WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 466, October 4, 2006
TAJIKISTAN: SHADOW-BOXING WITH MILITANT THREAT How high is the risk of Islamic
insurgency to Tajikistan and its neighbours? By IWPR staff in Dushanbe
UZBEKISTAN: ANDIJAN BRACED FOR WINTER FUEL CRISIS In a country with huge gas
reserves, residents of a major city are told they must make their own heating
arrangements. By Aziz Kurbanov
KAZAK HIV SCARE REVEALS BROADER HEALTHCARE PROBLEMS Whether children were
infected by dirty needles or contaminated blood, it is clear they are the
victims of lax procedures in an often uncaring health system. By Gaziza
Baituova in Taraz
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TAJIKISTAN: SHADOW-BOXING WITH MILITANT THREAT
How high is the risk of Islamic insurgency to Tajikistan and its neighbours?
By IWPR staff in Dushanbe
Tajikistan's security services say their country faces a significant threat
from Islamic militants, but insist they are well able to deal with any
challenge. What is less clear is just how organised and dangerous any armed
extremist groups are.
Tajikistan's recent history has involved a lot of conflict: it went through a
five-year civil war ending in 1997, and in 1999-2001 its northern regions were
used by the banned paramilitary Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, as the
launch pad for raids into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
But since 2001 - when the IMU was driven out of its Afghan bases along with its
Taleban allies - things have been relatively quiet in Tajikistan.
CROSS-BORDER RAID HIGHLIGHTS RISK
In recent months, the authorities in both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have
expressed concern at an apparent resurgence in the activity of armed Islamic
groups in their respective parts of the Fergana valley. There have been a
number of armed clashes between security forces and alleged militants,
especially in southern Kyrgyzstan where the government mounted a major sweep
over the summer.
A number of questions about the extent of the threat remain unanswered at the
moment. Are more than a handful of militants involved? Do they belong to known
Islamist extremist groups - or perhaps new ones - or are they opportunistic
criminals and drug smugglers taking advantage of porous borders in rugged
An armed raid in May this year served as a wake up call for Tajikistan's border
control service. A small group of armed men began by attacking a Tajik frontier
post at Lakkon, on the frontier with Kyrgyzstan. After plundering guns from the
guardroom, the group forced its way into the Batken region in Kyrgyz territory,
where the military deployed hundreds of troops to pursue them.
The attack left three Tajik border guards and six Kyrgyz soldiers and customs
officers dead. Four attackers were killed, one was captured, and some reports
said others managed to escape.
The identity of the armed group was unclear, although officials suggested a
link with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a banned Islamic group operating in several Central
Asia states, or with the IMU, whose guerrillas were active in Batken in
The Kyrgyz authorities subsequently made a number of arrests, and said they had
"indisputable evidence" that the detainees were Hizb-ut-Tahrir members.
Batken regional prosecutor Ryskul Baktybaev said in July that it was now clear
that Hizb-ut-Tahrir was no longer the "peace-loving organisation" of the early
Nineties when it first appeared in Central Asia, and that followers were
involved with other extremist Islamic groups. "There is a direct link between
members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU," he said.
SECURITY FORCES "READY FOR ANYTHING"
In the wake of the violence, Tajik border guards have stepped up security in
the sector that includes Lakkon, with units redeployed from elsewhere and
tighter border control procedures.
Although the border guards form the first line of defence, the ministry of
internal affairs which controls the uniformed police, the ministry of security,
and the army are all on hand. They all say the threat is real, but insist they
can cope with anything.
"We will repulse any attack. The military training of our soldiers is very
high," said the press secretary of the state committee for border protection,
Khushnud Rahmatullaev told IWPR
The IMU made a "virtual" reappearance on the eve of the fifth anniversary of
the September 11 attacks on the United States, when its leader Tahir Yuldashov
emailed media outlets with a statement threatening Central Asian leaders with
new attacks. Yuldashov is believed to be hiding out with other Taleban allies
just inside Pakistan, on the southern Afghan border.
Amirkul Azimov, secretary of Tajikistan's Security Council, reiterated that the
country was prepared to repulse any attempt to commit terrorist acts.
"There are no groups at present that could really threaten the security of our
country, although there are some that are capable of carrying out crimes of a
terrorist nature," said General Mahmadsaid Jurakulov, the head of the interior
ministry's organised crime department, citing the IMU as an example. "But they
do not represent a real threat. We have enough forces, equipment and weapons to
deal with them."
The law enforcement agencies are focusing much of their attention on
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, with frequent arrests of members, often for handing out
leaflets rather than any intent to perpetrate violence. The group would like to
see Central Asian governments overthrown, but its public statements insist this
must take place through non-violent means.
Like their Kyrgyz colleagues, the Tajik authorities say they do not believe
Hizb-ut-Tahrir's intentions are entirely peaceful, and say they have evidence
of links with the IMU. The two groups used to be regarded as quite different in
origin, membership and modus operandi.
The interior ministry says that when officers search homes, along with
Hizb-ut-Tahrir literature and copying equipment, they also find firearms and
documents suggesting an IMU connection.
Jurakulov's office says at least 400 people have been arrested on suspicions of
belonging to the banned party in the last three years. Most, he stressed, were
involved in disseminating the group's ideas rather than in violence, but some
were suspected of more serious crimes.
By contrast, the border guards service is primarily concerned about the 1,500
kilometre southern frontier with Afghanistan, despite the raid at Lakkon in the
north. The mountainous terrain means there are many remote areas where people
can enter Tajikistan unchecked.
However, the border guards appear more worried about drug smuggling than
Islamic militant activity. Considerable amounts of opium and processed heroin
from Afghanistan's booming illicit narcotics economy make their way north
through Tajikistan to markets in Russia and other European countries.
Despite the recent armed incidents for which Islamic militants have been
blamed, some critics of the Tajik government say the threat is being
deliberately exaggerated so as to justify curbs on civil rights.
"I'm not sure that this threat really exists in Tajikistan," said political
analyst Shokir Hakimov. "The authorities want to restrict people's rights and
freedoms, and the war on terrorism is convenient cover for doing so. It's the
same in other Central Asian countries..... [governments] seek to increase their
power under the guise of fighting terrorism."
QUESTIONS OVER MILITARY CAPACITY
Not everyone is certain that if a real insurgent threat did materialise, the
Tajik security agencies would be able to cope. One junior military officer, for
example, told IWPR on condition of anonymity that the security forces lack the
money to buy uniforms, equipment and sometimes even food. There is also concern
about the quality of conscripts, with many being posted as border guards
despite being unfit and untrained.
The government does have at least one crack unit that could be deployed in a
crisis - the army's Airborne Assault Brigade.
"We can do anything. We can restore security at short notice," said the force's
Captain Alexei Balashov. "This brigade is made up of elite troops. The
selection process is very strict."
Brigade members receive about 200 US dollars a month - a huge amount in a
country where average monthly wages run at about 40 dollars.
General Jurakulov said interior ministry police were also adequately paid these
days, after receiving a fourfold pay rise this year, so that they get about 75
dollars a month.
"Tajik [interior ministry] soldiers are paid enough," he said. "All this talk
of them being underpaid doesn't have any substance to it."
UZBEKISTAN: ANDIJAN BRACED FOR WINTER FUEL CRISIS
In a country with huge gas reserves, residents of a major city are told they
must make their own heating arrangements.
By Aziz Kurbanov
People in the Uzbek city of Andijan are gathering in firewood after learning
there will be no gas to heat their homes this winter.
In previous years, residents have mounted protests to demand that the gas be
turned back on, but this year they plan to keep quiet, recalling the violence
in May last year, when government security forces fired into a crown of
demonstrators, killing hundreds according to the accounts of journalists and
human rights observers on the ground.
A recent meeting of the regional government heard that of the majority of homes
in Andijan that rely on gas for heating and cooking, six out of ten will not
receive any over the winter. Nor will about 60 hospitals and clinics, 230
schools, colleges and kindergartens, or any of the military units based in the
No formal reason was given for the decision, but whenever officials are
questioned on the issue, they commonly cite non-payment of gas bills by
Andijan residents also report that when they ring the gas company's help line,
they are told the supply network is under repair.
The position in Andijan seems to be worse than in other cities in the Fergana
valley, such as Namangan and Fergana itself, where economic conditions are
similar, and corporate and private consumers are unlikely to be better payers.
Because most homes in Andijan are fitted with gas appliances, the authorities
have made no provision to buy in coal. The city's coal warehouse says it is
only allowed to sell to schools and hospitals at the moment.
Commercial traders are now selling coal at about one US dollar for ten
kilogrammes - a lot of money in a country where the average monthly salary is
around 30 dollars.
Smoke can already be seen curling above apartment blocks where people have
installed makeshift stoves, sometimes dangerous home-made contraptions.
"If you go into any apartment, you'll see coal or firewood stacked on the
balcony," said pensioner Alfia Zeinetdinova. "Would you see this in Tashkent or
any other city? Soon it will be winter and we are worried that we haven't
stored enough fuel."
Another resident, Ibodatkhon Kimsanova, said, "The winter heating season is a
difficult time for us. The heaters are ice cold, the gas stove doesn't work,
and there are regular electricity blackouts. Our entire family - my husband and
I and our three children - live in just one of our four rooms all winter, where
there is some heat from an electric fire when the power is on.
"But when it becomes unbearably cold, we all move in with my husband's parents,
who live in a village outside the city. They have the same problems with gas
there, but at least you can fire a stove with coal, wood and cotton-plant
The fuel shortage is a recurring problem, and in previous years there were
protests which met with some success. But the trauma left by last year's
violence has left its mark.
"They [the authorities] used to be a bit scared when we held a demonstration
and blocked the roads in protest," said one local man who did not want to be
named. "Officials would make promises in an effort to get us to stop, saying
that if we dispersed they would sort things out.
"But nowadays, just try making a move, let alone rebelling, and they'll
threaten to shoot you! They're just cops, not civil servants."
In contrast to the government's position that the May 2005 demonstration on the
city's central square was orchestrated by Islamic militants, Andijan resident
Nargiza Yuldasheva said people at the rally were articulating the same kind of
social and economic problems they still face.
"Last year, people rose up because of these social and other problems, and look
what happened to them. They were all punished. We don't want that to happen
again," she said.
Uzbekistan is a major producer of natural gas even by world standards, and
Andijan residents suspect there is no real shortage. Instead, they believe the
gas that should have gone to their homes will be sold to Kyrgyzstan to earn
much-needed hard currency for the state.
Andijan is located on the border with Kyrgyzstan, a major consumer of Uzbek
gas. The Kyrgyz, who have some coal but no oil or gas, are currently paying 55
dollars per 1,000 cubic metres, a rate that is likely to rise to 100 dollars
per 1,000 cu m in January as part of a trend in Central Asia where states are
trying to charge their neighbours world market prices.
In Andijan, the shortage is already hitting Oxana Pilipenko's plans to cook and
store seasonal foodstuffs for the winter.
"It's now time to start stocking up for winter," she said. "I used to preserve
jars of salted or cooked vegetables, salads and so on. With no gas, I haven't
done a single jar yet this year. But we will need food for the winter."
Aziz Kurbanov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Uzbekistan. The names of
interviewees have also been changed out of concern for their security.
KAZAK HIV SCARE REVEALS BROADER HEALTHCARE PROBLEMS
Whether children were infected by dirty needles or contaminated blood, it is
clear they are the victims of lax procedures in an often uncaring health system.
By Gaziza Baituova in Taraz
Although the Kazak authorities are taking the discovery of multiple cases of
HIV infection in the south of the country extremely seriously, the crisis
highlights broader problems in the underfunded health sector which critics say
will be hard to sort out even with a fresh injection of cash.
Reports of children infected with the virus, which can lead to AIDS, have been
in the public domain for three months. But it still came as a shock when Health
Minister Yerbolat Dosaev announced on September 18 that the number of children
diagnosed as HIV-positive in South Kazakstan region had climbed to 55.
Two days later, President Nursultan Nazarbaev sacked the health minister and
South Kazakstan regional governor Bolat Zhylkyshiev, and promised to oversee
further investigations himself. The head of the health ministry's quality
control body, Ualikhan Akhmetov, was also dismissed.
Nursulu Tasmagambetova, the head of South Kazakstan's health department, had by
then already stepped down, and three senior doctors in the region were sacked
in July after central government sent in a commission led by Anatoly Belonog,
Kazakstan's chief doctor, to investigate reports that 15 children had
As of October 3, the regional health department reported that 72 children had
been diagnosed as HIV-positive, and five of them had died, according to the
Kazakstan Today news agency. Eight mothers had also been found to have the
virus. Twenty of the children were receiving treatment, some with
anti-retroviral drugs, and 11 babies were in an infectious diseases hospital.
Health officials have conducted mass testing of 9,093 of the 10,175 children
believed to be at some risk of having been infected.
Prosecutors have launched a criminal case under a provision making it illegal
to infect others with HIV, although no one has been charged yet.
The precise source of the infection has yet to be identified, although Belonog
said in July that his commission narrowed the cause down to non-sterile
equipment and infected donor blood.
According to Irina Savchenko, coordinator of a United Nations HIV/AIDS
programme for Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, pinpointing the exact
origin of the infection will be problematic.
"There are probably numerous sources of infection, and it will be difficult to
find them all. The most important point is that a chain of infection has begun,
and HIV has spread within medical institutions. The transmission routes should
have been cut off immediately," she said.
When he announced his findings in September, Dosaev placed the blame firmly on
negligent medical practices in South Kazakstan - hygiene standards during blood
transfusions were poor, disposable items like syringes were re-used, and the
system for registering blood donors was inadequate. He said his investigation
had revealed that medical equipment bought for the children's hospital in
Shymkent was sold on the black market.
While acknowledging that his own ministry had failed to purchase certain items
of expensive equipment for South Kazakstan, Dosaev insisted that the infections
should be blamed on local doctors and managers breaking the rules.
The provincial governor retorted by saying his region received far less money
than the national average for healthcare, including blood donor facilities.
Because it involves such large numbers of children, the South Kazakstan HIV
scandal has become a major national issue, with members of parliament pressing
The case is also worrying because many of the symptoms of failure seem to be
common to other parts of the country. In the course of its investigations, the
health ministry inspected hospitals, blood transfusion clinics, and HIV/AIDS
centres across the country - and found a catalogue of problems. In particular,
blood donor centres were unhygienic and poorly equipped, storage facilities
were substandard, doctors were not properly trained and basic procedures were
An illegal drug user in Shymkent told IWPR on condition of anonymity that local
clinics commonly accepted blood from addicts simply because they were happy
with the minimum payment of 700 tenge (less than six US dollars) for a donation.
"I know for certain that one drug addict who has been diagnosed with AIDS gave
blood, and they did not ask her if she had the HIV virus," she said.
In response to the crisis in South Kazakstan, the government has come up with
an extra 53 million dollars for a national HIV/AIDS programme over the next
four years. But will money alone help address the systemic problems that have
Yerasyl Abylkasymov, a member of parliament who has spoken out on the South
Kazakstan scandal, says a lot of money has already been spent with no apparent
"There are 6,400 people diagnosed with AIDS in Kazakstan, and about 800 of them
have died. Unofficial figures show at least 50,000 people infected [with HIV],"
he told his colleagues in parliament. "Now look at these figures: the World
Bank and other international organisations have allocated 27 million dollars in
grants to combat AIDS..... Now we are asking where this money has gone?"
Rozlana Taukina, a human rights activist, has a pessimistic answer to how the
money will be spent. "As ever, immense funds will be written off or stolen. In
a system mired in cheating and theft, people will never be protected from
AIDS," she told IWPR.
"It will take a year to buy enough syringes and institute hygienic practices
with one needle per patient. But then they will start to economise again and
the syringes will appear on sale at chemists' shops."
Yerlan Tanzharykov, a doctor at a cancer clinic in Almaty, Kazakstan's second
city, said the theft and re-sale of equipment was routine.
"Nurses get less than 100 dollars a month; they spend a quarter of this on
transport to work, and many of them don't have housing. But they can sell the
disposable needles they 'save' at the market. This is a serious temptation, and
one that is hard to resist if you have hungry children to feed at home," he
Eduard Poletaev, a political analyst and editor of the Mir Yevrazii journal,
said, "As long as medical employees remain low-paid workers, it will be
difficult to eliminate negligence by doctors."
Poletaev went on to suggest that the thefts by low-level staff are only part of
a wider web of corruption that extends to senior healthcare managers.
The HIV scandal has undermined public confidence in the healthcare system,
which has already seen a number of negligence cases brought to court. In
January last year, the health ministry was required to pay compensation to 29
parents who brought a legal action, in a case involving 2,000 children
vaccinated with a poor-quality tuberculosis vaccine, about half of whom
Trust in the system has been further dented by the slowness of senior managers
to react when the crisis first began to emerge.
According to political analyst Oleg Sidorov, "This situation is a kind of
barometer of the professional standards among Kazakstan's administrative class."
Gaziza Baituova is an IWPR contributor in Taraz.
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