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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

Report: Hackers detect online protest-sniffing software in Kazakhstan

Restrictive government control over online space in Kazakhstan has had real-life consequences for countless internet users

Dec 21 — “Kazakhstan has reportedly adopted online software developed by Russia's security services and designed to detect protest moods among the population. Russia-based hacking collective Digital Revolution on December 19 posted scanned documents on its website that it claimed were proof of a mechanism that systematically trawls online news resources and social media for evidence of public discontent.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/report-hackers-detect-online-protest-sniffing-software-in-kazakhstan

OUTLOOK 2019 Kazakhstan

Despite some difficulties caused by low energy prices, Kazakhstan remains Central Asia’s leading economy

Dec 21 — “Kazakh GDP grew by 4.1% y/y in the first 10 months of 2018. The growth rate stood largely unchanged in comparison to the figures reported in the first nine months, first half and first quarter of 2018 - growth uniformly stood at 4%-4.1% throughout those periods. Kazakh growth rebounded to 4% in 2017, up from 1% in 2016, and the government attributed the steady growth to a weakening of inflationary pressures and high investment activity.” READ MORE: http://www.intellinews.com/outlook-2019-kazakhstan-154072/

Happy Anniversary Kazakhstan: What Will the New Year Bring?

Kazakhstan has managed in record time to become Central Asia’s leader and is making a name for itself in global affairs

Dec 25 — “The Republic of Kazakhstan celebrated its 27th independence anniversary on December 16th. This past year has brought a number of significant foreign policy-related successes for the Central Asian state. Hence, it is mandatory for those of us that work on international affairs to monitor Astana in 2019 as it approaches three decades of independence.” READ MORE: https://intpolicydigest.org/2018/12/25/happy-anniversary-kazakhstan-what-will-the-new-year-bring/

Programmes seek to attract more medical tourists to Kazakhstan

The development of medical tourism seeks to increase the capacity of healthcare organisations in Kazakhstan and to attract foreign patients

Dec 26 — “Medical tourists from 45 countries come to Kazakhstan annually, reported Deputy General Director of the National Centre for Health Development Aiman Iskakova. Ninety percent of them are citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), mainly from Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Uzbekistan while other visitors come from China, Iran and Turkey. Overall, 1,604 foreign patients were registered in the first 10 months of 2018.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/12/programmes-seek-to-attract-more-medical-tourists-to-kazakhstan/

KYRGYZSTAN

Uzbekistan relocates production of its goods to Kyrgyzstan

Government officials and experts tell about renewed cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan

Dec 21 — “Uzbekistan relocates the production of cars to Kyrgyzstan and opens a joint structure set up for cotton processing, textile production and tailoring in the republic. These are the first steps of the roadmap on trade, economic and investment cooperation, signed in Osh by the heads of government of the two countries, Abdulla Aripov and Muhammedkaliy Abylgaziyev.” READ MORE: http://vestnikkavkaza.net/analysis/Uzbekistan-relocates-production-of-its-goods-to-Kyrgyzstan.html

Kyrgyzstan: Commercial banks told to disclose information on customers

Kyrgyzstan’s banks refused to provide information on customers’ accounts to the State Financial Intelligence Service

Dec 23 — “This week, the local media reported that the State Financial Intelligence Service (FIS) of Kyrgyzstan requested all commercial banks of the country to provide data on customers’ accounts and cells. On December 18, the 24.kg news agency posted a letter to commercial banks, dated December 10 and signed by FIS Chairman Gulamjan Anarbaev. The letter stated that in line with the law “On Counteracting the Financing of Terrorist Activities and Legalization (Laundering) of Criminal Proceeds”, all commercial banks should provide data on their customers’ accounts and cells. The deadline was December 17, but none of the banks has provided this information so far.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20640-kyrgyzstan-commercial-banks-told-to-disclose-information-on-customers

OUTLOOK 2019 Kyrgyzstan

The year 2018 was marked by the ongoing feud between the incumbent President and his predecessor, as well as numerous corruption cases involving high-ranking government officials

Dec 27 — “All eyes in the Kyrgyz Republic are on where the gripping power struggle between President Sooranbai Jeenbekov and his predecessor Almazbek Atambayev goes from here. It was all supposed to be so different. Atambayev went out of his way to back the ascension of Jeenbekov to the presidency in late 2017, in what was Central Asia’s first peaceful democratic replacement of a leader. Plenty of observers were convinced that his support was merely a facade, and that Atambayev planned to rule from the shadows.” READ MORE: http://www.intellinews.com/outlook-2019-kyrgyzstan-153860/

Kyrgyzstan: Judicial reform aims to restore public confidence

It is yet to be seen whether a new wave of the judicial reform will achieve its declared goals in Kyrgyzstan, as the previous reforms have brought no result

Dec 29 — “In order to seize the property of foreign citizens and investors in Kyrgyzstan, some judges make illegal decisions in the interests of organized criminal groups. Such phenomena decrease the investment attractiveness of the state, block foreign investment and cause great damage to the country’s economy, Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said at a meeting of the Judicial Reform Council on December 27.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20663-kyrgyzstan-judicial-reform-aims-to-restore-public-confidence

TAJIKISTAN

Japan invests about $ 442,000 for social projects in Tajikistan

In Tajikistan, Japanese aid and investments are mainly focused on education and healthcare projects

Dec 21 — “Japan will provide Tajikistan with more than $ 441,800 of grant funds within the framework of the Government of Japan’s program of free humanitarian aid projects for the general public, the Japanese Embassy in Tajikistan reports. Earlier, the signing ceremony of documents for five new projects took place. The contracts were signed by Hajime Kitaoka, the Japanese ambassador to Tajikistan, and representatives of the beneficiary organizations.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/143030.html

Tajik Marriages Now Need A Seal Of Approval

Getting married in Tajikistan has become a more complicated issue, as women often suffer from domestic violence in this conservative society

Dec 28 — “Tajik couples are being ordered to meet with psychologists and lawyers ahead of marriage as part of a pilot project in the capital, Dushanbe, to lower domestic violence and divorce rates. The recommendations of these professionals can block a wedding application if a couple is deemed unsuitable.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-wedding-psychology-tests/29669742.html

The phantom white knights that would save Tajikistan’s banking sector

Tajikistan badly needs foreign investments that would help save the country’s large and ailing bank, but finding such investors has proven to be a difficult task

Dec 28 — “It seemed like a golden opportunity: A flamboyant, rich sheikh with links to the royal family of Saudi Arabia arrived in Tajikistan in May with a handshake offer to buy a controlling stake in a severely ailing local bank. On the face of it, there was no obvious reason for an investor to buy into Tojiksodirotbank, which is weighed down by crushing liabilities.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20660-the-phantom-white-knights-that-would-save-tajikistan-s-banking-sector

TURKMENISTAN

OUTLOOK 2019 Turkmenistan

The departing year was marked by the severe economic crisis in the gas-rich country, largely caused by decreasing export revenues from natural gas

Dec 23 — “Turkmenistan this year remained an economic basket case and will almost certainly stay that way in 2019 but in Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov at least its people have a president who regularly takes to the stage for a sing-song to cheer them up. In his public comments, Berdimuhamedov—who takes the honorific “Arkadag” (“The Protector”)—is not known for dealing with the tightly controlled, remote Central Asian nation’s economic turmoil head on, but it seems unlikely that he and his officials in Oguzkhan Palace remain entirely uninformed of the desperate circumstances now afflicting much of the population of 5.7mn.” READ MORE: http://www.intellinews.com/outlook-2019-turkmenistan-153883/

Europe interested in receiving Turkmen gas: CIFAL head

Turkmenistan declared its readiness to supply Europe with an annual volume of up to 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas over 30 years

Dec 24 — “Europe is interested in receiving Turkmen gas, Jurgen Krahn, director general of French company CIFAL SA, said in an interview with Turkmenportal, Trend reports. "This is an interesting project," he said. "After the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, the process of ratification of this treaty is underway in all the Caspian countries." He noted that the agreement makes it possible to talk about the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/143094.html

Turkmenistan, Where Social Media is Banned, Gets First Messaging App

One of the world's most isolated regimes, Turkmenistan has blocked Western services including Twitter and Viber, along with popular Russian networks Odnoklassniki and VKontakte

Dec 26 — “The repressive central Asian nation of Turkmenistan, where the likes of Facebook and Whatsapp are banned, on Monday launched its first messaging app. The privately developed BizBarde app will "allow the exchange of messagers, files, photos and videos," the state Yaslyk television station said.” READ MORE: https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/turkmenistan-where-social-media-is-banned-gets-first-messaging-app-1983887.html

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan appoints banks for international debt market debut

Having secured a BB- credit rating from Fitch, Uzbekistan is readying a $500 million, 5-10 year bond for the first quarter of next year

Dec 21 — “Uzbekistan is making final preparations for its first foray into international debt markets, naming four international banks to lead a dollar bond deal, sources involved in the plans have told Reuters. JP Morgan has been appointed as lead adviser, and is joined by international debt houses Deutsche Bank and Citi as well state-owned Russian bank Gazprombank.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uzbekistan-bonds/exclusive-uzbekistan-appoints-banks-for-international-debt-market-debut-idUSKCN1OK1PC

Phantom foreign investors for an open new Uzbekistan

A high-profile urban development project in Tashkent is designed to showcase the country for western capital, but openDemocracy’s investigation suggests principal investors are from much closer to home

Dec 21 — “Two years after the death of Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s first president, the once impenetrable country has shown interest in opening up to international investors. Enthusiasts regard this as the “Uzbek spring”, a new beginning for the country under its new leader, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Others have pointed to the sluggish and inconsistent pace of liberal reforms in the Central Asian state, which could just be used as façade to attract foreign capital.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/opendemocracy-investigations/tashkent-city-project-uzbekistan-phantom-foreign-investors

After two years, Uzbekistan still looks wobbly on the reform tightrope

Uzbekistan has so far taken some steps towards economic and political liberalization, but much is yet to be done on the country’s way to real democracy and economic success

Dec 22 — “For its first 25 years of independence, Uzbekistan was a spiky creature. It mostly shunned multinational blocs, engaged only cautiously with large partners and was outright hostile to its neighbors. Inside the country, authorities terrified the population into submission. The death of the tyrant Islam Karimov in September 2016 marked a turning point of sorts. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who was formally inaugurated in December 2016, has hung an “open for business” sign on Uzbekistan’s door to the outside world and sought better relations with all neighbors.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20639-after-two-years-uzbekistan-still-looks-wobbly-on-the-reform-tightrope

Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev named Asian of the Year

President Mirziyoyev has taken initiatives to focus on good neighborhood relations, deepening regional cooperation and making Uzbekistan politically liberal and economically more attractive

Dec 27 — “President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev who has chartered a new course in his country's foreign policy including pathbreaking partnership with India has been selected as ‘Asian of the Year’ for 2018 by the Asia Journalist Association (AJA), whose headquarter is based in South Korea.” READ MORE: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/uzbekistan-president-who-chartered-new-course-of-ties-with-india-named-asian-of-the-year/articleshow/67270703.cms

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan raises big questions

Analyst answers three questions about how the US troop drawdown may affect the situation in Afghanistan

Dec 23 — “The 17-year-old U.S. war in Afghanistan took a new turn this week when President Trump ordered the withdrawal of 7,000 American troops from the country. Trump has long questioned the utility of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, seeing it as a wasteful expense — and a conflict without a clear victory strategy. The White House decision was followed by the resignationof Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who had pushed for continued U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/12/23/u-s-troop-drawdown-in-afghanistan-raises-big-questions/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b27bb8bf8d64

Why Pakistan passionately desires peace in Afghanistan

Pakistan is perhaps the first country wishing for peace in neighboring Afghanistan

Dec 26 — “Being a neighbor of Afghanistan, Pakistan has suffered a lot as a result of events in that country. Whether it was the Soviet invasion or power struggles of various factions of the Taliban or the US intervention after September 11, 2001, Pakistan had to pay a very high cost.” READ MORE: http://www.atimes.com/why-pakistan-passionately-desires-peace-in-afghanistan/

Afghanistan economic policy amplifies drawdown chorus

Afghanistan jumped 15 spots on the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings, but remains at the bottom of the anti-corruption Transparency International list

Dec 26 — “US President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to halve the American troop presence in Afghanistan, reportedly due more to political and pocketbook than strategic military considerations, came against ambivalent outside reviews of economic policy and performance, as Kabul also grapples with sanctions and austerity fallout in trade partners Iran and Pakistan.” READ MORE: http://www.atimes.com/afghanistan-economic-policy-amplifies-drawdown-chorus/

What's next for the United States in Afghanistan?

The US president has given the Taliban what they've long demanded — a commitment to withdraw troops — and they didn't need to give up anything in return

Dec 28 — “Zalmay Khalilzad is likely not a happy man right now. Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, had been on an urgent mission: Launch a peace process with the Taliban, and launch it soon. With US President Donald Trumpeager to wind down the war, Washington has been eager to get a deal to give the president cover for a withdrawal.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/united-states-withdrawal-afghanistan-181227010746519.html

WORLD

Chabahar port critical to Delhi's Eurasia strategy & connectivity initiatives in Indo-Pacific region

The Indian government maintains that once functional, the Chabahar Port in Iran will serve as a "growth engine" to India, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries

Dec 26 — “It was culmination of years of efforts when India Ports Global Limited Company on Monday opened its office in Chabahar and took over the operations at the Shaheed Behesti port at the Iranian city, a step that would take Delhi closer to effective connectivity link to Afghanistan, Central Asia and parts of Russia.” READ MORE: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/chabahar-critical-to-delhis-eurasia-strategy-connectivity-initiatives-in-indo-pacific-region/articleshow/67262754.cms

Viewpoint: The logic of nuclear power for Central Asia

Many observers were surprised this year when Uzbekistan announced its decision to build Central Asia's first nuclear power plant, writes Jurabek Mirzakhmudov, director general of UzAtom, Uzbekistan’s state nuclear agency which was established in July

Dec 27 — “Why, we were asked, would a leading gas producer opt to go nuclear when we could easily increase our gas-fired electricity production? We are doing so largely because of growth. Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous nation, has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The World Bank is forecasting GDP growth of about 5% this year and next, and 5.5% in 2020. Current projections indicate that, to match these trends and consumer demand, we will need to double electricity output by 2030.” READ MORE: http://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Viewpoint-The-logic-of-nuclear-power-for-Central-A

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