Turkmenistan: A Desert Kingdom Fueled by Gas

Turkmenistan: A Desert Kingdom Fueled by Gas


Central Asia’s Crisis of GovernanceAsia Society

Berdymukhammedov’s steps to dismantle his mercurial predecessor’s personality cult made it politically palatable for the West to engage with the new regime. But even as foreign investors, politicians, and financial institutions embraced Turkmenistan, it was becoming clear that his reforms were largely a façade.

Turkmenistan Snapshot

Size: Around 488,000 square kilometers

Population: Nearly 5 million (July 2011)

GDP: Approximately USD 20 billion (2010)

Natural resources: Petroleum, natural gas, sulfur, salt

Main exports: Gas, crude oil, petrochemicals, textiles, cotton fiber

Corruption Perception Index: 172/178 (2010)

Political rights (1 = most free, 7 = least free): 7 (2011)

Civil liberties (1 = most free, 7 = least free): 7 (2011)

Press freedom: 195/196 (2011)

Sources: CIA World Factbook; World Bank (GDP data);

Transparency International; Freedom House.

Few countries in the world can match Turkmenistan in the breathtaking absurdities of the cult of personality constructed by its first president, a career Communist Party functionary named Saparmurat Niyazov . Much like the rest of Central Asia, Turkmenistan was thrown into post-Soviet independence with little preparation. As a Soviet republic, Turkmenistan depended heavily on subsidies from Moscow, in return supplying the Soviet Union with natural gas abundant under its desert surface.There was little by way of a real economy or a local elite that could step in to run the new country.

Into this void stepped Niyazov, who, like his counterpart in Uzbekistan, grew up in an orphanage. Niyazov molded the new nation around his own quirky persona, famously declaring himself Turkmenbashi, or the leader of all Turkmen. His governing style brooked nothing but slavish devotion, constantly whipped up on state television, which carried his visage as a logo in a corner of the screen.Like Mao in China and Qaddafi in Libya, Niyazov distilled his vision of statehood, history, and society into a book called Ruhnama, or “Book of the Soul.” It became required reading in schools. As the years went on, Niyazov’s vision of his own greatness grew ever more sweeping. He renamed the months of the year after matters and people dear to his heart, including himself. A glittering statue of Niyazov decorated the central square of the capital at Ashgabat, where it rotated so that it would always face the sun.

Like all dictators, Niyazov succeeded in eliminating the opposition and instilling fear in his own ministers, gaining a free rein to act on his delusions. In one of his most alarming initiatives, Niyazov ordered rural health clinics closed, insisting that Turkmen travel to Ashgabat to seek medical treatment. In a sprawling country with bad roads, the move was tantamount to denying medical care to a large segment of the Turkmen population. In the meantime, the regime built large hotels in the capital in anticipation of a flood of businessmen and tourists.The visitors never materialized in the projected numbers, leaving the empty towers as monuments to government waste. Niyazov hired a French firm to build a massive mosque with a gilded dome to commemorate his mother, who had died in an earthquake.

Turkmenistan might have lingered in complete obscurity and isolation were it not for its vast reserves of natural gas. Though precise estimates vary, Turkmenistan is among the top gas repositories in the world, a position that makes it a coveted prize for resource-poor Europe and for China, whose galloping industrial growth calls for ever-greater amounts of fuel. Under Niyazov’s erratic rule, Turkmenistan remained a closed economy, and foreign investors were loath to get involved.What is more, most of Turkmenistan’s gas output went straight into the pipeline network of Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, which would then pump it onward to European markets. Like much of Niyazov’s Turkmenistan, the gas business was opaque and beholden to the man at the top. Turkmenistan’s annual take from gas exports was estimated at USD 2 billion, but “President Niyazov [kept] most of the gas revenues under his effective control in overseas and off-budget funds.”

Though he projected an aura of immortality— of being the state itself—in the end, Niyazov died. A heart attack killed him in December 2006, plunging Turkmenistan into a crisis of succession. Death is one of the few assured outcomes of life, but in Central Asia, the possibility of a leader’s death is often treated as a taboo subject—tiptoed around and rarely addressed directly. The rulers of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—all in the same age group as Turkmenbashi and in power for just as long—have no known succession plans, making their regimes beholden to their presumed longevity. Partly as a result, the region watched Turkmenistan’s succession shuffle with trepidation, fearing violence or a long period of uncertainty.

But within months, the Turkmen political system closed ranks behind Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, a dentist by training and a former minister of health. The new president took steps to dismantle some of the most egregious manifestations of his predecessor’s personality cult. Turkmenbashi’s sun-facing statue, for instance, was removed from Ashgabat’s central square. In another break with his predecessor’s reclusive policies, Berdymukhammedov signaled that Turkmenistan might be ready to engage with the world and diversify its gas exports beyond the traditional Russian market.

The possibility of bypassing the Russian pipelines and tapping directly into Turkmenistan’s gas reserves came at a critical time for the European Union (EU). With few natural gas resources of its own, Europe counts Russia as one of its main suppliers. To reach Europe, gas from the Russian pipelines must traverse Ukrainian territory. Europe realized the perils of this dependency in 2006, when Russia and Ukraine clashed in a high-profile dispute over gas prices and transit rates. As a result, supplies of gas to Western Europe were disrupted, stoking fears that European citizens may have to shiver in their unheated homes in the middle of winter. The gas dispute spotlighted Europe’s strategic weakness and sharpened its apprehensions about having to rely on Russia at a time when the Kremlin became increasingly assertive in its dealings both with the West and with its former subjects in the Soviet empire.

European leaders decided to solve their gas predicament with a grand initiative named Nabucco, after an opera by Giuseppe Verdi. Under the plan, Europe would build a 3,900 kilometer pipeline running from Turkey to a distribution hub in Austria, bypassing the geopolitical and commercial quicksands of Russia and Ukraine. Nabucco would tap into the gas reserves of Azerbaijan, Iraq, and, crucially, Turkmenistan. Nabucco is expected to launch in 2017, though there are doubts about the project’s future.

In the meantime, Turkmenistan’s export outlook changed significantly in 2009. In the midst of the global economic crisis, demand for natural gas declined across Europe because of a slowdown in industrial activity. The balance of power in the European gas market tilted toward consumers, undermining the traditional leverage of producing nations such as Russia.Faced with flagging demand, Gazprom reduced production and pared back the level of gas imports from Turkmenistan. In April 2009, a mysterious explosion rocked the main pipeline carrying Turkmen gas to Russia.The Turkmens blamed Gazprom for abruptly cutting the amount of gas flowing through the pipeline. That sudden drop, they said, caused the blast.The Russians blamed Turkmenistan’s aging infrastructure for the incident. Whatever the truth, the explosion stopped the flow of Turkmen gas to Russia at a time when Gazprom was chafing at the cost of Turkmen imports, which it no longer could resell profitably to Europe. Gazprom used the opportunity to renegotiate the purchase price that it would pay for Turkmen gas once the flow resumed. Though the pipeline was eventually fixed, the gas flow from Turkmenistan to Russia never reached its pre-explosion levels.

For Berdymukhammedov’s regime, the pipeline explosion underscored the need to diversify Turkmenistan’s gas exports and reduce dependence on Russia. That was good news for the Europeans, whose plans for the Nabucco pipeline were facing frequent delays because of political and commercial complications and logistical hurdles. There were also lingering doubts about the true size of Turkmenistan’s gas reserves. Turkmen estimates of the country’s gas wealth always came with questions about whether the opaque regime was overselling itself. Those doubts were dispelled in the first major independent survey of Turkmenistan’s gas fields.In 2008, Gaffney Cline & Associates, an oil advisory firm, confirmed Turkmenistan’s status as the world’s fifth-largest repository of natural gas. One field alone, the South Yolotan-Osman field, was estimated to be able to produce up to 70 billion cubic meters a year, which would roughly double Turkmenistan’s current annual output.The Gaffney Cline study confirmed that Turkmenistan really does have enough gas to sustain a multidirectional export strategy— selling to Russia, to Europe via Nabucco, and to China.

In fact, China has long had Turkmenistan in its sights.In 2007, China’s national oil company signed landmark deals with the Turkmen government, under which Turkmenistan would export 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year to China. That is nearly triple the level of Turkmenistan’s diminished gas exports to Russia, the traditional purchaser of the totality of the Turkmen output. In fact, 2009—the year of the mysterious blast on the Turkmenistan– Russia pipeline—was also the year in which China quietly completed construction of a new pipeline bringing Turkmen gas to China. As in much of the rest of Central Asia, China’s economic juggernaut is swiftly supplanting the historical influence of Russia in the region’s economy.

Inside Turkmenistan, Berdymukhammedov’s steps to dismantle his mercurial predecessor’s personality cult made it politically palatable for the West to engage with the new regime. Unlike China, Western governments are generally constrained, both by public opinion and by law, in their dealings with overtly repressive regimes. Though, over the years, both the United States and Europe have found ways to engage with dictators when it suited their commercial and political interests, such engagement is far easier when an autocratic regime takes steps to craft a softer image.

But even as foreign investors, politicians, and financial institutions embraced Turkmenistan, it was becoming clear that Berdymukhammedov’s reforms were largely a façade, and that little of substance had really changed in Turkmenistan since the passing of Turkmenbashi. More ominously, the repression of civil liberties continued unabated, with journalists and activists routinely harassed and jailed by the omnipresent security forces. Berdymukhammedov’s domestic reforms have been “largely a show—and one for which many Western decision-makers have fallen.” Furthermore, “there’s no doubt that energy is playing an important role in the political relationships between the European Union and Turkmenistan. Talk about human rights, democracy, and political concerns take a back seat to discussions of energy every time.”

Following a series of large explosions at a munitions depot in the town of Abadan in the summer of 2011, reports of civilian casualties started trickling out despite government efforts to suppress the news. The government’s handling of the accident (there is no evidence to suggest foul play) stoked popular anger and seems to have prompted the president to hint at the opening up of the Turkmen political system.Just a day after the blasts, Berdymukhammedov invited the country’s scattered and exiled opposition to take part in the presidential election scheduled for 2012. It is too early to say exactly what that invitation means or whether the Turkmen authorities even intend to honor it.It is extremely unlikely that the opposition candidates—should they overcome legitimate concerns for their safety and run against the incumbent—will be allowed to make any meaningful gains at the polls.But, at a minimum, the invitation suggests that Berdymukhammedov sees the benefits of constructing a simulacrum of political competition, perhaps resembling the Kazakhstan model.

Источник :: Asia Society


“Yankee Go Home!”–Kyrgyz Protesting Manas Fuel Dumps On Local Farms

The poster says: “Americans go home! Straits of 57 tons of jet fuel, why do not you bring official apologies? Why do you brazenly refuse to compensate for the damage? Why do not you respond to our letters? We are offended by your arrogance. We say, pay for the damage and go home! NGO “Asir” . Photo by “Fergana”

Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek to rally against the base of the “Manas” 

The poster says: “Hey, Yank! Where is your conscience? Where are your responsibilities? Decency? Where is your humanity? Your arrogance offends us. We see, and your arrogance and your podshtopannuyu democracy. Pay for the damage! And get out immediately!NGO “Asir” . Photo by “Fergana”


March 15, 2012 in Bishkek ( Kyrgyzstan ) near the U.S. Embassy hosted the rally against the presence in the country of the American airbase “Manas”. Recall that the last such meeting took place on February 1 this year.

Rally near the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek. Photo by “Fergana”

The rally, organized by the NGO “Asir” and People’s Union “New forces of Kyrgyzstan”, was attended by about thirty people.They held placards, and when someone came out of the embassy, began chanting: “Yankee go home” and “Hansi” ketsin. ”

At a rally near the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek. Photo by “Fergana”

The participants considered unacceptable in the presence of an international civil airport “Manas” airbase and demand:

A. Create a commission with members of the NGO “Asir” and People’s Union “New forces in Kyrgyzstan,” which detailed the facts to consider dumping the fuel the U.S. Air Force aircraft during landing at the Transit Center (Transit Center “Manas”).

Two. Demand from the U.S. government to compensate for damage caused by the country’s ecology.

Three. Within one month to begin the process of denunciation of the treaty of TSC “Manas”.

4. Withdrawals from the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan.

The first of the protesters came from the deputy, “Ata-Meken” Natalia Nikitenko and member of the “Ar-Namys” Kanybek Osmonov. Nikitenko told protesters that the political decision on the basis of already accepted. The protesters argued that they did not believe Atambayev, and as evidence quoted Security Council Secretary KR Busurmankul Tabaldiyev that, say, Kyrgyzstan is ready to allow the Transit Center to operate after 2014. Protesters are outraged that “the power of the image acquired at the trading market bazarkoma.” The MPs, in turn, promised to consider the demands of protesters.

At a rally near the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek. Photo by “Fergana”

A few minutes later the participants came to the embassy official translator. The woman refused to introduce himself and give his position. She also refused to take the statement of protesters. She listened to them and promised to “give their word to their colleagues,” retired.


In the event of failure of their claims protesters promised a month to go to the White House.

Catherine Ivashchenko, photo of the author

The international news agency “Fergana”

Afghan Thrill Killing–American Death Squad

PHOTO: Afghans burn an effigy depicting the U.S. following the killing of civilians in Panjwai,  Kandahar by a U.S. soldier during a protest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, March 13, 2012.

Rahmat Gul/AP Photo
Afghans burn an effigy depicting the U.S. following the killing of civilians in Panjwai, Kandahar by a U.S. soldier during a protest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, March 13, 2012.

FBI Warns of Homegrown Violence After Afghan Massacre

Federal authorities have issued a warning there could be “acts of violence” in the homeland sparked by the recent massacre of 16 civilians in Afghanistan allegedly by an American soldier.

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Afghan Thrill Killing–American Death Squad, posted with vodpod

“The FBI and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] are concerned that this event could contribute to the radicalization or mobilization of homegrown violent extremists [HVEs] in the homeland, particularly against U.S.-based military targets which HVEs have historically considered legitimate targets for retaliation in response to past alleged U.S. military actions against civilians overseas,” the FBI and DHS said in a joint “awareness bulletin” to law enforcement agencies Wednesday.

The bulletin noted that there is no specific threat at this time and said it is “unlikely” the recent killings and other “high-profile perceived offenses against Islam” would motivate any homeland extremist to violent action. “However,” the bulletin says, “[the killings] will likely be incorporated into violent extremist propaganda and could contribute to an individual’s radicalization to violence.”

High level federal officials have repeatedly warned that one of the greatest threats facing the American homeland comes from self-radicalized, homegrown terrorists who may be inspired by — but have little to no contact with — major terrorist groups.  In December, a Congressional report released by the staff of Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said such homegrown terrorists were a “severe and emerging threat” to the U.S. military at home and said military communities in the U.S. “have recently become the most sought-after targets of violent Islamist extremists seeking to kill Americans in their homeland.”

READ: Homegrown Islamic Terror ‘Severe’ Threat to US Military at Home, Report Says

Tensions at home and abroad have been strained since an American soldier was accused of systematically murdering 16 Afghan civilians — mostly women and children — in the middle of the night Sunday, apparently in an unprovoked attack in Kandahar.

The soldier, identified only as a staff sergeant hailing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, surrendered when he returned to his base in Afghanistan and has since been moved to Kuwait.

READ: Afghanistan Killings and the Troubled History of American Base

The killings have sparked some heated protests in Afghanistan during which Afghans burned an effigy of President Barack Obama as well as the cross.

Speaking of the alleged killing spree, Obama said Tuesday, “The United States takes this as seriously as if it were our own citizens and our own children who were murdered.”

“The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous and it’s unacceptable. It’s not who we are as a country and it does not represent our military,” he said.

ABC News’ Lee Ferran contributed to this report.



Karzai Suggests Americans and NATO Pull Back Into Their Waiting Super-Bases

[This is what the beginning of the end looks like.  The Pushtun people of Afghanistan cannot let this go, until a harsh price is paid for the crime.]

Afghan army members stand guard as people gather outside a NATO military base to protest the killing of civilians, allegedly by a U.S. serviceman.

( I. Sameem / EPA / March 11, 2012 )

Afghan army members stand guard as people gather outside a NATO military base to protest the killing of civilians, allegedly by a U.S. serviceman.

Taliban reject talks as Karzai demands Western pullback

REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — In twin blows to American efforts to wage war and negotiate peace in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai on Thursday demanded a quicker end to the Western combat mission and a pullback of NATO troops from rural areas, while the Taliban movement declared a suspension of dialogue with the United States.

The developments capped a week roiled by word that a U.S. Army sergeant was in custody, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, in a rampage in a pair of villages close to his base in southern Afghanistan. Karzai’s office said he told visiting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that by year’s end, U.S. troops should be garrisoned only in large bases, abandoning outposts in rural districts like Panjwayi, the scene of Sunday’s shooting deaths.

“Afghanistan’s security forces have the capability to provide security in the villages of Afghanistan,” said a statement from Karzai’s office.

PHOTOS: Afghanistan shooting

The president also called for a significant acceleration of the handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, saying NATO should wind down its combat role in 2013 instead of 2014. “Our demand is to speed up this process, and authority should be given to Afghans,” the presidential palace’s statement said.

In the Taliban statement, which was posted on its website and emailed to journalists, the group’s leadership blamed a U.S. representative for presenting conditions that were “unacceptable” and “in contradiction with earlier agreed-upon points.” It did not specify what those conditions were, but said the movement was “compelled to suspend all dialogue with the Americans.”

Three months ago, the Taliban had announced readiness to open an office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar to try to reach an “understanding” with the United States. The move was seen as a prelude to eventual negotiations, and contacts were under way to try to arrange confidence-building measures such as a prisoner exchange.

The Taliban statement made no mention of the Kandahar killings, or of last month’s burning of Korans in the garbage pit at a U.S. base, though it had furiously denounced both episodes. U.S. officials said the burning of the holy books was a mistake, and Panetta had said that the American sergeant, if convicted of the shooting deaths, could face the death penalty.

The Taliban statement also said that it would be “pointless” to engage in any contacts with the Karzai government, which has long tried to bring the insurgents to the bargaining table. Karzai had complained of being left out of the loop on plans to open the Qatar office, but eventually agreed to go along with it.

America’s “Islamists” Move In On Somalian Oil In Puntland

[SEE: America’s “Islamists” Go Where Oilmen Fear to Tread]

Al-Qaida fighters are reported to be moving into the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in northeastern Somalia where Western companies recently struck oil.

MOGADISHU, Somalia, March 14 (UPI) — Islamist fighters linked to al-Qaida are reported to be moving into the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in northeastern Somalia where Western companies recently struck oil in fields believed to hold more than 1 billion barrels of crude.

As a new oil conflict brews in the desert wastes of a little-known statelet in the forbidding Horn of Africa, Vancouver wildcatter Africa Oil, which made the strike in the Dharoor block, is stepping up security and preparing for trouble.

Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri declared Feb. 9 that al-Shabaab, the main Islamist group in Somalia currently locked in a multi-front battle against U.S.-backed African Union forces supporting the shaky Western-backed Transitional Federal Government, has joined forces with the jihadist movement.

Soon after, al-Shabaab began sending Internet and Twitter warnings that “Somali oil carries death.”

In what’s seen as the first move in an armed campaign against Western oil and companies operating in impoverished Puntland, a self-declared autonomous state since 1998, al-Shabaab has said it refuses to recognize exploration licenses issued by the regional authority.

On March 3, at least nine people were killed when militants attacked a Puntland security checkpoint near the commercial center of Bosasso. This was apparently carried out by Puntland Islamists known as the Mujahedin of the Golis Mountains, a region in the enclave’s north.

Their leader, Yassin Khalid Uthman, declared the group has joined al-Shabaab and pledged loyalty to its leader, Sheik Ahmad Abdi Godane, aka Abu Zubair.

Africa Oil, and its partners Red Emperor Resources and Range Resources, started drilling in January and are to complete the first oil well in Somalia in more than 20 years in the next few weeks.

The Canadian and Australian operators say the Dharoor field could hold up to 1.2 billion barrels of oil. Other surveys indicate the Puntland region has a potential 10 billion barrels.

If that’s correct, it would place Somalia, a former Italian colony that has been torn by clan warfare since dictator Mohammed Said Barre was overthrown in 1991, among the top 20 oil states in the world.

But it’s the potential for oil and natural gas off Somalia in the Indian Ocean that’s seen as big prize, not just for Puntland but for the rest of Somalia as well.

The entire East African coastline further south, all the way to the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique, is seething with exploration by international oil companies, on land and offshore, and is expected to rival the massive fields found in West Africa.

Somali officials say the potential yield is comparable to Kuwait, which has proven oil reserves of 102 billion barrels. That could make Somalia one of the richest oil states in the world.

There are likely to major natural gas fields as well. Fields containing reserves estimated at 110 trillion cubic feet of gas have been found off Mozambique and Tanzania in recent months.

U.S. and Chinese companies have expressed interest in the Somali region but so far have shown no sign of moving into the war zone.

Puntland, whose ramshackle economy appears to rest on Somali pirates who prey on shipping in the Indian Ocean, has largely kept out of the violence wracking the country to the south.

But that may be changing if al-Shabaab seeks to muscle in on the anticipated oil boom in a region that’s languished well off the beaten the beaten track for years but may not be remote for much longer.

On Feb. 23, British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged at an international conference on Somalia that his government was offering humanitarian aid and security assistance in return for a stake in the country’s future energy industry.

That was seen by some as little more than a cynical Western ploy to grab Somalia’s oil wealth. The liberal Guardian newspaper of London said Britain was “involved in a secret high-stakes dash for oil in Somalia.”

Abdulkadir Abdi Hashi, Puntland’s minister for international cooperation who sealed the exploration deal with Africa Oil, said Puntland was interested in having the British oil giant BP as a partner “to help us explore and build our oil capacity.”

The problem is that as Somalia’s energy prospects brighten, the country could become a battleground for neighboring states like Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, which have troops there fighting al-Shabaab.

Central Asia: succession planning in dictatorships

Men on a mission. Presidents (L-R) Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov of Turkmenistan and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan all appear to be pursuing lifelong reigns. None has a succession plan in place.

Central Asia: succession planning in dictatorships

Luca AnceschiKyrgyzstan aside, recent elections in Central Asia would appear to indicate that the regions’ leaders are aiming to stay in power for life. But what will happen to their regimes when infirmity strikes, wonders Luca Anceschi?

(About the author
Luca Anceschi is lecturer at the School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. His main research interests include the politics and international relations of Central Asia and the Middle East.)

What lessons can we learn from the presidential election recently held in Turkmenistan? Apparently none if we focus on the domestic implications, with Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov re-elected as president with a landslide 97% of the vote. The Berdymuhamedov regime has now completed the process of consolidating its power; it can now be expected to focus on re-personalising Turkmen politics, filling the void left after the death of long-time dictator Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006. Certainly the campaign to create a cult of Berdymuhamedov’s personality is well under way.

Analysing Berdymuhamedov’s re-election from a regional perspective stimulates some interesting questions about the current trajectory of Central Asia’s post-Soviet political evolution. The vote of 12 February made a mockery of the institution of elections and this is a trend that has characterised Central Asian politics in recent years. Two of the three recent presidential elections in the region – Turkmenistan’s in February and Kazakhstan’s snap election held in April 2011 – have seen incumbents re-elected as a result of machinations from within the ruling regimes rather than an expression of popular will. In both cases there has been a high degree of regime interference in the electoral campaigns and many irregularities in the voting procedures.

On the other hand, the third electoral contest held in Central Asia in the last 12 months – in Kyrgyzstan in October 2011 – constituted the first smooth presidential transition to have ever occurred in Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In an unprecedented decision, Roza Otunbaeva decided not to run for the presidential post, opening the field to ‘fresh’ candidates.

In the context of the transmission of power according to constitutional provisions, the Turkmen election represents an interesting element in Central Asian developments – obviously, for all the wrong reasons. The Turkmen vote constitutes yet another episode in the peculiar intersection between elections and authoritarianism that has so profoundly characterised the politics of Central Asia in the last 20 years. It crystallises authoritarianism as the rule to which Central Asian governance seems to conform. Finally, it consolidates the regional praxis that supports the hegemony of incumbent leaders.

This latter point represents a critical element in the politics of Central Asia – one that in turn raises questions about the future stability of the region. As a rule, Central Asian leaders pursue monopolistic power and tend to stay in power for long periods of time. These factors underpin the political experience of the last two decades, during which regimes have failed to put in place practices for succession.To date, three out of the five Central Asian states have experienced top-level leadership change since the achievement of independence. Turkmenistan’s power transition of 2006-2007 was initiated by the natural death of Niyazov, which set into motion a process of intra-elite struggle that ultimately saw Berdymuhamedov as its victor. Transitions in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan were somewhat more traumatic. While a civil war led to the accession to absolute power of Emomali Rahmon (Tajikistan), popular unrest was behind the fall of the two successive Kyrgyz regimes, headed by Askar Akaev (2005) and Kurmanbek Bakiev (2010). In this sense, the election of Almazbek Atambaev to the Presidency of the Kyrgyz Republic is Central Asia’s only power transition occurred in adherence to constitutional dictates. The recent Kyrgyz case is therefore the exception to the norm: elsewhere the transfer of power has been determined by overt or covert competition amongst members of the regime, relatively violent episodes of popular unrest and even direct military hostilities.

If leadership change is an indicator of regime insecurity, then Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are Central Asia’s most stable political systems: Nursultan Nazarbaev and Islam Karimov have retained power ever since 1991. Similarly Tajikistan’s president appears to be in a relatively stable position: Rahmon has been in office since 1994, while he was Prime Minister from 1992 to 94. While it is too early to make any assessment of the nature of Atambaev’s regime in Kyrgyzstan, the Turkmen election has confirmed Berdymuhamedov’s plans to establish long-term rule, continuing Niyazov’s way.

‘Central Asia’s cultural tendency towards dynasticism appears to be secondary to the personalism that characterises post-Soviet power in the region.’

Interestingly, none of Central Asia’s current leaders has made plans for succession. While this understandable for the relatively young Berdymuhamedov (b.1957) and Rahmon (b.1952), it is puzzling that the older leaders – Nazarbaev (b.1940) and Karimov (b.1938) – have chosen not to publicly endorse a successor. Here Central Asia’s cultural tendency towards dynasticism appears to be secondary to the personalism that characterises post-Soviet power in the region. Paradoxicallly, therefore, in this sense the Kazakh and Uzbek regimes look perhaps the least durable, as it is not clear that they will outlast their current leader.

Indeed, Central Asian leaders appear to overstep the mark in terms of wielding power, monopolising it to an extent that militates against nurturing successors. This was certainly the case in pre-2006 Turkmenistan, where Niyazov’s options for intra-elite succession were reduced by the President’s paranoid distrust of his political associates, while dynastic succession was limited by his estrangement from his own family.

Similarly, dynasticism appears not to be an option for Nazarbaev and Karimov, as both leaders do not have a direct male heir in their current family ranks (although Karimov has a son from his first marriage). Although the presidents’ daughters – Dariga, Dinara and Aliya Nazarbaeva; Gulnara and Lola Karimova – are recognisable figures in their countries (yet not necessarily popular), it seems unlikely that they could become frontrunners in a top-level power transition. If Gulnara Karimova was once thought to be in a privileged position to succeed to her father, her chances have significantly decreased after 2010, when questions surrounding her business interests circulated.

Meanwhile succession based on family ties has been widely anticipated in  Kazakhstan. At different times, Rakhat Aliyev – Dariga’s ex-husband – and Timur Kulibaev – Dinara’s current spouse – were presented by Kazakhstan-watchers as Nursultan Nazarbaev’s potential heirs. Interestingly, they have both now fallen out of favour with Nazarbaev: while former Deputy Foreign Minister Aliyev has now become a staunch (and very vocal) opponent to his former father-in-law, Kulibaev was recently dismissed from his post as head of Samruk-Qazyn, Kazakhstan’s Sovereign Fund.

In spite of their reluctance to nominate a successor, both Nazarbaev and Karimov have begun to deal more publicly with the limitations that age is inevitably imposing on their power. In an official visit to Germany in early February 2012, Nazarbaev answered several questions from German journalists about the state of his health. The president’s openness on the subject contrasts with his government’s reticence over rumours of prostatic surgery Nazarbaev reportedly underwent in July 2011.

Karimov, on the other hand, dealt indirectly but publicly with his own mortality in a major parliamentary speech in December 2010, when he outlined a new succession procedure to be applied in the event of his death of incapacitation. Presidential concerns with age are also thought to underpin the recent (December 2011) decision to shorten the Uzbek presidential term from seven to five years. This decision may bring about a presidential election as early as this year. Some observers have commented that the aim of the current, shorter term may be to identify a successor – current Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev appears to be the front runner – and negotiate an exit strategy, ensuring that Karimov and his family can step away without fear of violent or punative retribution. Another possible explanation for the shorter term is that it could simply be another subterfuge, aimed at prolonging his time at the helm.

Whatever decision Karimov reaches on the scope of his next mandate and whatever course Nazarbaev’s health takes, political succession in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is no longer a matter for another day: it now represents the impending reality of a not-so-distant future. The stability of the two major political systems therefore appears at risk, as neither leadership has made arrangements to face the tasks posed by the departure of long-term leaders. If Nazarbaev and Karimov do not reverse this trend by placing the issue of succession at the centre of their remaining time in power, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will find themselves immersed in the same uncertainty that surrounded Turkmenistan following the death of Niyazov.

Although pre-arranged succession measures do not guarantee regime security against the emergence of instability, the Central Asian experience tells us that the lack of succession arrangements can result either in widespread instability or in the perpetuation of authoritarian practices, a situation that ultimately puts the local population between a rock and a hard place. This is exactly the scenario the citizens of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan want to avoid when their leaders exit the stage.

Battling the Saudis

[The only reason that the Saudis are leading the terror war in the Middle East today is because the actions of 15 Saudis and their Saudi enablers were covered-up by American government officials in 2001.  Maybe it takes a Jewish “Philadelphia lawyer” to expose the Saudi hand which has been hidden from us for so long.]

Battling the Saudis

Laura Goldman, Jewish Exponent Feature

Philadelphia attorney Steven Cozen is continuing his nine-year quest to hold the Saudi Arabian government accountable for its alleged involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Cozen was slated to be in court this week to go up against the kingdom and the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which allegedly provided financial and logistical support to Al Quada, in a federal courtroom in Manhattan. Cozen is suing on behalf of several insurance companies that suffered economic damages, the brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 employees on the attack on the World Trade Center, and others.

Steven Cozen

Despite objections from the State Department over the piercing of a foreign government’s sovereign immunity, Cozen has attempted to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the Sept. 11 attacks that killed 3,000 Americans. His lawsuits seek economic damages against the kingdom and the Saudi High Commission.

The kingdom’s lawyers have long argued that the 9/11 commission report fully exonerated Saudi Arabia of any wrongdoing. Cozen, co-founding partner of the mega-law firm Cozen O’Connor, rebuts this characterization

“There is one sentence in the 1000-page report that reads, ‘There is no direct evidence that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was involved,’ ” he noted.

Cozen has recently filed affidavits from former Sens. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) and Robert Graham (D-Fla.), who both served on the 9/11 commission, that buttress the Philadelphia attorney’s claim of Saudi-sponsored terrorism. Graham, a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in his affidavit: “I am convinced that there is a direct line between at least some of the terrorists that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia, and that a Saudi government agent living in the United States, Omar al Bayoumi, provided direct assistance” to Sept. 11 attackers and that al Bayoumi was acting “at the direction of elements of the Saudi government.”

Kerrey, who is now running for his old Senate seat, also disputed the Saudi’s interpretation of the 9/11 commission report. He wrote in his affidavit, “To the contrary, significant questions remain unanswered concerning the possible involvement of the Saudi government institutions and actors in the financing and sponsoring of Al Qaeda, and evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been pursued.”

Both former senators want these links further examined. Graham would also like to see an investigation into the Sept. 11 role of al Bayoum, whose pay as a Saudi government contractor increased eight-fold during the period that he allegedly supported the hijackers.

“To this date, this evidence has not been fully explored and pursued, to the detriment of the American public,” Graham said under oath.

“The American public deserves a more robust inquiry into these issues, and I fully support the efforts of the 9/11 plaintiffs to use the civil justice system towards that goal.”

Cozen, who has been a supporter of local Jewish community institutions and Israel for almost 40 years, describes his efforts in this matter as a calling.

“I do not see this as a geopolitical fight but a determination of liability,” he said.

“A United States citizen hurt on U.S. soil by a foreign government should be able to seek relief in a U.S. courtroom.”