WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 495, June 2, 2007
SPECTACULAR FALL FROM GRACE FOR KAZAK PRESIDENTS SON-IN-LAW The authorities
move against a powerful political figure despite his family connections. By
Daur Dosybiev in Almaty
COMMENT: KAZAK CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM STRENGTHENS PRESIDENT Changes to the
political structure and election system have been portrayed as democratic, but
the current head of state is the main beneficiary. By Andrei Chebotarev in
TAJIKS SEEK PERMANENT GATEWAY TO CHINA Tajikistans isolated southeast has
benefited from a new trade route to China, but locals say restrictions at the
border crossing are making life harder than it needs to be. By Saodat Asanova
in Badakhshan and Dushanbe
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SPECTACULAR FALL FROM GRACE FOR KAZAK PRESIDENTS SON-IN-LAW
The authorities move against a powerful political figure despite his family
By Daur Dosybiev in Almaty
Married to the president and occupying a series of high-profile positions,
Rahat Aliev seemed to be part of an untouchable inner circle in Kazak politics.
But in the last two weeks he has gone from being ambassador to Austria to a
wanted suspect, and his career now seems irreparable
Analysts say the arrest warrant for Aliev, formerly deputy head of Kazakstans
intelligence agency, the National Security Committee, head of the presidential
security service, and deputy foreign minister, is the culmination of a murky
conflict pitting factions against each other within the political hierarchy
created by President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
Aliev is married to the presidents elder daughter Dariga, a prominent
politician with a seat in parliament and head of the Kazakstan Congress of
On May 23, Kazakstan's interior ministry announced that Aliev had been charged
in connection with the abduction and assault of two officials of Nurbank, in
which he is a key shareholder.
Abilmajen Gilimov, at the time chairman of Nurbank, and his deputy Joldas
Timraliev, disappeared in January. After their release a day later, they
resigned from the bank. Family members alleged that they had been beaten to
force them to give up shareholdings in Nurbank and sign away the building.
Ten associates of Aliev including several who had worked for him in the
presidential security service were also charged on May 23.
The interior ministry said investigations were also focusing on alleged links
to organised crime and unspecified financial crimes.
The following day, the prosecutor general ministry suspended Alievs KTK
television channel and newspaper Karavan from operating. The official reason
was that they were not carrying enough material in Kazak, as they are legally
required to do. But the media outlets had carried material that presented
Alievs side of the story.
Aliev was packed off to Vienna in February after the kidnapping allegations
surfaced, as ambassador to Austria and to the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, which Kazakstan hopes to chair in 2009.
But on May 26, after the criminal charges were brought against Aliev, Nazarbaev
sacked him from both positions.
The question now is whether he will return to face charges. On May 30,
Kazakstan submitted a formal request to the Austrian authorities to extradite
him. Stripped of his diplomatic immunity, he has now applied for political
Aliev has previously denied any connection with the abductions, filing
defamation suits against the wives of Gilimov and Timraliev for allegations
they had made against him.
In a statement circulated on May 29 in the Kazak media, Aliev suggested he was
being victimised merely because he told his father-in-law in private that he
too would like to be president one day.
A few months ago I told Nursultan Abishevich [Nazarbaev] that Id decided to
stand as a candidate in the next presidential election in 2012. It would be a
natural progression for my political career, he said.
He said the charges against him were open lawlessness and a return to the
As for the attack on the bank [ie the alleged abductions], I will say the
following the situation is becoming absurd in the extreme, he said, listing
a number of grave flaws in the way the interior ministry was conducting the
case. A case is being fabricated against me and people close to me.
Referring to the temporary closure of KTK and Karavan, he added, At the same
time, popular independent TV companies and newspapers are being closed down
merely because they have covered the events that are happening.
Aliev has been a political thorn in Nazarbaevs side for some time. In 2001, a
group of businessmen believed to be in favour with the president wrote to the
Kazak parliament accusing Aliev of attempting to move in on their businesses
This year, Aliev and his father publicly embarrassed Nazarbaev by criticising
an amendment to the constitution - now passed - which will allow him to stand
for an unlimited number of terms in office.
That perceived disloyalty may have predisposed Nazarbaev not to back his
son-in-law in the event of another public scandal. However, it seems that he
was forced to take action by the interior ministrys revelations, rather than
choosing the timing himself.
The way the allegations came out and the swiftness with which the authorities
moved to prosecute Aliev suggest that he has lost out in an ongoing war between
competing political and business groups all of them regime insiders, but with
differing interests and allegiances.
These groupings consist of banks, financial institutions and industrial
companies headed by high-profile figures with an inside track to the corridors
of political power.
On May 22, Aliev announced publicly that he was in possession of documents
containing damaging information about the mayor of Almaty, Imangali
Tasmagambetov, and Interior Minister Baurjan Mukhamejanov.
By the following day, Gilimov was speaking on the state television channel
Astana, alleging that it was Aliev personally, along with armed accomplices,
who kidnapped him and Timraliev back in January and held them hostage for about
24 hours, threatening to kill them if they did not sign over their bank assets.
Criminal charges were brought against Aliev the same day.
On May 30, a group of leading businessmen, including the heads of three major
banks and a number of successful companies, made a statement to the media
expressing support for the president and attacking Aliev.
Many of us have experienced his [Alievs] methods of doing business and using
law-enforcement agencies to apply political pressure for his own ends. Any one
of us could have been in the place of the kidnapped bankers, said the
According to local human rights advocate Yevgeny Zhovtis, the balance of power
has clearly shifted away from those associated with Aliev to others, which are
underlining their loyalty to the head of state.
It is clear that there is a kind of consensus among the majority of groupings
about the war against Alievs group. And as long as the president doesnt
change his mind for other reasons such as family ties Alievs political
future is unenviable, to put it mildly, he said.
An official in the Almaty mayors office, who wished to remain anonymous,
agrees that Alievs fate is sealed.
He went too far, he said. Referring to the reported rivalry between Aliev and
other business factions, he said it was inevitable that one side was going to
win, They [both sides] were openly taking businesses away from each other, and
you cant do that and go unpunished. On this occasion, Aliev went after his
A defiant Aliev has insisted that he remains a political player.
I want to make it clear that I am always going to be in politics. Im going to
do everything in my power to prevent the country sliding backwards into the
totalitarian Soviet past, he said in his statement. I know I have many, many
supporters in our country. I am convinced the future is ours, not yours, Mr
With an international arrest warrant bearing his name and an extradition
request filed in Vienna, Alievs immediate future looks unpromising.
Yet there is still the matter of his family ties to the president, which some
analysts think might end in a face-saving arrangement rather than a
Its one thing to charge Aliev the official, but another thing to charge the
husband of your eldest daughter, commented political analyst Andrei
Chebotarev thinks Aliev could be banished to some distant foreign posting, or
if there is no rapprochement, reconfigure himself as an opposition leader in
According to Eduard Poletaev, the chief editor of the Mir Yevrazii magazine, if
Aliev were brought to trial, he might try to defend himself by making damaging
claims against Nazarbaev and his entourage
Our leaderships image is already shaky in the wake of Kazakgate and the
other corruption cases that have come to light, said Poletaev, referring to
the ongoing trial in the United State in which James Giffen, a former advisor
to Nazarbaev, is accused of facilitating the payment of massive bribes by US
oil companies to top Kazak officials.
But Poletaev thinks the very fact that so much is known about these allegations
would reduce the impact of any new revelations Aliev might come up with, so
theres no point in blackmailing anyone with such material.
In the short term, said Poletaev, Alievs future may depend on the prosecution
and trial of Alievs associates. A lot depends on how quickly these people are
brought into custody, and what they say, he said.
Independent journalist Sergei Duvanov believes that Alievs fate is not sealed
yet, as the case against him rests on statements made by injured parties and
witnesses, and these could still be retracted or changed.
I wouldnt be surprised if the whole situation is reversed so that Aliev
becomes the victim and other people the accused, he said.
Daur Dosybiev is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.
KAZAK CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM STRENGTHENS PRESIDENT
Changes to the political structure and election system have been portrayed as
democratic, but the current head of state is the main beneficiary.
By Andrei Chebotarev in Almaty
The constitutional changes which came into force in Kazakstan on May 21 have
consolidated the presidents power, and do not represent significant progress
Political power remains excessively centralised, and the constitutional
amendments largely amount to a redistribution of authority among branches of
One important change is that Nursultan Nazarbaev, as Kazakstans first and so
far only president, can seek re-election as many times as he wants. In other
words, he can seek a new term in 2012 and again in future ballots until such
time he himself decides it is time to step down.
Although the changes have been advertised as strengthening political pluralism
and the legislature, Nazarbaev will be able to use the parliamentary majority
of his party Nur Otan to dominate both the legislative process and the
government. Nur Otan has considerable public influence, not least because civil
servants are more or less compelled to join it, as are the employees of private
companies whose owners are Nazarbaev supporters.
The presidents influence over lawmakers is also boosted because nine seats in
the lower house or Majilis will now be nominated by the Assembly of Peoples of
Kazakstan, over which he has influence, and he will also appoint 15 members to
the upper chamber or Senate instead of seven as was the case before.
In all likelihood, the main reason why Nazarbaev has pushed these changes
through is because since he was re-elected in 2005, he appears to have lost
some of his grip on the political elite in particular, and developments in the
country as a whole.
Two clear signs of this were the murder of opposition politician Altynbek
Sarsenbayuly in February last year and the current prosecution of the
presidents son-in-law Rahat Aliev. Both incidents suggested not only that
there was a crisis in the elite, but also that the authorities dealt poorly
with such crises.
This turbulence may have prompted Nazarbaev to seek to regain control and
restore the balance of forces within the regime.
The removal of limitations on the number of times Nazarbaev can be president
will take the pressure off him as the 2012 election approaches. Although he
still has the option of not standing, the possibility that he might should
defuse some of the infighting in the elite over the succession issue.
At the same time as bolstering his own powers, President Nazarbaev has tried to
show the world that these constitutional reforms represent progress on
political reforms and that the system is moving ever closer to international
democratic standards. That is of particular importance as Kazakstan is bidding
to chair the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009.
Some of the changes have certainly met with approval from the international
community as well as the domestic constituency. One big shift is that the
Majilis will be expanded from 77 to 107 seats, and all will be electable by
proportional representation using the party list system, except the nine that
are coopted by the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakstan.
Introducing proportional representation has some clear advantages. It will mean
increased opportunities for political parties to take part in drafting
legislation, and more chance that those parties that currently have no seats in
the Majilis might be represented in future. Some parties may also try to adopt
more distinct identities and start building up grassroots support.
However, the constitutional amendments fail to introduce mechanisms to ensure
free and fair elections. Nor do they incorporate a proposal made by a
government agency to lower the threshold for winning seats in parliament from
seven to five per cent of the vote. Both omissions may make it harder for
parties to win Majilis seats.
The use of a party-list system for almost all seats will prevent people from
standing as independents.
The constitutional amendments largely failed to incorporate better protections
for peoples civil and political rights and liberties, especially to defend
them against unlawful actions committed by the state.
One exception is a provision whose wording de facto abolishes the death
penalty. Capital punishment will now only be applied in convictions for
particularly brutal crimes during war time and terrorist attacks that result in
fatalities. The downside is that this could foster a sense of impunity among
criminals and result in an increase in murder and other serious crimes.
Another potential area of ambiguity is the introduction of rules requiring the
approval of a court before a formal arrest can be made, and allowing the
accused to appeal against the decision. On the one hand, the law-enforcement
agencies now have a legal framework within which to operate, but on the other,
the high level of corruption in the judicial system could lead to abuses where
arrests are sanctioned in pursuit of personal vendettas or as part of a
conspiracy between judges and police.
Overall, the constitutional reform has both pros and cons. The fact that
changes have been made for the first time since 1998 overcoming initial
opposition and then procrastination on the part of the authorities can be
seen as a step forward in itself.
However, the changes were simply passed by parliament rather than by asking the
nation by means of a referendum. Nor was there any attempt to engage the public
in a debated on the proposed amendments. As a result, the people of Kazakstan
from whom state power nominally emanates were sidelined once again.
All in all, this latest reform does not even approximate to a genuine exercise
in democracy-building for Kazakstan.
Andrei Chebotarev is a political scientist and director of the Alternativa
TAJIKS SEEK PERMANENT GATEWAY TO CHINA
Tajikistans isolated southeast has benefited from a new trade route to China,
but locals say restrictions at the border crossing are making life harder than
it needs to be.
By Saodat Asanova in Badakhshan and Dushanbe
Traders in Badakhshan are asking for the border crossing with China to be open
more of the time so they can move freely back and forth and generate stronger
economic growth in this remote mountain region of Tajikistan.
The Tajik-China trade route, opened in 2004, runs between from Khorog, the
administrative centre of Badakhshan province in southeastern Tajikistan, over a
high-altitude plateau and then down into China, where it ends in the city of
Kashgar, 700 kilometres away.
But because conditions are so tough at the Kulma border crossing located on a
mountain pass 4,400 metres high the gateway only stays open 15 days out of
every month, while from November through April it is closed altogether.
EASTWARD ROUTE OPENS UP NEW OPPORTUNITIES
The road has boosted external trade for Tajikistan, whose other neighbours are
landlocked Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and created employment for
many people in Badakhshan. Bilateral trade in goods going via Kulma has gone
from zero to reach 400 million US dollars in 2006. The main direction of trade
is westwards cheap Chinese consumer goods sell well in Tajikistans markets.
Badakhshan accounts for 45 per cent of Tajikistans land area but the
inhospitable mountain terrain means it is very sparsely populated, and
infrastructure is poorly developed.
In Soviet times the authorities would stockpile essential goods ahead of
winter, when snowfalls cut the road from the capital Dushanbe, and Khorog can
only be reached from Kyrgyzstan to the north. Declining economic conditions in
post-independence Tajikistan made it harder to sustain Badakhshan, as the
governments priority was addressing economic problems in the more populated
and easier-to-reach parts of the country.
But independence eventually created opportunities for warmer relations with
China, and the Khorog-Kashgar road created a new channel for the movement of
shuttle traders people moving back and forth across the border with
consignments of consumer goods which characterises so much of trade between
Central Asia and western China.
The boom in trade belies the fact that the road is little more than a dirt
track in places, and so high that travellers risk getting altitude sickness.
Vehicles also suffer frequent problems because engines do not run well on
rarefied air. As Chinese trucks usually travel in convoy, if one breaks down
the entire column grinds to a halt.
In April, officials from Badakhshan and Kashgar agreed there was a need to
rebuild the section running from Khorog to Murgab to cope safely with larger
PRESSURE FOR PERMANENT CROSSING
Residents of Badakhshan and the traders who use the border - both Tajik and
Chinese - say the restricted opening times make it difficult to complete a
round trip without getting stuck on the wrong side of an inhospitable frontier.
Most people here see the road and the traffic it has brought with it as an
unmitigated success, but believe trade would really take off if the border
crossing was kept open permanently. The regional government in Badakhshan has
repeatedly urged the authorities in Dushanbe to open the route permanently.
The Badakhshan authorities have also recommended the opening of a Chinese
consulate and a Tajik foreign ministry branch in Khorog to make it easier for
locals to get visas. At the moment, Tajik traders have to travel 700 km in the
other direction to collect a Chinese visa at the embassy in Dushanbe. Chinese
and Tajik officials reached a verbal agreement to do this last year, but there
are still documents to be drawn up to make this happen.
Boymamad Alibakhshev, head of the government department for investment and
state property in Badakhshan, said that the opening restrictions are holding
If the checkpoint functioned on a permanent basis, there would be an increase
in Tajik-Chinese trade turnover, which has already increased sixfold in the
last three years, he told IWPR.
Khushomad Alidodov, deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Partys branch in
Badakhshan, said the local authorities unheeded appeals exemplified the lack
of devolved power in Tajikistan.
The centralisation of government in this country means the Badakhshan
authorities do not have powers to resolve issues at a local level, he said.
EMPLOYMENT AND OPPORTUNTIES
Apart from the abundance of Chinese-made goods, the hotels, cafés and
warehouses which have sprung up in Badakhshan are evidence of the boost to the
regions economy. Whenever the Kulma crossing is open, casual employment
Some men find work loading freight on and off trucks for wages of 100 to 120
somoni, up to 35 US dollars, a day, while others ferry passengers and goods as
far as the border and back to Khorog.
They cannot drive into China itself because of a clause in the agreement
underpinning the crossing which stated that all goods vehicles have to travel
laden. This disadvantages Tajik traders, who have little to sell and are
therefore prevented from driving into China, while the Chinese are allowed to
drive their own trucks to Khorog.
Khorog resident Meralisho Mamadov earns up to 600 dollars for each 15-day stint
of driving work.
The opening of the road has simply been a miracle for me. Last year, I earned
enough money not only to support my family, but also to send my children to
university. This year, my son will work with me so he can build up his own
capital, he said.
Umed, a third-year student at Khorog university, earns up to 130 dollars for
driving manufactured goods from Kulma all the way to Dushanbe.
A rich businessman from the capital [Dushanbe] offered my friends and me a
good wage if wed drive his cars. The only thing we needed was a driving
license. We pay for food ourselves while were on the road, and once we reach
our destination we receive our pay. We manage two trips in each 15-day period,
he told IWPR.
Drivers like Umed sometimes have to wait several days at the border before
their goods arrive on the other sides. They sleep in their cars or in yurts
traditional Kyrgyz tents which enterprising residents of Murgab, the nearest
town, turn into makeshift hotels and canteens over the summer season.
STRANDED IN CHINA
Traders heading for China go as far as the Tajik checkpoint either in their own
cars or in hired transport, walk across the frontier, and hire a Chinese car
and driver on the other side. Then they have to move as quickly as they can to
get their business done and get back before the border closes for two weeks.
When we go to China, most of entrepreneurs think less about buying goods than
about getting everything done on time and coming back across the border so as
to avoid additional costs, said Badakhshan resident Gulbegim Alibakhsheva.
According to another trader, Shavkat Otambekov, said getting caught out can be
The expenses for a trip to Kashgar and back, including accommodation and food
for a stay of several days in the town, come to about 250 dollars per person,
if you economise. If you go to Urumchi [administrative centre of Xinjiang
province], the costs go up to 500 dollars. But if you dont get back in time,
these expenses double, Shavkat said.
Many traders fund their business activities by taking out loans, for example
from a microfinance bank branch which the Aga Khan Fund, AKF, has set up in
Khorog. The AKF, founded by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili
branch of Islam, has been a major donor and development agency in Badakhshan,
where local people are traditionally Ismaili rather than Sunni as in the rest
A delayed return from China can upset a traders precarious financial planning.
Madina Oripova, from the village of Barchid, took out a bank loan of around
2,000 dollars before setting out for China on a purchasing trip.
It was my first trip outside Tajikistan, she said. The people travelling
with me helped me, but I found it hard to get my bearings there and had trouble
with the language. I bought goods and loaded them up, but unfortunately, time
ran out and the border was closed.
My goods ended up unsold, and I had to go into debt to pay off some of the
bank loan. If the border had been open, this definitely wouldnt have happened.
The regular closures of the border crossing have an impact on the wider economy
of Badakhshan, pushing up retail prices on local markets
Whenever we dont return from China on time, our income drops drastically and
we have to raise the prices of the goods we sell, said local businessman
Not everyone wants to see the border opened all the time, as that would give
the Chinese unrestricted access to Tajik markets, potentially swamping them
with cut-price goods.
Olga Saifulloeva, head of the economics faculty at Khorog university, agrees
that Badakhshan will benefit from access to foreign markets and investment
If the highway functions permanently, the markets of Tajikistan will be
inundated with low-quality goods, which goes against the interests of local
manufacturers, she said. Restrictions should be imposed here to give local
manufacturers a chance to sell their goods on the local market.
OTHER ROUTES STILL VIABLE
In the meantime, many traders will continue to shy away from the obstacles of
the Kulma crossing and opt for other, easier routes.
Despite the growth in trade via Kulma, the bulk of Chinese goods still entering
Tajikistan come from large wholesale markets in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan.
Li Hin Wang has been selling cheap audio and video equipment at markets in
Kyrgyzstan for the last three years, and when he heard about the Kashgar-Khorog
route he considered moving his operation to Dushanbe. But he decided against it
when, like so many others, he found his freight consignment held up at the
It would have been more profitable for me to work with Tajik partners on a
permanent basis. As in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan, the people here are very smart
and know about trading. But because of the rules at the border, I suffered
enormous losses and couldnt carry on.
Sherkhon Azimov, a businessman from the Hatlon region of southern Tajikistan
who travels to China to buy construction materials, still takes a long and
costly detour via Uzbekistan and Kazakstan. The advantage is that he can travel
by train, and whenever he arrives at the Kazak-Chinese border, he can be sure
it will be open.
At the moment I have no other option, because going by road via Badakhshan is
too risky. Time is money for all my clients, and God knows how long you could
be stuck on the border there, he said.
Saodat Asanova is director of IWPR Tajikistan.
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