President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has furtively engaged the Taliban in peace negotiations, thereby jeopardizing the already rocky relationship with the United States and possibly eroding the limited possibility of a long-term security agreement between the two countries. The news comes at a time when US-Afghan relations have reached their nadir, and seems to contradict President Obama’s State of the Union Address, in which he stated that the possibility of American troops remaining in Afghanistan past the 2014 deadline was a viable one.
The news of Karzai’s negotiations with the Taliban represents yet another setback, while simultaneously furnishing an explanation as to why a US-Afghan security and aid deal has gone unsigned. Nearly two months ago, Mr. Karzai convened a group of notable Afghans, known as a loya jirga, to evaluate and subsequently ratify a tentative agreement proposed by the United States. Though the group approved of the agreement and asked Karzai to sign it, the president refused. Initially perplexing to many in both the United States and Afghanistan, the fact that Karzai has consistently stalled negotiations, demanded the release of Taliban militants from military prisons and insisted that the Taliban be involved in any long-term agreement can now be ascribed to ongoing peace negotiations with the Taliban.
- The trial of four Kazakh men accused of terrorism began in the Kazakh capital of Astana on Tuesday. Two of the four suspects have been accused of alleged involvement with terrorist groups in Syria, while the other two have been charged with allegedly financing terrorist activities. While charges of terrorism have previously been brought against individuals for allegedly plotting to destroy domestic targets within Kazakhstan, the recently begun trial substantiates reports indicating that Central Asian Islamists have steadily been joining the ongoing Syrian civil war.
- In an effort to provide relief and combat high inflation, Iranian authorities have begun to distribute food amongst the country’s poorest. The New York Times reports that a care package containing rice, chicken and eggs, amongst other goods, been offered to all citizens making “less than 5 million rials, or $170 a month,” and allows the government to quickly showcase benefits of having received the first $500 million dollar installment as part of the interim nuclear deal.
- Radio Free Asia reports that Jume Tohitniyaz, a village secretary for China’s regional government in Xianjiang province, was stabbed to death in what authorities believe to be an act of retaliation towards Tohitniyaz for what officials described as “support for pro-government policies.” In a separate incident, Chinese police shot and killed a Uighur man suspected of harboring members of the Uighur separatist group East Turkistan Islamic Movement, on charges that he refused to let them enter his home.
- Eurasia Net profiles the risks associated with goods sold at the Manas Transit Center outside of the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. Though sales at Manas’s market include food items and military surplus gear, the misuse of expired antibiotics and prescription medication available at Manas represents a serious public health concern for the Kyrgyz. Dangerous, drug-resistant strains of diseases such as tuberculosis have developed that signify “near-certain death for anyone who contracts them.”
- Reuters reports on last-minute preparations being carried out by Russian authorities in anticipation of the upcoming Olympic Games to be held in Sochi. Though in previous instances the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has praised Russia’s preparation, the IOC recently released a statement urging Russian authorities to finalize construction of tourism infrastructure and ensure that ongoing construction is completed before the opening ceremony.
- Central Asia Online documents efforts initiated by the Uzbek cabinet to improve e-governance throughout the country. The mandate issued on December 31 demands that all government websites be streamlined by March 1, and is designed to improve functionality and allow for Uzbek officials to better receive public opinion through an improved polling system and forums.