Books on Tajikistan
Update No: 288 - (01/01/05)
''Fair elections'' in February; rosy official view
Conditions for the conduction of fair, democratic and transparent elections have
been laid in Tajikistan, the chief of the Central Election Commission (CEC),
Mirzoali Boltuyev claims. He told Itar-Tass after the membership of the CEC was
approved by parliament; that President Emomali Rakhmonov had set the elections
to parliament's lower house for February 28 and to the house of representatives
for March 24. A guarantee of democratic elections is a constitutional law passed
with heed for recommendations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe (OSCE) and other international democracy institutions, Boltuyev said.
Unlike in the previous elections, ballot boxes used in this year's elections
will be transparent and manufactured with financial assistance from the OSCE,
Ballot papers are being printed at Tajikistan's state-owned printing house.
Election results will be published on posters at 3,000 polling stations
immediately after preliminary vote counting. District election commission will
be housed not at state offices, but at schools, other educational establishments
and culture centres for preventing any pressure from authorities. Observers of
Tajikistan's six registered political parties and international monitors are to
ensure democratic and transparent elections, Boltuyev said.
He said about three million voters were entitled to take part in the elections,
including 600,000 citizens of Tajikistan staying outside the country. So much
for the official position.
Tajikistan's four main opposition parties have criticised Europe's security
organisation for ignoring the government's alleged crackdown on dissent in the
country. The OSCE has failed to respond to authorities' recent moves to shut
down opposition newspapers and persecute opposition leaders, said a statement
from the Democratic, Social, Islamic Rebirth and Social Democratic parties.
The independent newspapers Ruzi Nav and Nerui Sukhan, as well as the opposition
Najot newspaper, were forced to shut in August after authorities closed their
printer for alleged tax violations. The Jiyonkhon printing house was the only
one that had agreed to print the papers. Authorities also recently launched
probes into leaders of the Democratic and Development parties, steps that the
opposition said were part of a government crackdown on dissent ahead of
parliamentary polls in February.
The acting head of the OSCE office in Tajikistan, Andrei Shugurov, has said the
absence of ''loud'' statements from the organisation did not mean it was silent
on the matter. In August, the OSCE criticised the closure of the Jiyonkhon
printing house and said that other recent setbacks to Tajikistan's independent
media marked ''a worrying backward step.'' President Emomali Rakhmonov has
maintained a tight grip on Tajikistan since he first came to power in 1994.
The opposition parties are of course right. The situation can be summed up
rather simply by looking at the country's recent history.
Basic historical facts
During the Soviet era, Moscow and the Party had been the lid on a pressure
cooker of long standing clan-based tensions. Tajikistan's various factions -
Leninabaders from the north, Kulyabis from the south and their hostile
neighbours from Kurgan-Tyube, Garmis from the east and Pamiris from the
mountains - had all been kept in line under Soviet rule. When the Soviet Union
fell apart in 1991 and Tajikistan declared independence, the country quickly
descended into civil war. Rakhmonov, a Kulyabi, has been president since 1992
but opposition, particularly from the Islamic-democratic coalition, has been
strident. The Kulyabi forces embarked on an orgy of ethnic cleansing directed at
anyone connected with the Kurgan-Tyube or the Garm valley. Somewhere between
20,000 and 50,000 people were killed in the fighting, and there are half a
Although a peace agreement was signed in June 1997 between President Rakhmonov
and Islamic opposition leader Sayid Abdullo Nuri, tensions are still high.
Rakhmonov is propped up by Russian-dominated CIS forces, mainly because Russia
wants to control the border with Afghanistan. Thousands of Tajik rebels are
based in northern Afghanistan and cross-border raids and smuggling persist.
Rakhmonov's government is unwilling to share power (opposition parties were
outlawed for elections in 1994) and is uninterested in reform.
The president was re-elected for a second term in 1999 by what was reported as a
nearly unanimous vote. Given the oppression of opposition, the result was hardly
a surprise. This result was repeated in 2003 where a referendum gave Rakhmonov
the green light to run for another two consecutive terms, until 2020. In fact it
is a squalid pretence at democracy.
The Tajik card for the US
The most important event by far in recent Tajik history has been the fact
that the Americans have come to town. Naturally, this is all about 9:11 and
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Tajikistan in his recent tour of
Central Asia in the hopes that American troops could develop supply lines
through the country. Nothing was concluded during Rumsfeld's visit. This is not
surprising, because the United States must overcome extensive obstacles before
it could work in Tajikistan. Some of the problems are logistic, but the greatest
problems are political.
The logistical problems are considerable. The area of Tajikistan that is of
most interest to the United States is the region bordering the area controlled
by the Northern Alliance in Northern Afghanistan. Land access to the Northern
Alliance region is astonishingly difficult. Crossing the ferociously swift Pyanj
River--a branch of the Amu Darya (Oxus) is a frightening prospect even for the
most advanced military strategists.
Along the Pyanj there is a single one-lane dirt road skirting the river with
thousand -foot drops on both sides. The mountains on the Afghan side of the
river rise thousands of feet straight up--a nearly impenetrable sheer wall.
There is indeed a bridge spanning the Pyanj in the town of Ishkashim--but
Ishkashim is in the most remote corner of the most remote area of Tajikistan, in
the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region. Land travel to Ishkashim requires more
than 24 hours from Dushanbe under the best conditions. In winter when the road
is buried in snow, the journey is much longer. A somewhat shorter route travels
through a region near the city of Garm. But that region is full of dangerous
refugees from the recent Tajik civil war. There Islamic revolutionaries have
kidnapped foreign aid workers in recent months, making the longer and harder,
but safer route the preferred one.
Air traffic is possible to the capital of the region, Khorogh, where some
ferrying of goods across the Pyanj is possible. However the route is one of the
most treacherous in the world. Flying through the narrow mountain passes of the
Pyanj makes the scariest amusement park rides tame by comparison. Only the
smallest, most nimble planes can make the trip, and even the faintest cloud
cover makes aviation virtually impossible.
The only other land route to Gorno-Badakhshan proceeds through Kyrgyzstan, and
the city of Osh- the so-called Pamir highway. It also requires 24 hours of hard
travel over mountain steppe with little water or other facilities en route. This
is currently the principal travel route for heroin smugglers. Since most heroin
production in Afghanistan is coming from the Northern Alliance region, this
route may be unwelcome to the people the United States wishes most to help.
A possible military staging area for Tajikistan is a former Soviet air base in
the city of Kulyab. The base is close enough to the Afghan border to be useful
as an entrepot. It could be the staging area for an air bridge to the Northern
Alliance controlled city of Fayzabad, which also has an airport. Kulyab could
also be the beginning point for land transport across the Pyanj. This is the
point where political difficulties begin.
It will be necessary for the United States to strike agreements with both Russia
and Uzbekistan for use of either the land or the air routes into the Northern
Alliance region. Uzbekistan, which offers the most convenient routes into the
region, has been openly hostile to Tajikistan. At present there is no commercial
air traffic between the two nations, despite the fact that they are neighbours.
President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan is so afraid of Islamic militant groups in
Tajikistan that he has also sealed and mined the land border between the two
nations. Even the rail connections that link Tajikistan with the rest of the
region have been sealed.
Russia has thousands of troops stationed all along the border. Travel through
the region requires credentials be checked every few kilometres. The young, and
stupifyingly bored Russian troops shoot off their guns just to relieve the
Both President Putin and President Karimov must be sufficiently mollified to
allow Americans free access to the region, and free rein once in the region.
Added to this is the fact that the United States has completely ignored
Tajikistan since its independence, prior to the Afghan war.
The lack of American interest is not surprising. Russia has done its best to
retain the poor, landlocked nation as a kind of quasi-colony with American
There is no oil in Tajikistan, and the drought-ridden nation has massive
infrastructural problems. A road connection to the Karakorum highway in Pakistan
that would help the region is so under-funded that construction had to be halted
because there was no money for food for the workers. The American Embassy in
Dushanbe was closed several years ago because there was no money in the State
Department budget to bring it up to congressionally mandated security standards.
Hard bargaining needed
The Americans are not interested in Tajikistan for altruistic reasons. The
regime needs to bargain hard.
President Rakhmonov of Tajikistan may well drive the hardest of bargains with
Washington for use of Tajik territory. He is taking a big chance with his own
internal politics in even talking to Washington. The recent Tajik civil war
pitted Islamic militants against secularists. American troops in Kulyab
(President Rakhmonov's home town) could spark more government resistance. The
American presence will tax the meagre Tajik resources severely.
Relaxation of the virtual Uzbek embargo of Tajikistan should be one result of
the negotiations. Improvement of the Tajik transportation and communication
infrastructure should be another. Finally, a commitment to American development
aid for the nation should definitely be part of the package.
The United States has a chance to prove that it does not just exploit
underdeveloped nations for its own convenience in this case. Using Tajik
facilities may help their military position in Afghanistan, but treating
Tajikistan with fairness and equity could help improve America's bona fides
throughout the region.
Tajikistan reduces foreign debt
Tajikistan has reduced its foreign debt by €350m and believes that its rating
may be upgraded, Interfax News Agency reported recently.
"Bearing in mind our successes, the international community must revise the
country' rating and remove safety constraints," President Emomali Rakhmonov
told the 5th meeting of donor countries on November 5th. "The high
insurance risk in planning investment projects in Tajikistan is today
misplaced," he was quoted as saying. In the period between January 2003 and
October 2004, the country's foreign debt fell from €980m to €630m, Rakhmonov
FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Tajikistan, Moldova boost economic cooperation
The first session of the Tajik-Moldavian intergovernmental commission for
economic and trade cooperation in the Moldavian capital, Chisinau, resulted in
signing of a series of agreements, Asia-Plus reported recently.
Tajik Deputy Foreign Minister, Abdunabi Sattorzoda led the Tajik delegation at
the session. According to the Tajik Ministry of Economy and Trade, the parties
signed agreements on productive cooperative societies, mutual protection of
secret information and long-term trade and economic cooperation for 2005-2014.
The participants at the meeting coordinated agreements on cooperation in the
fields of science, transport and migration. Moldavian Minister of Industry,
Mikhail Garshtya said at a new conference following the session that the present
level of economic cooperation between Moldova and Tajikistan and the signed
documents can give a new impulse to expansion of bilateral economic cooperation
MINERALS & METALS
Tajik Aluminium piques RusAl investment interest
Russian Aluminium (RusAl) is ready to participate in the privatisation of the
Tajik Aluminium Plant, RusAl Deputy Director General, Alexander Livshitz, said,
The Russian metals giant's investment plan includes the construction of two
large electrolysis shops with the capacity of 100,000 tonnes of aluminium a year
at the Tajik Aluminium Plant in Tursunzoda (central Tajikistan), some 50-60km to
the west of Dushanbe. RusAl intends to pay out US$150m for this project.
Livshitzsaid the company also planned to build a new aluminium production
facility in Khatlon province (southern Tajikistan) with a yield capacity of
200,000 tonnes of aluminium per year. "We plan to invest some US$600m in
the construction of this plant," he said.
According to him, they are carrying out a feasibility study on the proposal for
the new aluminium production facility. The company's experts are determining the
place for the construction of this aluminium plant. Livshitz assured that the
plant is planned to operate by 2013. In addition, Livshitz noted the company
intended to invest in the completion of the Roghun hydropower plant on the
Vakhsh river. The plant will provide the newly created aluminium facilities with
electricity and permit Tajikistan to resolve all domestic energy problems and to
export abroad part of the electric power. Questioned as to whether RusAl will
participate in privatisation of the Tajik Aluminium Plant in Tursunzoda,
Livshitz said the sides were considering the issues related to forms of
cooperation both on the electrolysis shops and the hydropower plant.
"We have a keen interest in this enterprise and if it is sold by auction,
we will participate in the privatisation of it," Livshitz said. He added
that the investment project in Russia and in Central Asia was the largest to
date. Its cost will top the US$1.2bn mark. The new production facility will make
it possible to provide jobs for over 10,000 local residents. On the other hand,
the source in Tajik committee for management of state-owned property said:
"Most likely, there will be no complete privatisation of the Tajik
Aluminium Plant; only a part of the plant's share will be sold at auction."