Weekly Digest of Central Asia

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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

This ‘Hero Mother’ Delivered, Now She Wants Kazakhstan To Live Up To Its Promises

Kazakhstan has encouraged women to have more children but failed to provide the support it pledged to mothers with many children, a Kazakh Hero Mother says

Jan 19 — “Madina Taurbaeva recently renounced her Hero Mother status, and the gold medal that came with it. She is keeping her personal retirement plan — a dozen offspring aged six months to 21 — but wants the Kazakh state to provide better benefits and a bigger apartment.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/hero-mother-12-children-now-wants-kazakhstan-to-live-up-to-promises/29719514.html

How Astana is leading the way in Central Asia

Kazakhstan, which lies at the center of Eurasian integration, also functions as a massive power station for the New Silk Roads

Jan 22 — “Kazakhstan sits at the heartland of the Great Game of the 21st century, which is all about Eurasia interconnectivity and integration. Astana is a member of both the China-driven New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative, and the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union. Kazakhstan, the “snow leopard economy” as branded by President Nursultan Nazarbayev over the past decade, could not be more quintessentially Eurasian, its landlocked steppes crisscrossed by 60% of China to Europe rail cargo.” READ MORE: http://www.atimes.com/article/how-astana-is-leading-the-way-in-central-asia/

Aqkol becomes first smart city in Kazakhstan

The city is being monitored day and night with the help of high-resolution and thermal imager cameras, and municipal buildings can only be entered using electronic identification

Jan 23 — “The SmartAqkol project has entirely digitised all consumer and public services in Aqkol, making the small city 100 kilometres north of Astana Kazakhstan’s first smart city. Aqkol, formerly known as Alexeyevka, used to be a small provincial town with population of just over 13,000 people and lacking things as simple as public lights. In just six months, however, it has been transformed into a modern, safe, comfortable city.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2019/01/aqkol-becomes-first-smart-city-in-kazakhstan/

Kazakhstan: Bank chided by president goes into liquidation

The banking system in oil-rich Kazakhstan continues to suffer from problems, ranging from lack of liquidity to non-performing loans. The troubles in the banking sphere were admitted, and criticized, by the country’s president

Jan 23 — “A crisis-stricken bank in Kazakhstan that had come under criticism from the president has officially been liquidated. The National Bank on January 17 said in a statement that the liquidation of Eximbank Kazakhstan followed a ruling by the Almaty economic court. The regulator said that retail and commercial accountholders will be compensated by a state deposit guarantee fund. In truth, however, there are few clients still needing that help. Only 361 account-holders remained at Eximbank.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20753-kazakhstan-bank-chided-by-president-goes-into-liquidation

KYRGYZSTAN

You think the Kyrgyz kalpak hat’s goofy? Best keep that to yourself…

The new bill would make it compulsory for the Kyrgyz president, prime minister, cabinet members and MPs to wear the traditional hat during certain foreign and official events

Jan 22 — “Kyrgyz lawmakers are widely expected to approve a bill elevating a traditional Kyrgyz hat, the ak kalpak (the “white kalpak”, as seen in the picture of the Kyrgyz Manaschi above) to the status of national cultural symbol alongside the country’s coat of arms, national anthem and national flag within a few days.” READ MORE: http://www.intellinews.com/you-think-the-kyrgyz-kalpak-hat-s-goofy-best-keep-that-to-yourself-155144/?source=kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan: Soccer heroes’ narrow defeat leaves fans proud and bitter

Kyrgyzstan is now the 91st, 27 places above the Philippines in the FIFA rankings, having risen 24 places in the last year alone

Jan 22 — “By any measure, Kyrgyzstan’s run to the knockout stages of the AFC Asian Cup – an international soccer tournament the country had never before qualified for – was a phenomenal success. But the nature of their 3-2 defeat against tournament hosts United Arab Emirates on January 21, decided by a dubious penalty decision in additional time, has left a sour taste in the mouths of supporters.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-soccer-heroes-narrow-defeat-leaves-fans-proud-and-bitter

Kyrgyzstan’s human rights abuses should sound alarm bells over closer ties with the EU | View

Senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch believes that Kyrgyzstan has to end rights activist Azimjon Askarov’s “unjust and unlawful” imprisonment in order to demonstrate that its commitment to human rights values is meaningful and not for show

Jan 24 — “The European Union’s ties with Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’s only parliamentary democracy, are getting closer. Both parties are negotiating an enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, an upgraded, comprehensive agreement that covers the scope of their bilateral relationship. But the European Parliament is not ready to give it the green light just yet.” READ MORE: https://www.euronews.com/2019/01/24/kyrgyzstan-s-human-rights-abuses-should-sound-alarm-bells-over-closer-ties-with-the-eu-vie

Kyrgyz Migrant Arrested By Magnitogorsk Police Says He Was Tortured

Another native of Kyrgyzstan is being suspected of the involvement in a terrorist act outside his home country

Jan 25 — “While Russian investigators have said they are focusing on a household gas explosion as the cause of a deadly New Year’s Eve apartment collapse in Magnitogorsk, the wife of a Kyrgyz immigrant says her husband was arrested, beaten, and accused by local police of having involvement in the blast.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyz-migrant-arrested-by-magnitogorsk-police-says-he-was-tortured-/29731144.html

TAJIKISTAN

Tajik Authorities Give Cinematic Intimacy The Cold Shoulder

State TV officials insist they censor inappropriate scenes from films out of respect for Tajik traditions and values

Jan 19 — “Tajik state television has ordered that even the most innocent of love scenes be edited from films before they are broadcast to ensure they are in line with Tajik culture and values. In line to be censored are kissing, hugging, and movements that suggest a couple is having sex.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-authorities-give-cinematic-intimacy-the-cold-shoulder/29719566.html

Tajikistan: Towards the Next Level of Development

The World Bank’s country manager in Tajikistan on the country’s economic development and collaboration with the World Bank Group

Jan 20 — “Today, Tajikistan finds itself at a juncture, where—with the right decisions taken—it could step onto a path of rapid socio-economic development, dynamic rates of inclusive growth, and significantly improved economic perspectives for its citizens. Many “foundational” investments, some with World Bank support, have been realized, not least those linked to the modernization of the country’s infrastructure and legal-institutional superstructure, allowing for a more effective delivery of public and social services.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/01/20/tajikistan-towards-the-next-level-of-development/

Fighting for Tajikistan’s Jailed Lawyers

Lawyers in Tajikistan often face persecution in the form of punitive and arbitrary arrests, imprisonment, intimidation, and death threats in retaliation for taking on politically-sensitive representations

Jan 23 — “On September 28, 2015, Tajik lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov left his office to meet with officials from the Ministry of Interior. The head of the ministry’s Organized Crime Unit had summoned Buzurgmehr to his office for what his family prayed might be a simple conversation. Buzurgmehr must have had an idea of what was to come.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/fighting-for-tajikistans-jailed-lawyers/

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan & Russia: Resuming Economic Partnership

Both Russia and Turkmenistan are currently interested in improving relations in the economic and energy spheres

Jan 21 — “Russian economic influence in the Central Asia has rebounded over the past six months. A focal point in Russia’s advances in the region is Turkmenistan and the economic woes the country is experiencing. Both countries have had difficult relations since the break-up of the Soviet Union.” READ MORE: http://georgiatoday.ge/news/14152/Turkmenistan-%26-Russia%3A-Resuming-Economic-Partnership

Turkmenistan: If at first you don’t succeed, deny, deny again

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

Jan 22 — “Turkmenistan wants a change of image. No longer for Turkmenistan the immediate association with dirty, raw energy and industrial commodities. As Communications Minister Bairamgeldi Ovezov told a conference in Baku last month, his nation’s “economy is changing, becoming more innovative and [increasingly] based on the use of high-speed internet.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-if-at-first-you-dont-succeed-deny-deny-again

Turkmenistan Blocks VPN Applications Through Google Play Store Restrictions

Residents of Turkmenistan are actively trying to find ways to override government internet blockages by using VPNs and proxies, but they are now also blocked

Jan 23 — “Turkmenistan has started targeting VPN applications since 17 January, switching off the internet services for devices of people that used these tools. The locking occurs on the SIM level, while the Google Play Store that contains all these apps is also blocked so users can’t access VPNs anymore. Residents of Turkmenistan have been using VPN apps to access popular social networks and messengers that are otherwise prohibited in the country, but the country’s Ministry of National Security has decided to put an end to this practice.” READ MORE: https://www.technadu.com/turkmenistan-blocks-vpn-applications-google-play-store-restrictions/55482/

UZBEKISTAN

Seeds Of Doubt: Uzbek Farmers Fret Over Latest ‘Improvement’ Plan

Under the new decree the minimum size for cotton and wheat farms in Uzbekistan is 100 hectares, which will hit farmers holding smaller land plots

Jan 20 — “Ulugbek Qurbanov has no idea what he will be ordered to grow this year on the small parcel of state-owned land he is allowed to cultivate in southeastern Uzbekistan. In fact, he doesn’t even know whether he will be allowed to farm this year at all. A new government decree intended to “optimize” the agricultural sector means that Qurbanov could lose his right to use land he has worked for years in the Mirishkor district of the southern Qashqadaryo region.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/seeds-of-doubt-uzbek-farmers-fret-over-latest-improvement-plan/29720153.html

Uzbekistan’s star appears in the credit rating universe

Uzbekistan has finally secured its place in the credit rating universe by becoming the 133rd country rated by Standard & Poor’s and the 117th rated by Fitch, two of the three main credit rating agencies

Jan 23 — “In the 1420s, Mirza Muhammad Taraghay, also known as Ulugbek—the Great Leader, built a three-story observatory in the city of Samarkand (in today’s Uzbekistan) to determine the location of all the major stars in the universe. The nearly 300 pages of charts and quantitative data he and his collaborators compiled were considered the most authoritative guide to the sky between Ptolemy’s in the second century and Tycho Brache’s at the end of the 16th century.” READ MORE: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2019/01/23/uzbekistans-star-appears-in-the-credit-rating-universe/

The Missing Piece in Uzbekistan’s Reform Puzzle

Pressure on Tashkent for decriminalization of homosexuality is a chance to make an impact not only for LGBT rights in Uzbekistan, but also on the entire reform process

Jan 23 — “At the United Nations this past May, Uzbek Deputy Justice Minister Mahmud Istamov committed the authoritarian regime he serves to over 200 reforms proposed by the UN – except for one key provision that would have decriminalized homosexuality. As Istamov told reporters, “This is not on our agenda. We have not accepted this recommendation. This is not a topical subject for us.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/the-missing-piece-in-uzbekistans-reform-puzzle/

A Reliable Partnership: German-Uzbek Relations in the Spotlight

Both Uzbekistan and Germany are interested in expanding economic and political cooperation

Jan 24 — “From January 20 to 22, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev made an official visit to Germany. The visit can be seen as another step back into the international arena for Uzbekistan as well as a specific bid on the part of Tashkent to attract Berlin’s businesspeople.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/a-reliable-partnership-german-uzbek-relations-in-the-spotlight/

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan may be a mess if US troops leave; they should leave anyway. Trump is right.

The war in Afghanistan has become a multigenerational exercise in absurdity, as many of the soldiers now fighting were in diapers when the war began, an opinion author believes

Jan 23 — “When President Donald Trump announced that he would be withdrawing half of the U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan, the national security establishment was aghast. Afghanistan will become a failed state! The Taliban will expand their power! Chaos and disorder will follow! The critics might be right. The president should follow through anyway.” READ MORE: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/01/23/trump-pull-us-troops-end-unwinnable-war-afghanistan-taliban-column/2645055002/

World’s bravest guide ignores ISIS to take tourists through Afghanistan

Tourism to Afghanistan has plummeted since the war broke out in 2001, but this ancient country could be an attractive travel destination for westerners

Jan 23 — “Meet the man with the world’s most dangerous travel job — he’s a tour guide who shows people around Afghanistan and gets death threats from the Taliban and ISIIS. Hafizullah ‘Akbar’ Kohistani, 29, ferries European thrill seekers across the Middle Eastern country and acts as their bodyguard if they get into trouble.” READ MORE: https://nypost.com/2019/01/23/worlds-bravest-guide-ignores-isis-to-take-tourists-through-afghanistan/

America Knows It Cannot Win in Afghanistan—So Why Keep Fighting?

Washington’s defense hawks keep insisting on staying in Afghanistan even though the majority of Americans want out

Jan 23 — “A recent survey found that 57 percent of Americans, including 69 percent of military veterans, said they would support a decision by the president to remove all troops from Afghanistan. But Washington’s foreign-policy elites—neoconservatives, defense hawks, and liberal interventionists alike—reject such a notion. According to Richard Hass , president of the Council on Foreign Relations, “Neither winning the war nor negotiating a lasting peace is a real option in Afghanistan. Just leaving, though, as we are about to do in Syria, would be a mistake .” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/skeptics/america-knows-it-cannot-win-afghanistan—so-why-keep-fighting-42327

U.S. Strategy Towards Afghanistan And (The Rest Of) Central Asia

Any American policy that seeks to lessen or withdraw U.S support from Afghanistan is bound to impact negatively all the other states of Central Asia

Jan 24 — “From Europe to Asia, everything is in motion. Russia’s growing weakness as a state tempts it more than ever to employ its refurbished military in risky adventures. China faces an unfamiliar fragility at home and pushback to its policies abroad. India is rising but must still make up for decades of clumsy domestic policies. Pakistan has a growing middle class but is failing nonetheless. In Afghanistan, a talented new generation is rising but solutions to decades of turmoil require constant replenishing.” READ MORE: https://www.the-american-interest.com/2019/01/24/u-s-strategy-towards-afghanistan-and-the-rest-of-central-asia/

WORLD

To attract foreign investment, Central Asia countries introduce open skies policy

For landlocked Central Asian countries, developed air transport and communication is vital for the development of tourism and trade

Jan 20 — “Next week, Kyrgyzstan will declare a unilateral open skies policy and the fifth air freedom in the country. The Kyrgyz President has signed a relevant law on amendments to the country’s Air Code. The law aims to develop civil aviation, increase passenger and cargo air traffic, and make international air routes and air tickets more accessible for Kyrgyz citizens and foreign tourists.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20742-to-attract-foreign-investment-central-asia-countries-introduce-open-skies-policy

From Taiwan to the belt and road, China’s ‘grand plan’ is to push the US out of Asia

Beijing’s strategic goal is pushing the United States and its influence out of the Indo-Pacific region

Jan 24 — “In his recent “message to compatriots in Taiwan” to mark the 40th anniversary of a call from Beijing to end military confrontation across the Taiwan Strait, President Xi Jinping offered them a five-point “peaceful unification” proposal, but made no promise to renounce the use of force. The communique reveals a subtler “grand plan” of China.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/united-states/article/2183127/taiwan-belt-and-road-chinas-grand-plan-push-us

Sergey Kwan

TCA