WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 656, September 3, 2011

TAJIKS TO RETAIN CONTROL OF AFGHAN FRONTIER  No self-respecting nation
can allow someone else to guard its borders, whatever ambitions Moscow
might have, analysts say.  By Nargis Hamrabaeva

COMMENT

REPRISALS MERELY ANGER PROTESTING KAZAK OIL WORKERS  Recent trials of
labour activists unlikely to deter further protests but certain to
increase resentment.  By Andrei Grishin

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TAJIKS TO RETAIN CONTROL OF AFGHAN FRONTIER

No self-respecting nation can allow someone else to guard its borders,
whatever ambitions Moscow might have, analysts say.

By Nargis Hamrabaeva - Central Asia

Reacting to reports that Moscow wants to post troops along the border
with Afghanistan, analysts in Tajikistan say the country should not
cede this aspect of its sovereignty to anyone, but instead build
security partnerships with a wide range of countries.

While they accept that Moscow has legitimate interests in the region,
analysts say that on past evidence, a Russian troop presence would not
make a difference to stemming the flow of drugs crossing the border.

Russian forces patrolled the Tajik-Afghan border until 2005, when they
were replaced by Tajikistan’s own units. A possible return of Russian
border guards has been the subject of heated debate for several months
now as the two countries draft a new frontier security agreement, due
to be signed when Russian president Dmitry Medvedev visits Dushanbe
later in September

Afghanistan is the world’s main source of heroin, and consignments
heading for Russia often come via the porous, poorly-guarded border
with Tajikistan. A further concern for both Moscow and the Central
Asian states is the projected withdrawal of international troops from
Afghanistan in 2014, and fears that this could lead to rising conflict
in the country, possibly spilling over to neighbouring countries.

Talk of a Russian return dates from around July 2010, when Russia’s
counter-narcotics chief Viktor Ivanov hinted that Moscow would be
prepared to supply troops to help stem the flow of drugs, while in
December, Russian diplomat Maxim Peshkov said talks on the issue were
ongoing with Tajikistan. Last month, the speaker of the Russian
parliament, Boris Gryzlov, said in a newspaper article that if
Tajikistan did not want Moscow to look after the border, its citizens
should no longer be able to come to Russia without visas.

Tajik officials including Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi have
dismissed suggestions that a Russian redeployment is even on the
agenda, saying that the agreement signed in September will remain
substantially the same as the current one that is due to expire, which
envisages military advisers plus technical assistance from Russia.

The debate has been complicated by suggestions that each country is
using the border issue as leverage to pressure the other on a range of
political and economic issues. (See Tajiks Seek Best Deal in Defence
Talks With Moscow and Tajik Migrants Hostage to Ties With Moscow.)

The 1,300-kilometre frontier presents many security challenges. The
western section follows the course of the river Panj, which is easily
crossed by boat, while the eastern part runs through mountainous and
often inaccessible territory. In an IWPR report from the southeastern
province of Badakhshan earlier this year, Murodhuseyn Aliyorov, who
heads the local branch of Tajikistan’s Drug Control Agency, said the
Ishkashim district was still a magnet for Afghan heroin smugglers,
because the rugged terrain was so difficult to patrol.

An officer with Tajikistan’s border guards service, speaking on
condition of anonymity, told IWPR that the frontier had never been
secure, including in the period prior to 2005 when Russian forces were
in charge.

Abdullo Kurbonov, a security affairs expert in Dushanbe, said the
Russians had only exerted control over the sectors where they were
stationed.

“The border guards principally defended themselves, their posts and
the [official] crossing-points, shooting at everything that moved
during the night,” he said.

During and after the 1992-97 civil war in Tajikistan, it was almost
impossible to stop drug smuggling, Kurbonov said, adding, “It was only
towards the end of 2001, when all the large criminal groups had been
eliminated, that attempts were made to cut at least the major drug
trafficking routes. And it has to be said that these efforts failed.”

“Drugs went over the border regardless of what was happening in the
country, and the profits trickled down to everyone [including] the
Russian border guards on the frontier and the Tajik border troops who
formed the second line of defence. Many of them were involved in
trafficking themselves,” he said.

The analysts in Tajikistan interviewed for this report were unanimous
in rejecting a return of Russian forces.

Leading political analyst Parviz Mullojonov said it was not boots on
the ground that Tajikistan was short of.

“Russia is insisting on completely regaining control of the border,
which cannot be acceptable to Tajikistan from the point of view of
either sovereignty or practical common sense. Why bring in personnel
from outside when we have our own? If we are short of them, we can
train more,” he said. “What the border needs is not foreign soldiers,
but financial investment and modern equipment.”

Another expert, Abdughani Mamadazimov, said retaining control was
essential for Tajikistan’s international reputation.

“Many foreign analysts and politicians describe Tajikistan and
Kyrgyzstan as failed states. The return of Russian frontier guards
would really confirm that conclusion,” he said. “A state that’s
capable of guarding its own borders will easily be able to dismiss
that kind of assertion.”

The border guards officer interviewed by IWPR pointed out that the
situation had changed since 2005.

“The United States, NATO and the European Unions promised technical
and financial assistance in refitting the border, and they’re doing
just that,” he said. “A significant proportion of posts and the
administrative buildings of two border units have been refurbished,
there’s a border guards college functioning in Dushanbe, and at the
Americans’ insistence, Tajikistan has adopted a border defence
strategy that does not envisage [an active role] for other states.”

He noted that when China was negotiating the demarcation of its border
with eastern Tajikistan, it insisted it would deal only with Dushanbe
on the matter. Western military and political officials involved in
Afghanistan after 2001 also made it clear they preferred talking to
the Tajiks alone rather than Russia as well.

Mullojonov agreed on the importance of nurturing a range of security
relationships rather than being wholly dependent on Moscow. But that
did not mean turning away from the latter long-standing relationship,
he said, pointing out that “Russia can remain the lead partner for
technical assistance and expertise. At the same time, others including
he EU and US can enhance border protection with the right equipment,
military hardware and funding”.

Nargis Hamrabaeva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Tajikistan.


COMMENT

REPRISALS MERELY ANGER PROTESTING KAZAK OIL WORKERS

Recent trials of labour activists unlikely to deter further protests
but certain to increase resentment.

By Andrei Grishin

By meting out harsh punishments to union activists involved in recent
oil-industry strikes, the Kazak authorities are merely resorting to
tried-and-tested methods of stifling dissent.

It is doubtful whether these measures will serve as a deterrent to
further labour unrest, and they simply reinforce the widespread
perception that the government is taking sides in this industrial
dispute.

On August 8, Natalya Sokolova, a trade union lawyer in western
Kazakstan, was sentenced to six years in jail and barred from
practicing law for three years after being convicted of “inciting
social strife”.

Her prosecution under criminal law was sought by the management of the
Karazhanbasmunai oil company, after she spoke about pay discrepancies
during a meeting of workers.

During the trial, Sokolova argued that she was speaking in her
capacity as legal adviser to the workers’ union.

On August 16, independent trade union leader Akjanat Aminov was given
a one-year suspended sentence with a further two year’s probation for
breaking the rules governing public assembly.

Aminov’s union represents staff at Ozenmunaigaz in the town of Janaozen.

Ozenmunaigaz is a subsidiary of KazMunaiGaz, the national oil and gas
producer, which also owns part of Karazhanbasmunai, a Kazak-Chinese
joint venture based in Aktau.

International rights organisations condemned these sentences as
politically-motivated, and called for Sokolova’s release.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee said it was unacceptable to use the
criminal justice system to silence the lawyer.

A statement by the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that “making
such actions as addressing workers on issues of wage disparity subject
to such heavy criminal penalties is arbitrary and illegitimate
interference with the right to freedom of expression”.

The law under which Sokolova was convicted means the authorities have
ruled that the advice she gave to oil workers was liable to provoke
“social, national, tribal, racial or religious strife” – in other
words on a par with racist thugs, violent Islamic extremists or others
who present a threat to national security.

The oil industry protests – the longest Kazakstan has experienced to
date – began in May when workers demanded pay increases and asked to
be represented by independent unions, as they did not trust the
officially-appointed trade unions. When the management ignored their
demands, some mounted hunger-strikes, prompting waves of protests.
(See Kazakstan's Unhappy Oil Workers ,)

At the height of the protests, thousands of oilmen and other staff at
several oil and gas companies were out on strike. The Socialist
Resistance, a youth movement supporting the protesters, said over
12,000 were involved, although the Ozenmunaigas, Karazhanbasmunai, and
Ersai Contractor firms put the number at no more than 1,700.

Since then, at least 400 workers have been sacked.

Meanwhile, a core of several hundred in Janaozen continue to protest.
Their list of demands has grown to include Sokolova’s release and the
reinstatement of dismissed colleagues.

The kind of repressive tactics we have seen here used to be reserved
for opposition members and outspoken journalists. The convictions of
Sokolova and Aminov means union activists are now on the government’s
black list, as well.

The scale and duration of the protests clearly took the authorities by
surprise, and they responded with a crackdown.

Strikers were prevented from organising peaceful demonstrations in the
centre of Aktau city, and some rallies near oilfields were dispersed.
On two occasions, baton-wielding police raided the protesters’ camp on
the outskirts of Janaozen, but stopped short of dismantling it when
some workers threatened to set themselves on fire.

Fearing further raids, the workers relocated to Janaozen’s central
Yntymak square, hoping police would show greater restraint in full
public view.

The authorities despatched additional forces. One local human rights
activist saw interior ministry units and two armoured vehicles
stationed at a local school. These forces have not been deployed yet,
but remain in place.

Strikers and family members also report numerous cases of
intimidation. A group of oilmen’s wives who stayed their own protest
was attacked, there was an arson attack on the house of a union
leader, and strikers received threatening phone calls.

Inside the country, protesters were supported by some opposition
groups and labour activists from other industries.

International coverage of the strikes led British pop singer Sting to
cancel a July concert in the Kazak capital Astana. European Parliament
member, Paul Murphy, visited Kazakstan the same month and met the
protesters, expressing support for them and calling on the government
to address their demands.

In a press release at the end of July, KazMunaiGaz said the strike had
cost it six per cent of its anticipated annual output. No doubt the
company will be able to catch up with production, but it will be
harder to repair relations between government and the oil-sector
workers who contribute so much of the country’s wealth.

The authorities’ response has been one of indifference to the
strikers’ concerns, a refusal to step in as neutral mediator between
commercial firms and their staff, and punitive action using the police
and the courts. The effect has been to alienate a section of the
population not associated with hostility to the government, and to
allow a pay dispute to escalate into something that looks more like a
political standoff.

The government’s uncompromising stand has only fuelled resentment.
According to some reports, around 3,000 oil workers have cancelled
their memberships of the presidential party Nur Otan. A party
representative in Janaozen downplayed the scale of the exodus, saying
only about 1,100 people had applied to leave, and in many cases their
cancellation forms were invalid as they had not been filled out
properly.

Whatever the true figure, these defections from the party are of great
symbolic importance, serving as a challenge and warning to President
Nursultan Nazarbaev himself.

Andrei Grishin works for the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of IWPR.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a
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The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty,
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