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Qishloq Ovozi

Gurbandurdy says his district is peaceful and credited the 150 fighters under his command for maintaining stability in Qarqeen.

Turkmenistan’s government is clarifying its policy toward its border with Afghanistan and now seems to be adopting the same tactic as neighbors Uzbekistan and Tajikistan -- that is, sealing the frontier.

RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service -- known locally as Azatlyk -- has been in touch with people in northern Afghanistan and they speak of new activity and changes across the border.

And according to one local leader, the Turkmen government has not attempted to explain to the people on the Afghan side of the border -- many of whom are ethnic Turkmen -- what is happening on the Turkmen side of the frontier.

Ethnic Turkmen Gurbandurdy -- featured in an earlier report in "Qishloq Ovozi" -- is the leader of a civil militia, the Arbaky, in the Qarqeen district of Jowzjan Province.

Azatlyk contacted him on October 8 for an update on the situation along the border with Turkmenistan.

Gurbandurdy said that within the last week several large machines -- excavators and bulldozers -- appeared on Turkmenistan’s frontier with Jowzjan’s Khamyab district, which neighbors Qarqeen. Construction materials and wood were also brought.

Gurbandurdy said he had been in touch with friends in Khamyab who told him no one from Turkmenistan had contacted anyone in Khamyab to explain what is going on. The people in Khamyab told Gurbandurdy the machines were digging a ditch all along the border with the Khamyab district. The site where the construction material was left is located between two Turkmen border posts, but no one was sure if the purpose is to construct another border post.

Joshua Kucera of Eurasianet reported on similar activity in Faryab Province in September.

Gurbandurdy told Azatlyk that the Taliban has a significant presence in Khamyab and an Azatlyk correspondent in northern Afghanistan said people in the area speak of as many as 18 villages in Khamyab being under Taliban control.

On a related note, south of Qarqeen, in Jowzjan’s Mangajik district, there was large Taliban attack on the district center in August that reportedly involved some 100 fighters.

Gurbandurdy said his district is peaceful and credited the 150 fighters under his command for maintaining stability in Qarqeen. He said Turkmenistan was not building anything new along the border with his district, but he also pointed out that that left the Qarqeen frontier open while the border with neighboring Khamyab district was being fortified.

A source for Azatlyk in northern Afghanistan said Turkmenistan has increased its troop strength in several places along the border with Afghanistan recently and in the area where three of Turkmenistan’s border guards were killed in February the border guards have been replaced by “spetsnazi,” elite commandos.

The source added that some areas now have fences, three rows deep, blocking access from the Afghan side.

He also gave an idea of the security situation in many areas near the border with Turkmenistan. Azatlyk's source noted that during the recent Eid celebrations, local residents working for a Turkish construction company in Kabul, as well as government troops on leave, had to essentially sneak back to the area to be with their families and stay hidden while they were there.

Just a few months ago, officials from Turkmenistan seem to have been supportive of the villagers on the other side of the border, particularly Afghanistan’s ethnic Turkmen. Afghan Turkmen tribal leaders went to Kabul in April to meet with the visiting foreign minister of Turkmenistan, Rashid Meredov, and appeal for help. Meredov promised to help and not long after a delegation from Turkmenistan’s government went to some of the Afghan villages to discuss aid.

But now Turkmenistan has cut communication and is fortifying its border with Afghanistan. At the start of this year, it seemed the Turkmen government was counting on its policy of neutrality to fend off problems from Afghanistan, in the same way it did in the late 1990s when the Taliban controlled the areas neighboring Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan’s government might still be hoping an amicable deal can be reached with whoever controls Afghanistan’s Herat, Baghdis, Faryab, and Jowzjan provinces in the future, but Ashgabat is, at the least, hedging its bets this time.

-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Mohammad Tahir, the director of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev

Change is coming to Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund -- Samruk Kazyna -- and one of the things Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said he wants to see changed is the hiring policy.

Nazarbaev spoke at the Samruk Kazyna transformation forum on October 6 and he told the head of Samruk Kazyna, Umirzak Shukeev, he had better be choosing employees based on their knowledge and experience and not because they are friends or acquaintances.

"We should promote people based on their knowledge, experience and education," Nazarbaev said and added disapprovingly, "It is possible to arrange employment for a person just by making a phone call or knowing someone."

Perhaps the Kazakh president is not the best person to offer anyone advice about nepotism and cronyism.

The chairman of Samruk Kazyna from April to December 2011 was Timur Kulibaev, the husband of Nazarbaev’s second-oldest daughter Dinara.

Prior to that, Kulibaev, an economist by education, had already been a top official at Kazakhstan’s major oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz ; the state nuclear power company Kazatomprom; the national railway company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy; and other key state-owned enterprises.

There was also Nazarbaev’s now former son-in-law Rakhat Aliev.

Aliev studied medicine but rose to become the chief of the tax police, head of the department for battling corruption, deputy head of the National Security Committee, deputy head of the president’s security service, deputy foreign minister, ambassador to Austria and Kazakhstan’s special representative to the OSCE at a time when Kazakhstan was vying to receive the OSCE’s chairmanship, and also had vast holdings in businesses in Kazakhstan.

All that in roughly a 10-year period.

Aliev’s fortunes changed when Nazarbaev’s eldest daughter, Darigha, divorced him in 2007. Facing prison time in Kazakhstan, he has not been back in his home country since before the divorce.

Darigha once owned the state news agency, Khabar, and still is on the board of directors at Nurbank, one of Kazakhstan’s largest banks. She is also a deputy in the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, and recently was named head of the Nur-Otan party faction in parliament as well being named deputy speaker in the Mazhilis.

Darigha’s oldest son, Nurali, was named to the board of directors at Nurbank when he was 22 years old. He left that job -- and the $26,000 it paid him monthly -- in 2013 and became the head of Transtelekom, one of the leading telecommunication operators in Kazakhstan.

Transtelekom is owned by the national railway company, which in turn, as we saw above, is under the supervision of…Samruk Kazyna.

Oh well, the motto of the hypocrite is: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

-- Bruce Pannier. Yerzhan Karabek of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.

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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.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws 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.