents, mainly of Tajik ethnicity. Kyrgyz residents living around Vorukh have to drive through it to get to different parts of the Batken region.

To avoid this difficulty and the occasional frictions it causes, the Kyrgyz government last January decided to build a new road to bypass the enclave completely. Tajik authorities issued a statement demanding an immediate end to the construction works, saying that the road is being built on a contested territory and complaining that it would allow the Kyrgyz to blockade the Tajik enclave. At that time, the arguments over the road construction led to a one-hour shootout between the sides, leaving two Tajik and five Kyrgyz border guards heavily injured. After the shootout, Bishkek closed its border for almost two months and recalled its ambassador from Dushanbe for consultations.

The July 10 shootout at the border coincided with the upcoming talks between the heads of Border Services of the two countries. According to Kyrgyz official sources, the residents of the Vorukh enclave have purposefully taken unlawful actions to stop the negotiations over the construction of the aforementioned road. The Kyrgyz Border Service made an official statement claiming that around 30 Tajik citizens have tried to build a water pipeline from the territory of Kyrgyzstan (river Karavshin) to the Tajik village of Bedak, in Vorukh enclave. Kyrgyz border guards approached the scene, demanding a halt to the illegal actions after which local Tajiks threw stones at them. The situation escalated further and eventually led to a firefight between the sides.

In its official protest to Bishkek, Dushanbe gave a different description of the situation, claiming that their citizens were installing a water pipeline on the territory of the Vorukh cooperative at around 11.30 on July 10, when Kyrgyz border guards approached them and demanded to stop construction works in an aggressive and insulting manner. Tajik border guards, who were nearby, tried to stop the actions of their Kyrgyz counterparts, who opened fire with automatic firearms, injuring several and killing one civilian.

Indeed, the sides are throwing accusations at one another for starting the conflict, instead of demonstrating political will to resolve the pressing problem. The July 10 shooting is unlikely to be the last and the death of a local Vorukh enclave resident could further exacerbate nationalist feelings.

To prevent further escalation of the conflict between the relatively friendly countries, political analyst at Moskovskiye Novosti Arkady Dubnov suggested that mediation by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) could positively contribute to a peaceful development. In his words “Mr. Bordyuzha, Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, is not a representative of the Russian Federation, but heads an international organization, with both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as its members, and is in a position to talk to both sides and positively contribute to border conflict resolution.”

The proposal seems timely, since the issue of drawing a border cannot easily be resolved by two conflicting sides. Despite the creation of a Joint Border Drawing Commission, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have since 2006 not delimited a single kilometer of their contested border, which currently amounts to 460 kilometers. Negotiations are deadlocked for the simple reason that the Kyrgyz side refers to maps from the 1950s and the Tajik side to maps from the 1920s. Thus, continued negotiations along these lines are simply unproductive.

Additionally, with Kyrgyzstan joining the Russia-led Customs Union, drawing concrete state borders with its neighbors is one of the many priority tasks for Bishkek to address.

The author wrote this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent those of the organization for which the author works.

Published in Field Reports

By Kirgizbek Kanunov (08/05/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On June 27, 2014, the Tajik authorities marked the 17th anniversary of the peace agreement they signed with the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) and dubbed it the Day of National Unity.

A number of circumstances indicate growing animosity and contradictions between the parties that signed peace accords in Tajikistan 17 years ago. Pundits from the former Soviet space and beyond present Tajikistan as a successful example of peacemaking, while some Tajik officials have long been making the case for President Rahmon to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But is the peace in Tajikistan sustainable and can it be an example for others to follow? Ending the civil war and achieving peace is a centerpiece of Dushanbe’s official ideology. The image of Rahmon as the Peacemaker-in-Chief has been heavily promoted in the state-owned media and is a favorite tagline of the official propaganda. It is telling that the participants of flash mobs that have lately been orchestrated against the opposition and international organizations in Tajikistan have repeatedly chanted their opposition to war that the West and the domestic opposition allegedly attempt to unleash.

By aggrandizing Rahmon as the chief peacemaker, the official media fails to mention Said Abdullo Nuri, the Tajik Government’s negotiating partner and the former leader of the opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). In contrast, Tajikistan’s independent media have lately been covering stories about the growing antagonism between the government and the IRPT – the main signatories to the peace accords in 1997.

According to the chief editor of Ozodagon, Aziz Nakibzoda, the war in Tajikistan ended in 1997, but has continued in a different form. Nakibzoda believes that today in Tajikistan there is a war to grab land, property, lucrative government posts, and spheres of influence. The title of his newspaper article reads “From one day of Unity to the other, ‘the battles’ turn more violent,” underlining the growing contradictions in issues of preceding agreements between the government and opposition.   

Observers note that the peace accords were a product of pressure from influential global players on the warring parties in the conflict. For example, according to Anatoly Adamishin, Russia’s former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and ex-Minister for CIS Affairs, Rahmon was reluctant to negotiate with the opposition in the mid-90s.  Adamishin maintains that the parties agreed to negotiate under pressure. Namely, Moscow brought pressure to bear on the government, while Iran pressured the opposition.

According to observers, during the signing of the peace accords, the government was not upfront about its intentions, and only considered the signing as a tactical pause.

Rahmon used the period after hostilities had ceased to consolidate his power. Several of Rahmon’s influential opponents from the opposition as well as former associates have been eliminated. Some of them died or were convicted, and some others have left the country.

After numerous clashes in the country, a relative calm settled between 2002 and 2008, a period characterized by the growing role and influence of Rahmon’s cronies and his family over key public policy decisions, including hiring and staffing in the state sector.  As a consequence of these changes, the country’s regions have seen a new redistribution of property and influence. 

The fate of Nizomhon Juraev, a businessman from Isfara in Tajikistan’s Sughd Province, who was Rahmon’s election campaign manager in Sughd in 2006, is indicative of countrywide property redistribution. In 2008, having fallen from grace, Juraev lost his property, fled the country and was put on the wanted list. By 2008, uncommitted country resources had been all but depleted, which led to tensions within the ruling clan.

Persecution against the famous Tajik businessman and former Minister of Industry, Zaid Saidov may also be considered as a continuation of the struggle for resources. It is particularly remarkable that Saidov came to the Tajik Government from the opposition as part of the power-sharing arrangement.  

On the eve of the day of Unity, the authorities stepped up the pressure on the opposition movement yet again. Despite ongoing negotiations and agreements between the city authorities and the current leader of the IRPT, Muhiddin Kabiri, the authorities decided to blatantly demolish the party branch office in Khujand. Concomitantly, another IRPT branch office was destroyed in Panjikent.

Simultaneously, following an IRPT-related incident in Kulob, the Ministry of Interior issued a decision to initiate administrative proceedings against the party, since the Kulob party branch leader held a meeting in his private home, which contradicts the National Law on gatherings, meetings and conferences.

Moreover, the arrest of Alexander Sodiqov shows that the authorities are continuing pressure on another active opposition force in Gorno-Badakhshan, namely the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan (SDPT) by implicating its leader Alim Sherzamonov in an espionage story.

Meanwhile, on the eve of the Day of Unity, Rahmon sent a warning signal to NGOs, political parties and the media. More specifically, he said, “political parties, public associations and the media should be careful and shrewd when evaluating and reflecting on socio-political issues to ensure state independence, national interests, security, peace and political stability and strengthening national unity.”

This suggests that Tajikistan’s government conducts a deliberate policy of tightening control aligned with the country’s leadership, which effectively derails the achievements of previous agreements with the opposition forces.

One of the key points of the power-sharing arrangement between the government and the UTO was to ensure the unencumbered functioning of the IRPT, but large-scale restrictions on its operations in the regions makes their existence a mere formality.

According to some political analysts in Dushanbe, it is more important for the government to retain power. They claim that the rhetoric of peace and preservation of constructive relations with the opposition is no longer a priority.

Published in Field Reports

By Oleg Salimov (08/05/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst) 

Tajikistan’s government is irate with the report on the country’s investment outlook recently published by the U.S. Department of State. The report, named 2014 Investment Climate Statement – Tajikistan, was prepared by the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Although the report explains the financial risks for prospective investors in Tajikistan, Tajik officials chastised the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan for interfering with Tajikistan’s internal policy and attempting to destabilize the political situation in the country.

The resentment with the report among Tajik officials was provoked by a part of the report describing the problem of government corruption. Responding to data on corruption published in the report, Saifullo Safarov, deputy head of the Center of Strategic Research under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, accused the report publishers of attempting to trigger political unrest in Tajikistan. Without referring directly to the U.S., Safarov noted that by publishing such information, certain foreign countries pursue the goal of destabilizing Tajikistan.

Such a reaction by Tajik officials to the evaluation of the country’s investment prospects derives from their fear of provoking a Ukrainian Maidan-type of revolution in Tajikistan. In Ukraine, the Maidan movement started as a social rejection of corruption in government, which affected all levels of power and culminated at the highest governmental post – the president. The corrupt political elite, including president Yanukovych, was ousted from office as a result of the Maidan movement. President Rahmon understands the fragility of his position and the high potential for a Maidan-type upheaval in the country, which also explains Safarov’s erratic commentary on the report.

The information published by the Department of State is not in any way new or sensational. Ordinary Tajiks are well aware of the problem as they have to face it on a regular basis. The report reviews the system of bribes, the practices of cronyism, and spheres of influence of different government agencies, specifically the notorious corruption in the Anticorruption agency. Safarov, in turn, failed to provide information on the efforts taken by the Tajik government to eliminate corruption or explain the connection between the report and potential political destabilization.

The assessment of the investment climate is common practice as it explains risks and benefits of conducting business in a certain country. In fact, only a small part of the report was devoted to the problem of corruption while the main part reviewed the country’s economy as a whole. The report is addressed to prospective foreign investors interested in Tajikistan and not to the general Tajik public. Accustomed to their ability to filter information, Tajik government officials seek to control even sources that are out of their legal reach such as the U.S. Department of State. Any dissent is seen as a direct challenge to the current regime. 

The span of the corruption problem extends into the involvement of Tajik law enforcement and judiciary in disputes with foreign and local businessmen to benefit Tajikistan’s ruling elite. This practice is also widely employed to constrain political opposition in Tajikistan. Thus, on April 21, 2014 the court in the city of Tursunzade ordered the confiscation of the property of Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the opposition Party of Islamic Renaissance of Tajikistan. The case against Kabiri was initiated by the Anticorruption agency, ironically notorious for its corruption. The ownership of the large marketplace Sakhovat in Tursunzade was transferred from Kabiri to the Tajik Committee on Youth, Sport and Tourism. The court rejected Kabiri’s arguments that the case was politically motivated. In an interview to a local newspaper, Kabiri complained that his close relatives were repeatedly subjected to persecution, extortion, and bribes by the Anticorruption agency, the Tajik Revenue services, and other state inspection agencies.

In another case, the Anticorruption agency in cooperation with Tajikistan’s judiciary, including the Supreme Court, and the State Committee on National Security GKNB (former KGB) successfully neutralized Zaid Saidov, a potential challenger to Rahmon, from Tajikistan’s political arena. Saidov received a 26-year imprisonment term and confiscation of property. The anticorruption agency also won another property confiscation case against Ukrainian businessman Dmitry Firtash and Saidov’s son Khairullo. Numerous properties belonging to Firtash in Tajikistan were transferred to the Tajik government.

In this context, the furious protests of Tajik officials against the assessment of corruption in Tajikistan, conducted within a much larger examination of the country’s investment climate, seems highly inappropriate and troubling. According to Transparency International, from 2003 to 2013 Tajikistan dropped from 124th to 154th place among 175 countries in TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index. It is the brazen level of corruption in the country and the official disregard of the problem that may eventually provoke a public outburst, and not the investment climate report as alleged by Tajik government representatives.

Published in Field Reports
Wednesday, 02 July 2014 12:32

Free Media Struggles in Tajikistan

By Oleg Salimov (07/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The fact that free media in Tajikistan is subjected to persecution was once again confirmed earlier this spring by a Tajik court ruling against the local media outlet Asia-Plus. In June 2014, Asia-Plus submitted a supervisory complaint to Tajikistan’s Supreme Court after its appeal was rejected by the city court of Dushanbe. The Supreme Court is the last authority to decide on the Asia-Plus case. There is little hope that the Supreme Court will annul the previous decrees.

The case, which became known as “Intelligentsia vs Asia-Plus,” was initiated by a group of Tajik intellectual organizations in the summer 2013 and was intended to protect them from a supposed insult published in one of Asia-Plus’s articles. In her editorial column, the author, Olga Tutubalina, criticized the country’s public figures of fawning upon President Rakhmon. However, the intelligentsia was insulted not by the accusation of fawning but by Tutubalina’s citation of Vladimir Lenin, who infamously compared the intelligentsia to waste products. Avoiding expressing her disgust for Rakhmon and his entourage directly, Tutubalina veiled her antipathy to the country’s elite with a metaphor borrowed from the Bolshevik leader. Tutubalina’s article denounced the Tajik intelligentsia as serving as a trumpet of authoritarianism. According to her, the Tajik intelligentsia has abandoned its primary mission of constituting an intellectual driving force of democracy in favor of personal gain.

The central theme of Tutubalina’s article discussed the poet Bozor Sobir’s return to Tajikistan from exile in the U.S.. Sobir was one of the founders of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan and a member of the now non-existing opposition movement “Rastokhez” (the Renaissance), and was personally invited to return by Rakhmon. Tutubalina was indignant with Sobir’s first public statement after his arrival on the superfluous and harmful number of political parties in Tajikistan, including the largest opposition party Islamic Renaissance. To the surprise of many, Sobir openly attacked his former political companions. Previously a vocal proponent of democracy in Tajikistan, Sobir revived himself as Rakhmon’s personal eulogist, autocracy advocate, and the highest appointed leader of Tajikistan’s intelligentsia. Sobir appealed to the Tajik intelligentsia to unite around Rakhmon and provide him with unreserved support.

Although the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Tajik Constitution allows Tutubalina and Asia-Plus to deliver their interpretation of political realities in the country, the government restricts this right through censorship and control of all published materials. In the Asia-Plus case, Rakhmon, acting through the intelligentsia, signals that negative information with reference to the president or government in Tajikistan is unacceptable.

Notably, on the initiative of Tajik National Communication Council in 2012, the government authorized a special unit within Tajikistan’s security services which censors all information about Tajikistan flowing in and out of the country with the purpose of creating a positive image of the current regime. The unit filters online publications, monitors social networking websites, and controls the national mass media. Tajikistan’s public is fed only materials deemed appropriate. The Asia-Plus case is a clear example of the authorities’ information filtering and image-building activities.

The use of influential public figures is the latest invention designed to reinvigorate Rakhmon’s withering image of the country’s “savior” and the current authoritarian style of governing as the only way to ensuring prosperity and stability for Tajikistan. The intelligentsia, including the representatives of four social, scientific, and professional organizations – though not including Sobir, the only intelligentsia representative directly named and addressed in the article – quickly rebounded with a lawsuit against Asia-Plus and Olga Tutubalina. The intelligentsia refrained from protesting their alleged behavior but instead quoted the crude quotation of Vladimir Lenin as an insult.

In February 2014, the district court ruled in favor of the intelligentsia and obliged Asia-Plus and Tutubalina to publish a disclaimer and pay around US$ 6,000 compensation to the plaintiffs. Later, the city court of Dushanbe contended this decision. Concerns regarding the Asia-Plus and Tutubalina case were expressed by Human Rights Watch, the chairman of the guild of Tajik journalists, Tajik human rights and social activists, and the U.S. embassy in Tajikistan. However, none had any apparent effect on the protection of press freedom and freedom of expression. Instead, Tajikistan’s government works zealously to improve and maintain the “appropriate” image of the country’s president and regime.

Published in Field Reports

By Oleg Salimov (06/18/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon visited Belarus on May 23-25, 2014. The stated purposes of the visit were to improve socio-economic cooperation and to develop an agrarian-industrial complex in Tajikistan. The secondary agenda of the Tajik president’s visit appeared to be the enlistment of military support from Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan. Rakhmon’s arrival in Belarus coincided with an unofficial visit by Vladimir Putin to Minsk and a meeting between the three leaders on the sidelines.

Although not widely publicized, the issue of military cooperation appears to have been an important topic in the conversation between the two leaders. Lukashenko and Rakhmon discussed regional security, Afghanistan, coordination between the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and Belarusian military assistance to Tajikistan. Lukashenko publicly assured Rakhmon of material-technical military support after the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Rakhmon is actively seeking military assistance from its partners in the CIS, CSTO, and SCO. The timing of the visit and the unofficial meeting with Putin coincided with several major military events taking place in Belarus and Tajikistan.

First, Russia recently decided to expand its military presence in Belarus through additional provisions of the anti-aircraft and S-300 anti-missile system (NATO-indexed SA-10/20), based on an agreement from September of 2005. In addition to existing systems in Belarus, Russia will deliver additional S-300 units as Lukashenko announced in an official press conference on April 25 this year. Lukashenko pointed out that these systems will protect not only Belarus but also Russian territory in the northwest.

Second, Russia will launch its “Window” space defense monitoring system in Tajikistan into full operational readiness in summer/fall 2014. The system protects Russia’s southern and southeastern boundaries from intercontinental ballistic missiles. The launch takes place alongside the recent 30-year extension of Russian basing permits in Tajikistan. Russia’s military base in Tajikistan is its largest military force abroad with significant authorities and capabilities. The armed and technical capabilities of the military base were reinforced with machinery and drones, among other, soon after the extension. According to Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s military base in Tajikistan will be also enlarged in manpower and rearmed with the latest weaponry by the end of 2014.

At the same time, Rakhmon intended to expand socio-economic and political cooperation with Belarus during his visit. The official statement by Rakhmon and Lukashenko presented highly successful negotiations that resulted in about 20 signed agreements and contracts. Among others, agreements were concluded between the countries’ National Olympic Committees, Belarus’ and Tajikistan’s agrarian universities, Belarus’ Ministry of Architecture and Tajikistan’s Committee on Architecture, Belarus’ State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company and Tajikistan’s Committee on TV and Radio, Belarus’ light industry complex and Tajikistan’s Ministry of Industry and New Technologies. A series of agreements on cooperation in trade and economy, culture, and science and technology were signed between various cities and regions in the two countries. The two sides discussed the possibility of transferring some of Belarus’ industrial capacities to Tajikistan. In particular, they referred to the assembly of Belarus-made agricultural equipment and the organization of centers servicing equipment imported from Belarus.

In their public statements, both presidents stressed the benefits of mutual ties between their countries, which are based on their personal friendship and solidarity in opinions on issues in international politics. They also expressed their long-term commitment to maintaining and expand their existing relationships.

A comparison of the two regimes’ political structure, their systems of governance, and their political associations reveals other aspects of where Tajikistan and Belarus converge. Among the post-Soviet republics, Tajikistan and Belarus are among Russia’s closest and most consistent partners. The two are highly influenced by and dependent on Russia politically, economically, and militarily. Tajikistan and Belarus have entered into various political agreements with Russia; they were among the first post-Soviet republics to sign dual citizenship agreements with Russia and to allow a Russian military presence on their territories. Tajikistan and Belarus also partner with Russia in regional political, economic, and security organizations.

In a number of ways, relations between Belarus and Tajikistan are sustained by Russian involvement and influence, most prominently in their political and military components. While the latest agreements between Belarus and Tajikistan could have been reached on the ministerial level, without presidential involvement, Rakhmon’s official meeting with Lukashenko and the unofficial one with Putin were necessary in order to coordinate military cooperation between the three countries. In this connection, the initiated talks on military cooperation between CSTO and SCO members are likely to move forward in the nearest future.

Published in Field Reports

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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.

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