Central Asia in Focus: Two Afghan Governments Represented in Tajikistan
Author: Bruce Pannier
Nov 16, 2023
Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036. Read here.
In this week’s edition: two Afghan governments are represented in Tajikistan, Iran is involved in a deal to sell Turkmen gas to Iraq, RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva is detained in Russia, and more.
In the Region
Two Afghan Governments Represented in Tajikistan
An unusual drama has unfolded in Tajikistan.
Despite the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan two years ago, the Afghan embassy in the Tajik capital Dushanbe is still staffed by officials from the government of ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. However, the consulate in Khorugh, the regional capital of Tajikistan’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), is occupied by Taliban representatives.
Ghani’s Ambassador to Tajikistan Mohammad Zahir Aghbar met with journalists in Dushanbe on November 7.
Aghbar ripped up a letter from Taliban acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi announcing his government’s appointment of a “first secretary” to the embassy in Tajikistan.
Aghbar said, “Until there is a legal structure, this group (Taliban) has no legitimacy for us.”
Asked about the Afghan consulate in Khorugh, Aghbar said it was closed “for lack of finances.”
In a video the Taliban posted on X (formerly Twitter) on November 9, Naqibullah Dehqanzada identified himself as the head of the Afghan consulate in GBAO.
Dehqanzada said he works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s term for their government.
He added he is providing consular services, though it was not clear if there are any Afghan citizens in GBAO.
RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reported Dehqanzada previously worked in Tajikistan as an Afghan diplomat under the Ghani government.
The Tajik government has not commented on the occupants of the Afghan embassy or the consulate.
Why It’s Important: Tajikistan’s government is the only Central Asian government that has not established diplomatic relations with the Taliban government since the latter returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021.
Tensions were so high after Ghani’s government was ousted that both Tajikistan and the Taliban sent reinforcements to the Tajik-Afghan border.
The confrontation has eased a bit in 2023.
A Taliban delegation visited the consulate in Khorugh in March 2023 to inspect damage to the building from an avalanche.
Tajik authorities never confirmed the visit, but state news outlet Avesta reported on the Taliban delegation in Khorugh.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan already have accredited Taliban diplomats.
Allowing the Taliban to occupy a consulate in a remote area far from the Tajik capital could be a small step toward improving Tajikistan’s relations with the Taliban.
Iran Involved in Deal to Sell Turkmen Gas to Iraq
Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry reported an agreement was reached on November 8 to supply Iraq with 9 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas annually in a deal that also benefits Iran.
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry said state-owned company Turkmengaz signed the five-year agreement with an Iraqi delegation led by Electricity Minister Ziyad Ali Fadel.
The Turkmen Ministry’s report said, since there is no pipeline connecting Turkmenistan to Iraq, the agreement involves a gas swap with Iran.
Turkmenistan will ship gas to Iran via existing pipelines that connect the two countries.
Iran will then send a like amount of its gas to Iraq.
Turkmenistan and Iran have already used a similar arrangement to ship modest volumes of Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan.
The Iraqi deal is a breakthrough for Turkmenistan, which has been trying to find new customers for its gas.
Most of Turkmenistan’s gas exports go to China, nearly 33 bcm in 2022.
Turkmenistan also exports some 5 bcm to Russia.
Iran imported Turkmen gas from 1998 to 2016, but Turkmenistan canceled the contract at the start of 2017, claiming Iran owed some $1.8 billion for gas supplies received nearly a decade earlier.
The two sides only recently resolved their differences.
Why It’s Important: Iran has the second largest gas reserves in the world, but the country’s gas fields are in the south and northern Iran remains poorly connected to the domestic gas pipeline network.
That is why Iran was purchasing Turkmen gas, to use for communities in northern Iran.
Turkmenistan will receive much needed money from the gas sales to Iraq.
Iran will now have an additional 9 bcm of gas annually for the north of the country without having to construct additional pipelines.
In exchange, Iran can ship gas from its southern fields to nearby Iraq.
The Latest Majlis Podcast
Much of the news from Tajikistan in the last two years has been about politically-motivated detentions, closed trials, and harsh prison sentences, so there is another side to law and order in Tajikistan.
This week’s guests are:
- Marius Fossum, the longtime Central Asia representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee; and
- Muhamadjon Kabirov, whose family fled Tajikistan to escape political repression, and who currently serves as editor in chief of the Tajik-language news network Azda.TV, based in Europe.
What I'm Following
Kazakhstan’s ‘Golden Boy’: from Minister to Murderer
People in Kazakhstan are following the case of Kuandyk Bishimbaev, a former economy minister who murdered his wife in an Almaty restaurant on November 9.
Bishimbaev became economy minister when he was 36 years old.
He had already served in prestigious positions, among them deputy chairman of Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna.
He was convicted in March 2018 of receiving $2 million in bribes and sentenced to 10 years in prison but was later given a pardon and released in October 2019.
Bishimbaev, now 43, and his wife Saltanat Nukenova, 31, reportedly were arguing in a VIP room at an Almaty restaurant and Bishimbaev struck Nukenova in the head.
An autopsy determined she died from head trauma.
Bishimbaev is being charged with murder – and all of Kazakhstan will be watching to see how Bishimbaev is punished, and whether the punishment will be fully implemented.
Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva is an American citizen based in Prague with RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service.
She is now in a Russian jail, after returning to Russia on a family emergency and being charged with failing to register as a foreign agent.
Alsu Kurmasheva is also my friend. I’ve known Alsu for more than 20 years. I know her husband, and I remember when their two daughters were born.
The circumstances of Alsu’s detention are absurd.
If anyone reading this could take the time to repost any #FreeAlsu messages they see on social networks, I would appreciate it.
Fact of the Week
French company Orano has signed a deal to invest up to $500 million in developing a uranium field in Uzbekistan’s Navoi Province.
Uzbekistan is the fifth largest uranium producer in the world, and nearly 70 percent of France’s electricity is produced by nuclear power plants.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for reading Central Asia in Focus! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who may be interested.
Feel free to contact me on X (formerly Twitter) or by responding to this email, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia. See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.
Until next time,