Turkmenbashi (Father of all Turkmen) Saparmurat Niyazov is my favorite dictator in all of this world. I like him better than The General or lil' Kim or Saudi Faudi, or Qaddafi. Sure, he does the usual portraits everywhere and gold-plated statues (though, his rotates throughout the day and always faces the sun. cool.) and all that but there is more. He has all kinds of swag named after him. Ministers lavish intense praise, "God awards such strength, such greatness, such fate only to those he favors, sincerely loves and considers God's messengers" - that was on the occasion of his 63rd birthday. Children stand and sing his praises in front of his portraits in class. People wear lapel pins with his mug. The month of January is named after him. The month of April after his mother.
The best, though, is that he may have topped the literary outputs of Qaddafi and Saddam combined in his Ruhnama:
This will be taught in all the schools and universities (one) as an obligatory subject. Damn, it feels good to be a dictator. He also has made the Turkmenistani women hot, uh, commodities. If you are a foreigner and want to marry a Turkmeni beauty, you must pay a $50,000 bride tax to cover the cost of raising children in case of a divorce. Don't know if cultural differences or dictator brain-washing is the highest contributor to the divorce.
Why do we care about this particular egomaniac? Well, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline is why. This 800 mile pipeline is the golden dream for all concerned. With Karzai getting a "mandate" and The General sticking around for 5 years, this could deliver 2.5 billion cubic feet up to New Delhi (the only economy in the region that matters for now). There are other gas-line projects that India is interested in, from Iran (through Pakistan) or Qatar (through Pakistan). The TAP project is not that expensive (around $ 2 billion) but the ramifications are immense - national highways, tax-free trade etc.
TAP is the latest CBM between India and Pakistan. But as the Templeton piece describes, either there isn't all that gas or one just cannot trust Turkmenbashi.
Turkmenbashi made something resembling a mainstream appearance this week. NPR's quiz show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" featured a question to which the correct answer was that Ruhnama will now be a subject on the Turkmenistan driving license exam.
Jonathan: Driving test? I missed that one. I have a feeling that we will be hearing more about him in the press as well. He can be mocked a lot easier than lil' Kim who is crazy but has nukes.