Staunton, June 16 – Even as it is confronted by threats emanating from neighboring Afghanistan, Turkmenistan is facing a problem within its own borders that could set the stage for even larger problems and link up with the threat from abroad: shortages of essential foodstuffs are now so widespread there that the authorities have introduced various forms of rationing.
Independent news agencies -- but not government outlets -- report that food shortages and rationing have now spread from rural areas into the capital (fergananews.com/news/30575, rus.azathabar.com/a/29291678.html, hronikatm.com/2018/06/sahar-v-turkmenistane-prodayut-pod-raspisku/, hronikatm.com/2018/06/v-gosmagazinah-ashhabada-snova-poyavilis-ocheredi-za-saharom-foto/– , habartm.org/archives/9203 and hronikatm.com/2018/06/prodavtsam-v-magazinah-ashhabada-rekomenduyut-snizhat-tsenyi/).
They say that there is not enough flour, sugar and milk for all and that people are being forced to show their passports and accept only limited amounts. The problem has been growing since last winter and will likely intensify until at least the time when the new harvest comes in later this summer.
In the interval, it is entirely possible that there could be food riots if stores, especially in rural areas, run out of food entirely. Ashgabat, almost certainly the most repressive regime in the former Soviet region, would respond with massive violence, something the population certainly knows and that may keep people in line.
But there are three risks that may limit the effectiveness of repression: First, there is the possibility that these food shortages will begin to affect the cohesion of the regime’s military and police as soldiers and officers learn that their family members are suffering and that the regime isn’t doing anything in response.
Second, some within the ruling elite may decide to make common cause with the population against the dictatorship. That would be a highly risky step, but it is not unthinkable if things get worse. And third, and perhaps most likely, radical forces from Afghanistan may make the food situation the basis of their propaganda to Turkmenistan’s population.
If that last happens, Ashgabat could be confronted by the threat of a link up between popular dissatisfaction and outside radicalism, something it would find difficult to contain at least in some of the hardest hit areas. Those concerned about Afghanistan and Central Asian security need to begin to focus on this prospect.
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