Category: Land of the Central Silk


August 12, 2018

ISLAMABAD (AP) — In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of increasing Taliban political clout in the region, the head of the insurgents’ political office led a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet senior Foreign Ministry officials there, Uzbek and Taliban officials said.

Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev.

The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan. Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday that discussions covered everything from withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan to peace prospects and possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railway lines and electricity.

Shaheen said Uzbek officials discussed their security concerns surrounding the development projects. “The Taliban also exchanged views with the Uzbek officials about the withdrawal of the foreign troops and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” he said in the statement.

Uzbek’s Foreign Affairs Ministry website offered a terse announcement on the visit, saying “the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan. ” Still, the meetings are significant, coming as the Taliban are ramping up pressure on Afghan security forces with relentless and deadly attacks. Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.

The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan, which view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. The United States has accused Moscow of giving weapons to the Taliban.

Still, Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace said Washington would welcome a “constructive” Russian role in finding a way toward a peace pact in Afghanistan. “What wouldn’t be helpful would be if the Uzbek efforts to facilitate lines of communication with the Taliban are not closely coordinated with the Afghan government,” he said.

“High profile talks by foreign governments with the Taliban that exclude the Afghan government risk providing too much legitimacy to the Taliban without getting much in return,” Wilder said. On Sunday, Ehsanullah Taheri, the spokesman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a wide-encompassing body tasked with finding a path to peace with the government’s armed opponents, said Uzbek officials had the Afghan government’s approval for the meeting.

“Afghan government welcomes any effort regarding the Afghan peace process, especially those attempts which can lead us to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process,” said Taheri. Still, there was no indication from either side that progress toward substantive talks between the Taliban and the government was made.

For Uzbekistan, the IS presence is particularly worrisome as hundreds of its fighters are former members of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a declared terrorist group considered the architect of some of the more horrific attacks carried out by IS in Afghanistan.

Last year, there were reports that the son of Tahir Yuldashev, the powerful Uzbek leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan in 2009, was leading efforts to help expand IS influence in Afghanistan.

Last week, Afghan security forces reportedly rescued scores of Afghan Uzbeks who had declared their allegiance to IS when they came under attack by Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan, not far from the border with Uzbekistan. The rescued Uzbek warriors subsequently declared they would join the peace process.

Most of those rescued were Afghan Uzbeks loyal to Afghanistan’s Vice President Rashid Dostum who wet over and joined IS after Dostum fell out with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and fled to Turkey in May last year to live in self-imposed exile there.

Coincidentally, the rescue of Afghan Uzbeks from the battle with the Taliban came just days after Dostum returned to Afghanistan and reconciled with Ghani’s government.

Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.

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July 31, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — The Islamic State group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a car-and-knife attack on Western tourists cycling in Tajikistan that killed two Americans and two Europeans. Officials in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation didn’t publicly address the IS claim and instead blamed the Sunday attack on a banned local Islamist group. The young men featured in an IS-linked video resembled the individuals that Tajik authorities identified as attack suspects who were later killed by police.

The Islamic State group said in a statement late Monday that several of its soldiers attacked the “citizens of the Crusader coalition.” The four tourists were killed when a car rammed into a group of foreigners on bicycles south of the capital of Dushanbe, Tajik officials have said. The driver and the passengers then got out and attacked the cyclists with knives.

Two of the victims were American, one was Swiss and the fourth was from the Netherlands, foreign and Tajik officials said. The three people injured included a woman from Switzerland. A video posted on an IS-linked website Tuesday shows five men sitting on a hill against the backdrop of a black-and-white IS flag and declaring allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The men say they’re from Tajikistan and pledge to slaughter disbelievers in the name of Allah. A note accompanying the video said the men took part in the weekend attack.

Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry posted photos Tuesday of what it said were the bodies of four suspected attackers lying dead in a field. Three of the men resemble ones in the IS video. It blamed the attack on the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, a local party banned several years ago for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

Tajikistan, an impoverished, predominantly Muslim nation of some 8 million people, was devastated by a 5-year civil war with Islamist-inspired rebel forces that ended in 1997. Alarmed by the rise of the Islamic State group in recent years, Tajik authorities have clamped down on behavior and traditions associated with Islam, regulating how people dress and behave at funerals and ordering men to shave their beards. Critics say the restrictions could help radicalize secular Muslims.

17.05.2018

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan

Heavy flooding has killed five people in Uzbekistan’s southeast, country’s Emergency Situations Ministry announced Thursday.

The ministry said floods triggered by torrential rains hit Qashqadaryo Region’s Chirakchi district.

Relief efforts were underway in the region, it said.

Earlier this week, roads and up to 200 houses were damaged due to flooding in Qashqadaryo’s Kitob district.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/todays-headlines/uzbekistan-heavy-flooding-kills-five-in-southeast-/1148821.

2018-02-08

DUSHANBE – Tajikistan has granted amnesty to more than 100 of its nationals following their return home from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined radical Islamist groups, the interior minister said Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda said the returnees had been pardoned in line with a 2015 government pledge.

“Regarding the fate of 111 Tajik citizens who returned from Syria and Iraq voluntarily, all of them are free under Tajik law,” Rahimzoda said.

Most of the returnees in question had spent time in Syria, which became a magnet for jihadists from around the globe following its descent into civil war in 2011.

Rahimzoda also told reporters that 250 citizens of Tajikistan, a majority-Muslim country, had died fighting for radical groups in Iraq and Syria, mostly the Islamic State group.

Authorities have previously said that over 1,000 Tajik citizens, including women, had joined the radical militants.

Most had traveled to Syria and Iraq through Russia, where over a million Tajiks are believed to work as labor migrants.

The Islamic State group’s most high-profile Tajik recruit Gulmurod Khalimov had served as the chief of the interior ministry’s special forces unit prior to his sensational defection in 2015.

Russia’s defense ministry said in September last year that Khalimov, who may have been IS’s “minister of war”, had been killed in an airstrike.

Rahimzoda said Thursday that Tajikistan was still verifying that report.

Mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet republic, shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Afghanistan, long a hotbed of Islamist militancy and the world’s largest producer of opium and heroin.

Governments have warned that fighters returning to their home countries after the collapse of the Islamic State group could raise the terror threat there.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=87176.

January 19, 2018

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Belarus on Friday mocked Kazakhstan’s suggestion that it could serve as a new venue for Ukraine peace talks previously hosted by Minsk. Belorussian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said in a statement released to The Associated Press that the ex-Soviet nation “isn’t seeking peacemaker’s laurels unlike some others.” He added that moving the talks elsewhere wouldn’t change anything.

“The negotiations’ venue is hardly relevant,” Makei said. “The negotiations on Ukraine could even be moved to Antarctica if there is a certainty about their success.” He added that for the talks to succeed it’s necessary that every party to the conflict sincerely aims to end the bloodshed.

Belarus has hosted a series of negotiations to try to settle the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that erupted weeks after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. A 2015 agreement signed in Minsk that was brokered by France and Germany helped reduce hostilities that have killed over 10,000 since April 2014, but clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have continued and attempts at political settlement have stalled.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said Thursday that the Minsk talks were deadlocked and suggested that his country could host them. He said on a visit to the U.S. that he discussed the issue during a meeting with President Donald Trump, adding that Trump suggested moving the talks to another location.

The 2015 peace deal obliged Ukraine to offer broad autonomy to the separatist regions and a sweeping amnesty to rebels. Most Ukrainian political parties rejected that idea as a betrayal of national interests.

On Thursday, Ukraine’s parliament passed a bill on “reintegration” of the rebel regions that envisages the use of military force to get them back under Ukraine’s control. It contained no reference to the Minsk agreement, and Russia warned that the bill effectively kills the Minsk agreements.

2017-01-18

DAMASCUS – Key Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham said on Wednesday it will not take part in peace talks between the regime and opposition factions in the Kazakh capital next week.

The group decided not to participate in the negotiations in Astana that start on Monday due to “the lack of implementation of the ceasefire” in force since December 30 and ongoing Russian air strikes over Syria, it said in a statement.

Ahrar al-Sham was among rebel groups that signed the ceasefire deal brokered by regime supporter Russia and rebel backer Turkey last month.

The truce has largely held across Syria although fighting has persisted in some areas, allowing Russia, Turkey and regime supporter Iran to organize the peace talks in Astana.

Ahrar al-Sham said “the regime’s offensive against our people in Wadi Barada”, an area 15 kilometers (10 miles) northwest of Damascus that is the capital’s main source of water, was among the reasons it would not attend the talks.

Assad’s forces have pressed an assault to retake the area from rebels after mains supplies were cut last month, leaving 5.5 million people in Damascus and its suburbs without water.

Ahrar al-Sham said however that it was giving its support to other rebel groups represented at the Astana talks.

Mohammad Alloush, a prominent figure of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) faction, will in Astana head a “military delegation” of around eight people, backed by nine legal and political advisers from the High Negotiations Committee umbrella group.

Russia started air strikes in support of Assad’s regime in 2015.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=80945.

Monday 16 January 2017

Syrian rebel groups have decided to attend peace talks backed by Russia and Turkey in Kazakhstan to press for implementation of a widely violated ceasefire, rebel officials said on Monday, in a boost for Moscow-led diplomacy.

Russia, the most powerful ally of President Bashar al-Assad, set the new diplomatic effort in motion after the Syrian opposition suffered a major defeat last month when it lost the rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo.

Rebel groups took the decision at meetings that are under way in Ankara, and are now working to form a delegation that will be different to one sent to peace talks in Geneva last year by a Saudi-backed opposition group.

The talks are scheduled for 23 January in Astana.

“The factions will go and the first thing they will discuss will be the matter of the ceasefire and the violations by the regime,” said an official in a Free Syrian Army rebel group who declined to be identified because the rebel groups had yet to appoint a spokesman.

A second official, Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim rebel group, said: “The majority of the groups decided to attend. Discussions will be on the ceasefire – the humanitarian issues – aid deliveries, release of detainees.”

Turkey has been a major backer of the rebellion against Assad, but its priorities in Syria appear to have shifted away from toppling Assad towards combating both Kurdish groups and Islamic State in areas of northern Syria near its border.

The Saudi-backed opposition body, the High Negotiations Committee, said on Saturday that it had supported efforts towards the planned peace talks in Kazakhstan, and viewed the meeting as a preliminary step for resuming the next round of political negotiations in Geneva.

The HNC, formed in Riyadh in December 2015, includes both political and armed opponents of Assad.

Malahifji said the new delegation would be formed in coordination with the HNC, but it would differ from it because “the Russians are focusing very much on the military factions”.

“The committee stresses its support to the military delegation… and expresses hope that the meeting would reinforce the truce,” the HNC said.

The HNC also expressed hope that the meeting would “establish a phase of confidence” through the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, especially articles concerning ending sieges of cities and towns, delivering aid and releasing detainees.

The HNC said it “appreciates efforts” to make the Astana talks fruitful, adding that the meeting represents a step that “paves the way for political talks” in Geneva next month.

The statement, which did not clarify whether the HNC has been invited to the Astana talks, stressed that “discussing the political track … should be held under the UN sponsorship and supervision”.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/syrian-rebels-agree-attend-peace-talks-khazakstan-17265393.

February 13, 2017

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Turkmenistan’s Central Election Commission says the incumbent leader has won the presidential election. Commission chairman Gulmurat Muradov told reporters on Monday that Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov won 97.7 percent of the vote in the gas-rich Central Asian nation. Muradov said the results from Sunday’s election are preliminary and that election authorities still have to count ballots cast in Turkmenistan’s embassies abroad.

Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic since late 2006, when he assumed power after the death of his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov. The country last year amended the constitution to extend the presidential term to seven years from five, and eliminated the age limit of 70, effectively allowing Berdymukhamedov to be president for life.

February 11, 2017

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — The authoritarian president of Turkmenistan is set to sail to victory in Sunday’s election where eight other candidates are on the ballot, but all praise his polices. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has been the overwhelmingly dominant figure in the former Soviet republic since late 2006, when he assumed power after death of his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.

Berdymukhamedov has made small reforms of the single-party system imposed by Niyazov and some aspects of the latter’s cult of personality, which included naming the months of the year after his family members and mandating all schoolchildren read his book of philosophical musings.

Some of Niyazov’s more notoriously odd initiatives, such as banning opera and gold teeth, also were rolled back. Notably, Berdymukhamedov expanded public access to the internet and increased compulsory education from nine years to 12.

Under Berdymukhamedov, a law was adopted to allow non-government parties, although these parties are strictly vetted. The candidates nominally competing with Berdymukhamedov have been allowed to meet with voters in theaters and cultural centers, but the encounters were not televised and no debates were held.

The country last year amended the constitution to extend the presidential term to seven years from five, and eliminated the age limit of 70, effectively allowing Berdymukhamedov to be president for life.

Meanwhile, Berdymukhamedov has established a considerable personality cult of his own. He is regularly shown on state media successfully acquitting himself in a wide array of physical and competitive disciplines, such as horse-riding, racing cars, cycling, sailing and lifting weights. More recently, the president has taken up music with gusto, on occasion regaling wildly applauding crowds with performances on the guitar and piano.

State television reported on how during a pre-election visit to a gas refinery last month, Berdymukhamedov watched as workers serenaded him on a severely out-of-tune guitar. Later, the president was shown strumming the same guitar — now properly tuned — and performing a song of his own composition as workers clapped along.

Authorities in Turkmenistan have secured quiescence among the country’s 5 million people through a combination of authoritarianism and generous welfare subsidies, like free household gas and salt. But the state’s ability to dispense that largesse has come under intense strain as the price for natural gas — Turkmenistan’s only significant export commodity — has plummeted.

Until a few years ago, Turkmenistan could count on selling gas to China, Russia and Iran. Russia and Iran have recently stopped buying the fuel, however, following pricing disputes. Turkmenistan is placing strong hopes on an ambitious plan to build a gas pipeline serving Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, but construction so far is underway only in Turkmenistan.

The economic crisis triggered by the collapse in gas revenue has led to devaluation of the national currency, the manat, and shortages for many staples including cooking oil and sugar. Because of the intense secrecy which the government imposes on economic data, there are few ways of being certain about the depth of the problem.

Although tight visa procedures make it difficult for outsiders to visit, Turkmenistan has built an elaborate resort complex on the Caspian Sea. Gas revenues spurred a spectacular construction boom in the capital Ashgabat, turning swaths of the city into gleaming white marble residential towers flanking wide, lightly trafficked thoroughfares.

Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.

January 24, 2017

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — A court in Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday upheld a life sentence for an ethnic Uzbek journalist in a case that has drawn international criticism. Azimzhan Askarov was convicted in 2010 for stirring up ethnic hatred, a charge related to ethnic unrest in the south of Kyrgyzstan in 2010 when more than 450 people, mostly ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and tens or even hundreds of thousands were displaced.

The majority of those convicted for taking part in the deadly clashes have been ethnic Uzbeks. Askarov, who can appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court, shouted out after Tuesday’s decision that he would go on hunger strike in protest.

Askarov’s case was sent for review last year after the U.N. Human Rights Committee in April urged Kyrgyzstan to release him, finding that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied his right to a fair trial.

Askarov’s lawyer, Tolekan Ismailov, told reporters that his client would appeal the ruling, which he dismissed as unlawful. Askarov had been documenting human rights violations by the police and prison authorities in his hometown near the Uzbek border for more than 10 years before he was arrested in 2010.