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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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WB supports Kazakhstan’s commitment to fiscal consolidation, economic transformation

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — Kazakhstan’s 2050 Strategy envisages a radical restructuring of the government and the economy by 2050 and recognizes that “the era of the hydrocarbon economy is coming to its end.” The world’s current oversupply of oil adds urgency to the need to accelerate broader reforms of economic structure and fiscal policy, Ato Brown, World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan, wrote in an opinion piece published on the World Bank website.

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Uzbekistan: ambassadors tasked to attract investments, tourists to country

  • Written by TCA

TASHKENT (TCA) — A video conference analyzing the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies of Uzbekistan in foreign countries was held on January 11 under the chairmanship of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the Jahon information agency reported.

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EBRD supports France’s Urbasolar in Kazakhstan

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is supporting French company Urbasolar SAS in its plans to build a solar power plant in Kazakhstan, a country which leads this field in Central Asia, the EBRD press office said.

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Weekly Digest of Central Asia

  • Written by TCA

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

Businessman Seeks Sale Of $5.2B Stake In Kazakhstan Oil Field

An investment dispute in Kazakhstan has ended up in international court, proving that the Central Asian country is still a risky place for foreign investors

Jan 9 — “Moldovan businessman Anatolie Stati will ask courts to sell US$5.2 billion worth of a stake in Kazakhstan’s biggest oil field, Kashagan, held by a Kazakh sovereign wealth fund if Kazakhstan continues to refuse to pay an arbitration award of US$500 million, a spokeswoman for Stati told Reuters on Tuesday.” READ MORE: https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Businessman-Seeks-Sale-Of-52B-Kazakh-Stake-In-Kashagan-Oil-Field.html

Investing in Kazakhstan Is Still a Risky Business

EU Parliament members say that in relations with Kazakhstan, “economic interests cannot take precedence over human rights”, which is also true for doing business with the country

Jan 10 — “Kazakhstan and the European Union are celebrating a landmark partnership agreement that was sealed in December 2017, with an “overwhelming majority” of Parliament members voting to pursue the bloc’s first such deal with a Central Asian country.” READ MORE: https://www.fairobserver.com/region/central_south_asia/kazakhstan-european-union-partnership-agreement-human-rights-central-asia-latest-news-18501/

How a Trump SoHo Partner Ended Up With Toxic Mining Riches From Kazakhstan

Many in Kazakhstan would like to know how did so much of the country’s natural-resources wealth end up in the hands of a few businessmen

Jan 11 — “Green smoke paints the landscape on the outskirts of Aktobe, the hub of a Central Asian mining empire that produces a third of the world’s chromium — the essential ingredient in stainless steel. Locals say that the air gets so bad in summer it’s hard to breathe. Industrial waste contaminates the groundwater.” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-01-11/how-a-trump-soho-partner-ended-up-with-toxic-mining-riches-from-kazakhstan

Kazakhstan's President Heads To Trump's White House

The US is interested in more cooperation with Kazakhstan, the country that has raised its international profile and become an even more important regional player over recent years

Jan 12 — “Their mobile internet is faster than Brazil's, Russia's and India's; make that twice as fast as India's. Their fixed broadband is faster than Australia's, the Aussies lamented on Jan. 8, not to mention faster than Brazil's and India's once again. This is Kazakhstan, a frontier market on the oil and gas-rich Caspian Sea, led by a 77-year-old man named Nursultan Nazarbayev.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2018/01/12/kazakhstans-president-heads-to-trumps-white-house/#45a391e42262

A visa-free zone at the China-Kazakhstan border welcomes your wallet, but not your beard

A visa-free area and a special economic zone at the border between China and Kazakhstan covers more than 7 square kilometers and is China’s gateway to Central Asia

Jan 12 — “Except for men with long beards and women wearing veils or jewelry with a crescent moon motif, just about anyone can enter Chinese territory - at least a few kilometres of it - across a frontier marked only by two thin stripes of paint daubed across the road.” READ MORE: http://www.todayonline.com/world/visa-free-zone-china-kazakhstan-border-welcomes-your-wallet-not-your-beard

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan renews the World Nomad Games concept

Kyrgyzstan’s World Nomad Games are not only an international sports competition, but also a platform for cultural disclosure of all nomadic peoples of the world

Jan 7 — “Kyrgyzstan has been ranked among the top five travel destinations for 2018 by the British Backpacker Society. Pakistan, which ranks first, was described as “one of the friendliest countries on earth, with mountain scenery that is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination”. The five top list also includes Russia, India and Turkey.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19166-kyrgyzstan-renews-the-world-nomad-games-concept

Militant Muslims Firebomb Evangelical Church in Kyrgyzstan; Flames Stop at Open Bible

A rare attack on an evangelical church took place in Kyrgyzstan — the country with a multi-cultural society tolerant to all religious beliefs

Jan 10 — “Christians said they saw a "sign from God" following a firebombing attack by Muslim militants on an evangelical church in Kyrgyzstan. The flames burned through much of the interior but stopped at the open Bible on the altar.” READ MORE: https://www.christianpost.com/news/militant-muslims-firebomb-evangelical-church-in-kyrgyzstan-flames-stop-at-open-bible-213230/

Hat Tip To Kyrgyz Officials, Olympic Athletes: Wear It Or Else!

The proposed bill would require all male Kyrgyz officials — including the president and foreign minister — to wear the kalpak at official events and when traveling abroad

Jan 11 — “Outraged by the sight of a dog wearing their beloved kalpak, the traditional Kyrgyz hat, lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan have drafted legislation to raise the status of the felt, yurt-shaped headwear favored by many men.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-kalpak-hat-dog-patriotic-kerfuffle/28969448.html

Uzbekistan to open nine enterprises in Kyrgyzstan

The improved political relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan has translated into the launch of new cooperative economic projects

Jan 11 — “Uzbekistan will open nine enterprises in Kyrgyzstan for cars servicing, agricultural machinery assembly, plastic parts production and others. This was stated by Shumkarbek Adilbek Uulu, deputy director of the Agency for Promotion and Protection of Investments of Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz media outlets reported.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/125337.html

TAJIKISTAN

The Feminized Farm: Labor Migration and Women's Roles in Tajikistan's Rural Communities

As many Tajik men are in labor migration in Russia, women take on increased roles in Tajikistan’s agriculture sector

Jan 4 — “Tajikistan is one of the world’s most remittance-dependent countries. Each year, an estimated million Tajik citizens, mostly men, travel abroad in search of work. The women who remain in Tajikistan also work, many in informal jobs in the agricultural sector.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/the-feminized-farm-labor-migration-and-womens-roles-in-tajikistans-rural-communities/

Uzbekistan: president announces fence-mending visit to Tajikistan

Uzbekistan is successfully mending its relations with Central Asia neighbors, with the new Uzbek leader having already visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. He now plans a visit to Tajikistan to break the longtime “ice” in bilateral relations

Jan 9 — “The president of Uzbekistan announced over the weekend that he is preparing to visit neighboring Tajikistan for a trip that could soothe one of the longest-standing sources of tension in the region.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19174-uzbekistan-president-announces-fence-mending-visit-to-tajikistan

Tajikistan: Brain Drain Rush Causes Annual Riot

The number of Tajiks that want to move to Russia and gain Russian citizenship has increased as people see few opportunities in their home country

Jan 10 — “Such was the crowd of people in Tajikistan’s capital that turned up this week to apply for permission to move to Russia from the local representative office of the Russian Interior Ministry that police officers had to be summoned.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86701

Barb-Tossing Bard: Mysterious Poet Roils Sleepy Tajik Village

An unknown author ridicules his or her fellow villagers in Tajikistan

Jan 10 — “Villagers in a sleepy village in southern Tajikistan are under attack, blasted by insulting poems that are mysteriously cropping up in public places where they are sure to sting. Outraged residents of Khojaghalton say they don't know who the author – or the authors – are, but they are certain that he or she lives among them.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-village-poet-khojaghalton-bounty/28967465.html

TURKMENISTAN

'Bad Luck' For Black Car Owners In Turkmen Capital

The personality cult of the Turkmen leader has taken a new, rather strange, twist

Jan 8 — “Turkmenistan's president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, thinks white cars bring good fortune. And that's bad luck for owners of black cars in the capital. For weeks, officials in Ashgabat have been impounding black vehicles without warning, wreaking havoc for owners who need special permission for repainting and then reregistering their cars.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-black-car-owners-bad-luck/28963539.html

Turkmenistan should open TAPI consortium membership to foreign companies – expert

The TAPI project remains unfeasible due to financial constraints more than to security concerns related to laying the gas pipeline in the Afghan territory, expert says

Jan 11 — “The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project certainly represents a very positive development for infrastructure integration across South and Central Asia, as it would strengthen the energy security of both supplying (Turkmenistan) and purchasing states (India, Pakistan), Luca Anceschi, an expert of the British University of Glasgow with a focus on Central Asia, told Azernews.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/other/commentary/2846277.html

Taking the temperature of Turkmenistan’s economic meltdown

Possessing huge natural-gas reserves, Turkmenistan has seen an economic downturn over the past year, which is largely due to decreasing gas-export revenues and the government’s inability to diversify the economy

Jan 12 — “In his year-end address to the nation, Turkmenistan’s president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, brimmed with enthusiasm. He extolled 2017 as a year of unprecedented success, featuring “massive transformations” and glorious achievements, and predicted the coming 12 months would be marked by a “bountiful harvest and prosperity.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19190-taking-the-temperature-of-turkmenistan-s-economic-meltdown

UZBEKISTAN

Transgender Woman Says Jail Awaits In Uzbekistan, Seeks Asylum In Belarus

Uzbekistan’s conservative society, and laws, remains intolerant to LGBT people

Jan 7 — “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Uzbekistan face deep-rooted homophobia, discrimination, and the threat of violence, activists and human rights defenders say.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-transgender-woman-asylum-belarus/28961587.html

Tax holidays appeared in Uzbekistan

Government in Uzbekistan is creating better conditions for the business environment and supports private entrepreneurship in the country

Jan 8 — “Uzbekistan, having improved its tax legislation, will grant tax holidays to the country's citizens. Changes, which provide for delay in tax and other mandatory payments, were introduced to the Tax Code of Uzbekistan.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/125157.html

Uzbekistan to launch green corridors with Baltic States, Belarus

The export of fresh fruit and vegetables is a priority economic direction for Uzbekistan, as the country plans to shift away from its decades-long cotton monoculture

Jan 10 — “Uzbekistan intends to launch a green corridor for the export of agricultural products to the Baltic countries. This will significantly reduce the time of transportation of perishable goods to the Baltic coast, as well as costs for transport and customs clearance. In addition, in the future, these products, for example, can be sent to the EU countries through the Latvian ports and transport hubs.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/125284.html

Uzbekistan: business empire of Karimov’s other daughter under attack

In Central Asia — and Uzbekistan is no exception, state power succession is inevitably associated with property redistribution with new elites coming to power and taking control of lucrative businesses

Jan 11 — “In a speech full of surprises over the weekend, the president of Uzbekistan dropped an interesting hint about the fate of the former ruling family. On January 5, Shavkat Mirziyoyev made a reference to the sudden bonanza of revenue coming into the state coffers from the Abu Sahiy wholesale market in Tashkent. Where in the first half of December alone, the market generated around $4.4 million in taxes, the monthly amount before was a relatively meager $625,000, he said.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19185-uzbekistan-business-empire-of-karimov-s-other-daughter-under-attack

AFGHANISTAN

The Politics of Washington Have Wrecked Afghanistan's Future

For Afghanistan, relations with the region’s neighbors, including Pakistan, is perhaps more important than relations with the US which can easily quit the country

Jan 8 — “President Donald Trump rang in the new year with a Twitter salvo directed at Pakistan, claiming that Washington has given Islamabad more than $33 billion in aid after 9/11, but has only received “lies and deceit” in return. The administration has since announced the suspension of military assistance to Pakistan.” READ MORE: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-politics-washington-have-wrecked-afghanistans-future-23986

How the heroin trade explains the US-UK failure in Afghanistan

Western intervention has resulted in Afghanistan becoming the world’s first true narco-state, an author believes

Jan 9 — “After fighting the longest war in its history, the US stands at the brink of defeat in Afghanistan. How could this be possible? How could the world’s sole superpower have battled continuously for more than 16 years – deploying more than 100,000 troops at the conflict’s peak, sacrificing the lives of nearly 2,300 soldiers, spending more than $1tn (£740bn) on its military operations, lavishing a record $100bn more on “nation-building”, helping fund and train an army of 350,000 Afghan allies – and still not be able to pacify one of the world’s most impoverished nations?” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jan/09/how-the-heroin-trade-explains-the-us-uk-failure-in-afghanistan

News Analysis: IS strengthening grip in Afghanistan could destabilize broader region

Thousands of IS fighters have fled Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan from where they could destabilize the whole Central Asia region

Jan 11 — “Militants loyal to the Islamic State (IS) terror group have been attempting to strengthen their grip and boost their presence in militancy-plagued Afghanistan, local analysts have warned.” READ MORE: http://xinhuanet.com/english/2018-01/11/c_136887600.htm

How the US failed to rebuild Afghanistan

After 16 years and $3 billion spent on the Ring Road in Afghanistan, it remains unfinished

Jan 11 — “The US invaded Afghanistan 16 years ago. The Taliban were swiftly driven out, but after decades of war, the country’s roads, schools, and cities were destroyed, so the US and partnering countries poured billions of dollars into rebuilding Afghanistan. One of the highest priorities, most touted by the US, was the project to rebuild the Ring Road.” READ MORE: https://www.vox.com/world/2018/1/11/16878056/afghanistan-us-fail-war-taliban

WORLD

What the Iran Protests Were Not

Analyst believes the recent protests in Iran were purely economic, reflecting deep-seated frustration with economic stagnation, mismanagement and corruption, and growing income inequality in the country

Jan 10 — “Recent protests in numerous Iranian cities and towns caught the world by surprise, and embarrassed Iran’s government and ruling political establishment. But the expectation that the protests would escalate into a popular uprising and unravel the Islamic Republic did not come to pass.” READ MORE: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/01/iran-economic-protests-urban-rural-divide/550211/

With U.S. Aid Cut, Pakistan Drifts Closer to China

China is a party that could benefit from the ongoing tensions in the US-Pakistan relations

Jan 10 — “Senior Pakistani officials warned that the U.S. suspension of security aid announced last week will push their country closer to China, Washington’s main rival for influence in Asia, as regional alliances realign.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/with-u-s-aid-cut-pakistan-drifts-closer-to-china-1515580200

China's Increasing Security Buffer on Its Western Frontier

China's security concerns about Uighur militants is the driving force behind Beijing's increased focus on the Wakhan corridor that connects China and Afghanistan

Jan 11 — “An increasingly important component of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative can be found in the Central Asian corridor that connects China and Afghanistan. China has been expanding its economic and security cooperation in Central Asia in recent years. Reports this week that China plans to build a military base for Afghanistan's armed forces in the northeastern province of Badakhshan suggest that the strategic yet perennially unstable country is quickly following through on the plan.” READ MORE: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/chinas-increasing-security-buffer-its-western-frontier?id=87179e919a&e=600669d279&uuid=d95ae52d-7773-46b6-b176-2d88190f853a&utm_source=Daily+Brief&utm_campaign=4c10fd1103-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_01_11&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_87179e919a-4c10fd1103-53490981&mc_cid=4c10fd1103&mc_eid=600669d279

Upgraded interactive map of legal services now available for Kyrgyzstan citizens

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — The Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic, with the support of the USAID Collaborative Governance Program, has completed the upgrade of the interactive map of legal service providers at www.legalmap.gov.kg and is officially announcing its launch for general public’s use. The upgraded interactive map improved access to legal information for citizens and simplified the search for legal service providers.

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Taking the temperature of Turkmenistan’s economic meltdown

  • Written by EurasiaNet

ASHGABAT (TCA) — Possessing huge natural-gas reserves, Turkmenistan has seen an economic downturn over the past year, which is largely due to decreasing gas-export revenues and the government’s inability to diversify the economy. We are republishing this article on the issue, originally published by EurasiaNet.org:

In his year-end address to the nation, Turkmenistan’s president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, brimmed with enthusiasm. 

He extolled 2017 as a year of unprecedented success, featuring “massive transformations” and glorious achievements, and predicted the coming 12 months would be marked by a “bountiful harvest and prosperity.”

Berdymukhamedov’s message was the same a couple of days earlier, during the weekly Cabinet meeting. He forecast growing natural gas export volumes, new successes in the government’s import-substitution agenda, containment of the already-small deficit and only moderate inflation. The 10 percent increase in state salaries and pensions won’t just be on paper, he said.

“We do not have any problems with the payment of salaries,” Berdymukhamedov said.

The boasting is hollow on pretty much all fronts, however.

Even the International Monetary Fund, which typically relies heavily on official data and issues highly circumspect health bulletins on Turkmenistan’s economy, betrayed muted concern in November after a delegation traveled to the country.

“Since the current account deficit remains significant despite its narrowing this year, the key near-term policy challenge remains re-calibration of the policy mix to reduce external imbalances,” the IMF said in a technical and drily worded laundry list of tasks facing Turkmenistan.

By dint of subpar planning, the country’s main source of wealth — natural gas — paradoxically remains the greatest hindrance toward sustainable growth. Over-reliance on the export of energy resources and the failure to diversify the economy has now left Turkmenistan high and dry.

Last year began with the loss of yet another gas export market when Ashgabat embroiled itself in a dispute with Iran over alleged unpaid bills. Despite some prior indications that some compromise might be reached, Turkmenistan in December announced it intends to try and reclaim $1.8 billion worth of debts through international arbitration. Success is far from certain and the legal dispute is bound to further sour relations.

Now only China buys Turkmenistan’s gas, at reportedly dismally low prices. And unaccountably, Ashgabat appears unable to supply China with the volumes of gas it has previously pledged.

The failure of the energy sector to meet expectations last year precipitated radical restructuring aimed at cost-cutting and, despite Berdymukhamedov’s claims to the contrary, chronic delays to oil and gas workers’ salaries.

In one of the most striking top-level personnel reshuffles of the past few years, the president in April fired Yashigeldy Kakayev from his job as deputy prime minister for energy, citing “weak control” over the oil and gas sector. Kakayev had earned rare respect from international investors over his 20 years of service in the energy industry. At the end of December, Berdymukhamedov seemed to acknowledge the desperate need for seasoned expertise and backtracked on that decision by appointing Kakayev to the post of presidential advisor on energy issues.

These are all remote considerations for the population at large, which has had to endure ever-more draconian and arbitrary restrictions. Documenting specific developments has been challenging since the government has intensified pressure on the few independent reporters still working in the country.

But the anecdotal evidence is damning.

A recent short video documentary produced by the Alternative News of Turkmenistan, a foreign-based news website, showed how growing numbers of people feel compelled to take short trips to Turkey to sell items like bread, sausages, medicine and vodka to make some extra income.

“We felt it was important to show the world how in the so-called Era of Might and Happiness, the people of Turkmenistan are forced to make a living,” the narrator of the documentary says in conclusion.

Much reporting on the hardship of regular citizen’s has been done by RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, Radio Azatlyk. In mid-December, the broadcaster reported on an ongoing shortage of eggs. Turkmenistan routinely suffers deficits of certain staple groceries, including cooking oil and sugar. “Prices for groceries in the market go up every day. Plus they have put up the price for municipal services — electricity, gas and water,” one resident of Ashgabat told Radio Azatlyk in mid-December.

While no problems are explicitly admitted, it was telling that Berdymukhamedov signed a decree on December 8 order the creation of state commission for food security.

“The commission was established to successfully implement state policies on ensuring food security in Turkmenistan and to further increase the abundance of food and ensure the availability of a wide range of high-quality goods on the domestic market,” a state media report noted.

While economic decline may be denting many people’s buying power, it is often the imposition of arbitrary rules that provoke inflation for specific goods. Radio Azatlyk cited an Interior Ministry official as saying that the increase in the price of eggs in Ashgabat was caused by restrictions on the entry of non-locally registered vehicles into the city.

Radio Azatlyk also reported earlier this month that customs officials in Ashgabat international airport have begun inspecting the luggage of arriving travelers for medicine and confiscating anything that they find. People affected by this policy, which has gone without explanation, said they bought the medicine abroad because it was unavailable inside the country. Pharmaceuticals are yet another item that risen sharply in price — by 40 percent over the summer, according to Radio Azatlyk.

The slump of energy resource revenues has prompted the government to explore other ways to boost the budget. At the suggestion of international bodies like the IMF, Berdymukhamedov late last year followed through on long-expected plans to nix a wide-ranging system of subsidies guaranteeing Turkmen households significant amounts of free gas, water and electricity.

The late President Saparmurat Niyazov had put the Soviet-style benefits in place in the early 1990s, and in 2003, he instructed that they be preserved until 2030. Berdymukhamedov has argued that Turkmenistan needs to transition to more market-base rules.

University students are also reportedly being pressured in “voluntarily” giving up the right to receive stipends. Radio Azatlyk cited a fifth-year student at Magtymguly State University, in Ashgabat, as saying that educational authorities plan to cancel scholarships altogether from September this year.

China’s Huawei to implement Smart City project in Kyrgyzstan

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — On January 11 in Bishkek, the government of Kyrgyzstan and China’s Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd signed an investment agreement for implementation of the Smart City project aimed at strengthening security in the country, including a decrease in the number of road traffic accidents and response to terrorist and criminal threats, the government’s press service said.

Implementation of the project will last one and a half years, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sapar Isakov said at the signing ceremony.

The total amount of investments will be US $60 million. The Smart City project will be implemented in the capital Bishkek and Osh, the country’s second-largest city in the south, as well as on the motor roads Bishkek-Osh and Bishkek-Cholpon-Ata (Issyk-Kul), and on the road connecting Bishkek and the city’s Manas International Airport.

The Chinese companies Huawei and Beijing China Veterans Lingxin Capital Management, as well as the domestic Aka Minerals and Mining LLC, will invest in the Smart City project in Kyrgyzstan, 24.kg news agency reported.

The Kyrgyz Government believes that the implementation of the project will maximize security on the streets and roads of Kyrgyz cities, major thoroughfares of the capital city, at intersections, in public places, and will help to more quickly resolve controversial situations that arise from traffic accidents, and effectively deal with criminal and terrorist threats.

2017 the 'bloodiest' year ever for journalists in Afghanistan — report

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — An Afghan media watchdog says that 2017 was the “bloodiest” year ever for journalists and other media personnel working in Afghanistan, with the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) militant groups being blamed for much of the violence, RFE/RL reported.

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Tajikistan and Uzbekistan agree on visa-free regime

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have agreed on visa-free travel between the two countries and other border-crossing measures, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Tajik media reports on January 11 said that the decisions were made during a visit to Dushanbe by Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov.

Aripov and his Tajik counterpart, Qohir Rasulzoda, agreed to finalize and sign the new border protocols in the near future.

Aripov also held talks with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon on January 10, the first day of his two-day visit to Dushanbe.

The new border regulations will allow Tajik and Uzbek citizens to visit each others’ countries without visas for up to 30 days.

They will also provide for the building of new checkpoints along the border and the opening of several bus links to connect the two nations' cities.

The reports said an agreement was also reached regarding the disputed dam of the Soviet-era Farhod hydropower station along the border.

Under the accord, the land on which the station stands will be Tajik property, while the station itself, including its equipment and infrastructure, will be owned by Uzbekistan.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ties between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have often been tense due to disagreements on issues including borders, water and energy resources, and transit routes.

But relations have improved since the death of longtime Uzbek President Islam Karimov in 2016.

President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who assumed rule after Karimov's death, has said that improving ties with Uzbekistan's neighbors is his major foreign-policy priority.

Uzbekistan: business empire of Karimov’s other daughter under attack

  • Written by EurasiaNet

TASHKENT (TCA) — In Central Asia — and Uzbekistan is no exception, state power succession is inevitably associated with property redistribution with new elites coming to power and taking control of lucrative businesses. We are republishing this article on the issue, originally published by EurasiaNet.org:

In a speech full of surprises over the weekend, the president of Uzbekistan dropped an interesting hint about the fate of the former ruling family.

On January 5, Shavkat Mirziyoyev made a reference to the sudden bonanza of revenue coming into the state coffers from the Abu Sahiy wholesale market in Tashkent. Where in the first half of December alone, the market generated around $4.4 million in taxes, the monthly amount before was a relatively meager $625,000, he said.

The discrepancy sparked a swell of online commentary and even provoked a raised eyebrow from a newsreader on the state-run rolling news channel, Uzbekiston, who wondered out loud “where all that money had been going every month?”

“This is an example of how we need clear rules and ways to enforce [those rules] if the economy is going to develop,” the newsreader said.

Mirziyoyev’s remarks were an unambiguous shot across the bow of family members of his predecessor, Islam Karimov. Abu Sahiy wholesale market was established in 2006 by Timur Tillyaev, the husband of Karimov’s youngest daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva.

Tillyaev turned Abu Sahiy into the largest commercial center in Uzbekistan — a trade ground sprawling over 250,000 square meters. The market served as a clearing house for importing goods from China and Turkey and benefited, according to Tillyaev’s detractors, from highly beneficial conditions. Most Uzbek businesspeople have typically found it extremely difficult to land their hands on foreign currency in hard cash, but Tillyaev has long reputedly been able to buy dollars aplenty, and at the official rate. Before the government’s big bang currency reforms, enacted in September, the difference between official and black market dollar exchange rates was more than twofold.

The main source of chatter about the Tillyaev family’s fortune has to date come from Karimov’s more famous daughter, Gulnara Karimova, who is now in custody in Uzbekistan on corruption charges. In December 2013, following a falling-out with the family, Karimova, who had herself benefited handsomely from her connections, claimed in an interview to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet that her brother-in-law was running Abu Sahiy without paying any taxes. The market, she said, had a monthly turnover of around $20 million.

The claims made a small splash at the time, although it was read as little more than an outburst of sibling feuding.

More attention is now being paid to Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva.

The Black Sea, a Romanian-based online magazine specializing in deep dives on allegations of financial wrongdoing, dwelled at length on Karimova-Tillyaeva’s wealth in an article in October. Among other things, the website alleged that Abu Sahiy was supplied by a Dubai-based trading company Securtrade.

“Securtrade undertakes most of its business with dozens of shell companies registered in tax havens,” the Black Sea journalists noted.

The Black Sea report was based on what it said was a trove of confidential documents obtained by France-based online investigate journalism outfit Mediapart. The same documents were also shared with the European Investigative Collaborations network, which pools the resources of several high-profile news outlets in Europe.

The documents obtained by this group of journalistic consortia is said to cover transactions for 2013 and 2014 and purportedly showed that the Tillyaevs accumulated at least $127 million in cash in Dubai over that period.

A lawyer for Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva and her husband told RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Radio Ozodlik, however, that the report was slanderous and just part of an attempt by a former Tillyaev business associate to blackmail his clients.

Control over Abu Sahiy has now been wrested from the Tillyaevs and passed under the control of state entities. The market has been rebranded Tashkent Silk Road.

With Karimov’s 80th birthday looming at the end of January, it seems unlikely that the authorities will risk the public relations hassle that would come with pursuing any action against the Tillyaevs, but it is probably safe to say the couple’s future as entrepreneurs in Uzbekistan is looking pretty grim.

China to fully fund Afghanistan military base to safeguard its Xinjiang province

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — China has announced that it will be footing the bill for the construction and equipping of a new base in northern Afghanistan, Russia’s Sputnik news agency reported.

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Report criticizes US program to revive Afghanistan economy

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — A report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says a program by the US Defense Department has spent $675 million USD to revive the Afghan economy, but it could not provide reliable data on where the money has gone, TOLOnews reports.

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Uzbekistan delivers 25 buses to Afghanistan

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — Afghanistan officials received the delivery of 25 buses and three tractors from Uzbekistan at Hairatan at the Afghan-Uzbek border on January 10. The buses will be used in the capital Kabul, Afghan Minister of Transportation and Civil Aviation Mohammad Hamid Tahmasi said, TOLOnews reported.

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Uzbekistan prime minister visits Tajikistan to improve ties

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — Uzbekistan Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov arrived in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, on January 10 for a two-day official visit. The trip comes after Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev last week announced his planned fence-mending visit to Tajikistan, whose exact date was not indicated.

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World Bank forecasts growth in Central Asia to slow except in Kyrgyzstan

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — Economic growth in Europe and Central Asia is anticipated to ease to 2.9 percent in 2018 from an estimated 3.7 percent in 2017, the World Bank says in its January 2018 Global Economic Prospects.

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Container train tests China–Kazakhstan–Turkmenistan–Iran rail route

  • Written by TCA

ASHGABAT (TCA) — A container train making another China–Kazakhstan–Turkmenistan–Iran test run passed through Turkmenistan to Iran via Akyayla railway station, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan reported.

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Kazakhstan president to visit US

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — A White House statement on January 9 said that U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the White House on January 16. The two leaders "will discuss ways to strengthen and enhance strategic partnership on regional security issues and economic cooperation," the statement said.

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Moldovan businessman threatens to force sale of Kazakhstan’s Kashagan oilfield stake

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — A spokesman for Moldovan businessman Anatolie Stati says that Stati will demand the sale of a $5.2 billion stake in Kazakhstan’s Kashagan oil field in the Caspian Sea if Astana refuses to pay an arbitration award, RFE/RL reports.

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Kazakhstan president speaks on digitalization, banking sector recovery

  • Written by TCA

ASTANA (TCA) — In a 7-minute statement, which was televised on January 9, Kazakhstan’s long-ruling President Nursultan Nazarbayev summarized his annual address to the nation in a prerecorded video and indicated that, for the second straight year, he would refrain from delivering the speech live in parliament, saying that his full address will be published by state newspapers on January 10, RFE/RL reported.

In the past, Nazarbayev has delivered his annual address before the Kazakh parliament, and it has been televised live. But in 2017, he also made a prerecorded summary that was aired on January 31 and then published in state newspapers.

In the televised statement yesterday evening, Nazarbayev focused on efforts to digitize the Kazakh economy and bureaucracy.

He said that digital technologies will help continue to deregulate business, improve the quality of public services and state support, and better meet the requirements of citizens.

The president spoke about the need to increase the depth of processing of natural (hydrocarbon) resources, and to improve the energy efficiency and environmental friendliness of production.

Nazarbayev also spoke about a “reset” of Kazakhstan’s financial sector, saying that measures to recover the banking sector should involve strengthened supervision and control and take into account the interests of ordinary citizens.

“It is necessary to significantly raise the responsibility of those who own the banks and those who manage them,” the president said, adding that it is necessary to increase lending and boost the development of the stock market.

He also said that the introduction of Smart City technology will help to effectively solve the problems of growing cities and increase their attractiveness to investors.

Kyrgyzstan: officials fired, reprimanded over EEU customs rules 'failure'

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister Sapar Isakov has sacked the country’s envoy to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), Sanjar Umetaliev, and reprimanded several top officials, RFE/RL reported.

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