WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 607, April 3, 2010

CENTRAL ASIA WATER: ONE STEP FORWARD  Attempts to forge region-wide consensus 
undermined by continuing mistrust.  By Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty, Inga 
Sikorskaya and Dina Tokbaeva in Bishkek, and Lola Olimova in Dushanbe

FREE SPEECH FEARS FOR KAZAKSTAN INTERNET  New watchdog designed to monitor 
“destructive” website content, but could that include political debate as well 
as extremist literature?  By Milana Orazbekova in Almaty

TAJIK POWER COMPANY CALLS IN DEBTS  Higher electricity bills and tougher 
penalties for arrears are putting pressure on household consumers.  By Nazarali 
Pirnazarov in Dushanbe

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT FACES DOWN UTILITIES PROTESTS  Poor people to be cushioned 
against price rises, but authorities insist everyone else must pay realistic 
share of energy costs.   By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek

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CENTRAL ASIA WATER: ONE STEP FORWARD

Attempts to forge region-wide consensus undermined by continuing mistrust.

By Daulet Kanagatuly in Almaty, Inga Sikorskaya and Dina Tokbaeva in Bishkek, 
and Lola Olimova in Dushanbe

While recent talks between Central Asian leaders point to a newfound common 
will to reach agreement on how to resolve linked regional disputes over water 
and energy, reports that Uzbekistan is blocking rail transport to Tajikistan 
indicate that relations remain far from smooth. 

On March 22, Tajikistan’s foreign ministry handed the Uzbek ambassador a 
protest note saying large numbers of railway freight trucks were being 
prevented from crossing the border. The Tajiks alleged that the aim was to 
prevent materials reaching the Roghun dam, a massive project currently under 
construction.

Tajikistan believes that completing the Roghun hydropower scheme, which has 
been stalled since the Nineties but has now resumed, and which will have the 
world’s highest dam, will alleviate its chronic energy shortages at a stroke. 

However, Uzbekistan has raised objections to the project, taking the view that 
major new dams like Roghun and the Kambarata-1 and -2 plants in neighbouring 
Kyrgyzstan could reduce water flows down the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers to 
a point where its agricultural economy would be deprived of irrigation. 

Tajik foreign ministry spokesman Davlat Nazriev said some 1,000 freight cars 
bound for his country had been held up over the last two months, and were still 
inside Uzbekistan.

The deputy head of freight transport at Tajik Railways, Andrei Tronin, told the 
Fergana.ru news site that the wagon contained cement for the Roghun dam. 

In response to the protest note, quoted by the Russian Itar-Tass news agency, 
the Uzbek foreign ministry said the reasons for the delays were technical, not 
political, and stemmed from undertakings by Tashkent to facilitate shipments to 
Afghanistan, which had overloaded the rail network. 

Under a ground-breaking decision last year, Uzbekistan agreed to allow NATO to 
use its territory to bring in cargo for the continuing operations in 
Afghanistan via the so-called “northern corridor”, since land routes from 
Pakistan were becoming increasingly hazardous. 

The diplomatic row is only the latest manifestation of the fraught relationship 
between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but its timing is particularly unfortunate 
given that all five Central Asian states appear more willing than ever to talk 
about the vexed issues of water and energy.

The disagreement centres on the use of transnational rivers by the countries 
where they originate, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and the states that are 
located downstream and rely on the water – Uzbekistan and Kazakstan and 
Turkmenistan. 

As Kazak journalist Daur Dosybiev explains, “Uzbekistan and Kazakstan need 
water for irrigation, while the Tajiks and Kyrgyz view it as a source of 
electricity. The Tajiks and Kyrgyz store up water and release it downstream in 
winter to generate electricity.”

Like Uzbekistan, both Kazakstan and Turkmenistan would be affected by any 
change in the water supply, and they have aligned themselves, albeit 
cautiously, with the Uzbek demand that before the new dams are completed, they 
must be the subject of an international study to assess their impact on the 
environment. 

When Kazakstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbaev visited Tashkent on March 16-17, 
he backed Uzbekistan’s demand for an impact assessment. 

“Kazakstan and Uzbekistan are located downstream on the Syr Darya and Amu Darya 
and they need guarantees of this kind,” said Nazarbaev.

The Kazak leader said that before visiting Uzbekistan, he held telephone 
conversations with the Kyrgyz and Tajik leaders, Kurmanbek Bakiev and Imomali 
Rahmon, both of whom had agreed to such a study.

On March 12, Tajikistan signed an agreement with the World Bank for a survey 
that will look at the technical, economic, environmental and social impact of 
the Roghun dam.

Nazarbaev is clearly trying to play a coordinating role in the dispute, since 
his country generally has better relations with other Central Asian states than 
Uzbekistan, and wields considerable economic power. 

Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov also discussed water issues on a 
visit to Tajikistan. Commenting on the outcome of the talks on March 18, 
President Rahmon said that in using the water sources that rise on its 
territory, Tajikistan would consider not only its own legitimate needs but also 
“common regional interests”. 

At one level, the dispute looks clear-cut – setting two small mountainous 
states that want more hydroelectricity against three large ones that have oil 
and gas but are short of irrigation water. Yet although Uzbekistan has tried to 
recruit Turkmenistan and Kazakstan to its cause, neither has taken such a hard 
line.

Sanobar Shermatova, a Central Asia expert in Moscow, said Nazarbaev’s comments 
did not mean he had shifted to unconditional support for the Uzbek position.

For a start, Kazakstan is much less dependent on the major Central Asian rivers 
than Uzbekistan. Its southern regions do get water from the Syr Darya – which 
will be affected by the Kambarata schemes in Kyrgyzstan, but a new reservoir 
inaugurated on March 18 means it will not be so vulnerable to fluctuating water 
flows. And it has a lot of influence in Kyrgyzstan. 

“In general, construction of the Kambarata hydroelectric plants does not alarm 
Kazakstan,” said Shermatova. “Given that small and impoverished Kyrgyzstan is 
reliant on its bigger neighbour, the two countries can be expected to reach 
some kind of agreement.”

Arkady Dubnov, a journalist in Moscow who specialises in Central Asian affairs, 
agrees that the Kazak leader’s public support for the Uzbek position should not 
be taken at face value. 

He doubts Nazarbaev would really press for an international study if that would 
jeopardise Kyrgyzstan’s energy plans. 

“Kazakstan is not going to take a tough stand on this issue,” he said. “Astana 
will not go against Bishkek.”

Similarly, Turkmenistan is unlikely to align itself firmly with either side in 
the dispute. Last year, its president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov backed 
Uzbekistan’s demand for an international study, and this will colour its 
relationship with Tajikistan even as the latter seeks to buy gas and 
electricity supplies from it.

For the moment, the real differences are between Uzbekistan on the one hand and 
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on the other.

As Shermatova pointed out, Uzbekistan’s geographical location and 
agriculture-intensive economy make it dependent on water coming from both 
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Andrei Grozin, head of the Central Asian department at the Commonwealth of 
Independent States Institute in Moscow, said the Roghun plant alarms Tashkent 
more than the Kambarata schemes in Kyrgyzstan, because the sheer size of the 
dam and reservoir could give Tajikistan considerable leverage in the region. 

“Tashkent’s strategy is clear – by demanding an international study, it wants 
to drag this project out,” he said.

As the United Nations marked World Water Day on March 22, Uzbek and Tajik 
officials exchanged barbed comments. Uzbekistan’s UN ambassador said the Kyrgyz 
and Tajik dams were based on outdated plans conceived in the Soviet era. 
“Moreover, not enough attention is being paid to the negative impact such sites 
will have on preserving the ecological balance in the region,” he said.

Tajik prime-minister Akil Akilov, who attended the UN meeting, complained that 
Uzbekistan was holding up freight on the railway and dismissed suggestions that 
there were other reasons for the delay. “In reality, it is all tied to the 
issue of water and energy use,” he said.

Recent statements by the Central Asian presidents suggest they are beginning to 
feel their way towards a solution that would suit everyone. However, 
acrimonious relations between Uzbekistan and its Tajik and Kyrgyz neighbours – 
spurred by Tashkent’s concern that its legitimate interests are being ignored – 
could delay a settlement.

Daulet Kanagatuly is an IWPR-trained reporter in Almaty. Inga Sikorskaya, Dina 
Tokbaeva and Lola Olimova are IWPR editors.


FREE SPEECH FEARS FOR KAZAKSTAN INTERNET

New watchdog designed to monitor “destructive” website content, but could that 
include political debate as well as extremist literature?

By Milana Orazbekova in Almaty

A newly set-up internet watchdog in Kazakstan is an attempt to censor an 
important source of independent news and comment, media rights groups and 
journalists say.

The Centre for Computer Incidents will operate under the Agency for Information 
Technology and Communications, and officials say it is tasked solely with 
identifying websites that carry extremist material or pornography. 

Unveiling the centre on March 1, the communications agency’s head Kuanishbek 
Yesekeev said its purpose was to “regulate destructive resources”. 

Agency spokesperson Janar Kondratenko elaborated, telling IWPR, “The centre’s 
staff members will monitor websites, and those which disseminate religious and 
political extremism, or pornography, will receive a warning that their 
information platform contains information that is against Kazakstan law. They 
will be obliged to remove such information.”

Kondratenko insisted that the Centre for Computer Incidents would act entirely 
within the law, and would not be used to pursue opposition supporters.

The new centre is being seen as a practical step toward implementing 
legislation passed last year which reclassified internet content so that it was 
subject to the same regulations as print and broadcast media. This means that 
like conventional media outlets, websites are prohibited from publishing 
classified information, terrorist propaganda, and incitement to overthrow the 
government. The law also empowers the authorities to block foreign websites if 
the contents are deemed to contravene domestic law.

Opponents of the move fear that authorities could interpret “computer 
incidents” to include anything critical of the regime.

“What does ‘destructive resources’ mean?” asked Almaty-based sociologist Gaziz 
Nasyrov, referring to the phrase used by Yesekeev. “Any criticism of the 
authorities could be included within this category, and I suspect that’s what 
is going to happen.” 

Tatiana Burdel, director of Media Ontystik, a non-government group in the 
southern city of Shymkent, said the authorities had a habit of using vague, 
catch-all terminology “to cover all eventualities”, and described the new 
internet monitoring centre as “another noose around the press’s throat”. 

Ali Dosaev, political editor of the Tauport.kz website, fears that any critical 
reporting risks being construed as “political extremism” or “destructive”.

He said that as a journalist, he could easily land in trouble if he wrote 
something about the succession to President Nazarbaev, whose current term in 
office runs out in 2012. 

“I believe that changeovers in power are a cornerstone of democracy. But if I 
express a view on this without contravening the constitution or the criminal 
code, I could still end being categorised as an extremist,” said Dosaev. 

The head of the MediaNet Centre for Journalism in Kazakstan, Vyacheslav 
Abramov, says the decision to impose controls on web content was not 
unexpected. “Working from their own concept of freedom of expression, the 
authorities want to control this information sector,” he said. 

Abramov noted the irritation caused when disgraced senior officials use the web 
to publish allegations about the Kazak leadership. 

In 2008, President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s former son-in-law Rahat Aliev fled 
abroad and was later found guilty in absentia of kidnapping, embezzlement and 
organised crime. From exile, he set about getting his revenge by publishing 
allegations about Kazakstan’s leaders, including a book about the president 
which appeared on the internet last year.

A government official who wished to remain anonymous said the recent 
allegations by Aliev and others had come as a shock to the authorities, who had 
not anticipated that their opponents would use the web to wage virtual war on 
them. 

“In a country where barely one-third of factories are running and the mood of 
protest is on the rise…. compromising information that appears on the internet 
can only fuel popular discontent,” he said. 

Milana Orazbekova is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kazakstan.


TAJIK POWER COMPANY CALLS IN DEBTS

Higher electricity bills and tougher penalties for arrears are putting pressure 
on household consumers.

By Nazarali Pirnazarov in Dushanbe

Although winter power cuts in Tajikistan have ended earlier than expected, 
electricity users are still having to economise due to higher prices and 
tougher rules on late payment. 

On March 22, the state power company Barqi Tojik announced that the 
restrictions in place since November had been lifted 40 days earlier than 
expected. The announcement was timed to coincide with the start of celebrations 
for Navruz, the traditional new year. 

The restrictions meant electricity was limited to ten hours a day everywhere, 
with the exception of a few large towns. Tajikistan has imposed seasonal power 
cuts for several years as it relies mainly on hydroelectricity, and in winter 
water levels are lower while consumption increases. 

Barqi Tojik said it was possible to restore the full supply because water 
levels in the Nurek reservoir had proved adequate. The Nurek dam generates 
about 70 per cent of Tajikistan’s electricity. Other reasons for the 
improvement, it said, were the launch of the Sangtuda-1 power station in 
January 2009, and the nationwide switchover to energy-saving light bulbs. 

Although customers were relieved to hear the news, they are under greater 
pressure than ever to watch their electricity consumption, as prices increased 
dramatically at the beginning of the year – by 20 per cent for domestic 
consumers and up to 25 per cent for others. 

The state electricity company is also taking tougher action to ensure consumers 
pay their bills. Late payment will incur a fine, while those who persistently 
fail to pay will have their supply cut off. Barqi Tojik head Abdullo Yorov has 
set a target of 90 per cent collection for payments due this year. 

The company’s chief press officer, Nozirjon Yodgori told IWPR that as of 
January, unpaid bills amounted to 114 million US dollars. 

However, IWPR enquiries suggest the penalties will not be applied evenly, and 
that householders will be in the first line of fire. 

A Barqi Tojik representative who spoke on condition of anonymity told IWPR that 
domestic consumers are the only group the company can really put pressure on. 
Two major customers, the state-owned aluminium plant at Tursunzoda and the 
water ministry, which arranges irrigation for farmers around the country, are 
virtually untouchable because their economic role is so essential. 

Aluminium production is hugely energy-hungry – the availability of cheap 
hydroelectricity was the reason the Soviet authorities decided to site the 
plant in Tajikistan in the first place. The giant Tursunzade plant continues to 
be a major source of foreign currency which cash-strapped Tajikistan can ill 
afford to do without, so switching off the power is not really an option. 

Cotton is another important export earner, and other forms of agriculture are 
important for the domestic market. Providing water for irrigation requires 
electrically-powered pumps to be running. As the Barqi Tojik representative 
member said, “If we cut them off, the irrigation season will be disrupted and 
that in turn will have a negative impact on the harvest.” 

Householders, meanwhile, say they are being hard hit by the rise in prices. In 
Tajikistan, the poorest of the former Soviet republics, more than half the 
population lives on less than two dollars a day, the measure the World Bank 
uses to define poverty. Even a modest increase in outlay leaves many households 
struggling. 

Rustam Saidov, from Dushanbe, said his family was trying to limit electricity 
usage to the minimum. 

“Instead of two heaters I now use one, and I use one lighbulb in the living 
room instead of four. I used to buy 100-watt bulbs, and now I use 60-watt,” he 
said. 

Saadullo Abdullo, who lives in Rudaki, 15 kilometres from the capital, earns 
130 dollars a month to provide for his wife and three children, and supplements 
this by raising livestock and growing vegetables. He nearly had his electricity 
cut off because he owed 20 somonis, the equivalent of four dollars. 

“I have to deny myself certain things and economise,” he said. 

Alisher, by contrast, is relatively comfortably off as a businessman in 
Dushanbe. But even he is feeling the pinch. He used to spend about 50 dollars a 
month on electricity bills, but since January this has more than doubled to 
reach nearly 130 dollars. 

“I’ve told all my family to economise,” he told IWPPR. “But how can we not heat 
the house while the weather is still cold. And I have small children who could 
fall ill. So we’re having to save on other things.” 

A representative of Energosbyt, the company that collects electricity payments, 
confirmed that customers were having difficulty keeping up with payments. 

“We are not meeting our collection quota,” said the official, who spoke on 
condition of anonymity. “Our staff spend days going door to door demanding 
payment, but people’s purchasing power has fallen sharply compared with last 
year. People don’t have any money.” 

As a result, he said, “We are forced to cut off homes from the electricity 
supply.” He added that this particularly affected rural areas. 

Dushanbe resident Saodat said payment collectors were swift to cut people off 
even for a small amount of arrears. 

“Before my very eyes, [they] cut off the power from my neighbour’s house, who 
owed no more than 50 somoni,” she said. “Pleas or promises to clear the debt 
quickly didn’t work. She works as a cleaner at the hospital and earns a meagre 
wage. I lent her the money myself sp she could pay the debt. She has three 
small children – how can she get by with no electricity, when there’s no gas 
either. She can’t cook or wash, poor thing.” 

Saodat was not enthusiastic about the resumption of 24-hour electricity 
supplies when “they haven’t thought about how the poor are going to pay for 
it”. 

This spring, wage-earners have faced an additional dent in their income due to 
a government campaign encouraging everyone to buy shares in the Roghun 
hydroelectric project, with the aim of raising some 600 million dollars to 
finish the dam and start generating electricity. 

According to a rough guide used by state institutions and companies, people are 
being asked to buy shares to a value of approximately one month’s wage. IWPR 
reported earlier that some people said they were being coerced into buying the 
shares or into making a straight donation, neither of which they could afford. 
(See Concern at Funding Scheme for Giant Tajik Dam, RCA No. 599, 30-Dec-09.) 

Many of the people interviewed for this report said the share purchases had 
compounded their problems, making it harder for them to meet the higher 
electricity bills. 

The Energosbyt representative believes the cost of the shares is contributing 
to unpaid energy bills. 

“Literally everyone is being forced to hand over their salaries to buy shares, 
and that’s why people are becoming impoverished,” he said. 

Nazarali Pirnazarov is a Tajikistan correspondent for the Bishkek-based CA-News 
news agency.


KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT FACES DOWN UTILITIES PROTESTS

Poor people to be cushioned against price rises, but authorities insist 
everyone else must pay realistic share of energy costs. 

By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek

A loosely-organised campaign is under way to force Kyrgyzstan’s government to 
reverse rises for heating and electricity prices, but the authorities are 
refusing to back down. 

The prices of electricity and central heating have risen by 100 per cent and 
500 per cent, respectively, since the beginning of 2010. The government says it 
has been forced to cut subsidies because it was costing it more to generate 
electricity and provide hot water than customers were paying. (See Soaring 
Energy Costs Anger Kyrgyz, RCA No. 604, 23-Feb-10) 

Public protests over the increases have been localised and appear to have been 
organised at grassroots level rather than by the political opposition. Some 
analysts see it as indicative of the state of the opposition parties that they 
have failed to harness the undoubted mood of public anger. 

The first two demonstrations took place on February 24 and March 10, in Naryn, 
the main town in a mountainous province that gets particular cold in winter. 
Adilet Eshenov, a local representative of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil 
Society, a non-government umbrella group, said that up to 3,000 people 
participated in each event. A local government official said the figure for the 
second protest was closer to 2,000. 

The high price of electricity and heating also featured high on the agenda of a 
public meeting attended by several thousand people held in the capital Bishkek 
on March 17. This event, described as a “kurultay” or popular assembly, was 
overtly political as it was arranged by the main opposition bloc. As a result, 
a much wider range of political and civil rights concerns were aired than at 
the Naryn demonstrations. 

Further opposition rallies took place in Bishkek and in the southern city of 
Osh on March 23, close to the fifth anniversary of the “Tulip Revolution” which 
brought current President Kurmanbek Bakiev to power, but again, the main thrust 
of the demands were political rather than focused on the hardship caused by 
high utility prices. 

A new group called Movement 220 was set up by a number of NGOs at the end of 
February to try to kick-start a nationwide campaign of protests against the 
price hikes, as well as against the privatisation of Severelektro, a state-run 
power company, and the communications company Kyrgyztelekom. 

So far, Movement 220 has achieved limited success. In mid-March, supporters 
distributed leaflets in the capital Bishkek and urged people to wear yellow 
ribbons as a sign of support. It is also campaigning to gather the 300,000 
signatures required to call for a referendum, but has managed just over 1,000 
so far. 

In a separate development, leading lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov and two figures 
from the NGO sector have brought court actions against the government, arguing 
that it was in breach of the constitution when it issued a decree approving the 
price rises without going through a process of public consultation. 

The Kyrgyz government is standing firm on the basic principle that prices have 
to go up. But it is now pledging to ensure that the poorest sections of the 
population will be protected against spiralling costs. 

Prime Minister Daniar Usenov visited Naryn three days after the second protest, 
and promised to look into demands raised by activists there. He also said no 
electricity customer would be penalised for late payment of bills. 

At a press conference in Bishkek two days later, on March 15, Usenov argued 
that energy policy needed to be driven by purely economic considerations. 
Previous governments, he said, had shied away from raising prices because they 
did not want to deal with the political flak. 

On March 27, President Bakiev signed a decree introducing measures to protect 
low-income groups in mountainous areas and other outlying parts of the country. 
Unveiling the package before parliament a day earlier, Usenov said people who 
fell into this category would be charged half price up to a set limit of 
electricity consumption, and the limit would be twice as high in winter as in 
summer. 

Last month, Bakiev said he had ordered a review of the price hikes, and the 
findings would determine whether a second round of increases, scheduled for 
July would go ahead. 

Political analyst Nur Omarov told IWPR he thought it highly unlikely that this 
review would result in a recommendation against further rises. 

“This audit is, in my view, merely an attempt to distract the population from 
the acute social problems,” he said. 

The first few years of Bakiev’s rule were marked by large demonstrations led by 
opposition parties. Although Kyrgyzstan is having a tougher time than before as 
it tries to weather the impact of global economic crisis, and the price 
increases are matters of genuine public concern, recent protests have been 
muted. 

Gulnara Jurabaeva of Movement 220 argues that people are fearful of the 
authorities, but that given time and a solid leadership, the campaign could 
take off. 

“So far, these actions have been localised and it will take time and a public 
figure who commands the respect and confidence of ordinary people for them to 
grow to a larger scale,” she said, adding that there were opposition 
politicians who fitted the description. 

“We are not chasing after numbers, but I am certain that this movement will 
gradually gain strength since there are a lot of dissatisfied people,” said 
Jurabaeva. 

Omarov, however, believes people in Kyrgyzstan now harbour a distrust of 
political groups of any stripe. “In Kyrgyzstan, there are no political parties 
or public [non-government] organisations which people trust,” he said. “That is 
why they aren’t supporting the meetings and instead prefer to quietly stay 
away.” 

Political scientist Marat Kazakpaev believes the opposition, despite its 
weakness, will be able to take advantage of the protests. 

“Government policy on the price rises gives the opposition an ace to play,” he 
said. “Although the opposition doesn’t enjoy a lot of trust among ordinary 
people, it can nevertheless exploit current social and economic conditions. I 
don’t think the mood of protest is going to decrease.” 

Begaly Nargozuev, a member of parliament with the president’s Ak Jol party, 
believes the opposition is squarely behind all the protests. He says its 
failure to mobilise significant support despite the real public concern about 
price rises is a reflection on the level of trust people have in it. 

“All the protests around the price rises are being run by the opposition… it 
doesn’t want to miss this chance, and it will do anything to gather people all 
over the country, using any pretext,” he said. “Of course people aren’t happy 
about the tariffs increasing. But the majority understand that political games 
are being played here. People have become wiser and more experienced, and they 
don’t want to be a tool in the hands of politicians.” 

Azimbek Beknazarov, a leading member of the United People’s Movement, the main 
opposition bloc, insisted the protests were spontaneous grassroots affairs. 

“People are not following parties or public [non-government] organisations, 
they are uniting by themselves,” he said. “People are against the increases and 
they say so openly. The problem is that the media don’t report this, the TV 
doesn’t show it and there’s a sense that everyone is satisfied with 
everything.” 

Following the protests in Naryn, a number of online news agencies were blocked 
and western broadcasters were taken off the air. 

This led to calls by international organisations, notably the Organisation for 
Security and Cooperation in Europe and Reporters Without Borders, for an end to 
blocks on media access. 

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained contributor in Kyrgyzstan.

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