Crossroads Asia

Has Tajikistan Burned Too Many Bridges?

Recent Features

Crossroads Asia

Has Tajikistan Burned Too Many Bridges?

Russia and Kazakhstan mull the right to be forgotten and Stroehlein is tired of excuses.

A few recommended reads for the weekend:

Is the government of Tajikistan, as the old adage goes, reaping what it has sown? This week RFE/RL’s Bruce Pannier worked through the possibility that Tajikistan has burned one bridge to many with the region’s only Islamist party–which could come in handy in actually combating extremism.

Last week, the missing Tajik OMON commander turned up in a highly-polished ISIS video. He listed the Tajik government’s increased control of Islam in the country as reasons for his defection. As Pannier, notes, “the video is designed to project the grievances of a state servant but also a pious Muslim against the clumsy attempts of a corrupt government to control the practice of Islam, and unfortunately such claims cannot be wholly dismissed.”

Meanwhile, Emomali Rahmon’s government has sidelined the only group that could help the state: the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT, also abbreviated as HNIT), which until the most recent parliamentary elections held a few seats in the legislature. But in its quest to stamp out all non-state approved versions of Islam, Tajikistan has tossed aside an old enemy turned supporter:

There have been many times in the past when the HNIT and Rahmon’s government were able to cooperate to achieve common goals. The HNIT has supported government efforts as recently as 2011 to track down, and often eliminate, rogue HNIT commanders from the civil-war days.

Unfortunately, that bridge is in flames.

Jacopo Dettoni, for Eurasianet, penned a great analysis of how the 2014 ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that internet users had the “right to be forgotten” has wormed its way into Russia and Kazakhstan in support of state censorship. The ECJ ruled that search engines have to consider removing information if a particular party mentioned finds it “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive.”

Few things are as irrelevant and excessive to an authoritarian regime as commentary laying out its own abuses:

The ECJ ruling could be potentially cited in efforts to scrub information that reflects poorly on governments and/or their leaders. Local Internet-freedom activists say the way autocratic governments in both Kazakhstan and Russia restrict access to critical websites with filters and spyware shows they are not interested in justice, just control.

And one last article worth reading this weekend is Andrew Stroehlein’s Friday dispatch. Stroehlein is Human Rights Watch’s European media director and recently attended a closed-door meeting of Euro-Atlantic diplomats working on Central Asia. He doesn’t name names–Chatham House Rules applied to the meeting–but he’s definitely not happy.

“Meet the new Western diplomats on Central Asia; same as the old Western diplomats on Central Asia…” he begins. Stroehlein outlines the excuses uttered by some (“They are using fewer children in the cotton fields”) and the ad nauseam mantra of Western states that change will come to the region, in due course (“The region is transforming at its own pace” and his personal favorite: “strategic patience”).

Needless to say, after 15 years focusing on the region, Stroehlein could use fewer metaphors and more tangible, sustained progress.

“You have to look at the glass half full rather than half empty,” I’ve been hearing in conference after conference for a decade and a half now. But if you need a water-level-based analogy for the state of human rights in the region, the dried-up Aral Sea is a more fitting one.