Tuesday 25 October 2011

Dancing with Karimov

Busy weeks in the new Great Game. As it was during the original one, in the 19th century, Uzbekistan is a top prize. Sick and tired of playing with Pakistan, the US now has decided to look again at Afghanistan’s northern neighbour. First, the Senate in Washington decided to lift restrictions on US military assistance to Karimovland. Then Obama called the Uzbek leader to butter him up during the former Soviet country’s 20th Anniversary, and, finally, this week, State secretary Hillary Clinton popped in for a quick visit, with the usual nagging about Human Rights and the usual Karimov promises of (20 years overdue) reforms. It is clear that the US is courting Uzbekistan and, again, Human Rights won’t be an issue. The Examiner.com’s Dwight L. Schwab, Jr. strikes the perfect tone on the situation, have a look.

Tashkent is now contemplating the possible effects of the withdrawal of all foreign military troops from Afghanistan in 2014. A possible rise on regional violence is forecast. Here is a very good view on that, by an expert that believes that Uzbekistan’s geopolitical importance will definitely grow in the next few years. Russia sure is aware of that and is lobbying hard all countries in the region. Kazakhstan is supporting czar Putin’s dream of an Eurasian Union. There were also fireworks with the creation of a free trade zone including Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. As usual, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan decided to wait and see. Certainly they will dance the usual waltz with Washington and Moscow, and possibly Beijing, before deciding their partner for this party.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

21st century nomads in Kyrgyzstan

Here is a wonderful photogallery showing a nomad camp in Kyrgyzstan. It is amazing that, after 70 years of Communism and 20 years of post-soviet rule, they still survive with the same lifestyle from centuries ago. By the way, this website, English Russia, has some pretty good photos. I love to drop by for a visit every now and then.

Friday 14 October 2011

Good news, bad news

Good news and bad news in the Urunboy Usmonov soap opera in Tajikistan. Good news first – the BBC journalist is now a free man. Bad news: he was found guilty of complicity with islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and condemned to three years in jail - but the judge decided to grant him amnesty. The decision sounds to me like a confession by the Tajik authorities that they couldn’t find any firm evidence, after all, that Usmonov has been helping the islamist group in its “extremist activities” (nonsense, it is a peaceful organization). The Tajik authorities lost a good opportunity to back off and admit they were wrong to arrest him. Usmonov will now appeal and, hopefully, will clean its name. For the sake of free press in Central Asia.

Thursday 13 October 2011


This is not really the venue for long explanations about the upcoming US Presidential elections. In 2012 the americans will be able to kick Obama out of his office – I mean, if they can be bothered, given the (present) array of absolutely inept candidates that are (presently) fighting for a nomination on the Republican side. That’s a pity Sarah Palin decided not to run – at least, she is good looking. Anyway, the campaign drama this week reached far away from the US borders, being felt in Karimovland. Herman Cain, a radio host who wish to be the GOP candidate, said in an interview that he doesn’t know the president of “Ubeki-Beki-Beki-Stan-Stan” and that he doesn’t think it is important to know it.

What amazes me is not the fact that he doesn’t know or doesn’t care. He is 100% right – knowing that Karimov is the president of Uzbekistan, itself, is useless, it is just a trivia question. However, there is something that bothers me a little here. And it is the fact that US politicians – in this case, a possible future White House dweller – seemingly don’t grasp the importance of a strategic country that borders Afghanistan (where so many US soldiers died in the last years) and don’t take opportunities like this to let everybody know that there is something important here. George W. Bush was a Texas man who didn’t give a damn to what happened beyond his ranch. As president, turned the whole country into his own private Texas and was taken by surprise (or not, say many conspirationists) by the 11/9 attacks. It is important for future presidents to do their homework. Yes, this is important, yes, it is worth saying it is important, yes, Uzbekistan is far away, but definitely it is not that far away. Bet that prior to 11/9, Bush thought – if he knew Afgha-Afgha-Afgha-Nistan at all – that the country that harboured Osama Bin Laden was one of the “small insignificant countries around the world”.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Journalist convicted - for “encouraging” suicide of relative…

A lot has been said about the situation of BBC Tajik reporter Urunboy Usmanov, who is being tried in Tajikistan in extremely suspicious circumstances. But he is not obviously the only journalist facing problems with the local authoritarian regimes, which allow very little room for the press to maneuver apart from subscribing to every single decision by the ruling supremo. Here is an interesting and absurd case: Turkmen journalist Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev, a stringer for Radio Free Europe, was sentenced this week to five years in jail. Little information ever come out of Turkmenistan – a country usually forgotten in a mist of post-Soviet repression – but Yazkuliyev made the mistake of blogging about a huge explosion which took place in the southern city of Abadan in July. According to official sources, the explosion killed 15 people, but opposition groups say it had a death toll above 1,300. And then Yazkuliyev was tried, facing the highly controversial (to say the least) accusation of “influencing” the attempted suicide of a member of his own family. PS: In Tajikistan, besides the Urunboy case, local reporter Makhmadyusuf Ismoilov is also in court, accused of “inciting ethnic tension” after publishing an article about abuses commited by authorities in the north. The trial has now been adjourned until the end of the month. He can be sentenced to 16 years.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Key elections in a divided country

There is now less than one month to go to the October 30 presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan, a country that is still shaken after the violence that took place in June 2010, mainly between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the south, and that eventually led to the fall of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. These are key elections – not only because there is a fear of more violence, but because the results will show the future of the Parliamentarian system in place in the small Central Asian republic since last year. Never before such system was tried in the region, that for centuries has been ruled for despotic leaders. Should the Kyrgyz experience is successful, and we have free and fair elections with no violence, this might be the dawn of a true new era in the region, sending a message to some of its neighbours (mainly the Uzbek leader Islam Karimov) that it is possible to follow a different path. But this is a country still divided and there is the chance of a polarising North-South face-off on the second round – with, possibly, a nationalist candidate taking part on the ballot. Here is a good analysis on the Kyrgyz situation.