1907 Solar Eclipse Expedition by Sergei Prokhudi-Gorskii, Russian Photographer in Central Asia.
This is my little newsletter on Tajikistan that comes out once a week on Saturdays. If you want to see past issues, look to the column on the right down below for the key word "Tajikistan". If you want to get this in your email or you have comments or contributions, write firstname.lastname@example.org
o One Step Forward (Facebook Re-Opened), Two Steps Backward (Twitter, Russian Sites Closed)
o Could You Ever Turn an Anodyne Development Job in Dushanbe into Anything Real?
o Will Tajikistan Really Become Like Yemen, Guys?
Oh, geez, didn't we just all laugh at the Tajik minister of communications and get Facebook opened up again with the help of the US ambassador?! And now Twitter is down and all the Russian social network sites!
Yes, this is terrible. Most likely it will end in two days. Or maybe 7 days. It's not like Russian troops in Tajikistan are going to get those sites right back up, any more than whatever US military are in Tajikistan got Facebook working again but...Russian troops need those sites, too, so it's not over yet. It's more about which providers are hooked up to which members of the Family in charge of the whole country, and what's in it for them. Watch this space.
Also I think the head of the Internet Service Providers Association, which is independent but subject to governmental directives, got it about right -- it's not about perfidious US envoys who care only about their own California corporations or Russian indifference to their own business people, as @etajikistan was implying last week; it's more about the Tajik elections in a year. Every single resource available, administrative or otherwise, will be deployed in keeping the same set in power.
We all worry about how Tajikistan will develop, especially when foreign NGOs are increasingly blocked, social media is blocked, and domestic NGOs defunded or de-legitimized. How will these groups survive?
Tajikistan has ordered local Internet providers to block Twitter, one of more than 100 sites including popular Russian-language social networks starting next week, an industry representative told AFP Saturday.
"The (government) communications service has sent Internet companies a huge list of 131 sites that must be blocked in the country from Monday," said Asomiddin Atoyev, the head of the Tajik association of Internet providers.
So while access to Facebook was opened up last week, now Russian sites are being blocked: Vkontakte [In Touch], Odnoklassniki [Classmates], the most popular social networking sites in Russia with many users in the ex-Soviet Union, and Mail.ru, an email service.
The head of the Internet Service Providers provides an explanation:
"The next presidential elections will be held in Tajikistan in November 2013, and this will bring even more harsh control of Internet resources and independent media," predicted the head of the National Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan, Nuriddin Karshiboyev.
Just in time for the holidays, Tajikkino has released a DVD box set collection of documentaries on Emomali Rahmon's activities as Tajikistan's president during the last 20 years.
Each year of Rahmon's presidency is detailed on a separate disk, twenty in all, with the remaining seven disks of the 27-disk collection dedicated to Rahmon's role in developing various sectors of the country.
Among those seven are films such as "Emomali Rahmon and Food Security" and "Emomali Rahmon and Energy Independence."
The US seldom says anything about Tajikistan from Washington, but the US mission to the OSCE is empowered to make critical statements -- and thank God it does. Here's a statement as delivered by Ambassador Ian Kelly, to the Permanent Council, Vienna, December 13, 2012
The United States notes with concern that a court in Tajikistan ordered the NGO Amparo to close on October 24, 2012, citing alleged minor administrative irregularities in the organization’s operations. We support Amparo's recently expressed intention to appeal the court's ruling, as the organization seeks to continue its important work. Amparo has worked tirelessly since 2005 to empower the youth of Tajikistan through human rights education and to monitor the human rights situation of some of Tajikistan’s most vulnerable groups, including orphans and the disabled. Amparo is an integral part of the burgeoning civil society tapestry in Tajikistan. Its efforts are precisely the sort of activities that every country should encourage in its civil society in order to strengthen the rule of law, democratization, and respect for human rights.
The United States calls on the government of Tajikistan to reinstate Amparo’s license to operate consistently with OSCE commitments to respect and protect freedom of association. We further call on Tajikistan to refrain from similar actions against other NGOs working to improve life for Tajikistan’s people.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
WANTED: A LAWYER WHO CAN TAKE THIS SILLY DEVELOPMENT JOB AND MAKE IT INTO SOMETHING USEFUL TO PEOPLE
Here's a typical USAID development sort of "rule of law" job description -- (it's called ROL in the business, although ROFL might be more appropriate in some settings, given their judicial systems). The title is "Program Director" and the program is "Equal Before the Law".
This time it's at the Eurasia Foundation, but it could be any of these still-existing US-funded sort of jobs.
And if it's anything like the hundreds of other jobs in this business, the person who is drafted to fill it will be hired because he has already proven himself as a US bureaucrat, and is able to fill out elaborate report forms and draft budgets, and not because he can actually push the envelop in Dushanbe.
When I read the wimpy job description, I wish they could add things like this:
o Establish contact with practicing lawyers who defend human rights victims and do what you can to assist their work even quietly and help them if they get in trouble; meet those lawyers who protested the whopping punitive fines on their media clients, or those still brave enough to try to help those accused of extremism;
o Keep trying to get the Tajik authorities to lift their ban on the registration of the human rights group Amparo and let lawyers into the courtrooms where "extremists" are being tried;
o Make sure you invite a wide variety of people to your programs, not just the approved and combed government lawyers or officials but people both with and without law licenses;
o Help people with everything from literature and ideas to contacts and pointers to sources of funding to go behind your own silly little program;
o Be careful what you tell diplomats, you could be WikiLeaked. Practice good online security and be well-behaved offline -- nobody likes drunken, ugly Americans who also hit on the locals;
o Keep your go-bag packed by the door, because you may be expelled suddenly because you are doing a good job -- and have a zip drive of your stuff ready to roll and easy contact of all major news and diplomats who can easily protest your expulsion;
You get the idea. I don't think enough people do it this way. Yeah, I get it that I'm writing a description for a Human Rights Watch job that in fact should also have in it "Be willing to accept and roll with death threats emanating from close watch of your personal life by creepy people."
But still. More can be injected into these anodyne roles and never is.
Is this Kazimir Malevich's famous Black Square painting? Or is it Kulyab at night? You have your answer from the Tajik blogger Hasavor, who blogs in Russian here (and hasn't gotten the memo yet from foreign planners that would instruct him to stop using Russian so we can all share in his insights). Translation:
"How is it possible that in a country that sells electricity to Afghanistan and builds the highest flagpoles in the world, gigantic (although empty) libraries, enormous mosques and super-expensive residential complexes for rich people doesn't have enough electricity for ordinary people"?
"We continue to live in the stone age. The people are chopping tees for firewood, heating stoves with dung fuel and buying up coal for the winter."
Like Russia, which has gotten a lot more attention doing this, Tajikistan has cracked down on foreign-funded activities; in October, there was an official ban on foreign-funded seminars and conferences. Hey, do these CIS leaders attention their on Russian-funded conferences where they plot and harmonize these things?!
I'm going to try to be very upset that somebody can't have an all-expense-paid seminar in Dushanbe, truly I am, but the real problem with this is that the per-diems that can keep Tajiks alive also dry up with something like this and the contacts that can be helpful even in silly development jobs.
And of course, scrutiny of foreign funding then is the next thing to come.
Western diplomats are shocked at the ban, since international NGOs play an enormous role in the country’s economy, public health, and infrastructure. Students are traditionally the main target of these NGOs in developing countries such as Tajikistan, which is still recovering from years of stagnant Soviet rule.
This role isn't without its controversies as we've reported regarding the Agha Khan Foundation.
Wanted: More pretty mountains, less ugly realities. Photo by dwrawlinson, 2006.
The question then becomes how you can support NGO activity in Tajikistan if the government bans it.
And you have to ask the question that if the government is banning it for some, why isn't it for others? And what is to be done about sorting this out?
This organization -- about which I know nothing directly -- appears to be trying to solve the problem of how you survive when the UN doesn't renew your original start-up grant and when perhaps you don't have other options with other big funders.
So if you're indignant about the failure to sustain NGOs, why, you can go buy a £9.95 calendar from this outfit that supports eco-tourism in the Pamirs, META, founded by UNESCO and now 'restructured' and struggling to exist on its own.
Someone will explain to me why the Agha Khan folks left these people out, or maybe it's a different opera -- I have a lot to learn. But the idea is one that might work for others.
I'm just trying to figure out who can pose for "March" for the "torture" concept that some other groups need to illustrate their causes on their calendars. Anybody to pose for "June" for "domestic violence"? Ok, back to the pretty mountains...
Outhouse in Bulunkul, Tajikistan. Photo by kvitlauk, 2009.
"Only 5% of population have access to safe drinking water and drainage in Tajikistan," says the scare headline based on a UN report at CA-News.
But that's incorrect and misleading, so you have to go see what the original report said by looking at the UN News Centre.
"Access to clean water one of most pressing environmental challenges," is the way the UN directly states it.
This is how they wrote the story more clearly:
The EPR finds that only one third of Tajikistan’s 7.2 million inhabitants have access to chlorinated piped water. Some 30 per cent rely on spring water and the remainder of the population depend on river and ditch water sources. Only five per cent of the population are connected to public sewerage.
They also mention the tailings from mines as does CA. We're going to keep hearing about those 55 million tons of radioactive waste in every conceivable way under every conceivable rubric -- because it makes a good scare headline -- until the cows come home -- or they don't, and die glowing. It's not as if nothing is being done about this problem, as we reported, but it's a perfect storm of problems in Tajikistan, and this is just one more thing.
You know how I said we don't have very many polls really to explain the attitudes of Tajiks to Islam, extremism, the treatment of suspected Islamic extremists and terrorists in their country, and so on. Well, we don't.
But, to fill the gap, there is always Iranian TV!
Say, if you want the polls to come out right, pay for them yourself and put them on state-controlled TV in an authoritarian state, I always say.
But there's more -- and totally predictable, about Israel:
The Zionist entity was least favorably viewed with 57.5 percent of respondents choosing negative and very negative to describe their feeling about the regime. England and France followed the Zionist entity with 30.6 and 28.8 percent respectively.
Evil Satan America is not even mentioned, and perhaps not mentionable.
Well, this is what you get from a poll about the two Persian speaking members who are members of the Economic Cooperation Organization, as Iranian TV helpfully explains.
HOW IS TAJIKISTAN NOT LET YEMEN? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS
Nate Schenkkan @nateschenkkan asks on Twitter:
Serious question: if we project out 5-10 years, how much does Tajikistan look like Yemen in this description? http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/12/19/zero_farce_thirty?page=0,2
In the piece he links to, about the controversial film about hunting bin Ladn called Zero Dark Thirty, Ty McCormick interviews Ali Soufan, who says this:
We also need to study the incubating factors that promote terrorism. What are the factors in South Yemen that are making people and tribes join al Qaeda? For example, one sheikh, when asked why he was sheltering al Qaeda fighters, responded that the government had promised to send him six teachers. Fahd al-Quso brought 16 teachers. In some areas al Qaeda has also supplied electricity and water. These things don't cost much, and we used to give billions of dollars to the Yemeni government, but most of it went to line pockets. It did not reach ordinary people. So we have to deal with the roots of the problem: What are the incubating factors for terrorism? And there's no cookie-cutter approach to this. What works in South Yemen probably won't work in the north of the country, and what works in Saudi Arabia probably won't work in Libya, because there's a range of incubating factors. Sometimes it's sectarian, sometimes it's tribal, sometimes it's economic, but the roots are never religious or ideological.
We could add that what works in Yemen won't work in Tajikistan, either. But for Ali to tell us that the roots are "never" religious or ideological is just plain daft. Of course they are religious -- extremist forms of Islam -- and of course they are ideological -- and some Islamism got its start with copying Marxism-Leninism, and it's okay to say that. Every single Central Asian regime sees it that way, and our job isn't to pretend they aren't seeing some real problems with extremism (how did the Arab Spring turn out) but to persuade them to address it in less abusive ways.
Ideas matter, people think about them and study them and talk about them and then sometimes they do them, and we should follow that and not blank it out of the equation. If it were possible to fix countries by just 10 more teachers for every Al Qaeda gifting of teachers (and what kind of teachers those might be!), USAID would have triumphed in every corner of the world by now; OSCE too.
Come on, Yemen and Tajikistan are not really so alike, although to the "progressives" in Washington with their my-focals, any place where there is American activity can all seem alike and all evil.
Here's how these two are different:
o Yemen 24.8 million Tajikistan 7 million
o Yemen gets some US aid, but a lot more from Russian and China -- say, ditto Tajikistan but the dynamics are different as the number of US military in Tajikistan is dwarfed by the number of Russian military.
Russia has stolen a march over the United States in the multimillion-dollar arms market in cash-strapped Yemen, whose weapons purchases are being funded mostly by neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The Yemeni armed forces, currently undergoing an ambitious modernization program worth an estimated $4 billion US, are equipped with weapons largely from Russia, China, Ukraine, eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics.
With the attempted bombing of a US airliner on Christmas Day by a Nigerian student, reportedly trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen, the administration of President Barack Obama has pledged to double. Yemen’s military and counter-terrorism aid, to nearly $150 million, to strengthen the besieged government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
I've just spent the same half hour looking online that I've spent many times before trying to find the exact dollar number for how much US military aid goes to Tajikistan, and it's hard to do and there aren't clear answers -- but I think it's a VERY safe belt that it is not $4 billion, you know? It's more like that $150 million to Yemen, that looks very insignifant to Russia and China -- whose aid never stirs the blood of the NGOs and the pundits in Washington like US aid.
Yes, Nate can say something like this not only because Russia and China simply don't bother him as much as America -- he's American and in America and it's easier to reach: CENTCOM is directly involved with Tajikistan -- they're easier to scold than Russia not only because they are closer to hand but because they tell you what they are doing. We also know about the "secret drone war" in Yemen because we have free media to cover it; the Russian free media, such as it is, is preoccupied usually with other things.
Wedding musicians in Khorog, Badakhshan, 2011. Photo by Evgeni Zotov.
RFE/RL reports a new law responding to the problem of domestic violence in Tajikistan:
The law includes a statement that the elderly should play an active role in preventing domestic violence among young families.
The advice of elders carries significant weight in traditional Tajik society.
According to official statistics, more than 200 women took their own lives in 2010 and a majority of the cases were related to domestic violence.
Nate Schenkkan frets that this "a bit mild."
Yes. But it's better than -- if you'll forgive the expression -- a stick in the eye.
One does have to worry about a law that tries to solve modern problems -- all the men having to go work abroad and some of the women also having to go do that now, too, instead of herding goats -- and then tries to perpetuate ancient solutions to them from institutions that have now broken up (like the family) or which, like the elders may help certain patriarchal traditions best left discontinued, like wife-beating.
UNFPA also tries to get the Islamic elders in Sudanese society to do more to get the African men to stem the epidemic of rape of women. Sometimes it works. Generally, it doesn't.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT BIG NEIGHBOURS AND BIG POWERS THAT DON'T HELP YOU VERY MUCH
Alexander Cooley @CooleyOnEurasia tweets about a new report from Finland:
Interesting and topical new @FrideEUCAM working paper on the security-development nexus in #Tajikistan http://www.eucentralasia.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/Working_Papers/EUCAM-WP12-Tajikistan-EN.pdf
The EUCAM-SD is a key component of the EUCAM programme and focuses on the links between security challenges in the Central Asian region and the need for development in the broadest sense, including governance, poverty reduction, ethnic tension and social equality.
I could only take the time to skim it now, but it looks useful. Let me say this: this report comes from a country that has also itself had to grapple with the problem of having a very big neighbour on its border who, well, Finlandized it. Tajikistan has that same big neighbour, too.