By Oleg Salimov (01/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan assesses its potential for joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which came into effect on January 1, 2015. Pressure on Tajikistan to reach a decision on membership increased with the inclusion of Kyrgyzstan as one of the EEU’s forthcoming members. Tajik president Emomali Rakhmon proposed an in-depth study of the benefits of EEU membership for Tajikistan during the Eurasian Economic Community meeting in Minsk on October 10, 2014. As a result, the Central Asian expert club Eurasian Development in Dushanbe prepared an analysis of priorities which would stipulate Tajikistan’s successful integration into the EEU.
The experts’ list of issues which Tajikistan must address in its consideration of EEU membership includes Tajikistan’s low production output; its lack of infrastructure and unreliable railroad communication with other EEU members; energy security and continuing disagreement with Uzbekistan; the security and interests of Tajik labor migrants; compensation for short-term losses in Tajikistan’s custom duties; the border dispute with Kyrgyzstan; the preservation of transit cooperation with China; and taking stock of Tajikistan’s tourism industry potential. The report overall emphasizes Tajikistan’s immediate economic concerns.
Eurasian Development executive director Guzel Maitdinova in her expanded commentary on the report and Tajikistan’s potential membership pointed out the EEU’s fundamentally economic basis. Maitdinova confronted the critics of Tajikistan’s EEU membership who suggest it will inevitably imply a loss of sovereignty for the republic. Maitdinova insisted that the EEU should not be compared with the European Union which, unlike the EEU, functions through a common parliament and pursues a single model of political development for all members. Another point is the equal ability of all members to block any decision or resolution of the EEU. Also, the EEU foresees equal representation for all members regardless of the country size or membership dues which are in turn divided proportionately. Currently, Russia pays 88 percent of the total membership dues, Kazakhstan 7.3 percent, and Belarus 4.7 percent. Favoring the EEU, Maitdinova stressed the importance of Tajik labor migrants for the country’s economy, which would lose the extensive EEU labor market to Kyrgyz migrants if Tajikistan refuses to join. Maitdinova believes that EEU membership will enhance Tajikistan’s transit cooperation with China as it opens unlimited opportunities of the Eurasian market for China.
The newly founded EEU is a successor to the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) established in October 2000 by Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. The main task of the EEC was the formation of a Customs Union and creating conditions for a common free market zone among its members. October 10, 2014 marked the last day of the EEC. The agreement between Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia on the EEC was signed on May 29, 2014. The primary objective of the EEU, alongside free trade, includes a common labor and service market and unrestricted capital movement. Also, in addition to the existing common customs regulations, the EEU will develop a common monetary, taxation, and trade policy.
Armenia, which possessed observer status at EEC, and Kyrgyzstan rapidly decided to join the EEU (Armenia became a member on October 10 and Kyrgyzstan signed its association agreement on December 23, 2014). Tajikistan has reviewed and analyzed Armenia’s and Kyrgyzstan’s integration process. Armenia had to formally waive its territorial claims on the Nagorno-Karabakh region but received sizable custom duties privileges and Kyrgyzstan was able to secure US$ 1 billion assistance from Russia through the creation of a Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund. The Eurasian Development report discusses the possibility of similar financial incentives for Tajikistan and expects increased engagement from other members in the resolution of its territorial disputes with Kyrgyzstan. Also, experts anticipate an EEU interest in developing Tajikistan’s hydroelectric power resources.
While other members of the EEU, Russia in particular, are supportive of Tajikistan’s admission, there is a lack of commitment to financial assistance. Russia’s ambassador to Tajikistan, Igor Lyakin-Frolov, only expressed hopes for Tajikistan benefiting from special custom duties status in a manner similar to Belarus and Kazakhstan or a development fund similar to that of Kyrgyzstan, otherwise remaining highly reserved on the outlook of financial assistance to Tajikistan. Olga Gavruk, Belarus’ ambassador to Tajikistan, primarily sees Tajiks as a labor force for other EEU members. Such a vision implies a further dependency of the Tajik economy on migrants’ remittances and the continuing stagnation of Tajikistan’s industrial complex.
Tajikistan has made the first steps towards integration with the EEU. However, the consequences of EEU membership for the republic are far from clear. Tajik experts have outlined major areas for comprehensive economic research, which must involve various governmental agencies, think tanks, and the business community. The process of EEU integration will include adjustment of specific domestic and foreign policies, legislative changes, considerable investments, and short-term losses. Eventually, Tajikistan’s dependency on Russia and Kazakhstan not only through labor migrants, but also through a significant amount of trade (according to the Tajik Statistics Agency, Russia and Kazakhstan respectively were first and second among Tajikistan’s trade partners in 2013) might persuade the country to opt for membership.
By John C.K. Daly (11/26/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
At a seminar in Dushanbe on November 11, Uzbekistan’s Environmental Protection State Committee specialist Muhammadzhon Hojayev proposed collaborating with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to conduct aerial survey studies of glacier melt in the Tien Shan and Pamir mountain ranges to assess the problem, as the last aerial surveys were done 14 years ago. The problem is accelerating; UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia Deputy Head Fedor Klimchuk told seminar participants, “The main reason of glaciers melting is climate warming and man-induced factors. Glaciologists say glaciers may disappear by the end of this century.”
By Oleg Salimov (11/26/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan’s Parliament passed a newly revised law on rallies and demonstrations on November 13. The law regulates all public and street meetings and gatherings. Although the ruling and opposition parties unanimously declared that the new law improves the application of principles of democracy in Tajikistan, the political conditions that surrounded the passage of this law point in the opposite direction.
First, law was passed in the aftermath of events in Ukraine and, most recently, the stand-off between protesters and police in Hong Kong. Second, the law is the next step in a set of measures taken in Tajikistan after the calls for protests launched by the opposition Group 24 on October 10. Soon after the protest appeal was announced, the Tajik government blocked internet in the country, put the police and military on high alert, and designated Group 24 an extremist organization.
The new law substituted a similar law from 1998. In essence, the new and harsher version of the law aims to control and prevent mass protests and demonstrations. The law regulates the presence and legal status of journalists and reporters during rallies, demonstrations, and meetings. In other words, the newly added provision imposes government censorship on all information about meetings and demonstrations. The law successfully monopolizes the government’s control over the flow of information and interpretation of events during public rallies and demonstrations.
Also, the new statute grants additional power to police during meetings and demonstrations. Police is allowed to stop and disperse a public gathering if its organizers violate the government approved agenda or order of a meeting. Thus, the determining factor of a meeting’s longevity will be the police’s vision of the order of a meeting.
The new law also prohibits “coercion” of the public to participate in rallies and demonstrations. The coercion provision is seemingly inspired by the recent protest movements in Ukraine and Hong Kong, which demonstrated the potential for internet and informational technologies as protesters were widely informed and got involved through the spread of text messages and on-line social networking. In the conditions of authoritarian rule, the simple mobilization of supporters for a protest rally through text messages or on-line social networks can easily be interpreted as coercion.
Rakhmon understands that the “immunization to protests” which Tajiks obtained through the Civil War might have started to wear out. Generations of young Tajiks not familiar with the bloodshed during the Civil War and unfamiliar with any other leadership than that of Rakhmon, are now adult. Having previously targeted nonconforming individuals, Rakhmon is currently refocusing on the masses. Political instability in Badakhshan Autonomous Region, where the last public unrest took place as recently as May 2014, is a clear signal for Rakhmon to reassess the probability of mass protests in Tajikistan. Regardless of its failure, the attempt last month by Group 24 to organize an opposition meeting in Dushanbe became a turning point for Rakhmon to adopt more serious measures to subdue undesirable public actions.
The Tajik Islamic Renaissance Party’s leader Mukhiddin Kabiri pointed out that Tajikistan has not had violent protests in the last twenty years. Over the same period, neighboring Kyrgyzstan, which demonstrates as low economic development and high corruption indicators as Tajikistan, had experienced two waves of upheaval in 2005 and 2010, resulting in the overthrow of two governments. By passing the new statute on rallies and demonstrations, Rakhmon reveals his regime’s increased perceived vulnerability to political opposition, which can produce an outcome similar to Kyrgyzstan.
Another important factor in the new law on rallies and demonstrations is the Tajik opposition’s unanimous endorsement of Rakhmon’s latest legislative initiative. The leaders of the largest opposition parties represented in Tajikistan’s parliament, the Islamic Renaissance Party and the Communist Party, collectively supported the law significantly restraining opposition. When justifying support of the law, Kabiri and Shabdolov emphasized their commitment to peaceful resolution of all disagreements with the current regime. This commitment is now secured in the newly passed law on rallies and demonstrations.
From the legal standpoint, the new statute is intended to protect the general public from potential outbursts of violence, unruly crowds, and street mobs during meetings and demonstrations. However, in Tajikistan, justice as the foremost principle of the legal system is often substituted by political considerations and objectives of the regime. In the context of a weak separation between the executive, judicial, and legislative powers, the law can easily be manipulated for the regime’s benefit. While the law can meet the criteria of justice, its interpretation and application can deviate significantly from its initial intent.
By Oleg Salimov (11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Representatives of Afghanistan took part in parliamentary assembly meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Moscow on November 6. The assembly identified as priorities the threats of terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking in Afghanistan and neighboring Central Asian countries. According to Tajikistan’s national information agency Khovar, similar questions were discussed during a recent meeting between Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon and the secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev on October 16 in Dushanbe.
As reported by opposition and independent media in Tajikistan, the meeting was held behind closed doors with only a few reporters of a state-sponsored news agency present. The later issued statement for the press accentuated Tajik-Afghan border security, the perspectives of Russian-Tajik military cooperation, and informational security. Other participants of the meeting in Dushanbe included representatives of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, and Federal Security Bureau. The meeting in Dushanbe and the following CSTO meeting in Moscow were rounded up by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of Russia’s willingness to assist the Afghan government in its efforts to restore peace and security in the country.
The conclusion of the active part of the military operation in Afghanistan and the long planned withdrawal of International Security Assistance Forces in 2014 has triggered active consultations among Central Asian countries, Russia, and China in the CSTO and SCO formats. Possessing the longest border with Afghanistan among the Central Asian republics, which stretches through inaccessible mountainous regions, Tajikistan is the most vulnerable to security threats if the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates. Other complicating factors include Tajikistan’s fragile political stability, the inability of Tajikistan’s military to control the Tajik-Afghan border, and the threats of homegrown Islamic radicals.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is considered by the Tajik government as the main extremist organization spreading the ideas of radical Islam in Tajikistan. The organization confesses to a salafist-wahhabist ideology, possesses strong ties with radicals in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and propagandizes the creation of a worldwide Islamic caliphate. The other extremist organization is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan located primarily on the territory of Afghanistan and having numerous supporters in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The predecessors of the IMU, founded in 1998, were fighting on the side of Islamic opposition during the Tajik Civil War and also took part in Commander Makhmud Khudoberdiev’s attack on Northern Tajikistan in November 1998.
A number of Tajiks are also currently fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria and concerns are growing that their return could coincide with a potential restoration of Taliban power in Afghanistan and facilitate coordinated attacks on both sides of the Tajik-Afghan border. According to Tajik state media, five Tajiks were convicted in Tajikistan on charges of terrorism upon return from Syria earlier this year and Tajik officials issued condemnation after reports of a Tajik citizen being appointed by ISIS as the head of Ar-Raqqah in Syria after the fall of the city. While radicalization previously mainly affected Tajikistan’s southern regions, observers report a growing number of Islamic radicals in Northern Tajikistan according to Radio Ozodi.
The problem is multiplied by the Tajik government’s inability to fully control the Autonomous Badakhshan region which borders Afghanistan. Badakhshan became a hideout area for irreconcilable post-Civil war militants and a hotbed of radical Islam. Rakhmon ordered several military operations in Badakhshan after terrorist attacks on Tajik government officials in 2010 and 2012. The military actions had little to no effect in improving security in the region. The nominal government control implies higher penetration of the border by extremists and drug traffickers, the Tajik government’s neglect of which is frequently highlighted by local independent media. Tajikistan is the second largest source of northward trafficking of Afghan heroin after Iran.
The situation deteriorated after the withdrawal of a Russian border patrol contingent in 2005. While Russia continued to maintain an Operational Border Group in Tajikistan after 2005, the recent border cooperation agreement signed in September 2014 foresees the reduction of this group from 350 to 200 specialists and duties void of operational actions to consultation “on request” only. Drug trafficking and the spread of extremists to its southern and predominantly Muslim regions were constant concerns of the Russian government and one of the main arguments for its military presence on the Tajik-Afghan border. This consideration has motivated a proposal of Russian technical military assistance to Tajikistan of up to US$ 200 million until 2025.
The visit of Nikolai Patrushev to Dushanbe and the following security meeting in Moscow demonstrates Russia’s determination to step in after ISAF’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. There has so far been no official reaction from Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, on these perspectives and Vladimir Putin’s announcement.
By Oleg Salimov (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon continues persecution of his former Minister of Industry, businessman, and politician Zaid Saidov. On October 16, Tajikistan’s Anticorruption Agency raised several new criminal charges against Saidov, who already serves a 26-year prison term as of December 2013. Presumed by Rakhmon to be a potential political challenger, Saidov was convicted on charges of rape, polygamy, fraud, and bribery. The new charges include document forgery; abuse of office; misappropriation; illegal actions towards property subject to inventory, arrest, or confiscation; and tax evasion. The abuse of office was among the first charges pressed against Saidov at the moment of his arrest. However, when announcing the verdict, the court ordained this charge to supplementary examination. The cumulative punishment for the new charges against Saidov envisions up to 15 additional years of imprisonment.
Saidov’s rapid downfall was provoked by his announced intention to organize a new political party in Tajikistan, which was supposed to focus on addressing the concerns of business owners and entrepreneurs. The criminal charges against Saidov were brought up soon after the announcement, resulting in his arrest in May 2013 (see 04/09/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst). His ensuing conviction to a 26 year prison term and the confiscation of his property was widely seen by local and international human rights organizations as a punishment for political initiative and a warning to other potential challengers to Rakhmon.
Tajikistan’s Supreme Court rejected Saidov’s appeal in May 2014. After losing the appeal, the lawyers representing Saidov were determined to obtain an assertion of their client’s innocence in the International Court of Human Rights. The lawyers also consecutively criticized the Anticorruption agency for fabricating its case against Saidov and Tajik courts for ignoring the defenders’ arguments, evidence, and relevant materials. According to Saidov’s lawyers, the takeover of numerous successful businesses belonging to Saidov is another motive behind his conviction and the new charges. At the moment of his arrest, Saidov owned and co-owned 13 business enterprises ranging from fertilizers to light industry and education. Some of the businesses, including the large company TajikAzot were confiscated soon after the conviction. The new charges aim to expropriate Saidov’s remaining assets as well as punishing all individuals connected to him.
Saidov’s lawyers were among the first victims, as two out of three were accused by the Anticorruption agency of committing fraud and bribery. Fakhriddin Zakirov was arrested in March 2014 and Shukhrat Kudratov in July 2014. Previously, Saidov’s lawyers reported receiving warnings, threats, and harassment while working on Saidov’s case. A day before his arrest, Kudratov published an open letter stating the political motives for Saidov’s conviction sanctioned by the country’s top political elite. Just like the trial against Saidov, Zakirov’s case, which started on October 3, is conducted behind closed doors with no reporters or journalists allowed. The international Commission of Jurists in Switzerland expressed grave concerns regarding the persecution of Saidov’s lawyers due to their client’s political views. Two new lawyers will join Saidov’s team of defenders, replacing Zakirov and Kudratov who are still under arrest.
Saidov’s relatives are also targeted by Rakhmon’s regime. In August 2014, the Anticorruption agency initiated a document forgery case against Zaid Saidov’s son Khairullo. In January this year, the Higher Economic Court of Tajikistan reopened a case against Saidov’s other son, Khurshed, accusing him of illegal gain of property. In August 2013, Saidov’s friends and relatives took part in a symbolic action of support releasing one hundred white pigeons and balloons with Saidov’s portrait. They were soon arrested and spent several days in jail on charges of hooliganism.
The latest charges against Saidov involve 14 alleged accomplices including 6 unnamed city of Dushanbe officials. The assumed criminal ring headed by Saidov is suspected of financial manipulations and misuse of funds allocated for construction purposes. The group is also accused of repeated tax evasion.
There is a high probability that the 56-year-old Saidov will spend the rest of his life in prison. Besides losing his freedom, Saidov will be deprived of all his financial assets. New charges will likely continue to emerge until President Rakhmon is fully ascertained of Saidov’s complete political and financial destruction. Saidov’s case demonstrates that Rakhmon’s regime is determined to annihilate all potential opposition in Tajikistan while acquiring considerable financial assets from convicted persons, and does not shy from targeting business, personal, and political companions and manipulating the legal system in the process.
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.