A Week of Central Asian Politics and Politicking

Another week in Central Asia:

Last Sunday, Kyrgyzstan held successful parliamentary elections. The Diplomat published a wonderful photo essay of election day in Bishkek, a real glimpse at polls in the capital.

Kyrgyzstan also reopened its embassy in Belarus after a 3-year hiatus. Long story short, Belarus has refused repeatedly to extradite the Kyrgyz president deposed in 2010–he’s living a fairly comfortable life as a Belarusian now.

In Turkmenistan, the US broke ground on a new embassy. The US is using the construction as a metaphor. “This is not just another building project in Ashgabat,” the US Ambassador said at the ceremony.

Wednesday was Vladimir Putin’s birthday and the celebrations were as ridiculous as you can imagine: a hockey game, a special rap song release, bombing Syria. But Putin also made time to meet this week with both the Tajik and Kyrgyz presidents.

Kazakhstan’s president met with the president of Ukraine this week as well. Nazarbayev, for all his autocratic faults, is an extremely deft politician. Nowhere is this more evident than in his balancing of relations between Ukraine and Russia.

Mutabar Tadjibayeva, a well-known Uzbek human rights activist who now lives in France–as a political refugee–says she was subject to torture, gang-rape and forced sterilization at the hands of Uzbek authorities. This week, Uzbekistan was essentially ordered by a UN body to investigate her allegations. I’m not terribly optimistic it will lead to any concrete investigation or improvement but I do think it’s important to keep putting these stories in the public space.

And for something different: I wrote about Megadeth’s first concert in China (they were a little censored, which is fairly common). I’m a closet metalhead. Never really thought that corner of knowledge would come in handy professionally.

End of a Central Asia Summer

I’ve been quite delinquent of late with regard to updating this, but I’ve been busy and it’s been nice out. Since last I posted, I’ve written 51 things. I’ve bolded the ones you should definitely read.

I’ll try to be more diligent about posting–and I’m going to try to branch out in this space. For work I’m Central Asia half the time and Magazine things the other half; I have a great number of interests beyond what’s represented here and want to keep pushing myself to be a better writer, journalist, editor.

That Damn Dam and Other Central Asia News

August is flying by, two weeks worth of writing:

I also wrote one opinion piece about why all the news from Central Asia is weird, bad or ugly. When governments try to clamp down on bad news, they prevent good news from surfacing. All that’s left is ugly news. Local journalists are not able to do their jobs–reporting on how government policies are working, or not; what citizens like, or don’t; how people live their lives and fill their time–and the result is international outlets carry news without complexity: bad news (which government’s aren’t able to hide completely or in the case of extremism, actively promote to garner leniency and aid), ugly news (news about the ugly side of authoritarianism–human rights abuses), or weird news (about massive building projects, new statues, cults of personality, etc).

Poor Almaty

IMG_0247First, Issue 9 of the Magazine is out! It has an amazing cover story on the role of WWII in shaping modern Asia and the lingering effects of its ghosts by Paul French. Bill Hayton, who talks us through the “other claimants” to the South China Sea, Vietnam and Philippines, primarily. Yo-Jung Chen explains that Prime Minister Abe’s regional diplomacy has been dominated by Japan’s past and China’s future. And Melissa Lefkowitz discusses Africans living in China. There is also a particularly great piece on the Iran deal from Ankit Panda (which I’ll have up as a brief excerpt tomorrow on the website), an article on forward deployment by Robert Farley (editing my former professors will never cease to amuse me) and a neat piece from Poppy McPherson on Myanmar’s favorite weatherman.

Bottom line: get a subscription and get reading! We’re creeping up on my one year with The Diplomat and subsequently the Magazine’s first birthday. Unbelievable.

And on to last week in Central Asia (and, of course, nearby realms):

Kazakhstan lost the 2022 Olympic Winter Games to Beijing (and we were wondering how they’d pay for them anyway) but did get voted, officially, into the WTO. The details seem to say that the Eurasian Economic Union will have to play along as well (which isn’t that shocking considering Russia, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan are already in the WTO). Though it does make the EEU seem sort of… arbitrary…

In Russia, the Committee Against Torture is shutting its doors, forced into an untenable position by the state–unwilling to take the label as a ‘foreign agent’ and unable to bear the fines and pressure the group is closing. This is how Russia is silencing dissent. Meanwhile, Gazprom (Russia’s oil giant) is taking Turkmengaz to international arbitration in Sweden–over pricing of the gas Russia hasn’t bothered to pay for this year. This is how Russia is avoiding its debts. Then, in Tajikistan, Russian soldiers got into a drunken, half-naked brawl in the town near their base. Foreign troops abroad are not always great guests.

The US State Department upgraded Uzbekistan on the annual human trafficking report–which covers trafficking (in a stereotypical sense) and forced labor (“modern slavery”).

Across the region mudslides have destroyed hundreds of homes and resulted in at least a dozen deaths. While such things are common, especially in mountainous areas, the government’s response has reportedly been slow.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its 28th quarterly report. If you’re into audits and inspections it’s pretty interesting, though depressing when the money starts adding up. There’s a special section on conditionality in aid worth reading.

That’s all for now. Onward to a new week and Issue 10 plots are already afoot.

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.