Russia, United States to combat Central Asian drug trafficking; SCO to hold anti-terror drills in China; Kazakhstan to set up independent monitoring bodies to prevent torture; Kazakhstan legalizes the concept of ‘nationalization’;
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  • Reports noted that Russia and the United States are planning joint operations to crack down on drug trafficking in Central Asia. Russian Anti-drugs Chief Viktor Ivanov speaking at a Drug Trafficking Working Group meeting of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission said that the revenue from the sale of narcotics “is being pumped into organized crime in the region”.1 Both countries are working on a strategy of joint operations to destroy the trade at its source, which are drug laboratories in Afghanistan.2

    However, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) announced during a meeting in Tashkent on 25th March that it will hold anti-terrorism drills in China in May this year. The meeting included SCO officials from member states Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, China and Kyrgyzstan. The anti-terror drills aim to improve the capacity of member states’ forces in combating terrorism while strengthening cooperation between the organization and member states.3

    Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s authorities, in a conference, sponsored by the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE), in Astana, have decided to set up independent monitoring bodies to prevent torture in Central Asia’s largest country. The plan to establish a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) on torture in Kazakhstan is in accord with the government’s responsibilities as a 2008 signee of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.4 Kazakhstan has legalized the concept of ‘nationalization’ as a step toward establishing a transparent investment climate wherein the government will only resort to nationalizing private property in extreme situations. Economy Minister Zhanar Aitzhanova said that under the new law, authorities can resort to nationalization only if there were "a threat to national security".5 Kazakh firm Summit Atom Rare Earth Company, a joint venture between the Kazakh state-owned firm Kazatomprom and Japanese trader Sumitomo Corp, will produce 1,500 tons of rare earth metals next year to supply the global market with materials for electronics. This announcement follows after China decided to scale back exports of the valuable commodity to meet its domestic demand.6

    Reports noted that in the run-up to Kazakhstan's Presidential election on April 3, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) criticized the election process in the country. The OSCE, Europe's leading vote-monitoring group, criticized the country for failing to implement key recommendations it had made after previous elections, none of which it has ever judged free and fair. Its interim report states that previous OSCE recommendations for improving the legal framework remain unaddressed; the mandatory Kazakh language test, which all candidates have to pass, lacked any clear criteria for success, while the checking of signatures supporting candidates wasn't "transparent". It also criticized the restrictions imposed on candidates holding rallies, and the "harsh penalties" faced by journalists under the country's stringent defamation laws.7

    According to reports, Russia has decided to ramp up export duties on crude oil and related products sold to Tajikistan which depends on the former for 90% of its energy needs. The tax hike slaps a 5.3% increase in the cost of oil products exported to Tajikistan which earlier enjoyed tariff-free Russian energy imports from 1995 until Moscow applied the tax in May 2010. It is believed that this move is to let Russia to set up a military base in the country for offering the waiver.8

    In other developments in the region, reports noted that Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani was in Uzbekistan with a high-power delegation on the first of a two-day visit to meet the Uzbek leadership and to strengthen bilateral ties. Uzbekistan and Pakistan agreed to formalize an extradition treaty between their countries.9 PM Gilani stated, “Both Pakistan and Uzbekistan face common threats and challenges from extremism and have a stake in Afghanistan, where the deteriorating security situation for the past three decades has destabilized the entire region.”10 The two sides signed several agreements ranging from shipment of goods to animal husbandry and cooperation in veterinary sciences. The Uzbek Minister for Economics Ravshan Gulomov ratified an agreement with his counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar on the transit of goods which permits bilateral trade partners to transport goods through a multimodal transport system that is being built between the two countries.11