By Oleg Salimov (15/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan’s government initiated yet another set of internet blocking measures in the country on October 4. Several popular social networking websites were blocked for a week following speculations of planned anti-government protests in Tajikistan on October 10. As reported by local media, the northern part of Tajikistan was completely cut out of the internet and access was blocked to Facebook, Vkontakte (the Russian version of Facebook), and several opposition and media websites in the rest of the country until October 11.
The government denies any involvement while internet providers refer to unofficial orders from the Tajik State Communication Services requiring blockage of certain websites. Tajikistan’s government recurrently blocks internet and opposition websites during political events and public discord (see the 03/04/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst).
Asomiddin Atoev, the head of Tajikistan’s internet providers association, is convinced that the blockage of internet was a preventative measure against opposition “Group 24” which called for a protest action in Dushanbe on October 10.
Dushanbe city police conducted anti-protest exercises on October 4, which coincided with the start of the internet blockage. According to Tajik officials, the anti-protest exercise is a part of the scheduled routine. During the exercise, police in full military outfit armed with shields and batons circled the main city square Dousti and moved forward dispersing the supposed protest crowd.
At the same time, the Political Advisory Council of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan appealed to its supporters to refrain from attending the planned protest action. The party reminded of the bloody consequences of Tajikistan’s 1992-97 civil war, which started as anti-government protests and left about 150,000 Tajiks dead. The Advisory Council also threatened to expel members who will attend the action. A similar plea to the Tajik public was announced by the leader of the Communist Party of Tajikistan Shodi Shabdolov, who also warned about the possibility of protests spiraling out of control and the inadmissibility of another civil war in the republic, while dismissing the idea of unauthorized protest actions.
Soon after the blockage of internet, the Tajik Prosecutor General’s office sent a request to the Supreme Court to designate Group 24 as an extremist organization attempting a coup in the country. Two days later, on October 10, Tajikistan’s Supreme Court approved the request, designating Group 24 as an extremist organization and banning all its actions and activities in Tajikistan. Tajikistan’s government also accuses the leader of Group 24, Umarali Quvvatov, of fraud, kidnapping, and theft. The case was opened in 2012 with damages estimated to millions of dollars. The investigation of Quvvatov’s case is conducted by the Anticorruption agency, infamous for its persecution of persons seen as dangerous to Rahmon’s regime, the most prominent of which include Zaid Saidov and Mukhiddin Kabiri. Quvvatov was arrested in December 2012 in the United Arab Emirates at the request of Tajikistan’s government. He avoided extradition to Tajikistan and was freed ten months later. Quvvatov lives in exile since 2012 and his exact whereabouts are unknown.
According to Quvvatov, Group 24 is named after 24 Tajik businessmen, politicians, and public figures who founded the opposition organization in 2011, united by the idea of replacing Rahmon and changing the course of political development in the country. However, Quvvatov refuses to release the names of the Group’s founders. A staunch critic of Rahmon, Quvvatov states his vision of economic and democratic development in Tajikistan, including reform of the agricultural and taxation sectors, elimination of corruption, improvement of educational system, and revision of international agreements unfavorable to Tajikistan.
Eventually, no unsanctioned event took place on October 10. Group 24 failed to attract Tajiks to the protest action for several reasons. First, there is lack of clarity in whose interests the Group represents. This obscurity hindered Group 24 from building a platform of supporters in Tajikistan. Second, due to the high level of labor migration (almost one million according to Tajikistan’s Ministry of Labor) Tajikistan does not have the unemployed masses that played a significant role during Arab Spring revolutions. Third, Quvvatov, the only known face of Group 24, is not yet perceived as a leader of Tajikistan’s opposition. The large opposition parties and groups, including the Islamic Renaissance party, the Communist party, the Tajik Labor Migrants group, and the Tajik Youth for revival of Tajikistan group, all rejected the calls for public protests. Finally, although Tajikistan’s government took swift actions to prevent protests, which also a included high number of policemen and military vehicles in Dushanbe on October 10, memories of the relatively recent civil war remain a firm argument against engaging in street protests to many Tajiks.
By Alexander Sodiqov (10/15/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
An exiled Tajik opposition leader recently promised a mass demonstration against the regime of President Emomali Rahmon who has ruled the Central Asian nation since 1992. Although local analysts shrugged off this statement as lacking credibility, the country’s security services reacted with a series of disproportionately harsh measures. Does the Tajik opposition in exile really have enough support and resources to mobilize large-scale popular protest? What explains the heavy-handed approach taken by Tajik security services in preventing the rally?
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.
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.
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.
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.