Messy Politics in Tajikistan

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by Joshua Foust on 8/30/2012 · 3 comments

Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, the mayor of Dushanbe, recently made a stir when he met with Facebook users in Tajikistan.

According to the roundup on Global Voices, many Tajiks who participated seemed guardedly optimistic about the event. One commenter wrote that it might have lessons for other politicians:

Well done, Mr. Ubaidulloev! Despite all the problems, he has managed through this meeting to make people feel better, even a little bit. The governors of the provinces of Sughd, Khatlon, and Badakhshon, please use some of this experience.

While it is nice to see the good Mayor — in office continuously for the past 16 years — engaging with social media, don’t mistake this for any sign of growing political openness. Earlier this year the Tajik government blocked Facebook and other social media; just last month the government announced the creation of a new organization to monitor these websites to make sure Tajiks aren’t saying insulting things about political leadership. Insufficiently pro-government users are already being identified for reeducation, which isn’t creepy in the slightest.

The Internet is still not an impervious force for good in Tajikistan, it seems. The $1-million “cybercafe” that Boulder, Colorado built in Dushanbe in return for a beautiful Tajik-style teahouse Dushanbe built for Boulder is falling into disrepair — there just isn’t the political interest to keep it open. This was meant to be a showcase of the college town’s “culture” — a solar-powered internet cafe that also served coffee and snacks (I went to Boulder for my undergrad and drank tea many times at the chaikhanna there).

Just yesterday, in fact, the Tajik Prosecutor-General accused the Islamic Revival Party (IRP), an opposition movement, of “committing crimes against the constitutional order of the country.”

The PG zeroes in on Sherik Karamkhudoyev, who runs the Khorog office of the IRP. Khorog is the site of continuing unrest and occasional violence over the last several weeks, where dozens have died in clashes with the government. As Asia-Plus describes it, this accusation is really bizarre:

Sherik Karamkhudoyev met with Sultonnazar Imomnazarov, the brother of Imomnazar Imomnazarov, on evening of August 23 and they knocked together an armed group numbering 21 persons, according to the statement. This group was allegedly involved in armed clashes against the government force in Khorog on the night of August 23-24…

We will recall that Sherik Karamkhudoyev was reported missing on July 24, when the government troops launched a military operation in Khorog and only on August 8 it became known that Karamkhudoyev is being held in the detention facility of the State Committee for National Security (SCNS) in Dushanbe. On July 23, the head o IRP’s organization for Gorno Badakhshan Sabzali Mamadrizoyev was killed in Khorog.

So Karamkhudoyev was imprisoned for a week right after the previous head of his party was killed, and now he’s accused of being responsible for the violence. Imomnazar Imomnazarov was killed last week by government forces; his death prompted yet another round of protests in Khorog.

It is important to keep sight of this continuing unrest in Gorno-Badakhshan while the Tajik government in other places tries to portray itself as responsive and “hip” to new technology all the kids are using. It’s a pretty weak attempt to paint itself as caring about the needs of ordinary Tajiks, especially considering the roiling violence east of the capital.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Bakhrom August 30, 2012 at 8:19 am

Missed most part of the post, it is exciting, that Abdulloev met with the social network users, maybe it is not promising anything for near coming future, but anyways, I assume more Tajik officials may try this trick of doing a type of public relations, but certainly many shortcomings of state will hinder them to take such action as Mayor has done…who knows, time will tell

Alexander August 31, 2012 at 11:12 am

Good roundup! However, I wouldn’t throw Ubaidulloev with the rest of the Tajik government. He is different. He is media savvy, controlling a TV station and a newspaper. He doesn’t necessarily support what the rest of the government is doing – but he would be dead or behind bars if he chose to protest.

He is not necessarily more open than the rest of the government – but he is definitely different.

Thomas September 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Ubaidulloev has made many-a-murky-deals with local and Turkish construction firms which have made office and apartment complexes in Dushanbe in recent years. The original inhabitants of those lands are normally threatened by the “good mayor’s” thugs to leave their land and are normally given a property far away from the centre of Dushanbe worth fractions of their original homes. What I’ve heard is also that the deals with the construction firms entail 20% of all newly-built offices and apartments given back to the city (which surely Ubaidullolev himself calls the shots on their fate). Also note that it was his office (along with that of H.E. Rahmon) which pushed for the destruction of the oldest park in the country (“Lenin”) with hundreds of ancient and historic shade trees being fallen just becuase the gentlemen desired a Leningrad style lawn to approach the $300M Itlian-built palace. They forgot that the arid climate of Central Asia is not the same as the humid continental St. Petersberg. They thus really f..ked it up as the new park is no better than a desert (temperature-wise) now. Conclusion: Ubaidulloyev too is an ignorant thug, a very rich one, just in a галстук with a Facebook account.

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