Alisher Khamidov opens this edition of our EurasiaChat podcast by dwelling on how military conscript recruiters in Tajikistan resort to extreme lengths to hit their quotas.
The mass recruitment drives take place in the spring and the fall. Recruiters resort to devious, not to say violent, methods to round up young people. Around 16,000 young men are enlisted annually in Tajikistan through conscription.
Military service is a particularly unpleasant affair in Tajikistan. Living conditions are deplorable and hazing is rife. Even though criticism of the authorities is barely tolerated in Tajikistan, there are sometimes cases of abuse so bad that they force the government to contend with public sentiment.
Our Central Asia editor, Peter Leonard, turned his attention to the renewed focus of late on the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railroad project. The subject returned to the agenda following last month’s Central Asia-China summit in the Chinese city of Xi'an (not Xinjiang as Peter said, misspeaking) where an agreement on future planning was struck.
In the wake of that summit, an Uzbek railways official said work on completing the last needed section across Kyrgyzstan will start this year. This is notionally an exciting prospect since it envisions radically shortening travel distances between Asia and the Middle East and Europe. One day, Kyrgyzstan could even be joined to the Arabian Sea, via Afghanistan and Pakistan, by railway. A lot more work will have to be done for that to become reality, however.
During his recent stay in Uzbekistan, Alisher took the temperature of the public mood. Literally. While Uzbeks are deeply preoccupied by the wretchedly hot weather, their interest in the snap presidential election being held in July is pretty faint. The sense is that the election was mostly designed to enable President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to maintain his grip on power. And for little else.
Perhaps the most recent threat to that authority arrived in July 2022, when thousands of people hit the streets in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan to hold demonstrations that were promptly crushed. As ever, the authorities chose to blame the deadly unrest on protestors and many dozens have since then been thrown into prison. The appeal trial of one set of those prisoners has now ended and a verdict was due to be issued on June 5.
Alisher was unimpressed by the visit to Central Asia of Charles Michel, the president of the European Council (not the European Commission – another flub by Peter). Michel spoke to the regional leaders he met about the European Union’s strong commitment to Central Asia. Alisher and Peter wondered, however, whether this ubiquitous 5+1 format (five countries of Central Asia plus [insert country or international bloc]) is really that productive.
The EU, after all, likes to talk about its devotion to democracy and other liberal values. But Kyrgyzstan, the country where this EU-Central Asia confab was held, is seeing a notable worsening in its political climate. The heat is being felt at the moment by civil society, which is poised to come under more pressure under a proposed NGO-suffocating law that Bishkek has borrowed directly from Russia.
Aigerim Toleukhanova is a journalist and researcher from Kazakhstan.
Peter Leonard is Eurasianet’s Central Asia editor.
Alisher Khamidov is a writer based in Bishkek.