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Central Asia Report: October 5, 2006

October 5, 2006, Volume 6, Number 26

WEEK AT A GLANCE (September 25-October 1, 2006). Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev visited the United States, where he met with U.S. President George Bush. Bush described Kazakhstan as a "free nation," while Nazarbaev stressed that "Kazakhstan will always be a friend of the United States." A joint statement did not mention Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009, as Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev commented, "The American side welcomes our country's chairmanship of the OSCE, but the question is when it is going to happen." Additionally, Kazakhstan will buy 310 "environmentally clean" locomotives from General Electric in 2008-2012 for a total of more than $650 million, and Kazakhstan will downgrade its remaining stocks of highly enriched uranium in a program financed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

On the home front, miners in Temirtau, Kazakhstan struck at all eight mines owned by Mittal Steel Temirtau. The miners are seeking higher pay and better working conditions after a September 20 mine accident killed 41. The pro-presidential parties Otan and Asar, the latter led by presidential daughter Darigha Nazarbaeva, completed their merger, leaving Otan the largest party in the country with 700,000 members. And the moderate opposition party Ak Zhol decided to fill the seat it won in December 2004 parliamentary elections. The party had refused to take the seat to protest election violations.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev outlined a strategic vision for the country's development up through 2015, speaking out in favor of strong executive power to restore government authority and ensure Kyrgyzstan's global competitiveness. An attack on independent TV station Piramida caused $200,000 in damage as the broadcaster pointed the finger at political forces "interested in destabilizing the political situation in Kyrgyzstan, rather than in independent Kyrgyz media organizations." A Kyrgyz NGO warned that poor conditions could spark riots in prisons, echoing the conclusions of an August report by International Crisis Group. And a court in Osh acquitted four defendants of charges of preparing terrorist acts. The defendants included Gulmira Maqsutova, the daughter of Akram Yuldoshev, who is imprisoned in Uzbekistan on terrorism charges and believed by Uzbek authorities to be the leader of the so-called Akramiya group allegedly responsible for May 2005 unrest in Andijon.

Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) decided not to participate in the country's November 6 presidential election, citing flaws in Tajik election law, skepticism about the Central Election Commission, and the current climate of suspicion toward Islamic parties. At the same time, the Justice Ministry recognized Masud Sobirov as the leader of the Democratic Party. Sobirov emerged six months ago as the leader of the party's Vatan wing amid charges from other party leaders of an illegal split. Uzbekistan resumed gas supplies to Tajikistan after Tajikistan paid $2 million of $4.5 million in arrears. One day earlier, Huseyn Aliyev, head of Tajik national gas company Tojikgaz, had been fired by cabinet resolution for failing to maintain steady gas supplies to the public.

China reportedly approved a pipeline project to ship natural gas from Turkmenistan to China. The 7,000-kilometer pipeline will cost tens of billions of dollars and may bypass Uzbekistan and run through Kazakhstan.

South Korea signed an agreement with Uzbekistan to buy uranium ore directly from Uzbekistan. The deal came during a visit to Uzbekistan by South Korean Prime Minister Han Myoong-sook. Officials traveling with the premier said that the agreement envisions that South Korea will import 300 tons of uranium a year from Uzbekistan between 2010 and 2014. Elsewhere, Jamshid Karimov, a dissident Uzbek journalist who is also the nephew of President Islam Karimov, was detained in a psychiatric hospital according to information received from the reporter's family. Karimov had disappeared on September 12.

KAZAKHSTAN: THE LIMITS OF COOPERATION. The hallmark of a successfully orchestrated international visit is a result that allows both sides to make the same claims after the visit that they made before it. By that standard, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's September 26-29 trip to Washington was a success. But if the visit's form showcased the strengths of Kazakh-U.S. ties, its content pointed to their natural limits. Meanwhile, a subsequent meeting between Nazarbaev and Russian President Vladimir Putin showcased the importance of Kazakhstan's multivector foreign policy in its efforts to gain leverage -- but the meeting also underscored the limits of Kazakh-Russian relations. RFE/RL analyst Daniel Kimmage takes a closer look.

The formal highlight of President Nazarbaev's time in Washington was a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush on September 29.

In a friendly setting, Bush called Kazakhstan a "free nation," while Nazarbaev stressed that "Kazakhstan will always be a friend of the United States," "The New York Times" and "Kazakhstan Today" reported. A Kazakh-U.S. joint statement on September 29 declared "commitment to a shared vision of stability, prosperity, and democratic reform in Central Asia and the broader region."

In the statement, the United States lauded Kazakhstan's "efforts in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" and called the two countries "steadfast partners in the international war on terrorism."

In his remarks to reporters during Friday's (September 29) meeting with Bush, Nazarbaev stressed that the United States is the major foreign investor in Kazakhstan. The bulk of those investments, of course, are in Kazakhstan's oil sector. In a footnote to his meeting with Bush, Nazarbaev met on September 29 with the heads of U.S. oil companies ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Halliburton, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Rex Tillerson and James Mulva, the heads of ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, respectively, announced after the meeting that they hope to pursue new projects in Kazakhstan.

There were no breakthrough agreements made on the visit, though Kazakhstan's national railroad company will buy 310 "environmentally clean" locomotives from General Electric from 2008-2012 for more than $650 million, AP reported on September 28. And Kazakhstan agreed to downgrade its remaining stocks of highly enriched uranium in a program financed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, UPI and ITAR-TASS reported on September 29 and 30. The fuel will be reprocessed in Kazakhstan, but it could be used later to generate energy at U.S. nuclear power plants.

Elsewhere, delicate maneuvering was evident. On the symbolically important issue of Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009, the United States expressed general support for chairing the organization without any actual commitment to the year 2009, according to Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev.

Toqaev told Interfax-Kazakhstan, "I would not say that the American side is skeptical about the idea of Kazakhstan's chairmanship of the OSCE. The American side welcomes our country's chairmanship of the OSCE, but the question is when is it going to happen."

A similarly delicate balance prevailed on issues of protocol. Toqaev told Interfax-Kazakhstan: "The Kazakh delegation was accommodated not in a hotel but in the Blair House guest residence, which attests to the high level of the organization of the visit by the U.S. side."

At the same time, "The New York Times" noted that Bush received Nazarbaev at a small lunch, not a state dinner, in "a sign that Kazakhstan's leader is working his way into the president's inner foreign policy circle, but is not all the way there."

The Kazakh-U.S. relationship imposes intricacies on both sides. For the United States, the doubts voiced by critics about Nazarbaev's commitment to democratization and the extent of real political freedom in Kazakhstan limit the depth of Kazakh-U.S. cooperation beyond energy-sector investment.

For Kazakhstan, limits stem from the need to balance ties with the United States against ties with Russia at a time when the two nations' interests are increasingly seen as divergent, especially in the crucially important area of Eurasian energy politics.

Eurasian energy politics were on prominent display when Nazarbaev met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Uralsk, Kazakhstan, on October 3, only a few days after the Kazakh president's trip to Washington.

The highlight of the visit was an agreement to process gas from Kazakhstan's Karachaganak field at Russia's Orenburg processing plant. Under the deal, a parity joint venture between Kazakhstan's KazMunaiGaz and Russia's Gazprom will upgrade Russia's Orenburg plant, with Kazakhstan eventually acquiring a 50-percent stake in the facility, reported.

By 2012, the plant will process 15 billion cubic meters of Kazakh gas a year. Sergei Ivanonv, head of Orenburggazprom, an affiliate of Russia's Gazprom, told ITAR-TASS that 7 billion of the 15 billion cubic meters of gas processed in Orenburg will be returned to Kazakhstan.

Ivanov continued, "The remaining gas will be supplied to consumers in Russia, but export is also possible." No price details were announced, although Nazarbaev stated, "We have settled the question on the price of gas which will be sold from this deposit." According to Russia's "Vedomosti," the participants in the international consortium developing Karachaganak do not want to sell the gas for less than $100 per 1,000 cubic meters.

The deal has mutually beneficial elements. For Russia -- as experts noted to "Vedomosti" and -- it ensures continued access to the affordable Central Asian gas Russia needs to maintain its lucrative foreign exports as it faces declining yields at core domestic fields.

As Yekaterina Kravchenko, an analyst at Moscow-based BrokerCreditService, said to, "It's no secret that Gazprom doesn't have enough gas, and that the Orenburg processing facility had a problem with raw material. With the agreement with Kazakhstan, the Russian company has solved the raw material problem at one facility at least." In comments to "Vedomosti," Alexander Rahr, an analyst with the German Council on Foreign Relations, put the deal in the context of competition between Russia and the United States for Kazakhstan's energy resources, arguing that Russia cannot fulfill its plan to become an "energy superpower" unless it ensures cooperation with Kazakhstan.

For Kazakhstan, the deal -- as described by Nazarbaev -- represents both a money-saving opportunity and a symbolic advance in its relations with Russia. On the pragmatic side, Nazarbaev noted that Kazakhstan would save $2 billion by acquiring a stake in the Orenburg plant instead of building its own processing facility, ITAR-TASS reported.

More importantly, Kazakhstan is poised to acquire a 50 percent stake in the Russian plant. Nazarbaev said, "For the first time, Kazakhstan is investing big money in the Russian economy, and for the first time, Russia is making it possible to invest this money," "Izvestiya" reported.

The limits of cooperation in Kazakh-Russian ties are as important a factor as they are in Kazakh-U.S. ties. But if the latter stem from the nature of Kazakhstan's domestic politics, the former are a result of Kazakhstan's desire to break free from dependence on Russian export routes for Kazakh oil and gas. In this context, Kazakhstan's ability to acquire an equity stake in a Russian energy-sector processing facility points to Astana's strengthening hand in relations with Russia, even though the deal does not advance Kazakhstan's desire to diversify its export options. By the same token, the delicate dance of Nazarbaev's visit to Washington demonstrated that Kazakh-U.S. relations are likely to remain stable within current boundaries as long as Nazarbaev continues to dominate Kazakhstan's political landscape. (Daniel Kimmage)

KAZAKHSTAN: LONG DELAYS SAP THE STRENGTH FROM 'KAZAKHGATE' CASE. The visit of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev to the U.S. may signal, according to some experts, a symbolic victory in a bribery case which has strained Kazakh-U.S. relations since 2001. "Kazakhgate," as the case is known, has been postponed four times by New York courts in two years. Now the case, at least its political implications, appears to be losing steam.

A little-known document signed by U.S. President George W. Bush in January 2004 prohibits entry into the country of "public officials engaged in or benefiting from corruption."

But Sasha Gupman, Freedom House's senior program manager for Central Asia, tells RFE/RL that when Nazarbaev meets Bush at the White House on September 29 he should not have any worries about Kazakhgate.

In that case, an American adviser to Nazarbaev in the mid-1990s is accused of funneling millions of dollars in bribes to the Kazakh president. Nazarbaev's name is featured in court papers as an alleged recipient of kickbacks in exchange for big oil contracts and in relation to numerous bank accounts in the United States and Switzerland.

PR Campaign For Kazakhstan

"By his visit he is de facto trying to clear his name," he said. "Even if [Kazakhgate] is not brought up at all, the mere fact that the U.S. government agreed to this visit is a huge legal defense for him."

Coinciding with Nazarbaev's trip to the United States, the Kazakh government has placed major advertisements in "The New York Times" and the "International Herald Tribune" under the headline "Kazakhstan In The 21st Century: Looking Outward." A commercial has also appeared on BBC World television. The articles are aimed at a wider Western audience and paint Kazakhstan as a cosmopolitan country of religious tolerance, a strong economy, and captivating nature. All this, Gupman says, is a part of the Kazakh government's boisterous public-relations campaign.

"What he's doing in D.C. [Washington] and the United States is the same that he's done in his own country, which is trying to launch a cult of personality," Gupman said. "So, he has tried to take that same strategy and apply it to the United States. I have no idea how effective it is, I find these advertisements to be silly, and if anyone [in the U.S.] follows Kazakhstan at all, they'll realize the inaccuracy and the blatant attempt to try to influence people's opinion away from the actual news."

Edward Schatz, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto and an expert on Central Asian affairs, tells RFE/RL that the Kazakh government spends significantly more money on its propaganda efforts overseas than any of the other Central Asian states.

"I suspect that it's quite out of the norm," he said. "And if you take it on a per capita basis, per citizen of the country, the dollars spent per citizen on PR, it's just astounding in the case of Kazakhstan."

Roman Vasilenko, the press secretary at the Kazakh Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to requests by RFE/RL for comment on the cost and expected impact of the advertisements.

Victory For Nazarbaev?

When Kazkahgate was making headlines in 2002 and 2003, many suggested that Nazarbaev would not dare travel to the United States unless guarantees were provided that he would be immune from any possible legal action resulting from the case. One scenario was that during a visit he might have been handed a court subpoena requiring him to testify at the trial as a witness. But all this, says Gupman, is no longer a possibility.

"A lot of what Nazarbaev and Kazakhstan are concerned about is not the actual legal case," he said. "No one's going to hand down a fine that Nazarbaev would be worried about, they are not going to put him in jail. It's the PR game. When this [Kazakhgate] first came out, if you was huge. And there were concerns about U.S. investments in Kazakhstan and I think [that] for a short time period it did hurt those investing in the country. But what we've seen is a gradual decline of interest."

Schatz says that Nazarbaev might have taken a small legal risk with his trip to the United States, but that the risk was worthwhile.

"It is certainly a legal victory, whether it's the ultimate legal victory, whether it's a permanent green light or a temporary one, I don't really know," he said. "My sense is that it could actually become -- there's nothing to prevent the court case in New York from taking any number of directions. I think it indicates a confidence on the part of Nazarbaev that he won't be in the scenario of any of this. I also think -- let's not underestimate this moment -- it indicates on the part of Nazarbaev that this is a PR move -- to physically show up is a way to suggest confidence even if he doesn't naturally have it. It's a way to project confidence and that's an important thing vis-a-vis his domestic opponents."

Steven Cohen, the legal representative for Kazakhgate defendant James Giffen -- who is accused of giving the bribes to Nazarbaev -- tells RFE/RL that legal moves on the part of the defense team to further postpone the trial are an option.

"Currently the trial is set to begin in mid-January [2007]," he said. "I get paid to make legal moves. Not guilty, he is not guilty and I will take it to trial."

Prosecutors in the case have not spoken publicly and have declined RFE/RL requests in the past for comment. (Nikola Krastev. Originally published on September 29, 2006.)

TAJIKISTAN: ISLAMIC PARTY'S LEADER EXPLAINS STRATEGY. Tajikistan's last presidential election, in 1999, featured entrenched incumbent Imomali Rakhmonov and a candidate from the country's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). With a new vote due in November and at least five potential challengers emerging to face President Rakhmonov, the powerful IRP has vowed to stay out of the race.

Forty-year-old Muhiddin Kabiri was selected to lead the IRP in September, after the death to cancer of longtime Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri. Unlike Nuri, who was well schooled in Islam, Kabiri is a university-educated expert in Oriental studies and not noted for his deep schooling in Islam.

Kabiri took the reins of the IRP just two months before Tajik voters go to the polls to elect a president. Questions immediately arose about possible presidential candidates from Central Asia's only registered Islamic party. But the IRP also faced speculation that it might be on the verge of a split -- with older, more traditional members going one direction and a younger group, led by Kabiri, going in another direction.

On September 25, the party leadership convened and decided not to field a candidate.

'Society Is Not Ready'

Kabiri told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that there were several reasons behind the IRP's decision. His reasons were essentially that it was the wrong time for an Islamic party to put forward a candidate, and that the mere presence of such a candidate could bring adverse attention to Tajikistan and its nearly 7 million residents.

Kabiri's assessment was echoed by the former spiritual leader of Tajikistan's Muslim community and a leading authority on Islam in Tajikistan, Hoja Akbar Turajonzoda.

"First, Tajik society is not ready for a person with a spiritual background to become head of government -- to be president," Turajonzoda said. "Second, the region is not ready to have an Islamist become president [in Tajikistan, and will not be] in the near future. Third, in Europe and Western countries -- Russia in particular -- they wouldn't allow or agree to [an Islamist head of state]. And ultimately, when a person, an Islamist, is trying to become head of state -- or even run [as a candidate] in elections -- this could aggravate the situation within the country. That's in the interests of neither the people nor the state."

During Tajikistan's civil war in the mid-1990s, Turajonzoda was second only to Chairman Nuri within the IRP. He received a state post as part of the peace deal and left the IRP just ahead of the 1999 presidential election. Turajonzoda says he now supports President Rakhmonov.

Party leader Kabiri says parliamentary voting in 2005 showed the IRP that its political opponents portray the IRP as wanting to take the country backward.

"In parliamentary elections, our opponents said the [IRP were] a group that pull the country back...[and] that all the country's problems start with the Islamic Renaissance Party," Kabiri says. "They said that all the progress made by democracy and secular government would be in jeopardy [in the event of] a victory by the Islamic Renaissance Party."

Democratic Bona Fides

Kabiri says there is a perception that the IRP lacks any democratic credentials. That view contributed to the decision not to field a candidate for president. Kabiri says he and his party will instead scrutinize how "secular" parties -- particularly those that have the word "democratic" in their party titles -- campaign and govern.

"We will give them a chance to show what they will do with this democracy -- how they will use it," Kabiri explains. "Will they be able to manage and protect democracy, or not? Since they claim that if the Islamic Renaissance Party won, Tajikistan would become a second Afghanistan."

But why not enter the race and exploit the opportunity to acquaint the public with the IRP's views?

Kabiri tells RFE/RL's Tajik Service that the answer lies in his party's prominence during its 15 years of existence. He suggests the recent transfer of leadership means the IRP is better off focusing on unity among members, rather than a potentially divisive race for the presidency.

"Perhaps other parties need elections more," Kabiri says. "The people already know us, and now we need more stability within the party."

Not A 'Boycott'

The party cited perceived shortcomings in the Tajik electoral system when it announced its decision not to field a presidential candidate. But at the same time, the party is participating on local election committees and has vowed not to discourage its supporters from going to the polls, as two other opposition groups have done:

"We're not using the word 'boycott,'" Kabiri says. "We will participate in the election process without [fielding] our own candidate. We will have representatives on district electoral commissions to monitor [the voting]. We leave Islamic Renaissance Party members free to vote for whomever they choose, or simply not to support anyone. That is their choice, and we have not issued any decision about that."

Kabiri declines to say whether he supports any of the existing candidates, saying to do so publicly could influence other party members. In fact, he says, he won't even be in the country when Tajik voters go to the polls on November 6.

Kabiri and his IRP appear convinced that -- for now, at least -- Tajikistan's overwhelmingly Muslim voters remain unprepared to elect an Islam-based party's candidate for president. (Darius Rajabian. Originally published on October 2, 2006.)

UZBEKISTAN: CONCERNS GROW OVER MISSING, JAILED JOURNALISTS. Two independent journalists disappeared in the central Uzbek city of Jizzakh earlier this month. One was later reported to have been arrested. The other, who also happens to be President Islam Karimov's nephew, is still missing and officials refuse to comment on his disappearance. Friends and relatives say both men had been anticipating trouble with authorities for their critical reporting.

Thirty-nine-year old Jamshid Karimov left his home in Jizzakh on September 12 to visit his mother at the hospital. That was the last time his relatives saw him.

As his brother Alisher explained, Jamshid "never returned home." Two days later, Jamshid Karimov's friend and colleague, Ulugbek Khaidarov, was arrested in broad daylight in Jizzakh.

Gone Missing

Relatives say the journalist was waiting for a bus when a woman approached him and put an envelope in his pocket before running away.

When Khaidarov realized the envelope contained $400, he threw it away. But he was then surrounded by plainclothes security officers who retrieved the envelope and took him away.

For Nortoji Khaidarova, there is no doubt her brother was framed. She spoke to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service two days after Khaidarov's arrest was first reported.

"I talked with the [Interior Ministry] officer who is investigating my brother's case," she said. "'If only he had kept silent!' he told me. 'Why is he publishing such slanderous articles on the Internet? Since he published those articles, we will send him [to jail].'"

On September 26, Khaidarova said extortion charges were brought against her brother. "The chief investigator told me that under Article 165 of the Uzbek Criminal Code, [Ulugbek] faces between five and 10 years in prison," she said.

Reports Of Abuse

Khaidarov was initially kept in a pretrial detention facility of the Interior Ministry's regional branch. He was then transferred to a cell in the ministry's municipal branch. This is where Nortoji says Khaidarov's wife, Munira, visited her husband a few days ago.

"Munira Mustafaevna [Khaidarova] was the only one who was allowed to see [Ulugbek] on Saturday, September 23," she said. "They hardly gave her five minutes. They kept rushing her. She told us she found [Ulugbek] in bad shape. She says he didn't seem to be in his right mind. His eyes were unfocused. His mouth was twisted. He'd lost a great deal of weight. He didn't seem to know what he was saying. He kept repeating: 'I know nothing, I know nothing,' and 'everything's alright, everything's alright.'"

If authorities have been readily commenting on Khaidarov's arrest, they remain tightlipped about the other journalist's fate. In remarks reported by the independent on September 20, the head of the National Security Service's regional branch, Marat Khalturdiev, curtly described Jamshid Karimov's disappearance as "a private affair" and refused to elaborate.

On September 25, quoted "sources close to Jamshid Karimov's family" as saying the journalist had reportedly been sent to a psychiatric hospital in Samarkand, some 100 kilometers southwest of Jizzakh.

Reporters Were Worried

Elin Jonsson, a freelance Swedish journalist who specializes in Central Asian affairs, is a longtime acquaintance of the two journalists. She told RFE/RL that earlier this year both men told her they were increasingly concerned about their safety and had informed her of their intention to get a visa for Sweden.

"The last time I received a letter from them was in late July; I think it was July 28," she said. "They were telling me they had received information that Ulugbek would be arrested and that Jamshid would be sent to a psychiatric hospital, or a similar kind of closed institution."

Jamshid Karimov is the son of President Islam Karimov's elder brother Arslan, who died in a car crash 17 years ago. He and Khaidarov have been reportedly working for independent media outlets, such as the Russian-based website and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London.

Although Jamshid Karimov is notoriously critical of his uncle and his government, his blood ties to the Uzbek leader have safeguarded him and his family from trouble.

But Jonsson says things changed in the wake of last year's military crackdown in Andijon.

Threats And Repression

"[Jamshid and Ulugbek] were almost the last remaining free journalists working in Uzbekistan," she said. "They have been writing openly about things they witnessed following the Andijon events. They both critically reported on what the governor of Jizzakh said [to justify] the Andijon [crackdown]. They received threats. They were told to stop writing. They were even offered money and asked to switch sides, to write more 'positive' articles. But they refused."

Jonsson said that following his refusal, Khaidarov was assaulted on the streets of Jizzakh.

In comments to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Jamshid Karimov's 70-year-old mother, Margarita, confirmed that her son feared something bad would happen to him.

"One day he visited me at the hospital and the director made a scene," she said. "Jamshid was worrying more and more of late. He was telling me: 'Things will blow up, they will put handcuffs on me.' 'You did nothing wrong.' I was telling him. 'You criticized the authorities a little bit, so what? Don't worry, things will settle down.' But things didn't settle down, quite the contrary. They took everything from us, even the money. Now I live in poverty."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Uzbek authorities to immediately release the two men and stop harassing their families.

"We're shocked at the brutal methods used against these two journalists, including psychiatric detention, a hallmark of Soviet repression," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement on September 26. "If President Karimov is treating his own nephew in this manner, it's hard to imagine how others might fare." (Jean-Christophe Peuch. Originally published on September 27, 2006.)