Your Central Asian links for this week:
Something is going on in Uzbekistan. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Bruce Pannier reported this week that Uzbekistan’s National Security Service (SNB) has been responding to a series of bomb threats in a town outside of the capital, Tashkent.
On April 25, a leaflet was found plastered to the window of a secondary school in Parkent. The leaflet, in the Uzbek language but written in Arabic script, contained a threat to blow up the school.
Officials took the threat seriously, but some believe the message might have been a prank.
But, on April 27, more leaflets, placed in plastic bottles, were found in Parkent, at the Transportation and Services College, a kindergarten, and an apartment building. The leaflets said those buildings would be blown up also “in the coming days.”
It’s difficult to discern how genuine the threats are or whether the state is making a big deal over very little. The last terrorist attack in the country, according to the University of Maryland’s open-source Global Terrorism Database, was a pair of suicide bombings targeting police and killing three. Uzbekistan, this week, nabbed a repeat spot as one of the “worst of the worst” in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2015 report.
In other news from Uzbekistan, the U.S. Department of Defense has announced it will be providing the country with patrol boats for counternarcotics on the Amu Darya river. The exact number and type of boats to be provided hasn’t been announced quite yet but they’ll be worth $6.2 million.
Kazakhstan, which earned a Not Free rating in the same Freedom House report, has been all over the news with regard to its recent presidential election. There’s no dispute on the overwhelming victory of Nursultan Nazarbayev, but a plethora of articles and op-eds landed this week in the election’s wake focusing on what the election means.
At one extreme the Kazakh election can be characterized as a non-contest in which no opposition truly had a chance. Casey Michel, for The Diplomat, commented that “not only did the president claim an other-worldly 98 percent of the votes cast, but he did it on the backs of jailed opponents, crushed independent media, and all the resources the state could provide.” Bruce Pannier, for his part, noted that the 95 percent turnout is much more difficult to believe than the nearly 98 percent victory margin.
Others–such as George Washington University’s Marlene Laruelle–argue that the election as a non-contest was by design and that the “majority of the electorate understood that the election was organized to be a confirmation vote for the president.” In The Diplomat, Paolo Sorbello and Daniyar Kosnazarov, noted that “regional stability will be assured by the tenacious rule of Central Asia’s strongmen,” referencing the recent landslide victories achieved by both Nazarbayev and Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov.
Elsewhere in the region, Tajikistan has reportedly refused to supply Kyrgyzstan with electricity this summer at last summer’s prices. Kyrgyzstan wants its neighbor’s excess electricity at 2 cents per kilowatt just like last year. Tajikistan wants to bump it up to 3.5 cents. In other energy news, Turkmenistan is eyeing the European market for its gas with renewed hope these days. The vice president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, held talks with Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in Ashgabat this week, in which they discussed “the idea of building a pipeline through Iran ‘since diplomatic relations with Iran are developing positively.’”