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Qishloq Ovozi

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (second from left) walks past (left to right) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, and Russian President Vladimir Putin as he arrives for group photo at the Shanghai Cooperation Council summit in Astana on June 9.

The topic of this week's Majlis was the latest summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the Kazakh capital, Astana, on June 9.

For the first time since 2001, new members were admitted to the SCO, with India and Pakistan joining China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Several SCO officials, including host President Nursultan Nazarbaev, called it a "historic" day.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said: "The expansion will undoubtedly help the SCO become a more powerful organization." He added that the addition of new members would also increase the SCO's "political, economic, and humanitarian influence."

But there are different opinions about how powerful the SCO is, or can ever be.

Muhammad Tahir, RFE/RL's media relations manager, moderated the Majlis panel discussion on the recent SCO summit. Joining the talk from Vietnam was Jacob Zenn, an analyst of Eurasian Affairs for The Jamestown Foundation and also a non-resident research fellow of the Center for Shanghai Cooperation Organization Studies. Alex Melikishvili, a senior analyst of the risk environment in the Caucasus and Central Asia for IHS Markit Country Risk, participated from Washington.

As usual, I also took part in the debate from RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague.

Listen to or download the Majlis podcast below or subscribe to the Majlis on iTunes.

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People attend the inauguration of a gilded equestrian statue of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Ashgabat in May 2015.

I couldn't think of a better headline for this one.

For years now, the Turkmen government has spent state funds on projects that have little, if any, value for the general population.

The Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, is a white-marble wonder with a giant equestrian statue in the city center of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, covered in gold-leaf, and a golden statue of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, on the outskirts of town. (Yes, that's the one that rotated so Niyazov always faced the direction of the sun.)

There are five-star hotels at the Awaza Caspian coastal resort area, reportedly rarely more than 20- or 30-percent occupied and, for the most part, off limits to the country's citizens.

The list of vanity projects goes on and on.

Which is why I couldn't help but notice a June 2 report about plans to build two water-purification plants on the Caspian coast in the western Balkan Province.

The Turkmen state information agency's website said a plant with the capacity to produce 50,000 cubic meters of potable water daily would be built at the town of Ekerem, and another with the capacity to produce 5,000 cubic meters daily would be built at Hazar (formerly Chekelen).

The Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources has already announced an international tender for the project, and is taking bids until July 14.

Until then, we don't know what the cost is, but I'm betting it will be less than one of those five-star hotels up the coast at Awaza.

Good News For A Change?

Since many of the things the Turkmen government spends money on don't seem to make sense, it is refreshing, and certainly worth noting, when the authorities there engage in a project that benefits the country's citizens.

Qishloq Ovozi has already noted that the purification of water from the Caspian Sea seems to be a perfect solution to the water problems in western Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Of course, all we have now are intentions.

The state information agency report mentioned there were other water-purification plants operating along Turkmenistan's Caspian coast, one at Turkmenbashi City and another at Awaza.

The Turkmen opposition website Khronika Turkmenistan noted that there is another purification plant in northern Dashoguz Province. According to the report, that plant was opened several years ago but never really started operations.

I hope the two plants will be built and operate as planned. I rather enjoyed writing this article about the Turkmen government doing something good for the country's people; I'd be happy to write about a happy ending when/if the freshwater starts flowing in Ereken and Hazar.

Authors Note: This was written before June 7 when President Berdymukhammedov announced the cancellation of social benefits -- to citizens

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

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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.

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