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.
I’d like to say hello to our new subscribers from Aga Khan Development Network, Center for International Private Enterprise, Foundation for Strategic Research, NATO, and Open Society Foundations. Thanks for joining us!
Tajikistan’s Security Problems in the North, South, and East
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon was in Iran at the end of May and Uzbekistan at the start of June.
Rahmon needs friends right now.
He has security problems in almost every direction he looks.
That follows fighting between Kyrgyz and Tajik forces in March and April this year, and the brief military conflict between the two countries in late April 2021.
There are problems on the southern border with Afghanistan where the Taliban are vying with another militant group for influence, and both are hostile toward the Tajik government.
Tajikistan was the only Central Asian country not to send representatives to meet with the Taliban after the militant group’s return to power in August 2021.
On May 7, the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K) militant group launched seven rockets from Afghanistan into Tajikistan.
IS-K reportedly now regularly shows Rahmon in the group’s recruitment videos, threatening “we have launched our first missiles… our signal to you that the flames of war have started!”
Tajik authorities reportedly finally sent a representative to Kabul on May 14 to meet with the Taliban.
Government troops are continuing their campaign against the Pamiri peoples in Tajikistan’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) and there are allegations from Pamiri groups that grave rights abuses are being committed.
Tajik authorities have cut communications to the region while the so-called “anti-terrorism” operation against the local population in GBAO continues.
Pamiri natives currently outside Tajikistan are posting on social networks that dozens of people have been killed, and that businesses in the impoverished region were destroyed.
Why it’s important: Tajikistan is not a stable country. Peace has been maintained mainly from a desire not to see a repeat of the brutal 1992-1997 civil war. But Tajikistan now faces instability from the reckless security operation in GBAO, threats on the Kyrgyz and Afghan borders, and a looming food crisis.
Uzbekistan to India
The long dreamed-of North-South trade route just marked another milestone.
Uzbekistan’s first shipment to India left the Karachi port at the end of May. Reports didn’t mention what the shipment was or how large it was, but it is important that another shipment between Uzbekistan and India has crossed by road through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A private Indian company sent 140 metric tons of goods, mostly sugar, to Uzbekistan in March.
Admittedly, trade along the North-South route between Central Asia and India is barely even a trickle and there are still a lot of questions about security through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But cargo has now traveled north and south along the route and as important as it is that cargo transited Afghan territory twice, it is equally significant that Pakistan is cooperating with India to help open the route to Central Asia.
For two years, Uzbek and Pakistani officials have talked about connecting their two countries by railway through Afghanistan that would run from Termez, Uzbekistan through Kabul, Afghanistan to Peshawar, Pakistan.
Uzbek Ambassador to Pakistan Aybek Arif told Pakistani television in early June that Uzbekistan considers regional connectivity a priority and the first part of improving this connectivity is the construction of the railway between Uzbekistan and Pakistan.
Why it’s important: It is only two shipments so far, but the timing could not be better.
As a legacy of the Soviet Union, most of Central Asia’s trade routes still run through Russia.
Sanctions imposed on Russia for the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine are complicating the Russian routes for Central Asia and food security is now a major issue (see this week’s Majlis podcast).
Central Asia needs new trade routes and trade partners, and the very modest success of the North-South route is encouraging.
THE LATEST MAJLIS PODCAST
On the latest Majlis podcast, we discussed the increasing signs of problems with food security in Central Asia.
This week’s guests are Farruh Yusupov, the director of RFERL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, and Tohir Safarov, editor and television presenter for RFERL’s Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi.
WHAT I'M FOLLOWING
UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed visits all five Central Asian countries between June 6-11. Human Rights Watch points out Mohammed’s trip comes “at a crucial time” as there are “serious human rights concerns across the region” and urges the deputy secretary general to “not miss the opportunity to make her voice count.”
The saga of Alymkadyr Beyshenaliev, Kyrgyzstan’s controversial health minister. Beyshenaliev rose to prominence when he recommended aconite root, also called wolfsbane, to treat COVID. But it was only the first of Beyshenaliev’s many controversies.
Beyshenaliev was detained on June 2 and faces several charges of corruption, but his friend, President Sadyr Japarov, ordered a special commission be formed to look into the allegations against Beyshenaliev on June 3.
Kyrgyzstan’s refusal to give up on two major projects. On June 2, President Sadyr Japarov said the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway is as essential for Kyrgyzstan “as air or water.” The project has been around for more than 25 years.
And Cabinet of Ministers chairman Akylbek Japarov (no relation to the president), looked into preparations for construction of the massive Kambar-Ata-1 hydropower plant (HPP) on June 1. The Soviet-era project would greatly boost Kyrgyzstan’s electricity output, but it is not clear who will provide the estimated $3 billion needed to build it.
FACT OF THE WEEK
During visits to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan last week, RFE/RL President & CEO Jamie Fly met with top government officials, human rights activists, and independent journalists to discuss the vital role that RFE/RL`s journalism plays in advancing democracy in the region.
During Fly’s visit, RFE/RL launched the Special Project “Victims of Bloody January” with a list and stories of victims of the January 5-8 uprising in Kazakhstan and held an event in Almaty with other media organizations and human rights groups to discuss the efforts to uncover the truth about those who were killed.
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 ask our audience a question and hear your thoughts about issues we cover in the newsletter. This week: Millions of Central Asian migrant laborers are out of work in Russia and coming home this year. Central Asia looks to be short of food. Should the Central Asian governments sponsor programs to resettle people on the vast empty farmlands of the region?
The responses to last week’s newsletter question showed practically no one believed it was possible to pressure the Tajik government into allowing independent monitors to go to GBAO and check on the situation there.
Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org, especially if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or just want to connect with me about topics concerning Central Asia.
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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.