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 ACTED, International Monetary Fund, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, SAFERWORLD, and the United Nations Development Program. Thanks for joining us!
What’s Happening in the Region
Tajik President Wastes the 1997 Peace Accord
Tajikistan just marked 25 years since the end of the civil war.
I remember June 27, 1997.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri signed the Tajik Peace Accord, ending five years of civil war.
The peace deal was not only welcomed as an end to the war, but it was also a unique agreement seen later as a potential model for ending other conflicts, for example in Afghanistan after the Taliban were chased from power.
The groups that made up the UTO were legalized, and they were given 30 percent of the places in government, from local positions to posts in the ministries.
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which was the main party in the UTO, became the only legally registered Islamic party there has ever been in the 30-plus year history of post-Soviet Central Asia.
But the man who now claims all the credit for ending the war and bringing peace, President Rahmon, walked away from the deal, and a promising future for Tajikistan.
The terms of the peace accord held for five or six years, but gradually the wartime opposition lost all their places in government when terms expired and Rahmon loyalists took their place. The IRPT finally lost its last seats in parliament in the elections of 2015. Shortly after that, the IRPT was wrongly banned as an extremist group. There was hardly anything left of the 1997 Tajik Peace Accord.
Why it’s important: For a few years after the peace accord was signed, Tajikistan seemed to be one of the most democratic countries in Central Asia: the country had opposition parties with places in government, a registered Islamic party, independent media outlets, and was an ally to the West in the war on terror in Afghanistan.
Those days are gone. With the peace deal abandoned and opposition banned, President Rahmon rules supreme in a country rated by Freedom House as having zero political freedom.
Open Season on Journalists in Central Asia?
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are harassing journalists for their reporting, or in the Uzbek case, seemingly just for being journalists.
In Tajikistan, journalists Daler Imomali and Avazmad Ghurbatov were detained in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on June 15.
Imomali’s YouTube channel regularly airs critical reports about the Tajik government and Ghurbatov is the channel’s camera operator.
The two were originally detained by police for “illegal entrepreneurship.”
On June 18, a Dushanbe court ordered Imomali to be held in custody for two months while authorities investigated charges of failure to pay taxes and participation in a banned organization.
The court ordered Ghurbatov to be held for two months while he is investigated for assaulting a police officer, which Ghurbatov denies.
Human Rights Watch and the Committee for Protect Journalists are both calling for the immediate release of the two journalists.
Two journalists from Uzbekistan’s Sevimli TV’s Zamon program were seriously beaten, allegedly by police, outside a football stadium in Tashkent.
One journalist identified as T. Ibrohimov reportedly suffered a fractured jaw and might need to have plastic surgery.
Zamon reported on the attack, but later removed the report.
Police blame unruly football fans for beating the journalists.
In Kyrgyzstan, investigative journalist Bolot Temirov still does not know what evidence prosecutors have against him.
Police detained Temirov on narcotics possession charges in January shortly after his program Temirov Live reported on corruption in the fuel oil business allegedly involving relatives of Kamchybek Tashiev, the head Kyrgyzstan’s security service.
Temirov broadcast a program in April on state tenders won by Tashiev’s sons. Shortly after the program aired, additional charges of possessing false documents and illegally crossing Kyrgyzstan’s state border were brought against Temirov.
A court ruled the evidence against Temirov is “secret” and has not released it to Temirov’s lawyers, although on June 24 the court agreed to “partially” release evidence.
Why it’s important: The treatment of journalists is a bellwether for the Central Asian governments’ domestic policies. Upticks in harassment and intimidation of journalists are often followed by a general worsening in the rights situation.
The Latest Majlis Podcast
On the latest Majlis podcast, we discussed the growing rift between Kazakhstan and Russia.
This week’s guests are:
William Courtney, former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan;
Nargis Kassenova, Senior Fellow and Director of the Central Asia program at the Harvard Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies; and
Azamat Junisbai, Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, California.
What I’m Following
The Generosity of Uzbekistan
Uzbek Foreign Ministry spokesman Yusup Kabuljanov said on June 25 that his country sent 74 metric tons of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to help survivors of the earthquake that left more than 1,150 people dead.
Uzbekistan sent another shipment of humanitarian aid, 19 metric tons of medicine, that arrived in Ukraine on June 6. In April, Uzbekistan sent 34 metric tons of medicine and food to Ukraine.
One of the positive changes since Shavkat Mirziyoev became president in 2016 is Uzbekistan’s humanitarian assistance to countries in need. It is difficult to imagine Uzbekistan’s increased willingness to offer humanitarian aid happening under previous Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
A Caspian Summit
The sixth summit of Caspian Sea littoral states will take place in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on June 29. The leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan are all expected to attend in person.
The Future of Security for the Greater Caspian Region Following Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
Today I gave the keynote address about the future of security in Central Asia at the Caspian Security Conference, organized by the Washington-based Caspian Policy Center and the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies of the U.S. National Defense University.
Among the topics are how the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and Russia's invasion of Ukraine have demonstrated a need to reevaluate relations with traditional security partners and great powers, leaving the Caspian countries in the difficult position of determining their security future. The countries of the region will need to develop and employ decisive, creative, and cooperative solutions to both protect their national security and to collaborate with a diverse set of international partners. The conference continues on June 29.
Fact of the Week
Tajik authorities restored access to the Internet in the country’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast on June 25. Authorities cut access on May 17 as security forces and soldiers started their so-called “antiterrorist” operation after residents of the region peacefully protested to demand changes in local officials.
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: Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have been talking for years about construction of a trans-Caspian gas pipeline to bring Turkmen gas to Europe through Azerbaijan. Will Iran and Russia again voice concerns at the Caspian summit to prevent an undersea gas pipeline from being built?
Last week, our question was: Which country is a bigger worry for Central Asia – Putin’s Russia or the Taliban’s Afghanistan? Readers think the Taliban’s Afghanistan is a greater immediate security threat to Central Asia, but Russia poses long-term risks to the region’s sovereignty.
Feel free to contact me on Twitter or by e-mailing me at email@example.com, 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.