Published in Field Reports

By Eka Janashia (11/26/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

In mid-November, Georgia’s PM Irakli Gharibashvili visited Brussels to discuss the country’s progress on Euro-Atlantic integration, after former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania’s publicly expressed doubts regarding the irreversibility of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic path. The EU praised Georgia’s progress in implementing the Association Agreement (AA) but also aired warning signals about “political retribution, confrontation and polarization.”

On November 17, the Georgian delegation led by PM Gharibashvili along with European colleagues, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn, attended the first EU-Georgia Association Council (AC), the highest body in charge of supervising AA implementation.

The Council confirmed the European Commission’s October 29 report, stating that Georgia had successfully dealt with the first-phase requirements of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP) envisaging a set of benchmarks for the EU short-term visa free regime.

VLAP involves a wide range of issues such as anti- corruption and organized crime policies, protection of human and minority rights, border management, document security, money-laundering, migration, mobility, asylum and anti-discrimination polices.

Since the European Commission’s first progress report on VLAP, issued in November 2013, Georgia has approved a new law on status of aliens and stateless persons as well as an anti-discrimination law and made extensive legislative amendments including legislation on protection of personal data.

The first phase of VLAP has applied to the overall policy framework reflected in the adoption of relevant legislation and the next phase will focus on effective and sustainable enactment of defined measures and adopted laws.

The AC also reviewed the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), a substantial component of the AA. Hahn said the DCFTA preparations are going “smoothly” and “Georgia continues to be in the forefront of the Eastern Partnership.”

To maintain the country’s efforts, the EU will allocate EUR 410 million in the period 2014-2017, enabling Georgia to continue adapting to the AA demands. The foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament issued recommendations for the European Parliament to ratify the AA with Georgia in December.

Despite the successful completion of the first phase of VLAP application, paving the way for the second one, EU representatives noted their concerns regarding the firing of Defense Minister Alasania and the resignations of Georgia’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs and European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. Mogherini talked about the need for an improved political climate and “space for opposition and cross party dialogue.” She accentuated the necessity of continuing judiciary reform and avoid “any form of instrumentalization of the prosecution for political purposes.”

PM Gharibashvili pledged to substantiate Georgia’s further steps to meet all second phase criteria of the VLAP by the next Eastern Partnership summit in Riga 2015, where Tbilisi hopes to get the EU’s approval for a visa-free regime with Georgia.

After the AC’s inaugural session, Gharibashvili discussed with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg the implementation of the “substantive package” granted to Georgia at the Wales summit in September.

Stoltenberg stated that the establishment of a NATO-Georgia Training Center and the deployment of trainers to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities are the essential components of the package. Their implementation should start at the NATO defense ministerial meeting in February, 2015. Stoltenberg also said he has “no reason to doubt” Georgia’s NATO integration commitment.

PM Gharibashvili’s visit to Brussels also aimed to disperse the allegations voiced by former Defense Minister Alasania that Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration is under threat. Many officials and analysts in Brussels and Washington assessed the PM’s decision to sack Alasania as an attack on Georgia’s strategic direction.

Gharibashvili thus had to convince Georgia’s foreign partners that the incumbent government remains firmly on its chosen course. He presented the newly appointed Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili, State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Davit Bakradze, Defense Minister Mindia Janelidze to European colleagues and expressed their readiness to make Georgia a “success story in the region” by galvanizing the process of European integration.

Gharibashvili also made tough statements about Russia’s destructive policy. He condemned Moscow’s “attempt to annex” Abkhazia and South Ossetia and expressed hopes that “Georgia’s occupied territories will remain on the radar screen of the Alliance.” Moreover, Gharibashvili dubbed the Kremlin’s steps in Ukraine as a continuation of the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008. Such hardline language is new for the PM who has otherwise subscribed to the soft and cautious policy towards Moscow endorsed by his predecessor Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Alasania’s dismissal from government compelled Gharibashvili to reassure counterparts in the EU and NATO that there is no drift in Georgia’s strategic direction. To restore the confidence among Georgia’s Western partners, he is also portraying the criminal cases against former Ministry of Defense officials as exclusively based on corruption charges, in an effort to disperse perceptions of political retribution. 

Published in Field Reports

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. 

Published in Field Reports

By Eka Janashia (11/11/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On November 5, the Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD) party, led by Former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, quit the ruling coalition Georgian Dream (GD). The departure of one of the founding members of the coalition was the culmination of a political crisis that had been ongoing for a week.

In the end of October, the prosecutor’s office arrested the former head of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) procurements department and two incumbent officials from the same department, along with the head and an official of the communications and IT department of the general staff of the armed forces, on charges of misspending GEL 4.1 million through a state-secret tender that allegedly was a sham.

Another set of charges came in early November when the Prosecutor’s office blamed three army medical officials and three employees of a state-owned food provider company for negligence resulting in foodborne illnesses of hundreds of servicemen last year.

As the charges were raised, Defense Minister Alasania was on a foreign trip, holding high-level meetings with French and German counterparts while the Chief of the General Staff of the Georgian Armed Forces, Maj. Gen. Vakhtang Kapanadze was paying a three-day visit to Estonia.

Upon his return, Alasania states his full support for the detained officials and termed the Prosecutor’s move a politically motivated attack on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic course. The arrests took place while the Defense Minister was making efforts to strike a very important deal enhancing Georgia’s defense capacities, he said. Several hours after this statement, PM Irakli Gharibashvili sacked Alasania and his deputies from their posts in the Defense Ministry.

In response, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Maia Panjikidze – Alasania’s sister in law and his close associate, and the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration Alexi Petriashvili, resigned. Four deputy foreign ministers, Davit Zalkaniani, Davit Jalagania, Tamar Beruchashvili, and Levan Gurgenidze also declared their intention to leave the cabinet, lamenting that Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic path is in danger. The decision of the Minister of Justice, Tea Tsulukiani – a member of OGFD – was critical in stifling the ensuing political crisis. After she declared that there was no reason to doubt the government’s pro-European stance and opted to retain her post, all deputy foreign ministers except Zalkaliani made a U-turn and kept their posts.

On November 5, at the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition’s council meeting, which was also attended by ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, OGFD announced its departure from the coalition. The step induced Gharibashvili to dub Alasania an “adventurer” and a “stupid and ambitious” politician and accused OGFD of being in a covert alliance with the United National Movement (UNM). Although Alasania initially did not rule out cooperation with any pro-European political force, including the UNM, after the PM’s accusations, he later denied such a perspective.

The U.S. Department of State expressed “concern” over the dismissal of Alasania and his deputy ministers as well as the subsequent resignations of the State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and Foreign Minister. It announced its appreciation for Alasania’s work and called on the Georgian government to avoid perceptions of selective justice. 

Meanwhile, Alasania, who has resumed chairmanship of the OGFD party, stated at the party congress that OGFD, along with the Georgian people, would celebrate victory in the next parliamentary polls, planned for 2016. He also emphasized that the state “should be based on fair laws and not on the will of one man.” This statement echoed President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s earlier remarks. Commenting on the dismissal of the country’s top three ministers, the president stated that “the country should be ruled by strong institutions and not from behind the scenes.”

Margvelashvili could be among those who will gain from the change in political realities. Being exiled from the coalition, Margvelashvili and OGFD could find common ground for cooperation. The collapse of GD also creates a more favorable situation for the UNM, although the political environment will become more competitive as yet another pro-western party will bid for largely the same segment of the electorate.

In addition, OGFD’s move strengthened the Republican Party’s (RP) positions within the coalition. Before the cabinet reshuffle, RP leaders accentuated the need for GD’s “de-personalization” and “institutionalization,” a position echoed by Margvelashvili’s and OGFD’s recent remarks. In fact, the Speaker of Parliament, RP leader Davit Usupashvili, asserted at the OGFD congress that RP and OGFD will remain partners. It seems that RP can now choose to leave GD at the moment that best suits its interests.

The dismissal of pro-Western ministers could be costly for the ruling coalition. Firstly, it damaged the prestige of GD and exposed its internal fragility. Secondly, it encouraged fluxes in parliament. MPs Tamaz Japaride, Gela Samkharauli and Gedevan Popkhadze quit OGFD and joined GD, while GD deputy chairman of the legal affairs committee, MP Shalva Shavgulidze lined up with OGFD. The reposition left the ruling coalition with exactly 75 seats in the 150-member parliament, one deputy less than needed for a simple parliamentary majority. To avoid failure, GD has absorbed 12 independent deputies who have informally cooperated with GD since 2012. Thus, the coalition will likely attain 87 voices.  Nevertheless, three pro-western political forces – OGFD, RP, and UNM, plus president Margvelashvili, now aspire to circumscribe Ivanishvili’s grip on power.

On the other hand, it is unclear what levers Ivanishvili will be able to deploy against the OGDF and RP leaders. In his first public comments about the recent developments, Ivanishvili unveiled secret details of the criminal cases against the MoD officials in an attempt to downplay the political dimension of the charges. Thus, the anticipated pressure on opposition leaders and their ability to resist will determine the distribution of political forces in Georgia prior to the 2016 parliamentary elections. 

Published in Field Reports

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. 

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Joint Center Publications

Silk Road Paper Svante E. Cornell and S. Frederick Starr, Modernization and Regional Cooperation in Central Asia: A New Spring, November 2018.

Book S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, ed., Uzbekistan’s New Face, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Article Svante E. Cornell, “Turkish-Saudi Rivalry: Behind the Khashoggi Affair,” The American Interest, November 6, 2018.

Article Mamuka Tsereteli, “Landmark Caspian Deal Could Pave Way for Long-Stalled Energy Projects,” World Politics Review, September 2018.

Article Halil Karaveli, “The Myth of Erdoğan’s Power,” Foreign Affairs, August 2018.

Book Halil Karaveli, Why Turkey is Authoritarian, London: Pluto Press, 2018.

Article Svante E. Cornell, “Erbakan, Kısakürek and the Mainstreaming of Extremism in Turkey,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, June 2018.

Article S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, “Uzbekistan: A New Model for Reform in the Muslim World,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, May 12, 2018.

Silk Road Paper Svante E. Cornell, Religion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan, April 2018.

Book S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, The Long Game on the Silk Road: US and EU Strategy for Central Asia and the Caucasus, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Article Svante E. Cornell, “Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?,” Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

 

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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