How to Become a Central Asian President for Life

Issue7First things first, Issue 7 is out. If you don’t subscribe to The Diplomat‘s Magazine, you really should.

The June issue features a cover from Alex Vatanka on Iran’s domestic dickering on the nuclear deal. The view from Tehran is complex and interesting and worth knowing about as we head toward another deadline for a deal. Other leads cover the east Asian internet (very cool graphs), Indian soft power potential, and the truth about corruption in China. I’ve got a piece on digital progress, control, and memory in Central Asia.

For a short week, I sure got a lot written:

Turkmenistan has a new monument: a gilded golden statue of Berdy riding a horse, holding a dove, atop a marble pedestal. It’s 69-feet tall. It’s also a complete distraction. Then the constitutional commission (which the Berdy heads) announced it’s working on lengthening the presidential term and dropping the 70-year old age ceiling on the office. This sparked my favorite piece this week: How to Become a Central Asian President for Life. I don’t recommend this career path, but it’s simple enough: write it into the constitution, duh.

What kings of old justified with divine right, modern leaders in Central Asia justify with constitutions…

Kazakhstan had a great PR week. First, its constitutional court knocked down a law that included clauses on banning “gay propaganda.” While good news, it’s best viewed as part of Astana’s desire to bring the 2022 Winter Olympics to the old capital, Almaty, rather than an improvement in the LGBT community’s lot in the country. Then, Astana successfully hosted talks among parts of the Syrian opposition–nothing huge came of it, but it sure as hell looks good for Kazakhstan.

Tajikistan had a bad week. First, the World Bank releases an economic report that says what regional watchers have been saying for some time: the dependence on remittances is developing into a serious problem. Then the missing OMON commander showed up in an ISIS video–uh oh.

Some great, deeper, reading on this don’t skip these two pieces: John Heathershaw on what Halimov’s defection means for Tajikistan (it doesn’t mean what you think it does) and Joshua Foust on the misplaced focus many are putting on Halimov’s claimed US-training. The two don’t agree on the value of US-training more broadly, but they both make great arguments regarding the need for nuance and complexity when trying to parse through what makes a person decide to join, as Foust puts it, a “band of vicious, mur­der­ing child-rapists.” (I may have to write something discussing this more).

Here are a few other recommended reads from the end of the week, including an awesome Al Jazeera article on a hoard of banned Soviet art.

Over in Afghanistan the security forces scored a win after a six-hour firefight at a prominent guesthouse resulted in only the deaths of the four Taliban attackers. It doesn’t tell us, by itself, a whole lot about the overall capability of the government forces to provide security–but it was a much-needed, moral-boosting win. Plus, the Interior spokesperson got all kinds of saucy: “We accept that we have challenges, but we know how to deal with it, it is not Iraq, we fight back with full force.”

And now for something different: I wrote on the Friday news that in 2010 the US failed in a Stuxnet-related attack on North Korea. It’s just like Commander Adama thought–there is security in disconnection. The Diplomat regulars on cybery-things were offline so I handled it. Those months working for a think-tank cyber program come in handy sometimes, I suppose.

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