Wednesday, 01 October 2014 12:16

China Expands Influence in Tajikistan

By Oleg Salimov (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Tajikistan’s President Rakhmon met with China’s leader Xi Jinping right after the recent SCO summit in Dushanbe. It was Jinping’s first visit to Tajikistan. The official meeting concluded in the signing of 16 contracts and agreements on cooperation. In general, the agreements and contracts covered three major areas, such as economy, agriculture, and banking. The leaders also signed separate agreements on extradition and exchange of convicted persons.  The connotation of the official visit is a continuation of China’s political and economic expansion in Tajikistan.

Tajikistan’s major financial achievement in the meeting between Rakhmon and Jinping was securing a grant for trade and technology development in the amount of RMB 300 million (approximately US$ 49 million) and the approval of lax export credit from China’s Ministry of Trade (the amount is yet to be announced). The RMB 300 million grant is the second non-repayable financial aid to Tajikistan after a similar RMB 150 million grant provided in 2012 by China’s then leader Hu Jintao to Tajikistan during Rakhmon’s official visit to Beijing.

According to Tajikistan’s Ministry of Economic Development, the amount of China’s total credit to Tajikistan exceeds US$ 800 million. The latest agreement between Tajikistan’s government and China’s Export – Import Bank foresees the prospect of a US$ 400 million credit from China for various developmental projects in Tajikistan. In providing development and consumer credits to Tajikistan, China pursues its own economic goals of finding and supplying new markets. The previous lax credits from China were primarily aimed at developing transportation connections between Tajikistan and China. Thus, the road from Dushanbe in Tajikistan to the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region in China allowed for an increase in the export of Chinese goods to Tajikistan. The recent approval of lax export credit to Tajikistan is a predictable step intended to increase China’s exports even further.

In turn, Tajikistan falls greatly behind in trade turnover with China. According to Tajikistan’s Statistics Agency, the China-Tajikistan trade in 2013 reached a record US$ 682 million, with China’s share amounting to US$ 595.7 million and Tajikistan’s to only US$ 86.3 million. Tajikistan’s production industry also suffers from unbalanced trade with China. Raw materials such as aluminum, cotton, and leather are the primary export items from Tajikistan to China, whereas ready products, goods, and equipment are the main importing categories from China. This significantly undermines Tajik light and textile industry.

During his visit, Jinping announced the official construction start of Tajikistan’s part of the Central Asia – China gas pipeline. This is the fourth branch of a massive system of gas pipelines designed to supply China with natural gas from Turkmenistan. The construction agreement for the fourth branch was signed on September 12, 2013, in Bishkek at the SCO summit.

The two first branches go through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and deliver 69 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually (bcm/y). The third branch went into service in May 2014. It was constructed alongside the first two with a projected capability of 25 bcm/y. The fourth branch will transit 25 bcm/y from Turkmenistan to China through Tajikistan. The total length of the pipeline which also passes the territory of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is 3,700 kilometers. The length of Tajikistan’s part is 400 kilometers. China is the primary investor, constructor, and consumer of the project.

According to Saidakhmad Sharofiddinov, the head of Tajiktransgas (a state company representing Tajikistan in the project), there is no immediate plans of importing Turkmen natural gas to Tajikistan although the country desperately needs gas for its industrial and residential consumer purposes. The completion of the pipeline is expected in 2016. Putting high hopes on the pipeline, Tajikistan cherishes the idea of constructing a railroad alongside the pipeline. The realization of this idea will completely depend on China’s willingness to invest in it as Tajikistan lacks financial, technological, and other capabilities to initiate the project. 

As expected, the meeting between Rakhmon and Jinping in its form and content repeated the previous meetings of Tajik and Chinese leaders. China continues its aggressive expansion in Tajikistan’s economy through credits and grants, which serve China’s needs while simultaneously suppressing the political will of Tajikistan’s government who sees no other alternatives to China’s financial aid and investment. The presumable development of Tajikistan’s energy sector is another backdrop for the country’s economy as its industrial complex has become a passive observer in a China – Tajikistan project with China supplying material, equipment, and even the workforce for constructing energy infrastructure for its own consumption. The reluctance of Tajikistan’s government to recognize China’s one-sided approach in their bilateral relationship is increasingly hollowing out Tajikistan’s political and economic independence.

Published in Field Reports

By Oleg Salimov (09/03/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The governments of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan reported significant progress in consultations on border demarcation and delimitation during their recent meeting in Bishkek. They also announced that an agreement was reached on economic, social, and other forms of cooperation intended to stimulate neighborly and mutually beneficial relationships. At the same time, people living in the border regions of both countries continue to engage in violent clashes and shootouts. A peaceful resolution of the conflict over long-disputed territory will test the political maturity of these Central Asian republics. The outcome of this conflict can predetermine the future development and stability of the region.   

The last week of August was marked by multiple meetings between various committees, delegations, and officials from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek. The topics of discussion revolved around border issues, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural exchange and assistance. The border dispute delegations met on August 26, the Tajik – Kyrgyz intergovernmental committee had its session on August 27-28, and Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister Joomart Otorbayev met Tajikistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Azim Ibrohim on August 28.

The sides discussed the border problem and numerous proposals for increasing bilateral cooperation. As reported by the Kyrgyz government, the border dispute delegations of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan reached an agreement on the simultaneous construction of a road and two bridges, which will connect the Tajik enclave Vorukh on Kyrgyz territory with Tajikistan. The agreement includes provisions on relocating border patrol stations and establishing favorable conditions for timely construction. The delegations endorsed a proposal from the joint investigative committee for impartial examination of all border-related incidents taking place since January 2014 in the disputed territory. The sides exchanged maps with layouts of the border and agreed to intensify the process of delimitation and demarcation.

The session of the Tajik – Kyrgyz intergovernmental committee proved to be the most productive among these meetings. The committee devoted a significant amount of time to discussing issues relating to electric energy. Thus, agreements were reached on mutual assistance in emergency situations in the countries’ electric systems, possible transit of Tajik electricity to Kazakhstan through Kyrgyzstan in 2015, and continued efforts to realize the “CASA – 1000” project. This project foresees the expansion of electric energy trade in Central Asia and South Asia with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan exporting up to 1000 megawatt of electric energy to Pakistan and Afghanistan for up to 15 years. However, as of June 2013, the project’s main investor, the Asian Development Bank, withdrew from the project that must be completed in 2017, citing political instability in Afghanistan. While Russia, the World Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank expressed their interest, the prospects of the project remain unclear. The other resolutions of the committee included water allocation, facilitation of transit impediments, educational exchange, and cooperation in healthcare, culture, and art.

Finally, the meeting between Otorbayev and Ibrohim was mainly dedicated to the problem of demarcation and delimitation of the border between the two countries. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan organized an intergovernmental committee on resolving border disputes in 2001. Out of 971 kilometers of the border, around 500 are disputed. The lack of compromise is compounded by the differences in interpretation of Soviet era maps and Soviet officials’ motivations during Central Asia territorial delimitation in 1924. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan also have simultaneous border disputes with Uzbekistan. All three have enclaves populated by ethnic minorities in the Fergana Valley where their borders connect and interlock. Two Tajik enclaves, Vorukh and Chorku, and two Uzbek enclaves, Sokh and Shakhimardan, are located in Kyrgyzstan, whereas Uzbekistan has the Kyrgyz enclave Barak and the Tajik enclave Sarvak. Besides recent tensions in the Vorukh, Kyrgyzstan experiences frequent conflicts in the Uzbek Sokh enclave. The most recent took place in spring 2013 when a Kyrgyz border patrol was taken hostage by Sokh residents.    

While Tajik and Kyrgyz officials were meeting in Bishkek, the situation on the border remained highly volatile. On August 25, right before the Tajik delegation arrived in Kyrgyzstan, five Tajiks were wounded when confronting Kyrgyz authorities on the border of Tajikistan’s Sughd province, increasing the casualties in the territorial dispute. Still, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are ought to find a compromise and overcome the existing disagreements on borderlines. The observed, during the last official meetings, employment of such factors as mutual economic dependency, membership in the same regional organizations such as SCO and CSTO, and common cultural and historic heritage indicate the willingness of both players to prioritize long-term benefits of peaceful coexistence over questionable short-term territorial gains.

Published in Field Reports
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

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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 the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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