COPS AND ROBBERS IN TAJIKISTAN  Showdown with alleged drug gang revives 
memories of civil war, but does not herald renewed violence.  By Lola Olimova 
in Dushanbe

KYRGYZ CLEAN WATER PROJECT UNDER SCRUTINY  Critics highlight flaws in major 
project to provide drinking water in rural areas, but public reluctance to pay 
for upkeep is part of the problem.  By Elina Karakulova in Bishkek

KAZAKS STRUGGLE WITH OIL AND FOOD PRICES  Government’s attempt to hold fuel 
prices down may be too little, too late.  By Daur Dosybiev in Almaty


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Showdown with alleged drug gang revives memories of civil war, but does not 
herald renewed violence.

By Lola Olimova in Dushanbe

This was no ordinary arrest – the police officers sent in to capture Suhrob 
Langariev and his group of alleged drug smugglers in southern Tajikistan were 
armed to the teeth and backed up by armoured vehicles.

They were right to come well-prepared for the May 27 operation, as the group of 
men holed up in Langariev’s two-storey home in the city of Kulob (also known as 
Kulyab) proceeded to put up a ferocious ten-hour fight, which left one captain 
in the security service and two civilians dead. 

In the end, special forces managed to storm the building and arrest Langariev 
and eight others, including two Afghan nationals. Police seized an impressive 
arsenal of weaponry including Kalashnikov rifles, grenade launchers, satellite 
communications and radio equipment. 

The National Security Committee or GKNB, which led the operation, appeared to 
be well pleased with the outcome. In a statement issued the following day, it 
said Langariev was believed to head one of the organised crime networks in 
Tajikistan that ferry heroin over the nearby border from Afghanistan and 
dispatch it onwards to markets in Russia and beyond. His group consisted of 
both Tajik and Afghan nationals, it said. 

The capture of an alleged drug kingpin is a major coup in itself, in a country 
whose long, often inaccessible and poorly policed border with Afghanistan makes 
it an important transit route for heroin traffickers. 

Opium production in Afghanistan has seen substantial annual growth since the 
fall of the Taleban regime in 2001, and the heroin processed from it is shipped 
out via Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia. 

The lucrative trade – both transit and some local distribution within 
Tajikistan – has had a distorting effect on the economy of this impoverished 
country, not to mention the impact on health. 

However, analysts note that as well as being a success in the war against 
crime, the Kulob clash has political ramifications, with threads leading back 
to Tajikistan’s bloody civil war which lasted from 1992 to 1997. 

Langariev’s brother, Langari Langariev, was a prominent commander in the 
Popular Front, a paramilitary group which brought the current president, 
Imomali Rahmon, to power. The Popular Front, like Rahmon and his political 
allies, was rooted in the Kulob region. The "Kulob faction's" main opponents in 
this highly regionalised conflict was the Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP, whose 
support base was strongest in the mountains of eastern Tajikistan. 

The Popular Front’s leader, Sangak Safarov, was killed in 1993. His son 
Nurmahmad Safarov, 22, was among the nine men arrested on May 27. 

The peace deal reached in 1997 brought about the demobilisation of the various 
armed groups on both sides of the conflict, leaving only the regular military. 
Since then, Rahmon’s administration has sporadically targeted and neutralised 
any remnant units that refused to disarm – both those affiliated with the IRP 
and his own former Popular Front allies. 

In recent years, the scale and frequency of such confrontations has diminished. 

In February, men loyal to Mirzohoja Ahmadov, a former opposition guerrilla 
leader now serving in the local police in the mountain town of Garm, were 
involved in a shootout with another force of police who had apparently been 
dispatched from the capital to capture him. One of the commanders of the 
Dushanbe force was killed in the firefight. Murder Invokes Ghosts of 
Tajikistan’s Past, RCA No. 533, 20-Feb-08.) 

The same month, there was an incident in another remote mountain region, 
Badakhshan, when a former opposition commander, Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, opened 
fire on a police station. There were no casualties, and Mamadbokirov and his 
men surrendered their weapons. 

In both these cases, the authorities seem to have decided not to mount a major 
follow-up operation – Ahmadov and Mamadbokirov are still at large. 

The Kulob operation reflects a much tougher line, which some analysts say is 
because Langariev was seen as a greater threat to stability, due to his 
political heritage as well as his alleged role in drug-smuggling. 

Local people told IWPR that despite being on the wanted list since 2002, 
Langariev had lived quite openly in his home town, and even visited Dushanbe on 
several occasions. 

The Langarievs carried a lot of weight in Kulob, with two of Suhrob’s brothers 
still serving as senior policemen, and the other decorated posthumously for his 
role as a Popular Front commander in the early stages of the war. 

Analysts say the decision to eliminate Suhrob Langariev’s group shows that the 
Rahmon administration will not tolerate groups that challenge the state, even 
if they are former allies. 

“Events in Kulob show that the state has increased its capacity and is quite 
determined to pursue to its conclusion its war against non-institutional 
centres of influence that seek to compete with it,” political expert Rashid 
Abdullo told IWPR. 

“The time of the field commanders is past. Those who’ve been unable to adapt to 
the new political realities have now got problems.” 

Another analyst, Parviz Mullojanov believes the operation mounted against the 
Langariev group was conducted in a “deliberately demonstrative and unusually 
public” manner. 

He speculated that this show of force might reflect a period of political 
turbulence within the regime, involving rival political and regional elites. 

Yet he stressed that there was no real threat to the regime – the authorities 
had survived much worse challenges over the years, and former paramilitary 
leaders no longer carry the clout they once had. 

Economist Hojimahmad Umarov argued that the location of the target in a former 
hotbed of political activity was significant. 

“Most likely this was an act of intimidation against the people of Kulob, who 
have always been noted for being active, specifically for forming the core of 
the resistance against the armed opposition in the war,” he said. 

Why worry about unrest in an area traditionally seen as so staunchly 
pro-government? Perhaps because, although it has produced many of the country’s 
political leaders over the last decade and a half, Kulob and the surrounding 
region have not benefited greatly as a whole, and remain chronically poor and 

“The living standards in the region are among the lowest in the country, and 
the divide between rich and poor is growing very fast,” said Umarov. “All this 
is aggravated by winter energy crises and unemployment.” 

Tajikistan has been hit by multiple economic problems this year – an 
exceptionally harsh winter led to severe electricity shortages, and the price 
of fuel and food imports has jumped because of world market conditions. 

As Abdullo pointed out – with reference to the whole of the country rather than 
Kulob specifically – the government cannot afford to have out-of-control 
factions around at a time when price rises and other economic factors make the 
public mood more uncertain than usual. 

At the same time, analysts and ordinary Tajiks argue hat confrontations like 
the one in Kulob are an echo of the past, not a warning of things to come. 

Abdullo pointed out that in the latest clash, like the one that took place in 
Garm in February, “the population did not back those who were in conflict with 
the state”. 

These days, “people are more concerned about economic problems than political 
ones”, he added. 

Sherali, a resident of Kulob, agreed that there was little public appetite for 

“How much more fighting do they want? Enough of that – let’s work on the 
economy and raise living standards,” he said. “How are things now? In the 
winter, we survive with candles and wood stoves, like in the Middle Ages.” 

Komil, also from Kulob and now living in the capital, says people from his 
region may be “hotheads”, but they would not support armed groups these days. 

“Everybody remembers the grief they felt when their relatives died,” he said. 
“God preserve us from war.” 

Lola Olimova is IWPR’s editor in Tajikistan.


Critics highlight flaws in major project to provide drinking water in rural 
areas, but public reluctance to pay for upkeep is part of the problem.

By Elina Karakulova in Bishkek

A shortage of clean drinking water in Kyrgyzstan has been tackled with 
multimillion dollar funding in recent years, but critics say the results have 
at best been mixed. 

Much of the blame has been directed at the international donors who paid for a 
major programme to expand and repair water networks in the countryside. But an 
expert working on the Taza Suu or Clean Water programme said that most of the 
management problems had been fixed, and the big obstacle now was people’s 
reluctance to pay a small amount towards upkeep, so their supply system was 
liable to break down. 

The government’s hygiene and disease department says at least 600,000 people 
out of a total population of five million have no access to clean drinking 
water, leading to a high incidence of diseases such as typhus and other gastric 
illnesses. Unofficial estimates put the figure much higher at close to half the 
population, overwhelmingly in rural areas where nine out of ten villagers do 
not have access to clean, properly treated water.

“The drinking water supply is satisfactory only in Bishkek,” said Ularbek 
Mateev, an expert on water and energy issues. “Outside the capital and in 
remote villages, people drink water right from the aryks.”

“Aryks” are traditional channels used for irrigation in Central Asia.

Provision has deteriorated in the 17 years since the Soviet Union broke up due 
to a lack of investment by Kyrgyzstan’s cash-strapped government. In places 
where a mains water supply exists, the infrastructure has often deteriorated to 
an alarming extent, and there were also many areas that were never connected up 
in the first place. 

For example, people in Karakol, a town in northeastern Kyrgyzstan, have running 
water but cannot use it until they have allowed the clay and sand to settle and 
then boiled the water. In the southern town of Mailuusuu, people without a 
mains supply are at risk from subsoil water contaminated by radioactive waste 
from defunct uranium mines.

Paradoxically, while arid, low-lying Central Asian states like Uzbekistan and 
Turkmenistan face a perennial shortage of water, mountainous Kyrgyzstan has –in 
theory at least – an inexhaustible supply, with massive glaciers and countless 


In 2001, the Kyrgyz government, in conjunction with foreign donors, launched 
two big projects to improve access to clean water with the common title Taza 
Suu (Clean Water). The Asian Development Bank, ADB, was the major funder of one 
of these projects, providing 36 million of the 45 million US dollar cost, to 
improve rural water infrastructure in four regions of Kyrgyzstan, while the 
World Bank and Britain’s Department for International Development provided 31 
million dollars for the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project, covering the 
remaining three regions.

After some delay, both projects are due to end by the end of this year.

Both segments of the Taza Suu programme have had to lower their expectations, 
and the ADB-run project in particular has faced criticism from a local pressure 
group for the way it was run. Officials at the bank say significant concerns 
have already been addressed and other teething problems are being dealt with 
along the way. 

Although the initial plan was to supply about 1,000 villages with clean water 
under the two projects, this has had to be scaled back to half that number. 
According to Nurmamat Mulakeldiev, who heads the water supply department at the 
Kyrgyz agriculture ministry, this is because the rising cost of fuel and 
construction materials means the donor funding no longer stretches as far. 

Mulakeldiev’s department says just under a third of the approximately 1,700 
villages in need of clean water have now been provided for, but there are about 
1,200 left. Some of the remaining work will be covered by a second phase of 
both projects for which donors have allocated about 30 million dollars.

“Villages where sanitation is particularly and there is typhoid fever and other 
diseases caused by low-quality water will take part in the second tranche. They 
will be given priority,” said Mulakeldiev.


The ADB-funded project covering Chui region in the north as well as the whole 
of the south - Osh, Jalalabad and Batken – has come in for fierce criticism 
from a non-government organisations led by the Taza Tabigat (Clean Nature) 

Taza Tabigat monitored the way the project was implemented and says it found a 
string of blunders as well as outright abuses. 

“Many villagers in the settlements covered by the project had to collect 
rainwater and carry water in buckets,” Taza Tabigat’s head Anara Dautalieva 
told IWPR. “Poor-standard, obsolete chlorination plants and toxic asbestos 
pipes forbidden by the international donors’ documentation were used within the 

In addition, she said, villagers were unaware of the nature of the project 
funding – while the bulk of it was covered by a loan taken out by central 
government, five per cent of the costs had to be found by the local community 
that benefited from works in their area.

“When we told people how much their villages had to pay, they were surprised 
they had to pay for water of this quality,” said Dautalieva. 

Dauletalieva says pressure from her group led the ADB to agree to conduct an 
investigation into allegations of fraud and corruption in the water project, 
and to restructure the financing to ensure the work was completed, and where 
necessary, re-do work that had already done. 

The ADB has not confirmed that an investigation is planned. Its Kyrgyzstan 
country director Lan Wu has said the bank is to spend an extra four million 
dollars on sorting out problems. 

Cholpon Mambetova, an project implementation officer with the ADB’s 
Community-Based Infrastructure Services project, accepted that some of the 
installation of water infrastructure had been poorly executed and monitoring of 
the work had been inadequate. She attributed this to management issues in past 
years, but these had been addressed.

She referred to the criminal cases launched against local contractors for Taza 
Suu following the ousting of President Askar Akaev in 2005. No senior 
government official has been prosecuted. 

“The old team [in the agriculture ministry] performed poorly in that there were 
cases which prosecutors are now looking at, involving financial irregularity 
and allegations of corruption. The problem is that no one’s been punished 
–that’s our flawed judicial system – but all the facts were uncovered and the 
individuals concerned were identified, if not punished,” she told IWPR. 

“All these errors and miscalculations occurred under the previous team. But 
there is a new team that’s now in its second year of work and is cooperating 
with us to try to resolve problems where these have arisen.” 

Overall, said Mambetova, the project had been a success. 

“Fortunately, it’s only in a small number of villages that the money wasn’t 
used as it should have been, and we are now correcting the situation in these 
sub-projects,” she said. “In most villages, the project has been very 
successful – there is water, residents are satisfied.”


Persuading rural communities to pay for the upkeep of the water network was a 
real headache, she said.

“We come along and repair the system and hand it over, but people are 
unaccustomed to paying for it, so they’re unwilling to do so and don’t pay. Two 
years later, the system breaks down again and they blame the ADB and the 
government. People refuse to understand that repairs have got to be paid for – 
this isn’t Soviet times, when everything was laid on for free.”

Mambetova argued that this failure by villages to maintain networks installed 
with ADB funding several years ago was often the real reason why problems had 
arisen and people were now complaining about the quality of work done under the 
Taza Suu project.

She pointed out that the five soms a month – around 14 US cents per person – 
that villagers were being asked to pay for maintenance was hardly exorbitant. 
“A bottle of vodka costs 40 soms, and male head of households often take that 
kind of money and drink it every day,” she said.

It was crucial to get communities to think about looking after their own water 
systems. “The question of public participation, whether people are ready to 
take responsibility for maintaining these systems is a very serious one,” she 

The government official overseeing the implementation of the project, 
Mulakeldiev, took a similar line, saying that water supply problems had been 
identified in only nine of the 500 villages that came under the Taza Suu 
project, and most of these problems were caused by people’s refusal to pay for 
the upkeep. 

“Any system is going to break down if it isn’t repaired,” he said.

Elina Karakulova is IWPR’s chief editor for Reporting Central Asia, based in 
Bishkek. Gulnara Mambetalieva, an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan, 
contributed to this report.


Government’s attempt to hold fuel prices down may be too little, too late.

By Daur Dosybiev in Almaty

A new ban on exports of petroleum products is designed to stabilise the 
domestic economy, struggling with inflation across the board and especially 
with soaring food prices. However, analysts say the measure may not be enough 
to bring down the cost of fuel.

The global economy has suffered a double blow from rising prices of oil and 
food. In theory, Kazakstan should be in a position to benefit as it is a major 
exporter of both crude oil and wheat, and has an opportunity to earn higher 
revenues from both. 

However, domestic consumers have nevertheless been hit because Kazak producers 
responded to strong global oil prices by exporting 50 per cent more petrol and 
fuel in January-March than in the same period last year. They may also have 
been encouraged to export more of the refined product because the government 
had announced a higher customs duty on crude exports, effective from May 17. 

As Kazak-produced fuel became less freely available on the domestic market, 
prices shot up correspondingly. This came at a time when fuel prices were set 
to rise anyway because of the demand created by agricultural users in the 
spring sowing season. 

Petrol now costs 90 tenge (75 US cents) a litre for the popular 92-octane 
variety, while diesel is about 130 tenge a litre.

The fuel price rises have had an inflationary effect on food prices as farmers 
pay more for fuel and factor this into their wholesale prices. Coupled with 
smaller price rises in other areas, some analysts are predicting that 
year-on-year inflation for 2008 will top 25 per cent, compared with the 18 per 
cent recorded last year.

Although opposition parties have attacked the authorities over the 
deteriorating economic outlook and the impact this will have on living 
standards, there is little the government can do about external factors. It 
has, however, taken steps in areas where it exercises some control. To build up 
wheat stocks at home, it halted grain exports in April, and these are expected 
to resume only in September.

Then, on May 19, Prime Minister Karim Masimov ordered a halt to exports of 
petroleum products, once again lasting until September. “This should freeze the 
growth in prices,” he told members of a government economic commission. 

Sauat Mynbaev, Kazakstan’s minister of energy and mineral resources, added, 
“There are large export volumes – both formal and informal - and we have to 
react because of the price rises on the domestic market.” By “informal” 
exports, the minister meant the lucrative business of smuggling oil products 
out of the country.

Companies at the smaller end of the fuel retail market expressed concern about 
the price rises at a press conference in Almaty on May 19. 

Sultan Ushbaev, the head of Nar Oil, warned that the wholesale costs in 
agriculture – including bread prices – might rise by at least 35 per cent as a 

Analysts interviewed by IWPR were not critical of Masimov’s fuel export ban, 
but warned that other factors might dilute its impact.

Political analyst Oleg Sidorov said the ban was an appropriate measure, but 
needed to be complemented by formal price regulation at home, conducted via the 
state-owned oil and gas production and distribution company, KazMunayGaz.

“An instruction should go out to the leading player that regulates fuel and 
lubricant prices, by which I mean KazMunayGaz,” he said. “If it holds petrol 
and diesel prices below 80 or 90 tenge a litre, all the other [retailers] will 
have to reduce prices”.

Sidorov predicted that cutting export levels would prove more complex than 
Masimov’s blanket ban suggested. Many fuel export firms have already committed 
themselves to contracts with foreign partners, and cannot simply renege on 
these obligations.

Add to this the volumes of fuel that continue to exported illegally, and the 
ban is likely to result in “no change, or insignificant change” to domestic 
availability and prices, Sidorov said.

Eduard Poletaev, chief editor of the Mir Yevrazii news magazine, agreed that 
smuggling was a well-established industry and was unlikely to be checked at a 
time when it was particularly profitable.

“One way or another, crude oil and petroleums products are going to leak out of 
the country at more profitable prices. No one’s going to abandon this lucrative 
flow,” he said. “We have long borders, corruption is rife and it’s easy to get 
oil products out at profitable prices. There are plenty of loopholes.” 

Gulnur Rahmatullina, head of economic research at the Institute for Strategic 
Studies, welcomed Masimov’s decision but said the limited availability of 
refined fuel should have been addressed much earlier, when the economic climate 
was better.

“There’s been a period of stability since the late Nineties, and Kazakstan’s 
three refineries should have used it to gear up for high-quality petrol 
production,” she said.

“Firefighting” measures were not enough, she said, adding, “We need to invest 
in the refining industry, not just in extracting crude oil. The petrol crisis 
is now infecting other economic sectors”.

The three refineries in Atyrau, Pavlodar and Shymkent are still unable to meet 
domestic demand and export requirements, which explains why Kazakstan still 
imports a quarter of the fuel and lubricants it consumes from Russia, where 
these items cost more. 

Among ordinary citizens of Kazakstan, there is some resentment at the 
perception that the authorities did not do more to avert the pricing crisis. 

“For some reason, the government always reacts too late,” said Murat, a taxi 
driver in Almaty. “It’s as if nobody knew that consumption would peak in spring 
and the price of oil products would go up sharply.” 

Daur Dosybiev is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.

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