Monday, September 01, 2014

Photogallery Kumtor Gold Mine Appears To Be In Bad Shape

Pictures of the Kumtor mine taken in April 22013 seem to show it in a very dilapidated condition.

Kyrgyzstan's Kumtor gold mine seems to be falling apart, literally.

Surrounded by scandal since the early days of the project's history, it appears that, as the Kyrgyz government attempts to acquire more shares of this cash cow on its territory, there is need for some serious upgrading at the site.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Azattyq, has received some photos of the facilities at Kumtor as they were in April 2013 and those pictures show some major housekeeping was in order.

Perhaps a quick bit of background before viewing. Kumtor is located some 4,000 meters above sea level in northeastern Kyrgyzstan's Tien-Shan mountains. Conditions are so severe at that altitude that those working there are limited to several weeks at the site before being brought down to recuperate.

According to Kumtor Gold, the proven gold reserves at the site are some 4,841 metric tons of gold with probable reserves of some 80,345 tons. Kyrgyzstan registered 10.5% GDP growth in 2013, led by a production boost at the Kumtor mine (600,402 ounces).
Canada's Centerra is the operator of Kumtor. Centerra owns about two-thirds of the Kumtor project but the Kyrgyz government is seeking to raise its stake from roughly 33% to 50% with a possibility of increasing that to 67% in the future.

The project is a political lightning rod for Kyrgyzstan's opposition parties and movements. A cloud of scandal hangs over Kumtor and provides Kyrgyzstan's political opponents and government critics with opportunities to cast accusations at government officials and businessmen, and at the Canadian company. 

The bottom line in these allegations is that Kyrgyzstan is getting ripped off and should be receiving more money from the gold found on its territory.

It is a charge that resonates with a population making an average monthly wage of $100.

So, with that as a background, here are some of photos from Azattyq. Tens of millions of dollars were spent on constructing these facilities that the Kyrgyz government will acquire a 50% stake in once the new agreement with Centerra is completed.  One photo shows a huge tent made in China serving as the main processing area for the project.

-- Bruce Pannier, based on information from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. 

*NOTE: One comment posted under Azattyq's article claimed that the buildings in the photographs had been repaired since April 2013 but there are no current pictures to support or refute this assertion.

  **Qishloq Ovozi will soon have articles from Franco Galdini and Ryskeldi Satke investigating some of the finances of Kumtor.


Uzbeks Tell Karimov 'I'm Not Afraid'

Former members of the Uzbek government, professors, students, and people from a range of professions have put their message of protest on Facebook.

People from Uzbekistan have a message for President Islam Karimov: "Qorqmayman!" which is Uzbek for "I am not afraid!"

A Facebook page started little more than a week ago now has several thousand people posting photos with the words "I am not afraid" on them and often leaving additional comments.

They make clear their message is meant for President Karimov, though some use the term "dictator," and his government, the country's security forces, and police.

Akmal Nabiev says he "is not afraid to say the truth and demand my rights."

Izatullo Rahmatullo from Osh says he is "only afraid of Allah."

One former member of Uzbekistan's military who is now living in the United States warns, "If you are afraid, you will be destroyed."

Former members of the Uzbek government, professors, students, and people from a range of professions have put their message of protest on the site.

It is a bold display of defiance to a government known for imprisoning political opponents and critics.

It's true the majority of those who have posted images or comments live outside Uzbekistan, but about one-third are people still living inside the country international rights groups have regularly ranked as one of the worst violators of human rights and media freedom.

Messages on the site come from Nukus, the Ferghana Valley and other areas of Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek government views the Internet much the same way the Chinese government does. There are benefits to be had but a huge number of websites contain information the governments do not wish their publics to access. So Uzbek authorities do their best to monitor Internet usage and block worrisome sites.

Uzbekistan has followed China's lead in promoting domestic websites, including social-networking sites, such as, Uzbekistan's version of Twitter. At the same time Uzbek state media, which are nearly the only media available in Uzbekistan, constantly preach about the dangers present on the Internet, the bad foreign influences, hedonist values, or oppositely, the ultraconservatism of Islamic extremists

Since March this year, more and more provincial officials have prohibited state employees from accessing foreign social-networking sites, such as Facebook, from computers at the workplace.


What's interesting is that Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry just opened a site on Facebook earlier this month.

Even more interesting, a hacker calling himself Muzaffar Qosim managed to get the "Qorqmaymiz" ("We are not afraid") site registered at Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry (something not likely to last long).

The "Qorqmaymiz" website will not gain any supporters from the government.  And it appears that message has started circulating also. 

A group of university students in Uzbekistan, more than 100, voiced their support on the page, then withdrew it shortly afterward, posting a joint message that they had not fully understood the nature of the site.

How long the page might be available to view in Uzbekistan is hard to say. Probably not long. But with parliamentary elections due in December this year and a presidential election to follow several weeks later, critics and opponents of Uzbekistan's government can be expected to use the Internet in any way possible to ratchet up pressure on the Uzbek government in the coming months.

-- Bruce Pannier, with Shukrat Babajonov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service

'They Ate The Sheep: The Kyrgyz, From Shepherd To Businessman'

According to the author, a Kyrgyz bazaar is a well organized economic territory where no form of anarchy is possible.

"Qishloq Ovozi" is pleased to once again introduce one of the up-and-coming talents in the field of Central Asian studies. This time we meet Nari Shelekpayev, who reviews a book by Boris Petric titled "On a mangé​ nos moutons: le Kirghizstan, du berger au biznesman" or "They Ate the Sheep: The Kyrgyz, from Shepherd to Businessman," which examines the foundations of Kyrgyz society in the years of independence from the point of view of "the historian or anthropologist."

The field of Central Asian studies is not oversaturated with publications. Among the few books and articles that appear every so often, a majority of the publications relate to political science and/or international relations, whereas relatively few are produced by historians or anthropologists.

For this reason alone, Boris Petric's book deserves some attention. The fruits of a decade of labor, this is original research presented by a scholar who knows Kyrgyzstan from the inside out (he says he speaks Kyrgyz and Russian) and may as such contribute to a better, nonfiction understanding of this Central Asian country and the peculiarities of its economic and political systems. On the other hand, Petric perspicaciously questions a number of "universal" cliches, such as "good governance," "globalization," and "state," thus trying to classify his book exclusively into Central Asian studies would perhaps be an oversimplification. In sum, an intelligent proportion of the local and the global, coupled with a simplicity of the narrative, makes reading Petric's book a rather enjoyable exercise.


Several times I found myself questioning whether the author deliberately avoids any kind of frameworks or theoretical generalizations. Whether depicting a complicated north-south relationship in Kyrgyzstan, or the intersection of Chinese, Russian, and American interests as external influences, Petric does not attempt to apply to them a "clash of civilizations" or an "imagined community." Likewise there is no a trace of a "liquid modernity" or a "microphysics of power" in the Kyrgyz bazaars and NGOs which are the central node (or the main protagonists?) of Petric's investigation. Bibliographical references are minimal. On the other hand, the author describes in details who and under what circumstances he met and talked to, and how the trajectory of his research had been transformed.

It happened that the years of Petric's survey coincided with a series of dramatic events in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan's political history. However, although various political issues occupy an important place in the book, the two revolutions, that of 2005 and another one five years later, were mentioned briefly and artlessly. Indeed, what really interests Petric are not the events and politics as such, but the practice and the tactics of their production in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan.

Economically, Kyrgyzstan hardly benefited from the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, during the 1991 referendum on the future of the Soviet Union, 96 percent of its population voted to remain in the union. Petric points out that independence was not perceived by the majority of the Kyrgyz population as a victory over Russia. After 1991, deindustrialization, caused by the collapse of economic relations with the former U.S.S.R. countries, combined with extensive neoliberal reforms (Kyrgyzstan joined the WTO in 1997, before the Baltic states, Russia, or Ukraine) resulted in the decline of a productive economy and made Kyrgyzstan dependent on its neighboring countries.

A part of the population began to create small-scale trading companies; thus the term "biznesman," employed by Petric, has been appropriated by Kyrgyz society. At the same time, another part of the population emigrated to Kazakhstan and to Russia for seasonal or permanent work. As for the Kyrgyz state, it evolved, according to Petric, into a "traffic territory," dependent on the income generated from Chinese imports and their subsequent resale to the neighboring countries. Another source of income became international aid, provided and redistributed by numerous international governmental and nongovernmental agencies. These two phenomena, traffic territory and international agencies represented by their agents, are the central themes of the book.

A Kyrgyz bazaar (Dordoi bazaar is depicted in detail, but others are mentioned as well) is a well organized economic territory where no form of anarchy is possible, argues Petric. De-exoticized and hierarchized, the physical and psychological space of the bazaars is an essential part of Kyrgyz society. It is a place where encounters and exchanges take place; where one can easily find temporary and/or permanent work, and both political and financial capitals are created. In short, the bazaar is a new alternative "locus" of power "a la kirghyze."

Another such site of power is dispersed among numerous foreign organizations settled in Kyrgyzstan. The money derived from international institutions is spent on various projects by international civil servants and local NGOs. But the goal of so-called development aid is sometimes questionable. Aiming to promote democracy and "good governance," some international organizations and NGOs are far from being neutral and interfere overtly in the internal political affairs of Kyrgyzstan. Thus, according to Petric's investigation, the OSCE manipulated the prioritizing of information techniques, and as such contributed to a delegitimization of the parliamentary elections organized by the former president, Askar Akaev. Subsequently, the same agencies helped to legitimize the presidential elections organized by Akaev's opponent, Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Petric portrays the men and the women whose interests and ideas buttress each institution. These ideas and interests may be a consequence of clientelist relations, ideology, and/or strategies of the states these actors come from. Sometimes they have their own ideas about how the situation in the country should develop. Therefore, another contribution of Petric's book is to show that the so-called NGO-ization of Kyrgyzstan is not a spontaneous awakening of a civil society; rather it is a result of intense interactions between global and local actors.

Kyrgyzstan is a territory where the interests of great powers intersect. But what would be then the role of the Kyrgyz state vis-a-vis these interests? Devoid of a possibility to define the rules of the game, does it simply try to ensure itself a presence in the polyphony or the co-construction of others' strategies?

Petric does not abandon the idea of the state. His conclusions are rather that what happens in Kyrgyzstan is not a collapse of the state, but a number of "contradictory, heterogeneous, plural connections allowing to develop a particular form of sovereignty and a unique type of the exercise of power" (my translation from French, p. 197).

Such a conclusion (if it is a conclusion) may perhaps be criticized for being a conceptual overstretch, and other questions, articulated differently, could possibly produce different results. It is also possible that historicizing the phenomena of traffic and circulation, totally absent from the book, might help the reader to better sense the relativism of the situation. But for this kind of criticism, the answer is straightforward: other research should be done to clarify and develop what is missing.

Petric's book raises many questions. What is "good governance" and, ultimately, a good democracy? Are these two universally implantable? Is it ethically appropriate to fit local traditions in favor of "universal norms" that are a form of "interiorized governmentality of individuals"? And finally, how do we define the state in such a context of multiple competing spheres of influence? Given the broad and meaningful questions that the book nurtures, it provides rather profound conclusions given the title's premise to tell the story of who ate someone's sheep.

-- Nari Shelekpayev

Nari Shelekpayev is originally from Kazakhstan but currently lives in Canada, where he is working on a Ph.D. dissertation at the history department of the University of Montreal. He got a B.A. in political science from Nankai University in China, an M.A. in history from Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, as well as a master in international law from University of Paris II. Previously worked for UNESCO, Xinhua News Agency in Beijing, and taught in several institutions. Currently he is teaching and research assistant at University of Montreal and member of CESMI executive board since April 2013. 

Is Turkmenistan Losing Iran As A Gas Customer?

Has Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh put a major crimp in Turkmenistan's gas plans?

It appears Turkmenistan is about to lose its second-best customer for natural gas, Iran.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said on August 11 that his country no longer needed gas from Turkmenistan. Zanganeh went so far as to say, "Iran is importing Turkmen gas just because it is important to promote political and economic relations with Turkmenistan."

The oil minister's comments could be bargaining tactics, as Iran has frequently sought to convince Turkmenistan to lower the price for its gas, or it could reflect a potential shift in Iran's role in the international gas market.

Zanganeh said that with Iran about to boost domestic gas production by some 200 million additional cubic meters starting in March next year, the country could "abandon completely gas imports from Turkmenistan." This contrasts with his statements in May that Iran would continue to import Turkmen gas at existing levels.

It is quite a turn of events for Turkmenistan. In early 2010 a new, second pipeline bringing Turkmen gas to Iran was launched. At that time leaders in the two countries spoke about gas imports to Iran reaching up to 20 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually. A new gas-compressor station started operation in western Turkmenistan in December 2013, built specifically to export more gas to Iran.

The first gas pipeline connecting the two countries -- the 200-kilometer Korpedzhe-Kurdkui pipeline -- was launched at the end of 1997. It was also the first pipeline that gave Turkmenistan an export route to somewhere outside the former Soviet Union. Iran funded construction of the pipeline to import some 8 bcm of gas a year, mainly to areas of northern Iran that were not well connected to the gas fields of the south.

Russia remained the biggest purchaser of Turkmen gas until a suspicious explosion along the pipeline connecting the two countries occurred in April 2009, amid tense negotiations between the two over the price for Turkmen gas. The ruptured pipeline cut off gas flows entirely for months.

Iran then became for a brief time the main buyer of Turkmen gas, until the new pipeline from Turkmenistan to China started operation at the end of 2009.

Supplies of Turkmen gas to Russia were eventually renewed, but in greatly diminished volumes, leaving Iran the No. 2 customer for Turkmen gas, after China.

International sanctions on Iran have hindered the country from developing its gas sector and from constructing an infrastructure to distribute gas for domestic use. Iran has the second-largest proven gas reserves in the world (Russia has the most) but again, due to sanctions there has been little opportunity to take advantage of that resource.

As talks progress between Tehran and major world powers about Iran's nuclear program, and sanctions are slowly eased, there are new prospects on the horizon for Iran and gas exports are a big part of that.

The same day Zanganeh spoke of the end of Turkmen gas imports, the deputy oil minister in charge of international affairs, Ali Majedi, told journalists Iran was ready to supply Europe with gas via the Nabucco pipeline project.

Nabucco was recently shelved after more than a decade of shareholders trying to get potential gas suppliers to sign contracts for supplies, which gas suppliers were hesitant to do since it was unclear how soon, or even if, Nabucco would be built.

Nabucco was originally envisioned to bring gas from Caspian Basin countries -- Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, possibly Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan -- and also possibly from Iraq to Europe by way of a 3,300-kilometer pipeline.

Nabucco was all but scrapped after Azerbaijan opted last year to use the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline to feed into the Trans-Adriatic pipeline across Southern Europe.

Majedi claimed two European countries had already shown interest in reviving the Nabucco scheme and that "Iran with its major gas fields could supply gas to Europe via Nabucco." And Nabucco's map of its proposed route envisioned the possible inclusion of Iran, so the route is already set.

In such a scenario Turkmenistan changes from Iran's gas supplier into Iran's competitor for a space in a pipeline across northern Iran into Turkey and on, eventually, to Austria.

If Oil Minister Zanganeh was sincere in his remarks, this is very bad news for Turkmenistan. It leaves Turkmenistan with two customers for its gas – China and Russia. China is a guaranteed long-term and virtually insatiable customer. Russia has always mixed politics with business in gas dealings with Turkmenistan, an arrangement Ashgabat hoped it was breaking as the Central Asian state showed it was diversifying its export markets.

-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Toymyrat Bugayev of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

Video More Warnings South Of The Afghan-Turkmen Border

Ethnic Turkmen In Afghanistan Take Up Arms Against Talibani
August 14, 2014
Taliban militants have been gaining ground in Afghanistan's Jowzjan Province on the border with Turkmenistan. Ethnic Turkmen residents say there are no government forces there to protect them, so they have persuaded a 65-year-old former warlord, Emir Allaberen Karyad, to come out of retirement and help fight the Taliban. Allaberen is now leading a militia of more than 70 fighters who are trying to keep control of their district and the Turkmen border. (Video by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service)

The situation in Afghanistan's northern Jowzjan Province continues to deteriorate, with one official claiming an increasing number of ethnic Turkmen are taking up arms, fighting with and against the Taliban, and that the lack of any government force capable of maintaining order has led to the resurgence of local warlords.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Azatlyk, has received new information from areas across Turkmenistan's southern border, indicating the situation in Jowzjan and Faryab provinces is growing more complex and less stable.

Jowzjan provincial police chief Pakyrmuhammet Jowzjany admitted to Azatlyk there had been 45 recent "special operations" in the Akja and Murdiyan districts against people Jowzjany said were Taliban fighters. Despite these operations, Jowzjany said there were still villages where Taliban militants were riding around the streets openly on motorbikes.

Jowzjany said the number of Taliban fighters in his province had been increasing, but he dismissed any suggestion that would have any effect on Turkmenistan, across the border.

Nazary Turkmen, an ethnic Turkmen member of the Afghan parliament from Jowzjan, assessed the seriousness of the threat differently. He said the more powerful the Taliban becomes in Jowzjan, the more dangerous the situation along the border with Turkmenistan will be. "The Taliban don't recognize any borders," Turkmen said. "They think every patch of ground is Allah's property, so they can seize it."

The lawmaker also claimed part of the reason the Taliban militants are growing in number in Jowzjan is because increasingly more ethnic Turkmen are joining them. "In Akja, Sheberghan, and Ankhoi districts 90 percent of the Taliban are ethnic Turkmen," he said.

He added that as a result of the growing Taliban presence in the province, villages and districts have responded by forming local militias, the "Erbaqi," sometimes led by former warlords.

Nazary Turkmen is in a position to know, because he fought as part of an Erbaqi force in the Gunduz area. Turkmen claimed his all-ethnic Turkmen unit killed 11 Taliban and captured another in recent fighting in Konduz.

Returning To Battle

It was not difficult for Azatlyk to find evidence to support the claim of former warlords taking up the sword again.

Emir Allaberen Karyad, 65, is a village elder and a former warlord who has picked up his weapons and joined the fight. Allaberen said he had prayed to live out his twilight years in peace. But the people of his area implored him to lead a force to protect them and when the Taliban killed Allaberen's brother, the village elder returned to combat.


His force of some 70 to 80 men chased the Taliban from the Kokal Dash district and now Allaberen's fighters have established a series of fortified checkpoints around the area to prevent the Taliban from returning.

Allaberen's unit was in action again late on August 13 along the Turkmen border. He claims Taliban militants attacked and killed several members of the Afghan security forces near the border. Allaberen's unit, "without any help from government forces," attacked the militants and drove them from the area. 

Allaberen pledged he would defend the border and Turkmenistan but he said he would better be able to protect his area and the frontier with Turkmenistan if Turkmenistan's government would help him and his fellow villagers.

It is a story "Qishloq Ovozi" has heard before.

We already reported on the civil militia in the Qarqeen district of Jowzjan Province, led by a man in 60s named Gurbandurdy, who returned to war when the people of his region called on him to lead them.

Earlier postings from "Qishloq Ovozi" noted the problems in northern Afghanistan extend all along the border with Turkmenistan: in Baghdis, Faryab, and Herat provinces. In Faryab and Baghdis these reports keep coming. The intelligence chief of Faryab's Sherin Tagab district was killed in an ambush on August 8. It's unclear who was responsible but local officials blame the Taliban.

The governor of Faryab Province, Mahmadulla Vatas, told Azatlyk that Taliban activity in his province and in the neighboring Baghdis Province was increasing as were the number of militants. Vatas claimed that, unlike the situation in Jowzjan, many of the militants in Faryab were Chechens and fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. He did not mention ethnic Turkmen.

But he said their presence was bound to have an effect on Turkmenistan. "Their activity can hurt Turkmen-Afghan relations and the situation along the border in particular," Vatas said.

What Is Turkmenistan Doing?

And while Vatas said government forces in his province were doing their best to keep the militants from operating along the Turkmen frontier, the Turkmen government had done nothing militarily to help Afghan forces across the border.

That Turkmenistan's government has done so little is surprising. Three of Turkmenistan's border guards were killed along the Afghan frontier in late February and three of the country's soldiers killed at a different section of the Afghan border in late May.

Officials from Turkmenistan have promised help to ethnic Turkmen in Afghanistan, not militarily of course, but to date there has not been evidence these pledges have been fulfilled.

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan's media continue to ignore the problem on the border with Afghanistan. The pro-government website reported on August 13 about a visit of an Afghan delegation led by Minister of Trade and Industry Mohammad Shaker Kargar. The report said the Afghan delegation expressed "gratitude for the constant help Turkmenistan has rendered in the restoration of Afghanistan highly valuing the active participation of Turkmenistan in the stabilization and establishment of a peaceful and happy life in the neighboring state."

-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Toymyrat Bugayev of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

A Pipeline From A Land Of Water To A Land Of Oil

Tajikistan's Lake Sarez is not only located in a very active seismic zone but the lake itself is the result of a major earthquake that hit the region just over 100 years ago.

Iran is looking for more water and some Iranian officials believe the place to get it is from Tajikistan.

The problem is how to get the water from Tajikistan's mountains to Iran, several hundred kilometers away.

The head of the parliament in Iran's Khorasan Province, Mohammad Reza Mohsin, came up with a new and novel proposal and on August 6 he suggested building a pipeline.

The plan seems a bit unrealistic but it does show Iran's determination to get water from cultural cousins in Tajikistan, because this is not the first time the subject has been raised. Not even close to the first time.

Mohsin's idea is to get the water from Tajikistan's Lake Sarez, which is not only located in a very active seismic zone but the lake itself is the result of a major earthquake that hit the region just over 100 years ago.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Ozodi, looked into the proposal and its feasibility. Ozodi found the pipeline would need to be some 600 kilometers long to reach from Khorasan to the Gorno-Badakhshan region in eastern Tajikistan.

The distance is not the problem, the terrain is. Lake Sarez is in a remote location. The road, such as it is, that leads to Sarez is barely adequate for a car to pass and more than 20 kilometers from the lake it gives out altogether. The pipeline would require a passage 10 to 12 meters wide.

And tremors, avalanches, and mudslides wipe out roads and paths in the region regularly.

Ozodi spoke with Homidjon Oripov, an official in Tajikistan's energy department, who said there could still be a way to pipe water from Lake Sarez to Iran.

Oripov noted there were plans to build the Dashtijum hydropower plant downstream from Sarez and suggested the water could enter the proposed pipeline after it spills out from the plant.

Oripov has been negotiating water exports with Iranian officials since 2012. He told Ozodi the idea of exporting water to Iran goes back some 10 years, when an Iranian company sent a letter about water exports to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon. The Iranian government was prepared to invest $3 billion in a project to bring the water to Khorasan.

Ozodi reported that initial proposal was scrapped, but in 2007 President Rahmon and then-Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad signed an agreement on the export of water from Tajikistan to Iran. And in fact, as of the start of 2013 Tajikistan was supposed to be exporting 1 billion cubic meters of potable water to Iran.

So far, that has not happened.

There have been other means proposed for delivering water. Iran has previously suggested shipping it by rail and sweetened the deal by mentioning it could be an oil-for-water arrangement, and Tajikistan could certainly use the oil. There are plans for construction, starting as soon as next year, of a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway that would run tantalizingly close to Iran's northeastern border.

On paper, it sounds possible but there are some other factors that need to be considered. Although about one-third of Central Asia's water originates in Tajikistan's mountains, roughly half of Tajikistan's population does not have adequate access to drinking water.

A water pipeline would then mirror the problems seen in other Central Asian countries with natural-gas export pipelines. For example, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan export gas to Russia and China while their own populations suffer through power rationing and gas shortages.

Tajikistan's downstream Central Asian neighbors are already apprehensive about plans to build the enormous Roghun dam in Tajikistan. These downstream countries worry that decreased water supplies from Tajikistan will devastate agriculture in the lowlands. They can be expected to raise objections to Tajikistan selling water, ultimately the region's most valuable resource, to Iran.

-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Farhodi Miloh of RFE/RL's Tajik Service

Central Asia Prepares For Afghan 'Threat'

Kyrgyz members of the joint Rapid Deployment Forces take part in military exercises at the Ala-Too training ground, some 20 kilometers outside Bishkek, in August.

Foreign forces in Afghanistan will complete their "drawdown" by the end of this year. Though several thousand troops will remain for a while, as of 2015 the Afghan government is in charge of maintaining security throughout the country on its own.

Central Asia's governments have been dreading January 1, 2015, for many months. Many remember the last half of the 1990s, when the Taliban was stretching its rule along Afghanistan's northern border and the problems of the country seeped into Central Asia.

This is the first in a series of articles that will regularly track what measures the Central Asian governments are taking to ward off the potential threat from the south, which outside players are aiding them in their efforts, and who is sounding the alarm.

This part looks at what happened in July.

We'll start with the meeting of foreign ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on July 30-31.

And for anyone unacquainted with SCO, the members are: Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Interestingly, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov attended and had well-publicized separate meetings on the sidelines with his Kyrgyz and Tajik counterparts. The relationship between the Uzbek government and the governments of all the other Central Asian states has not been good since they all became independent in late1991. But Uzbekistan's recent relationships with eastern neighbors Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan could be said to represent the lowest level since independence.

The last time Tashkent reached out to Bishkek and Dushanbe was after the Taliban seized Kabul in September 1996. The presidents of the three countries, plus Kazakhstan, even used to meet regularly with each other during that time (without any Russian or Chinese leaders in the same room), and they created several regional organizations (that Turkmenistan never joined).

So Komilov's meetings with Erlan Abdyldaev and Sirojidin Aslov deserve some attention. It could be the start of a shift in Uzbekistan's regional security policy.

At the SCO meeting, one of the main topics was Afghanistan, but that has been true for many years now. The ministers also had to finalize the agenda for the SCO summit in Dushanbe, scheduled for September 11-12, which, it is rumored, could include the induction of a new member (Hello, India!).

But other meetings on the sidelines were more interesting.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Tajik counterpart Aslov to remind, in front of the media, that Russia is in the process of rearming Tajikistan's military and that the Russian military base in Tajikistan is vital for maintaining Central Asia's regional stability.

Ahead of the SCO foreign ministers' meeting, SCO Secretary-General Dmitry Mezentsev was in Dushanbe (July 28) to meet with Aslov and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and discuss the fight against terrorism.

Visiting Tajikistan on July 31 was the head of CENTCOM, U.S. Army General Lloyd Austin. According to President Rahmon's website, he and Austin discussed the "current situation and developments in Afghanistan, specifically, after the withdrawal of the international peacekeeping forces, and on continued support for relevant Tajik agencies to step up protection of the country's lengthy border with its southern neighbor."

Before arriving in Tajikistan, Austin was in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Austin left Uzbekistan amid rumors, especially in Russian media, he was negotiating use of a base in Uzbekistan (I guess no one remembers Navoi and Termez).

In Kyrgyzstan, the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization held military exercises -- Unbreakable Brotherhood -- from July 29 to August 2. According to Kyrgyz Television 1, "about 700 troops from CSTO member states attended...three battalions from Russia and Kazakhstan each, and one battalion from each of the remaining countries -- Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Armenia, and Tajikistan."

According to ITAR-TASS, "Belarus and Tajikistan are represented at the exercise by operative groups and peacekeeping platoons, while Russia has put up commanding post staff and a 60-men-strong task force. Kazakhstan sent an operative group to the drills, a battalion, an air assault company, an engineer platoon, a medical platoon and combat aviation. Armenia is represented by an operative group and an infantry platoon and hosts Kyrgyzstan provided for the drills a mountain infantry battalion and combat aviation."

The exercises were held near Tokmok, some 60 kilometers from Bishkek. Kyrgyz Television reported the soldiers "conducted five tactical episodes: repelling an attack on a convoy; releasing hostages; protecting a key government facility; dealing with a mass disturbance; and escorting humanitarian aid."

Prior to the Unbreakable Brotherhood exercises, the CSTO held the Frontier-2014 at the Chebarkul firing range in Russia, from July 15-18. Frontier-2014 was a command exercise to practice assembling the CSTO's Rapid Deployment Forces at an area of hostilities and confronting an enemy. The hypothetical area of deployment was the Tajik-Afghan border, according to the Tajik Defense Ministry's press service.

Coming up, the CSTO has another exercise scheduled in Kazakhstan from August 18 to 22 and the SCO will be holding a military exercise in Inner Mongolia from August 24 to 29.

Individually, Tajikistan conducted an antiterrorist exercise in the Romit Gorge, scene of fighting from September 2010 to April 2011 between government forces and Islamic militants led by commanders from Tajikistan's civil war days. Tajikistan's Internal Affairs Ministry said, "methods of destroying terrorist groups in mountainous areas were practiced" during the 17-day drill.

The ministry noted the "staff of the police task force detachment, a police rapid-reaction regiment, the task force of the National Guard, as well as the Alfa [task force] group of the SCNS [State Committee for National Security] successfully conducted an operation to destroy a simulated terrorist group during the final phase of the drills on 19 July."

Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry reported on July 29 that it conducted live-fire night training with Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters to practice "finding the positions of a simulated enemy."

Lastly, the court cases.

The governments of Central Asia have always been keen to clearly demonstrate to the public the consequences for joining or helping banned Islamic groups. Reports about convictions and sentencing of alleged militants are common in Uzbek and Tajik media and are becoming more frequent in the media of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It is not always clear the people convicted are really guilty. But they are meant to be an example of the penalties awaiting anyone who associates with Islamic radicals and militants.

In Uzbekistan, six people, three of them women, were convicted on July 23 of being members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the bête noire of the Uzbek government. The regional court in Kashkadarya Province handed down sentences ranging from nine to 15 years in prison.

Kashkadarya Province does not border Afghanistan, but it is very close.

Some recent quotes about Central Asia, Afghanistan, and security:

CSTO chief Nikolai Bordyuzha at the July 29 opening of the "Unbreakable Brotherhood" exercises:

"These exercises should act as confirmation of the readiness of the anti-terrorism potential of the organization."

Chief of the General Staff of Kyrgyzstan's Armed Forces General Asylbek Alymkozhoev speaking at the opening of the "Unbreakable Brotherhood" exercises:

"In the lead-up to the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan, the situation in region is becoming tense due to the threats of terrorist attacks..."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Dushanbe on July 30:

"The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and could have a negative impact on security in the Central Asian region."

Tajik President Rahmon on June 19 addressing Tajikistan's border guards about the situation in Afghanistan:

"Tajik border guards' responsibilities will double after the withdrawal foreign troops in 2014 because the threats of terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking can increase."

Uzbek President Islam Karimov, speaking to CENTCOM commander Austin:

"In view of all the changes that are taking place in Afghanistan, to what extent will the U.S.A. keep its presence [in Afghanistan]? How will the U.S.A.'s current role in Central Asia change if you are going to withdraw your troops from Afghanistan?"

-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions by Tohir Safarov of RFE/RL's Tajik Service

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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