Weekly Digest of Central Asia

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.


Kazakh ‘#Explorestan’ tourism branding seeks to take sting out of ‘Stan’

Kazakhstan’s tourism brand will inform foreign audiences on its tourism opportunities, encourage their discovery and revolve around the four E’s – eco, ethno, events and entertainment

Dec 10 — “Kazakhstan’s tourism brand was presented to the general public Dec. 7 at Astana’s Travel Media Talks international forum and will soon be submitted for state approval. Tourism industry development is a state policy priority, as indicated by the 100 Concrete Steps to Implement Five Institutional Reforms initiative, the Strategic Development Plan until 2020 and Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy. The Kazakh Tourism national company has been institutionally developing the country’s tourism industry since 2017, and a state law and programme are underway.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/12/kazakh-explorestan-tourism-branding-seeks-to-take-sting-out-of-stan/

Kazakhstan increases oil and gas production

Expected volume of oil production in giant Kashagan oilfield in 2018 can reach 13 million tons instead of the planned 12 million tons

Dec 11 — “Oil production at Kashagan, the world’s largest oil field at the Kazakh part of the Caspian shelf, for 11 months of the current year amounted to 12 million tons, which is 120.6% higher than the plan for 11 months of the current year, Kazakhstan’s Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbayev said.” READ MORE: https://www.neweurope.eu/article/kazakhstan-increases-oil-and-gas-production/

Russia’s Facebook, Odnoklassniki, launches marketplace in Kazakhstan

According to Forbes Kazakhstan, e-commerce penetration is estimated at less than 3% in the country

Dec 12 — “Odnoklassniki (OK), a major Russian language social network owned by Mail.Ru Group and sometimes called “Russia’s Facebook,” has launched a marketplace in Kazakhstan in a bid to challenge Chinese and US global e-commerce giants, reports East-West Digital News (EWDN).
The OK marketplace intends to make available no less than 30mn items, including fashion items, electronics goods, home appliances, cosmetics, car spare parts and other types of goods.” READ MORE: http://www.intellinews.com/russia-s-facebook-odnoklassniki-launches-marketplace-in-kazakhstan-153577/

Kazakhstan’s AIFC: Off to a Promising Start?

The AIFC’s raison d’être is ambitious: to become Kazakhstan’s main financial hub and one of the leading financial centers of Asia in the shortest possible time, which will help the Central Asian state become one of the top 30 most developed nations by 2050

Dec 13 — “The Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) has taken the next step in its quest to become a Central Asian investment hub by opening the first session of the Astana International Exchange (AIX) in mid-November. Considering that the AIFC only officially commenced its operations in July, it is too early to predict whether it will be successful or not, but, for the time being, Astana can be pleased with the AIFC’s promising first steps.” READ MORE: https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/kazakhstans-aifc-off-to-a-promising-start/


Kyrgyzstan: Legal import from Kazakhstan would help meet demand for motor fuel

Kyrgyzstan’s demand for motor fuel is 90% met by supplies from Russia and Kazakhstan

Dec 10 — “The tense situation with petroleum products has not been decreasing for several months in Kyrgyzstan. According to the National Statistics Committee, over eleven months of this year, prices for gasoline have increased by 3.5 soms, or 8.8%, and for diesel fuel by 6.9 soms, or 17%. Supply of petroleum products from Russia and neighboring Kazakhstan could improve the situation.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20592-kyrgyzstan-legal-import-from-kazakhstan-would-help-meet-demand-for-motor-fuel

Lawyers on wheels: ‘solidarity bus’ represents Kyrgyzstan’s landless women

At independence in 1991, when state property in Kyrgyzstan was privatised, every citizen was given an equal plot of land, but it was often registered under the name of the male household head. That meant women often missed out on claiming land rights, especially if they got married or divorced

Dec 10 — “Kyrgyzstan: In a cold, sparsely lit Soviet-era room, sitting close to the heater, Ainura Ibraimjanova taps at her computer. In this rural district in southern Kyrgyzstan, she is the only lawyer providing free legal aid. Just back from court in the Alai district, Ibraimjanova is attending to a stream of clients in thick coats and clutching documents. They are in need of help with alimony, divorce or family land disputes.” READ MORE: http://www.arabnews.com/node/1418301/offbeat

Kyrgyzstan: Whimpering ex-president clutches at straws in political showdown

As Kyrgyzstan’s ex-President is losing loyalists due to his standoff with the incumbent head of state, he now tries to get new allies

Dec 13 — “The political drama that has gripped Kyrgyzstan over the past few months increasingly looks like it will end in a whimper instead of a bang. The nation’s once-combative former president is doing much of the whimpering. In a roundly mocked December 11 television interview, Almazbek Atambayev spoke of his regrets over how he left things before concluding his single permitted term in office late last year.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20605-kyrgyzstan-whimpering-ex-president-clutches-at-straws-in-political-showdown

Jerooy gold deposit. Promises of state and realities

Kyrgyzstan’s mining industry is of paramount importance for the country’s economy, but investors in this sector often face obstacles in their work

Dec 14 — “Russian Platinum won a license for development of Jerooy deposit in May 2015. The day before, journalists were shown how the field has changed for two years, and told why the first gold should be expected only by the end of 2019. Russian Platinum won the competition for Jerooy thanks to the best technical and economic proposals, as well as the offer for a license of $ 100 million (which it paid in June 2015) and the obligation to remove from Kyrgyzstan the court claims for $ 580 million (the problem was resolved in August of the same year).” READ MORE: https://24.kg/english/103974__Jerooy_gold_deposit_Promises_of_state_and_realities/


In Tajikistan’s Pamir mountains: a road trip across the roof of the world

Tajikistan still remains an enigma to most Western travellers and a place worth to visit despite certain security concerns

Dec 7 — “The road to Iskander Kul is a switchback of rough stones and corrugated holes that makes the four-wheel drive judder as I make wildly swerving progress, searching for a smooth line that doesn’t exist. Shepherds and their goats occasionally block the way and rock faces rear up, making progress seemingly impossible, before the road swings left or right abruptly, searching for a weakness and plunging through a gap on its unlikely progress.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/travel/article/2176702/tajikistans-pamir-mountains-road-trip-across-roof

Human Rights Day Shines Unwelcome Spotlight On Tajikistan

Tajikistan is seemingly competing with Turkmenistan to be the most oppressive state in Central Asia in terms of human rights and freedoms

Dec 11 — “As the world marked the 70th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, Tajikistan’s government attracted unwanted attention at home and abroad. In Berlin, a group of Tajik opposition activists whose political parties have been banned in Tajikistan rallied outside that country’s embassy and then outside the Bundestag. They were from the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and Group 24.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-human-rights-day-unwelcome-spotlight-on-tajikistan/29650388.html

Tajikistan takes first step towards EAEU

Experts see China as one of the obstacles for Tajikistan to join the EAEU, as it has invested millions of dollars in the development of the country’s economy and infrastructure

Dec 12 — “Tajikistan abolished customs duties for the goods imported from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and other CIS countries that signed the Free Trade Zone Agreement. This might be Dushanbe’s first step on its way to joining the Eurasian Economic Union.” READ MORE: http://vestnikkavkaza.net/analysis/Tajikistan-takes-first-step-towards-EAEU.html


Some reasons to worry about gas exports to China

Turkmenistan is the largest natural gas supplier to China, with 34% of all its gas imports coming from Turkmenistan

Dec 10 — “Mid-November, CNPC (China National Petroleum Corp.) announced that the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline was nearly used at its full capacity at the moment. That’s certainly good news for Turkmens. The press communiqué underlined that if the pipe was about to reach 160 million cubic meters a day, it was because of the winter coming.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/12/some-reasons-to-worry-about-gas-exports-to-china/

Turkmenistan: Closing the TAPI loop

In its ‘Akhal-Teke: A Turkmenistan Bulletin’, Eurasianet reviews the main news and events in the Central Asian country for the previous week

Dec 11 — “The man charged with making Turkmenistan’s visions of a trans-Afghan gas pipeline a reality headed to Pakistan this week with calls get the ball rolling. While in Islamabad, Muhammetmyrat Amanov, chief executive of the TAPI Pipeline Limited Corporation, urged his hosts to get to work building their section of the project by March. Amanov has previously said he hopes to send gas to Pakistan by the end of 2020.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-closing-the-tapi-loop

Understanding Turkmenistan’s Food Shortages

Turkmen activist-in-exile explains the “deplorable” economic reality in his home country

Dec 13 — “Food rationing and shortages in Turkmenistan have been consistently reported in regional news since 2017. The Central Asian mineral resource rich country’s authoritarian government hasn’t officially denied the reports of increasing food supply difficulties, nor has it confirmed that there are issues.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/12/understanding-turkmenistans-food-shortages/


Uzbek Police Swear On Koran They’ll Be Good Cops

The oath-taking ceremony is part of a state-run anticorruption program launched under a presidential decree from President Mirziyoev

Dec 10 — “Police in a district near the Uzbek capital entered new territory last week when they were required to swear on the Koran that they would “not take bribes” or “engage in extortion.” The oath fits with President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s effort to position himself as a fighter of corruption since he came to power in September 2016, but stands in contrast to his predecessor’s efforts to suppress Islam.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-police-swear-on-koran-they-ll-be-good-cops/29648369.html

Uzbekistan pulls out the stops for fine winemaking

Uzbekistan plans to cultivate especially valuable industrial varieties of grapes, including those from France, Italy, Chile and the US

Dec 10 — “AS the warm, busy autumn becomes a distant memory and winter extends its grip over the Central Asian steppe, Uzbek grape farmer Abdumutal Yuldashev’s harvest is bottled up, bound for Russia. If once Mr Yuldashev’s 15 hectares of land mostly yielded grapes for the table, now he and his small cohort of workers find themselves on the front lines of an ambitious state-led winemaking drive in the majority-Muslim country.” READ MORE: https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/consumer/uzbekistan-pulls-out-the-stops-for-fine-winemaking

Uzbekistan’s Shifting Foreign Policy

Russia seeks to re-integrate the states of the former Soviet Union — including Uzbekistan — into its sphere of influence, whilst the region is also key to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative

Dec 11 — “Under the new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan’s reforms have been welcomed by the international community, but the geopolitics of Central Asia may challenge the implementation of Tashkent’s renewed foreign policy. Under the almost three-decade long rule of Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan was considered one of the most authoritarian and isolationist states in the world.” READ MORE: https://www.thecipherbrief.com/column_article/uzbekistans-shifting-foreign-policy

Uzbekistan laying railway line to increase regional trade, connectivity

Uzbekistan seeks to become a major transport and transit hub in Central and South Asia

Dec 13 — “Aimed at increasing regional trade and connectivity, Uzbekistan has initiated work on the proposal of laying railway line that would be connecting Uzbekistan-Russia-Kazakhstan-Afghanistan-Pakistan. It is worth mentioning that on December 3-4, a meeting of the heads of railway administration of these five countries was held in Tashkent.” READ MORE: https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/405320-uzbekistan-laying-railway-line-to-increase-regional-trade-connectivity


‘We’re All Handcuffed in This Country.’ Why Afghanistan Is Still the Worst Place in the World to Be a Woman

The majority of Afghan women are victims of domestic abuse and are struggling to live with dignity

Dec 8 — “It was a sunny morning in early December last year when 23-year-old Khadija set herself on fire. She kissed her three-month old son Mohammed goodbye and said a short prayer. “Please God, stop this suffering,” she pleaded in the sun-soaked courtyard of her home in Herat, Afghanistan as she poured kerosene from a copper lamp over her small frame. She then struck a match. The last thing she heard were birds chirping.” READ MORE: http://time.com/5472411/afghanistan-women-justice-war/

The Afghan government should not be sidelined in peace talks

The US and Russia have bypassed the Afghan government and engaged the Taliban directly, which could be disastrous for achieving peace in Afghanistan

Dec 11 — “At last month’s Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan, it was clear that the presidential elections were less than five months away. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani put a lot of effort into making sure he appeared to be the right man for his job.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/struggle-peace-talks-taliban-181210135032300.html

The Mass Return of Migrants from Iran Poses an Ill-Timed Challenge for Afghanistan

A researcher speaks about the complicated history of Afghan migration to Iran and explains why the current wave of return migration should be a matter of concern to the entire international community

Dec 13 — “More than 730,000 undocumented Afghan immigrants in Iran have returned to Afghanistan so far this year, according to the United Nations. Many of them are fleeing a lack of economic opportunity in Iran, due largely to the United States’ decision to reimpose sanctions that were lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.” READ MORE: https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/26991/the-mass-return-of-migrants-from-iran-poses-an-ill-timed-challenge-for-afghanistan

Afghanistan’s new Lapis Lazuli trade corridor to complement China’s BRI

The new corridor includes roads, railway and maritime routes that run from Afghanistan to Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia before crossing the Black Sea to Turkey and eventually Europe

Dec 14 — “Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday launched a new international trade route aimed at establishing direct connectivity to Central Asian countries and Europe, which will also complement China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the region, an Afghan government official told CGTN Digital.” READ MORE: https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d3d774e356b6a4d31457a6333566d54/share_p.html


As Global Markets Cool, Investors Find Warmth In Central Asia’s Infrastructure

China’s estimated $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative, fueled by Beijing’s economic and geopolitical ambitions, is a tremendous resource for Central Asian economies

Dec 12 — “The long-anticipated global market correction may now be upon us. Worldwide stocks extend their losses over the weekend, leaving little room for optimism of a macroeconomic rebound. Chinese goods-exports growth slowed to 5.4% year-over-year in November, down from 15.6% in October. S&P futures are now down 10% on the year and the Dow Jones is still 2,400 points below its October high.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/arielcohen/2018/12/12/as-global-markets-cool-investors-find-warmth-in-central-asias-infrastructure/#23ace605624e

Silk Road rises again to reignite past glory

A scholar says that the worldwide economic centre is shifting to the countries between China and the Mediterranean, and the Silk Road is rising again

Dec 13 — “From East to West the Silk Road is rising up once more. It traverses countries between China and the Mediterranean. These lands have always been of pivotal importance in global history in one way or another linking East and West, serving as a melting pot where ideas, customs and languages have jostled with each other from antiquity to modern day. There are obvious reasons why this is happening. Most important are the natural resources of the regions along the routes: of the Gulf countries, ex-Soviet Union countries, etc.” READ MORE: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1131804.shtml

Sergey Kwan