Welcome back to Central Asia in Focus, an RFE/RL newsletter that looks at the events shaping Central Asia’s future.
I’m Bruce Pannier. I’ve been studying Central Asia for more than 35 years, went to summer school at Tashkent State in 1990 when Uzbekistan was still part of the Soviet Union, and then lived in villages in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in 1992-1993. And since 1995, I’ve been writing about the region I think of as my second homeland.
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No Peace in Eastern Tajikistan
The biggest crisis in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) of eastern Tajikistan since the 1992-1997 Tajik civil war erupted on May 16.
Several dozen people were confirmed dead since then, and there are concerns the casualty figures are much higher than that.
We can’t know for sure because the government cut communications to the area.
The killing of influential local leader Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov on May 22 seems certain to exacerbate tensions in GBAO.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the people of GBAO. They seem to be another of those peoples in remote areas of the world whose ancient ways have been ruined by the intrusion of the modern world.
The inhabitants of GBAO are often called Pamiris. They live at altitudes of 2,000-4,000 meters in the Pamir Mountains. Their ancestors have been living in this area for several thousand years.
There are several local languages spoken there that are distinct from Tajik, and most Pamiris are Shi’ite – not Sunni Muslims like the majority of Tajikistan’s population.
The Russians arrived at the very end of the 19th century, and life was never the same for the Pamiris.
Most Pamiris supported the opposition that fought against the Tajik government during the civil war.
After the war ended in 1997, President Emomali Rahmon’s government never forgot the Pamiris’ opposition, but it has been difficult for Rahmon’s government to exert control over the remote and poorly connected GBAO.
Over the course of 15 years, violence has flared up several times in the GBAO and every time the animosity of the local population against the government has grown.
Why it’s important: This latest violence is the worst since the civil war days. The rift between the Pamiris and the Tajik government is likely now irreparable and since the region borders Afghanistan and China, it is too important to the government to allow tensions and unrest there to continue, yet it seems sure that it will.
Changing the Constitution in Uzbekistan
The answer to a big question in Uzbekistan is coming soon.
How will President Shavkat Mirziyoev stay in office?
Mirziyoev was elected to a second term as president on October 24, 2021, and according to Article 90, paragraph one of Uzbekistan’s constitution, “One and the same person may not be the President of (Uzbekistan) for more than two consecutive terms.”
What happens when Mirziyoev’s second term ends?
We’ll find out soon.
At a May 20 joint session, Uzbekistan’s parliament formed a special commission to draft amendments to the constitution.
At this early stage it is unclear what the amendments will be. Parliament only said the “commission will work on the basis of the idea ‘Society - the initiator of reforms.’”
Sounds good, but I’m skeptical of society’s involvement in drafting these amendments. There is no precedent for Uzbek authorities consulting the public when considering amendments to the constitution.
In any case, what, if anything, happens to the constitutional article on the president’s term limit will tell us a lot about the “new” Uzbekistan Mirziyoev promised after his reelection.
So, will Mirziyoev stay or will he go?
The words “consecutive terms” suggest Mirziyoev could sit out a term as president then come back, as Vladimir Putin did during the one term while Dmitry Medvedev was Russia’s president.
But Central Asian leaders have come up with an assortment of tricks to keep themselves in power.
Extend the term from five to seven years, opening the door to another two terms.
Rewrite so much of the constitution that it becomes a new constitution and previous presidential terms don’t count.
Lift term limits all together, or do like former Uzbek President Karimov did and just ignore what the constitution says.
Karimov was elected four times.
Why it’s important: Mirziyoev’s government has been courting investment from around the world but has campaigned especially hard in Western countries, saying Uzbekistan is implementing reforms and is no longer the international pariah of Karimov’s era.
If Mirziyoev finds a way to remain in office after 2026, new Uzbekistan will look more like the old Uzbekistan of Karimov.
THE LATEST MAJLIS PODCAST
This most recent Majlis podcast looks at the situation in GBAO. The session was recorded before Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov was killed.
This week’s guests are Bakhtiyor Safarov, the director of Central Asia Consulting and a native of GBAO, and Salimjon Aioub, the director of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi.
WHAT I'M FOLLOWING
Eurasian Economic Union Investment Forum
The Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is having an economic forum in Kyrgyzstan. “New investment opportunities” are at the top of the agenda, but along with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia, the group includes Belarus and Russia.
With Russia under a wide range of international sanctions for the Kremlin’s attacks on Ukraine, what investment will they talk about at the forum in Kyrgyzstan?
“U” for Uranium, “U” for Uzbekistan
On May 19, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev gave instructions to mine more “valuable and rare metals.” That includes development of eight new uranium deposits.
Uzbekistan is already the seventh largest producer of uranium in the world. How much more uranium will Uzbekistan produce?
FACT OF THE WEEK
According to the Russian information agency TASS, Turkmenistan ‘s natural gas exports to China in the first four months of 2022 totaled some $2.87 billion, an increase of more than 50 percent over the same period in 2021, making Turkmenistan once again the leading exporter of gas to China.
THANKS FOR READING
Thanks for reading our Central Asia in Focus newsletter! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who you think may be interested.
Every week we like to engage our audience with a question about issues we cover in the newsletter. This week, we ask our readers to send in your thoughts about this: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are leading uranium producers and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have uranium also. Might Central Asia become the El Dorado of uranium?
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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.