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Central Asia Report: October 10, 2003

10 October 2003, Volume 3, Number 34

TAJIKISTAN PRESSURES KREMLIN WITH PROPOSAL TO GUARD ITS OWN BORDERS. A startling statement by a senior Tajik official, who recently announced that his country was prepared to dispense with Russian assistance in guarding Tajikistan's borders, had both more and less behind it than immediately met the eye. It did not herald any serious determination on Dushanbe's part to show Russia the door in the immediate future. But it did signal Tajikistan's intention to shake up its relationship with Russia a bit, and draw attention to the fact that it is not as dependent on the Kremlin's patronage and say-so as it once was.

Major General Nuralisho Nazarov, first deputy chairman of the Tajik Border Protection Committee, began stirring the pot when he told journalists on 19 September that Tajik border troops were ready to assume responsibility for guarding Tajikistan's frontiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003). He also revealed that the committee had already submitted to Russia its proposal for a gradual transfer of responsibility to Tajik troops. In particular, he said it was time to end the Tajik-Russian division of authority on the Afghan border, which officially has been protected by Russia under a bilateral security agreement signed in 1993, although in reality Russia's 201st Motor Rifle Division, based in Tajikistan, had simply remained in place after the USSR's collapse two years previously.

"I am 100 percent sure that [Tajik solders] are ready to guard the front line of this border [without Russians]," Nazarov told RFE/RL (see "Tajikistan: Dushanbe Considering Guarding Its Own Border With Afghanistan,", 23 September 2003). He referred to the "front line" because Tajik guards are already stationed at what is called the "second line," the strategy being that any intruders who get past the Russians will run into the Tajiks behind them. Nazarov added to RFE/RL that he thought local forces could soon take over at least two of the border posts currently manned by troops in Russian uniform -- 90 percent of whom are Tajik citizens anyway, he noted. More precisely, 11,000 of the approximately 14,000 guards in Tajikistan serving under the Russian flag (closer to 80 percent) are Tajik citizens.

But Nazarov's statement was swiftly repudiated by Saidamir Zukhurov, Tajik deputy prime minister responsible for the country's law-enforcement agencies, who said on 25 September that Nazarov's opinion was not shared by the government. Its official position was that the Russian border guards should remain, according to Zukhurov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2003). Thus Dushanbe was promoting the line that either Nazarov had spoken out of turn -- although he was apparently not reprimanded in any way -- or was expressing his private view only -- which, in view of the rigidly top-down nature of authority and control in Tajikistan, seems hardly likely. As commented on 7 October, it is hard to imagine Nazarov making such an important pronouncement without prior clearance from the highest echelons of power. In the words of Tajik political scientist Tursun Kabirov, "Making statements that touch upon the relations of Tajikistan with another country is the prerogative of the president."

The question then arises what the Tajik authorities mean to achieve by putting pressure on Moscow in this manner. Some analysts have suggested that Dushanbe was expressing dissatisfaction at the way Russian border guards are doing their job. On 19 September Nazarov leveled the charge that the presence of Russian forces was actually more a hindrance than a help in efforts to intercept narcotics traffickers. He may have been alluding to persistent speculations that some Russian soldiers are complicit in drug smuggling, or at least take bribes to look the other way.

It is far from clear, however, that changing their uniforms from Russian to Tajik would make border guards any more diligent in the duties. In the area around the town of Shurobod, a border sector under the control of Tajik forces, Afghan drug smugglers manage to pass into the country as easily as anywhere else, reported on 7 October. Moreover, they are reportedly less disciplined and have fewer material incentives to be honest than Tajik contract soldiers in the Russian border guards, who receive better pay, clothing, and housing than their national service offers. In fact, on 7 October Asia Plus-Blitz and ITAR-TASS reported that Russian patrols seized more than one metric ton of contraband narcotics in the course of a 12-day operation in mountains near the border. The total cache contained 929 kilograms of raw opium, 111 kilograms of heroin, and 18 kilograms of marijuana. It was the largest drug seizure in Tajikistan for three years. Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 9 October that a total of 6.8 tons of narcotics had been confiscated in Tajikistan in the first nine months of 2003, compared to just over 4 tons for the whole of 2002.

A further possibility, propounded by the Tajik newspaper "Asia-Plus" on 2 October, is that Dushanbe is exerting pressure on the Kremlin because it is angry about Russia's crackdown on Tajik migrant laborers -- an action which itself has been seen by many analysts as Russian retaliation for Tajikistan's warming relationship with the United States and NATO. The importance of migrant labor to Tajikistan's economy was emphasized on 24 September, when ITAR-TASS reported that a study conducted jointly by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Tajik research center Sharq showed that the cash remissions of Tajik citizens working abroad was almost equal to the country's annual budget. The findings indicated that $200 million-$230 million was sent home by Tajik workers in 2002, while the national budget for that year was $250 million. Moreover, 84 percent of the approximately 600,000 Tajik citizens who sought work abroad between 2000 and 2003 went to Russia. A recent poll conducted by Tajikistan's Ministry of Labor indicated that, last month, some 350,000 citizens (or about 6 percent of the population) were working abroad, 90 percent of them in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003).

It is also reasonable to see Tajikistan's decision to remind Russia that, one day, its security services may not be required in the context of Dushanbe's closer ties with Western military establishments. Most recently, on 2 October Major General Ramil Nodirov, head of the General Staff of the Tajik Armed Forces, received a delegation from the French Defense Ministry, Asia-Plus reported. They discussed bilateral military cooperation ranging from information exchanges to training programs for Tajik military personnel. Meanwhile NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, who visited the Tajik capital on 24 September, said the Atlantic alliance would provide the country with assistance to modernize its armed forces under the Partnership for Peace program. In discussions with Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov, Robertson promised cooperation on combating drug trafficking and international terrorism. It was also announced that as part of its assistance to Tajikistan, NATO, in tandem with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), would be setting up a training center for Tajik border guards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2003).

Yet another possibility -- not exclusive of those discussed above -- is that Nazarov's remarks were part of Dushanbe's negotiating tactics. The 10-year framework agreement on the stationing of Russian troops in Tajikistan expired in May 2003. According to Deputy Secretary of Russia's Security Council Valentin Stepankov, in remarks to journalists reported by RIA-Novosti on 30 September, the treaty stipulated that it would be prolonged automatically as long as neither of the parties announced its termination six months before it expired. Nevertheless, talks over the terms of an extension commenced in April 2003 and are still continuing. The Russian-Tajik commission that oversees implementation of bilateral security agreements is due to decide on the future protection of Tajikistan's borders soon, Asia-Plus said on 29 September. One sticking point is that the Russian forces are not complying with certain points of the bilateral agreements. The complaint was made by Nuralisho Nazarov in an interview with Interfax on 1 October. Specifically, he said that Tajik border guards had never been allowed to attend meetings between Russian and Afghan representatives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2003).

Another sticking point is funding. At present Moscow and Dushanbe split the costs of border security in Tajikistan 50-50; observers have suggested that the cash-strapped Tajik government is pressing the Kremlin to assume more of the financial burden. If so, General Andrei Nikolaev, chairman of the Defense Committee of the State Duma (the Russian parliament's lower house), may have called the Tajiks' bluff when he announced on 26 September that, if they wanted Russian forces to leave the country, they would have to pay the costs of the redeployment to another location, Interfax reported. Nikolaev, who used to head Russia's Federal Border Guard Service, noted that Dushanbe was in no position to dispense with Moscow's 50 percent financial support of border-guard activities, and said that local forces lacked the capacity to patrol the frontiers effectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2003).

On the funding issue, the Kremlin might even be trying to turn the tables on its Tajik interlocutors. On 9 October, CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha gave a news conference in Moscow, reported by Reuters and Acknowledging that negotiations over the status of Russian troops in Tajikistan were dragging on, he agreed that a revision of the current cost-sharing agreement might be in order -- in Moscow's favor. He suggested that covering even 50 percent of costs was too onerous, and that either Tajikistan should pay more or Russia should consider withdrawing its servicemen. Dushanbe will hardly take that threat seriously given that the present arrangement, even if it requires some changes, is extremely important to both parties. But it nicely captures the game of chicken that Tajikistan and Russia are currently engaged in.

INVESTORS DUBIOUS ABOUT KAZAKH OIL PLANS. Foreign oilmen at the annual Kazakhstan International Oil and Gas Exhibition (KIOGE-2003), taking place this week in the former capital Almaty, reeled in expectations for hydrocarbon extraction and investment in upcoming years, in the process damping down predictions about Kazakhstan's economic growth. A representative of Shell, speaking for some of the other majors, said the company doubted the viability of the Kazakh government's ambitious plans to boost investment and annual oil extraction, Interfax reported on 9 October. Investment in hydrocarbon exploration and production is planned to rise from $4.4 billion in 2003-05 to $13.5 billion in 2013-15, Kazakh Deputy Energy Minister Lyazzat Kiinov told the KIOGE conference.

As for oil extraction, it is due to increase from the present figure of 50 million metric tons per year to 180 million tons per year by 2015. President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced the new strategy during a visit to Canada in June (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 7 July 2003). Nazarbaev did acknowledge at the time that the plan was aggressively optimistic, and that getting so much oil to market would require major expansion of existing pipeline capacity.

Kazakhstan's development program for the Caspian Sea shelf envisages foreign investments of about $30 billion, with first tenders to be offered in 2005. Foreign investors will be permitted to acquire no more than a 50 percent stake per project; at least 50 percent will be owned by the state hydrocarbon company KazMunaiGaz. At the KIOGE-2003 meeting, Shell-Kazakhstan President Martin Ferstl called the restrictions of foreign participation in new Caspian projects unjustified. He also demanded more clarity from the government about legislative provisions concerning offshore oil operations, reported on 9 October. "We need a strong law," one that cannot be interpreted by state bodies however they wish, Ferstl said.

He thus voiced the anxiety of many investors regarding the Kazakh government's perceived penchant for revising agreements if it believes they were negotiated to its disadvantage. A particularly sore point is Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov's plan, announced to the parliament on 30 June, to raise taxes in the oil-and-gas sector. Since then a government working group has been drafting amendments to the existing Tax Code, allegedly inspired by the example of Norway where (according to the prime minister) the government controls pricing processes in the hydrocarbon sector. A fresh law on production-sharing agreements is expected to stipulate new taxes on oil extraction by volume. Akhmetov has also reportedly agreed with parliamentarians that some existing contracts in the hydrocarbon industry are now inadequate, even if they helped attract foreign investment in the past (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2003).

The government appeared to be offering some concessions to the viewpoint of foreign investors, however, when Energy and Mineral Resource Minister Vladimir Shkolnik told journalists on 7 October that it was prepared to agree to a delay in starting the project to develop the Kashagan oil field in the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported. According to the 1997 production-sharing agreement for Kashagan, which is estimated to contain as much as 9 billion barrels in recoverable reserves, industrial development was due to commence in 2005. A presidential decree issued in May 2003 accelerated the timetable still further and called for commercial extraction from Kashagan to begin in 2005. When members of the consortium developing Kashagan indicated that this timetable might be overambitious, and that 2006 or 2007 would be more realistic, Nazarbaev threatened them with heavy fines if they failed to meet his deadline (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 7 July 2003). Shkolnik now supports 2007 as a realistic start date for the project, Interfax indicated.

On 8 October the Mazhlis (lower house of the Kazakh parliament) took a step towards removing one of the main stumbling blocks to Caspian development -- unresolved division of the seabed -- when it approved the draft law on ratifying a trilateral treaty, signed in May 2003 by Kazakhstan, Russia, and Azerbaijan, specifying where their respective Caspian sectors meet. The bill was passed on to the Senate for confirmation, Interfax-Kazakhstan said. Meanwhile the southern part of the sea remains officially undemarcated due to continued disagreements between Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkmenistan.