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BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Central Asia was the scene of intense geopolitical struggle and the Great Game between the British and Russian Empires, and later between the Soviet Union and the West, over Afghanistan and neighboring territories. Into the 21st century, Central Asia has become the area of a renewed geopolitical interest, dubbed the New Great Game, largely based on the region’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth. On top of that, the region now is perhaps the most important node in the implementation of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative through which Beijing aims to get direct access to Western markets. Every week thousands of news appears in the world’s printed and online media and many of them may escape the attention of busy readers. At The Times of Central Asia, we strongly believe that more information can better contribute to peaceful development and better knowledge of this unique region. So we are presenting this Weekly Digest which compiles what other media have reported on Central Asia over the past week.


Kazakhstan Targets Beards, Pants In Fight Against 'Destructive Religious Movements'

Fearing radicalization of its Muslim population, authorities in Kazakhstan draft new legislation to impose more restrictions on religious activities

Feb 4 — “In its effort to give police more power to fight "destructive religious movements," Kazakhstan has set its sights on beards and short pants. Ultraconservative Muslims who do not fit with the Central Asian country's officially approved form of Islam often display their religious stance through the wearing of heavy beards and ankle-length trousers.” READ MORE:

Kazakhstan: President to Be Made Lifetime Head of Security Body

Making Nazarbayev the Security Council’s chairman-for-life would ensure that he retains considerable political clout even should he decide to step down as president

Feb 8 — “Lawmakers in Kazakhstan are considering a bill granting President Nursultan Nazarbayev lifetime chairmanship over the nation’s security council. The body is currently ostensibly consultative, but its duties give it considerable latitude in setting the terms of national defense policy.” READ MORE:

Opening of Astana’s International Financial Centre

AIFC is to become the financial hub for Central Asia, the Caucasus, Eurasian Economic Union, the Middle East, western China, and Mongolia

Feb 8 — “An unusual experiment for the entire post-Soviet region has just been launched by Kazakhstan. On 1 January, this Central Asian republic inaugurated Astana’s International Financial Centre (AIFC). The initiative is launched as part of the country’s long-term strategy to develop its financial service industry and accelerate the diversification of its economy.” READ MORE:

Kazakhstan focuses on water efficiency to ease water sharing with China

The use of water of transboundary rivers is a sensitive economic, environmental, and political issue in Central Asia. In Kazakhstan, the government is now shifting focus to domestic water saving measures to reduce reliance on river water flowing from China

Feb 8 — “Water sharing between countries that share rivers is a huge political challenge. In recent history there have been few cases where such disagreements have led to violence or military action. Still, reaching a satisfactory agreement on water allocation and quality control remains a big challenge for nation states.” READ MORE:

Kazakhstan moves up one spot to 41st on 2018 Index of Economic Freedom

Kazakhstan remains the economic powerhouse of Central Asia and the most attractive country for investment in the region

Feb 9 — “Kazakhstan’s economy moved up one spot to 41st on the recently released 2018 Index of Economic Freedom annual report published by the Heritage Foundation. It was the highest ranking in Central Asia and among the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).” READ MORE:


Kyrgyzstan: female journalist asks president to legalize polygamy

Observers say that the polygamy issue is thrown into discussions in Kyrgyzstan during the country's important moments in order to take away the people's attention from more serious problems

Feb 4 — “A female journalist in Kyrgyzstan, Nazira Begim, has asked Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to legalize polygamy. She posted her letter to the President of Kyrgyzstan on her Facebook page late last year, amid debates on the religious leader Chubak aji Jalilov's YouTube video post about marrying a second wife.” READ MORE:

Putin writes off Kyrgyzstan's debt of $240 million

Since 2013, Russia has written off Kyrgyzstan debts totaling almost $500 million — for political rather than economic considerations

Feb 5 — “President Vladimir Putin signed the law on the ratification of the agreement between the governments of Russia and Kyrgyzstan on the settlement of the loan debt of the latter.” READ MORE:

Kyrgyzstan: President Drops Libel Damages Claim

Libel suits have become an instrument for the authorities to stifle independent media in Kyrgyzstan, but President Jeenbekov seems to have chosen a softer approach

Feb 5 — “Kyrgyzstan’s president has agreed to drop his claim to libel damages from a news website in a marked shift from the tack adopted by his litigious predecessor. A spokesman for Sooronbai Jeenbekov said on February 5 that officials at Sverdlovsk district court have been informed that proceedings to seek 5 million som ($73,500) in payments from news agency have been discontinued.” READ MORE:

Afghanistan's Kyrgyz trapped on the 'roof of the world'

Ethnic Kyrgyz in the remote Afghan region would seek repatriation to their historical homeland but such repatriation remains unrealistic for various reasons

Feb 8 — “For centuries, the nomadic Kyrgyz people traveled freely across Central and South Asia, fording rivers and cutting across snow-capped mountains with their herds of livestock. Today they are stuck on the "roof of the world" - caught in Afghanistan's remote and mountainous Wakhan Corridor with little hope of a way out.” READ MORE:


Tajikistan Converts 2,000 Mosques Into Public Facilities

Authorities in Tajikistan are taking more steps to exercise even greater control over religious life in the Muslim country

Feb 5 — “Tajikistan last year converted 2,000 mosques into facilities for general public use in its latest effort to streamline the practice of religion in the country and marginalize those not directly under government control.” READ MORE:

Academic freedom in Tajikistan endangered: what is to be done?

The closure of academic space is part of a broader trend involving the erosion of individual liberty in Tajikistan, experts say

Feb 5 — “Academic freedom is imperiled in Tajikistan, and determined action by the international academic community is needed to encourage Tajik authorities to ease pressure on scholars. The dire situation today concerning academic freedom sharply contrasts with that which existed during the late 1990s and early 2000s.” READ MORE:

Tajikistan, most Muslim country in Central Asia, struggles to rein in Islam

Authorities in Tajikistan are trying to exercise tight control of Islam in the impoverished country, but such steps may have an opposite effect — radicalizing Muslims that are being driven underground

Feb 7 — “In the last month alone, local authorities closed almost 100 mosques in the northern part of Tajikistan, the latest effort by Dushanbe to control Islam in the most fervently Muslim country in Central Asia. Yet, this campaign is exceedingly likely to backfire by driving both imams who have lost their jobs as well as their former parishioners and followers to go underground.” READ MORE:

Tajikistan pardons over 100 Syria, Iraq returnees

Tajik nationals that fought in the Islamic State ranks in the Middle East are returning home and pose potential threat to Tajikistan’s security

Feb 8 — “Tajikistan has granted amnesty to more than 100 of its nationals following their return home from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined radical Islamist groups, the interior minister said Thursday.” READ MORE:


Saudi Arabia Sets Its Eyes On Central Asia

Saudi Arabia shows interest in Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, which may help the costly project see sooner completion

Feb 3 — “Saudi Arabia understandably attracts a lot of attention – the corruption purge jangles the nerves of the royal family, the 32-year old Mohammad bin Salman-led construction of NEOM, the city of future, excited urban planners whilst remaining shrouded in mystery, its reaction to the latest oil price surge is still a key indicator of what will happen next.” READ MORE:

Ashgabat hoists fuel prices to protect budget

Oil and gas rich Turkmenistan has to hike motor fuel prices in an effort to cope with decreasing state-budget revenues due to lower incomes from natural-gas exports

Feb 8 — “Turkmenistan has hiked fuels prices by up to 50% as part of broader push to reduce generous welfare subsidies in response to the country’s ongoing economic crisis. From February 1, the price of the most popular fuel, 95-octane gasoline, was raised to 1.5 manat per litre, or US$0.42 at the official exchange rate.” READ MORE:

Is the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline really important for Europe?

The planned Trans Caspian Gas Pipeline is to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to Europe, bypassing Russia and Iran, and is more political rather than economic project

Feb 8 — “The energy-rich Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan ranks fourth globally in terms of asserted natural gas reserves with around 50 trillion cubic metres (tcm), according to the latest announcements of the state energy company Turkmengaz. The current production is about 75 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year, with plans to increase that total to 230 bcm by 2030.” READ MORE:


How Shavkat Mirziyoev Became Uzbekistan's Supreme Leader

During 16 months of holding power in Uzbekistan, President Mirziyoev has neutralized potential rivals and filled top state posts with friends and loyalists

Feb 3 — “The dismissal of the head of Uzbekistan’s National Security Service (SNB), Rustam Inoyatov, on January 31 was the latest and arguably most important step so far in President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s consolidation of power. It was clear when Mirziyoev came to power in September 2016 after the death of Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, that Mirziyoev would have to fend off some challenges before he could cement his claim to leadership.” READ MORE:

Deradicalization in Uzbekistan: It's About the Economy

Authorities in Uzbekistan appear to have addressed the threat of extremism and radicalism by improving economic conditions and allowing more freedoms in the tightly controlled country

Feb 8 — “Uzbekistan was “trending” in 2017, but not for its tourism opportunities, or economic and government reforms. Three terrorist attacks — in Istanbul, Stockholm, and New York City — that killed 52, were the handiwork of Uzbek immigrants. This lead to many breathless assertions that the country is a “hotbed for violent extremism and radicalism.” READ MORE:

Uzbekistan goes visa-free for seven nationalities

Uzbekistan has taken another step to attract more foreign tourists to the country

Feb 8 — “The government of Uzbekistan has announced changes to the country’s visa policy that will provide visa waivers for an expanded list of nationalities, as well as an easing of the visa application process for many others.” READ MORE:

Uzbekistan racing against time to avoid energy crunch

Rich in oil and natural gas, Uzbekistan has experienced chronic shortages of motor fuel, as the country’s existing oil fields deplete and discovery of new hydrocarbon resources is not that easy and fast

Feb 8 — “Since the soil beneath Uzbekistan is brimming with oil and gas riches, the president asked indignantly at a recent government meeting, why are the people not benefitting? The oil and gas industry is the latest underperforming area of Uzbekistan’s economy to feel the heat of Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s wrath.” READ MORE:


Surge In Violence Hits Fragile Afghan Economy

War and insecurity remain the main factors that hinder economic development in Afghanistan

Feb 7 — “A recent wave of deadly insurgent strikes across Afghanistan is severely undermining business confidence in the country, experts have warned. Nearly 140 people died and hundreds more were injured in just four separate attacks over eight days in January.” READ MORE:

The U.S. Needs to Rethink What Winning in Afghanistan Looks Like

Analyst believes that America’s not in Afghanistan to win. It’s there to “hold the line”

Feb 7 — “Americans want foreign military campaigns to go smoothly: Deploy, sacrifice, win, leave. And if winning isn’t in the cards, then what’s the sacrifice for? Leave as soon as possible. By that logic, the United States is losing in Afghanistan — or at least not winning — and should abandon the effort.” READ MORE:

Russia Says IS Turning Afghanistan Into 'Resting Base' for Regional Terrorism

Russia and Iran accuse the United States of supporting Islamic State's rise in Afghanistan

Feb 8 — “Russia has warned Islamic State is turning northern Afghanistan into a “resting base” of international terrorism and a “bridgehead” for establishing its “destructive” caliphate in the region. The “international wing of Daesh” is spearheading the effort of terrorists spilling over the borders of Syria and Iraq and moving worldwide, asserted Russian ambassador to Pakistan, Alexey Dedov.” READ MORE:

Pentagon thinks China could be a partner in Afghanistan

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement terrorist organization, targeted by US military, has roots in the ethnic Uighur separatist groups of western China

Feb 8 — “As bombing in Northern Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province dials in on a little known terror group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), U.S. officials are eyeing a potential partnership with China. ETIM operates near the Afghan border with China and Tajikistan, and has been highlighted as a security concern by the Chinese government.” READ MORE:


Russia’s Eurasian Disunion Stalls Out Due to Fears of Moscow’s Influence

Russia has been the main driving force in the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union as President Putin has pursued his geopolitical integrative goals in the post-Soviet domain and broader Eurasia

Feb 6 — “The Eurasian Union was created in early 2015, but the idea was hardly new. Since its inception as a veritable regional power in the 16th-century hinterland, Russia has always worked to attract and dominate its smaller neighbors, which were hard pressed by other powers — such as the Ottoman Empire, Iran and Austria-Hungary.” READ MORE:

The Absurdity of the New 'Great Game' in Central Asia

Columnist says there are no current rationales that justify the United States continuing its fight in Afghanistan

Feb 6 — “When the American people went to the polls in November 2016, they could be forgiven for thinking they had elected a president who might just bring the troops home from Afghanistan. After nearly seventeen years of grinding war in that poor, desolate and ultimately insignificant country, it seemed that Americans had finally had enough.” READ MORE:

Putin’s Silk Road gamble

Why Beijing and Moscow agreed to work toward a “link-up” between Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Silk Road Economic Belt

Feb 8 — “In September 2013, when Chinese President Xi Jinping rolled out the concept of the Silk Road Economic Belt, Moscow reacted with apprehension. The Kremlin was concerned that China’s grand initiative would compete with its own project, the Eurasian Economic Union, which sought to reintegrate the post-Soviet space under Moscow’s aegis.” READ MORE:


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