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Russia and US speak for talks between Afghanistan government and Taliban

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — Russia has called for urgent talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, while the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said that Afghanistan is getting closer to holding peace talks with the Taliban as a result of a new Afghan strategy put in place by the United States last year.

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Iran's Chabahar port empowers India-Afghanistan trade at Pakistan's expense

  • Written by Sudha Ramachandran

BISHKEK (TCA) — Through Iran's Chabahar port, India has got access to the markets of Afghanistan and Central Asia states, with the possibility to reach Russian and European markets by land routes. We are republishing this article by Sudha Ramachandran on the issue, originally published by the CACI Analyst:

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Kazakhstan expects to earn up to $5.5 billion through sale of state assets

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — Investors are mainly interested in privatization of 47 large assets of Kazakhstan’s Samruk-Kazyna national wealth fund. Depending on IPO strategies of these companies, the amount of expected revenues for Kazakhstan can range from $3.5 billion to $5.5 billion, Deputy Minister of National Economy Serik Zhumangarin said at a press conference on January 18, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reported.

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World Bank pledges support for Uzbekistan’s ambitious reforms

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva on January 18 welcomed Uzbekistan’s wide ranging reforms to boost the country’s economy and improve the lives of all Uzbek citizens. Georgieva met with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, senior government and parliamentary leaders, and representatives from the private sector and civil society. She offered World Bank Group support to the country’s reform program, in particular in the areas of agriculture modernization, public service delivery, and private sector development.

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Central Asia leaders should end repressive policies — watchdog

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — Political leaders in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan should use the window of opportunity offered by political change in their countries to improve human rights, Human Rights Watch said on January 18 in releasing its World Report 2018. Leaders of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan should also end repressive policies documented during 2017 and prioritize rights, the rights watchdog said.

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At least 52 Uzbekistan citizens killed in bus fire in Kazakhstan

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — At least 52 people have been killed in a fire that broke out on a bus in Kazakhstan’s northwestern Aqtobe region, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

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CACI to hold a forum event on Uzbekistan's new foreign policy

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) on January 22 will organize a Forum event in Washington, DC on the subject “Uzbekistan's New Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity under New Leadership”.

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Uzbekistan’s export grows in 2017, reaching $14 billion

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — Last year, Uzbekistan exported products worth almost US $14 billion, Novosti Uzbekistana news portal reports citing official statistics.

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Kazakhstan railways company signs contracts with US companies

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — Kazakhstan’s national railways company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ) and GE Transportation on January 17 signed the Agreements on the purchase of diesel locomotives and the service of passenger locomotives. The documents were signed during the visit of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev to the United States.

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World Bank, EU to help improve irrigation and food security in Tajikistan

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — The Government of Tajikistan and the World Bank on January 16 signed a US$16.5 million grant agreement for the Zarafshon Irrigation Rehabilitation and Management Improvement Project aimed at rehabilitating and improving irrigation management in Tajikistan. The project, financed by a Trust Fund of the European Union (EU), will allow farmers in the Zarafshon river basin of northern Tajikistan to increase their crops and improve their livelihoods, the World Bank said.

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Kazakhstan, US sign business deals worth $7 billion during Nazarbayev visit

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — As part of the official visit of the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev to the United States, a round table was held with representatives of the US business circles, organized by the US Chamber of Commerce with the support of the Kazakh Embassy in the United States and the national investment support and promotion company Kazakh Invest. During the meeting, more than 20 bilateral investment, trade and economic cooperation documents were signed for a total of over $7 billion, Kazakh Invest said on January 17.

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In Kyrgyzstan, World Bank vice president highlights need for new growth model

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Cyril Muller on January 16 met with Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, Prime Minister Sapar Isakov and Minister of Finance Adylbek Kasymaliev to discuss Kyrgyzstan’s development priorities and the World Bank Group’s cooperation with the country. During his visit, Mr. Muller reaffirmed the World Bank Group’s continued commitment to helping the country achieve sustained and inclusive economic growth.

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USAID and FAO launch agricultural project in western Afghanistan

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), on January 16 launched the Promoting Value Chains–West project in Afghanistan, TOLOnews reports.

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Russian foreign minister on US policy in Central Asia

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on the US intention to hold a meeting between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the foreign ministers of five Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union in the “5+1” format in one of these countries.

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Kazakhstan: government approves action plan to implement president’s address

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — The Government of Kazakhstan on January 16 approved the draft of the National Action Plan for implementation of the Address of the Head of State of January 10, 2018. The document was presented by the Minister of National Economy, Timur Suleimenov, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reports.

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Uzbekistan to build small mosques to attract tourists from Muslim countries

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — Authorities in Uzbekistan plan to build numerous small mosques along roads and streets across the Central Asian country of 30 million, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

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Kazakhstan and US commit to enhanced strategic partnership

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — US President Donald Trump hosted Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev on January 16 at the White House to discuss enhanced strategic partnership between the United States and Kazakhstan.

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Kyrgyzstan’s economic growth in 2017 exceeds the IMF forecast

  • Written by Maria Levina

BISHKEK (TCA) — Kyrgyzstan’s gross domestic product in 2017 was 493 billion soms and increased by 4.5% compared to 2016, the National Statistical Committee of Kyrgyzstan said.

The GDP growth was higher than the forecasts of the government and international financial institutions including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
At the end of 2016, the IMF and WB expected growth of no more than 3.5%. According to the conclusion of the IMF mission in November 2017, the country’s GDP was expected at 3.2%. The forecast for Kyrgyzstan’s economic growth was lowered by 0.3% due to the situation on the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border.

Kyrgyzstan’s industrial output amounted to 231 billion soms last year and increased by 11.5% compared to 2016. The industry grew due to the growth of extraction of metal ores and crude oil, as well as production of plastic and food products including beverages and tobacco products.

Dependence on Kumtor

In early 2017, the GDP growth was very impressive — more than 7%. However, the year ended with an increase of 4.5% due to the impact of the operation of the Kumtor gold mine. The economy is still dependent on gold mining, while investors are not in a hurry to enter Kyrgyzstan.

Dependence on one enterprise represents a significant risk to the economy. In 2018, the gold production will decrease at Kumtor, so it is likely that the current GDP may also change, experts say.

One of the main events of 2017 was the signing of a new agreement on Kumtor between the government of Kyrgyzstan and Centerra Gold. In December 2017, it was 20 years since the development of the Kumtor mine started in the country. Over the years, several unsuccessful attempts have been made to conclude an agreement beneficial to the Kyrgyz side.

Finally, in September 2017, the Kyrgyz government and Centerra signed a new agreement under which the Canadian company will allocate $50 million to the newly established Environmental Development Fund to finance environmental protection measures. The money will primarily be used for the modernization and construction of new modern treatment facilities in the water area of Lake Issyk-Kul. In addition, the annual environmental payment was increased to $3 million.

The new agreement on Kumtor became a signal to foreign investors that they can enter the country.

Industrial growth and trade

The industrial growth indicators are encouraging. Earlier, mainly services and trade were developing, and the population received revenues from re-export. Currently, the country's economy is aimed at industrial production.

Among the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, the largest growth in industrial production in the ten months of 2017 was recorded in Kyrgyzstan — 13.7%, the Eurasian Economic Commission announced in December 2017.

For 11 months of 2017, Kyrgyzstan's foreign trade amounted to $6 billion, 11% more compared to 2016. Exports increased by 12.8% and imports by 10.2%.

The exports grew due to the increased exports of glass, butter, precious metals, non-monetary gold, and dried fruits. The country increased imports of fabrics, ceramic products, tires for vehicles, medicines, and petroleum products.

The trade between the Eurasian Economic Union member countries amounted to $2.1 billion (14.3% growth). The main trade partners were Russia (59% of the total) and Kazakhstan (36.6%).

2017 was a breakthrough year in the trade between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. For the first time in the years of independence, bilateral trade exceeded $250 million. Due to the 1.7-fold increase in trade last year, Uzbekistan entered the top five countries that are trading partners of Kyrgyzstan. In the coming years, Uzbekistan plans to increase the trade with Kyrgyzstan up to $500 million.

The main trading partners of Kyrgyzstan were China ($1.324 billion, the share in Kyrgyzstan's foreign trade was 26.9%), Russia ($1.088 billion, 22.1%), Kazakhstan ($743 million, 15.1% ), Switzerland ($490 million, 9.9%), Uzbekistan ($257 million, 5.2%), Turkey ($252 million, 5.1%), the United States ($135 million, 2.7%), Germany ($56 million, 1.1%), Belarus ($40 million, 0.8%), and South Korea ($39 million, 0.8%).

Inflation

For 11 months of 2017, inflation in Kyrgyzstan’s consumer sector was 3.7%.

In 2017, prices for tobacco products increased significantly, by 24.1% and for services by 6.9% compared to 2016.

Prices for non-food products increased by 3.2%, food products and non-alcoholic beverages by 2.7%. The maximum increase in prices by 11.1% was fixed in the Osh province in the south of the country and the smallest increase was in Bishkek (2.3%).

Remittances

According to the National Bank, for 11 months of 2017 Kyrgyz labor migrants transferred $2.28 billion to Kyrgyzstan ($1.87 billion for the same period in 2016).

In November, remittances amounted to $205.2 million, which is $30.8 million more compared to the same period in 2016. The largest amount of remittances ($262 million) was recorded in August. More than 90% of the money came from Russia.

Construction

In 2017, the gross output of construction in Kyrgyzstan amounted to 140.2 billion soms, 7.1% more compared to 2016, the National Statistical Committee reports.

Investment in fixed assets grew in the construction of mining facilities, processing industries, supply of electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning, wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants, information and communication, healthcare, entertainment and recreation, as well as housing construction.

The most investments (about 72% of the total) were directed to the construction of facilities for the mineral extraction, supply of electricity and gas, transportation activities and housing construction.

Public debt

As of November 30, 2017, the amount of public debt (external and internal) of Kyrgyzstan was $4.44 billion (309.9 billion soms), the Finance Ministry said. Of these, $4.15 billion was the state’s external debt and $429.46 million — the state’s domestic debt.

At a Parliament meeting on January 11, MP Ruslan Kazakbaev drew the government's attention to the size of Kyrgyzstan's public debt, stressing upon the issue of its management.

During the transition to market relations, it was necessary to attract donor assistance aimed at supporting the state budget. More than $2.6 billion, or 28% of the total amount of assistance attracted, was directed to that purpose, he said. Kyrgyzstan has achieved certain results through assistance from international organizations in social development, creation of market infrastructure, improvement of public administration, and reconstruction of highways. However, it is necessary to implement large projects that could bring real incomes to the country's budget, the MP believes.

Kyrgyzstan's foreign debt is growing, but the state inefficiently manages it. In particular, there is no comprehensive in-depth analysis of the effectiveness of targeted use of the funds received, as well as control over their use. Over the past four years, the national debt has grown by $797 million and by $379.3 million for 11 months of 2017 alone, Kazakbaev said, adding that the Government should take measures for the effective management of the public debt.

Business expects role of national currencies to strengthen in EEU payments — report

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — The weight of the Russian rouble in the foreign exchange structure of payments in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) — consisting of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia — has increased from 56% to 75% over the recent six years. The dollar’s share has decreased from 35% to 19% over the same time. However, the dollar remains the dominant currency in payments for goods and services between the EEU member states, excluding Russia. It accounts for 50-80% of payments, according to the new report by the Eurasian Development Bank’s (EDB) Centre for Integration Studies, entitled National Currencies in Mutual Payments within the EAEU: Barriers and Prospects.

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Turkmenistan: authorities launch ‘witch hunt’ to save ailing economy

  • Written by TCA

ASHGABAT (TCA) — Authorities in Turkmenistan are imposing more fines on car owners and even on local fortune tellers in an effort to replenish the state budget as the country’s economy experiences a severe downturn, the foreign-based independent news website Chronicles of Turkmenistan reports.

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UN Security Council reiterates support for efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — The United Nations Security Council, during a weekend mission to Afghanistan, reiterated its support for the Central Asian country’s efforts to restore peace, stability and progress, the UN News Centre reported on January 15.

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Kazakhstan: court jails members of 'Holy Russia' group for inciting hatred

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — Two Kazakhstan citizens who are members of a Russia-based group called the Union of Co-creators of the Holy Russia have each been sentenced by a court in Kazakhstan to five years in prison on charges of inciting ethnic and religious hatred, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

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Astana grapples with growing sinophobic sentiment in Kazakhstan

  • Written by Farkhad Sharip

ASTANA (TCA) — China’s western Xinjiang region is home to a large ethnic Kazakh minority. Being Muslims, the Kazakhs in Xinjiang, like the local Uighur minority, reportedly face the authorities’ pressure under the guise of fighting religious extremism. All this makes ethnic Kazakhs seek protection from Astana. We are republishing this article by Farkhad Sharip on the issue, originally published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor:

Following bloody clashes between ethnic Uyghurs and Han Chinese in the city of Urumchi, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in the summer of 2009, Beijing resorted to both carrot and stick policies to secure stability in this volatile territory. On the one hand, the central government is funneling massive funds to develop the local social infrastructure as well as promote minority ethnic cultures in Xinjiang, which borders on former Soviet Central Asia. But on the other, Beijing is stepping up political pressure on Muslims living there, under the guise of fighting religious extremism. Meanwhile, the continuing influx of Han Chinese from the inner provinces of China to Xinjiang fuels the fear of cultural and linguistic assimilation as well as the loss of ethnic identity among the region’s minorities—including Kazakhs. And Astana is increasingly being called upon by the Kazakh diaspora in China to intervene.

According to official sources, between 1991 and 2016, more than 952,000 ethnic Kazakhs living abroad returned to Kazakhstan. But Kazakhs from China comprise only 14.2 percent of that number, compared to 61.6 percent from Uzbekistan (Diapazon.kz, January 26, 2017). Many observers attribute the significantly low percentage of ethnic-Kazakh “returnees” (or “oralmans” in official parlance) to draconian foreign travel regulations imposed by Beijing on ethnic Kazakhs and other minorities (Ratel.kz, December 7, 2017).

At a press-conference organized in late 2017 by the Social Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, Kazakhs from China who had been granted Kazakhstani citizenship expressed concerns about the fate of their relatives jailed in China. Kadirali Orazuly, a well-known public figure and human rights activist said that family members of ethnic Kazakhs who maintain contacts with relatives holding Kazakhstani passports were being subjected to judicial persecution in China and subsequently sent to so-called “Centers of Political Education” before being imprisoned after a short, closed trial. According to Orazuly, Chinese authorities use any pretext, from money transfers to telephone conversation or visits to relatives living in Kazakhstan, as evidence of wrongdoing with which to prosecute ethnic Kazakhs. Lyazzat Kamze, the head of the Center for Legal Assistance of the Social Democratic Party, said the persecution and imprisonment of ethnic Kazakhs in China in defiance of international law have assumed unprecedented proportions. Further, she called on rights activists to appeal to Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov and ask him to interfere (Ratel.kz, December 7, 2017).

Some of the emotionally charged stories of arbitrary behavior of Chinese authorities toward ethnic Kazakhs may be untrue. But increasing anti-Chinese sentiment among the domestic Kazakhstani population is hard to ignore. Public protests provoked by rumors about the government scheme to sell agricultural lands to foreigners, which shook West Kazakhstan in April and May 2016, were conspicuously accompanied by anti-Chinese slogans. The widespread suspicion and mistrust toward China is reinforced by cheap, low-quality Chinese goods flooding Kazakhstani markets as well as expanding activities of Chinese oil companies in West Kazakhstan, which are increasingly bringing in qualified workers from China but doing little to train local personnel or create jobs (see EDM, August 16, 2013; May 16, 2016).

The negative attitude toward China’s inter-ethnic policies was expressed at the Fifth World Congress of Kazakhs, held in Astana last June. The Congress was attended by delegates from 39 countries. During his remarks, Omirkhan Altyn, an ethnic Kazakh from Germany, spontaneously addressed Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev to suggest that Chinese authorities, “in breach of their own and international laws on protection of human rights, were infringing the rights of ethnic Kazakhs.” According to Altyn, in some cases young Kazakhs in China appeared before the court simply for praying in mosques. President Nazarbayev, in turn, said he had never heard of Kazakhs being persecuted in China. But at the same time, he promised to “look into the matter through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs” (Ratel.kz, June 23, 2017).

Shortly after that, human rights activists collected signatures under the appeal, complete with lists of persons sent to the “Centers of Political Education” and handed copies of documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan as well as the Chinese embassy in Astana. The activists demanded that a commission be set up to investigate the situation. Simultaneously, several members of Kazakhstan’s parliament met with high-ranking Chinese government officials and handed them lists of jailed ethnic Kazakhs in China (Current Time TV, December 7, 2017). In response to charges that Kazakhs in China were being persecuted, the Chinese ambassador to Kazakhstan, Zhang Hanhui, claimed that during the days of the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, citizens in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region were watched and searched irrespective of their ethnicity as part of security measures following information of possible plans to sow public disorder. He told Kazakhstani officials not to interfere in the internal affairs of China (Meta.kz, November 28).

Xinjiang is home to approximately 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs. Their cultural, spiritual and educational needs, as well as the protection of their civil rights are among the difficult topics carefully avoided both by Astana and Beijing in high-level government-to-government talks. But if this issue continues to remain unaddressed, the official silence will only add fuel to the simmering anti-Chinese mood in Kazakhstan.

US expert on America’s role in Central Asia

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — There was an opinion that the United States was leaving Central Asia, which was the case in the past decade, but now the US is reconsidering its attitude to the region, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) Chairman S. Frederick Starr said in his interview with Kazakhstan’s Sayasat.org about America’s role in Central Asia.

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