Former U.S. Congressman Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana’s 5th congressional district, has drawn controversy over his efforts to promote the Rogun Hydroelectric Dam project in Tajikistan that, if completed, would surpass China’s Three Gorges Dam as the largest dam in the world. The hydroelectric dam, which in spite of decades of planning has only reached minimum levels of development, has created animosity in Uzbekistan, which claims that the diversion of water provoked by the dam would decimate its own cotton production and lead to “further desertification of its land.” Tashkent stands diametrically opposed to the dam, and has gone as far as to threaten war in order to stop the dam’s construction.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has long championed the dam as a potential panacea to Tajikistan’s energy shortages and the possible vehicle by which long-term foreign investment could be generated. Funding for the project, however, has been inconsistent, due to the dam’s status as a pillar of the ongoing CASA-1000 power import project. The Asian Development Bank, which had initially pledged up to 40% of the project’s funding, has since withdrawn, and development on the project had been delayed while the World Bank prepared recently disseminated assessments of the project’s safety and viability.
Burton, the West’s most vocal proponent of the Rogun dam has had his impartiality called into question, due to his relationship with Fabiani & Company, a Washington-based lobbyist firm that handles a $1.2m per annum account for the Tajik government with the aim of developing a “favorable US-Tajikistan relationship” and educating the US Government on what has been described as President Rahmon’s “dream project,” the Rogun Dam. Burton serves as the chairman of the Azerbaijan American Alliance, coincidentally another client of Fabiani & Company, and sentiments expressed by Burton echoed those of Hilary Kramer, an analyst frequently utilized by Fabiani & Co. to promote positions favorable to its clients, and who was expelled from Forbes Magazine due to a lack of impartiality. Allegations of irresponsible or less than ethical behavior directed towards Burton have not, however, been limited to Tajikistan or the Rogun Dam project. In July of 2011, the FBI revealed that Burton had illegally received campaign funds from Pakistani military intelligence services in exchange for support of Pakistan’s position in Kashmir, and the former congressman sparked controversy in 1995 by suggesting that the US Navy send aircraft carriers “to the coast” of landlocked Bolivia.
Efforts to raise support and generate greater funding in the Rogun Dam will inevitably be bound to political agreements surrounding CASA-1000. Controversies surrounding the former have led to delays in the latter, whereas greater funding for either of the two will almost certainly lead to greater monetary support for the other. Further delays notwithstanding, construction on the controversial dam is set to renew later in 2014.
- The Vice President of Afghanistan, Mohmmad Qasim Fahim, died of a heart attack on Sunday, just weeks before the national election in early April is due to take place. Fahim had been a top commander of the Northern Alliance, longtime enemy of the Taliban and part of a collection of Tajik warlords. Radio Free Europe reports that he was a powerful unifying force between Karzai’s beleaguered government and opposition forces located in the south. This is yet another incident of bad luck for Afghanistan, as it comes just prior to the first transition of power since 2002. Fahim was also the most powerful Tajik member of the government, as Karzai and his support base are Pashtun. This could create fractures within the Tajik community over who will succeed him, if the several Tajik presidential candidates like Abdullah Abdullaah lose the election on April 5.
- Malaysian authorities have added a new group of suspects to the mystery of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared en route to China this past weekend: the Uighurs. After the devastating terrorist attack at a train station in Kunming, when knife-wielding assailants killed over 33 last week, Malaysian authorities have followed up on several leads related to Uighur involvement. Several passengers on the flights were carrying false passports, and Malaysian police are investigating a similar case when Uighurs were deported to China from Malaysia in 2011 and 2012 for carrying fake passports. They additionally deported several Uighurs in 2011 and 2012 for engaging in human trafficking, although the US-based Human Rights Watch claims they were seeking asylum. In another twist, two Iranians were on board the flight that Malaysian authorities were originally naming as the main suspects in an assumed terrorist attack. Tehran has offered its help to identify the Iranian nationals to determine if indeed they were carrying the fake passports.
- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev spoke by telephone with Vladimir Putin about the situation in Ukraine ahead of Nazarbayev’s visit to Moscow, reports Radio Free Europe. The Kazakh president apparently told his Russian counterpart that he understood “the logic of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.” Possibly one of the reasons Kazakhstan is so concerned with Ukraine is because of the LNG and oil pipelines to end-markets in the EU that run through Ukraine, an enormous portion of Kazakhstan’s wealth. Kazakhstan has encountered enough economic troubles recently as well, with the tenge devalued 19% and last month’s bank runs, export disruption would perhaps be the anvil that breaks the camel’s back.
- Famed Russian dissident and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky visited protesters on Kiev’s Maidan Square today, which has been considered the beating heart of the Ukrainian anti-government unrest. Addressing thousands, he said that “force was used against the protesters last month with the agreement of the Russian authorities.” Khodorkovsky, one of the richest men in the world, accumulated his wealth through exploitation of Siberian oil fields and privatization of state assets in the 1990’s. A longtime critic of Putin’s regime, he was imprisoned on embezzlement and money laundering charges in 2005 and was only recently pardoned by Putin in December 2013. After securing his release, Khodorkovsky fled Russia and this appearance in Ukraine may signal his reemergence into politics.