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.


Kazakhstan as an Arctic state and a maritime power

The potential use of the Ob’-Irtysh river, which originates in Kazakhstan and runs through Russia, may give Kazakhstan the possibility of gaining maritime access to the Arctic Ocean with further transport links to Europe and the world

Jan 28 — “The Ob’-Irtysh is the sixth largest river in the world by drainage area and sixth longest in the world at 5,410 kilometers. It is a broad and deep river, easily navigable by river barge, and also by sea-going vessels deep into the Eurasian continent. Geographically, this river system connects Kazakhstan to the Arctic Ocean, and if sufficient river maritime infrastructure were present then Kazakhstan could avoid the endogenous trade tariff that comes with being landlocked. This has massive implications for Kazakhstan’s potential trade, industry, and wider economic development.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20771-kazakhstan-as-an-arctic-state-and-a-maritime-power

Kazakhstan provides investment opportunity at time of global economic uncertainty

Kazakhstan uses its geographical position to boost trade and transport goods from China to Europe, being a key partner in the Belt and Road Initiative

Jan 28 — “When the world’s business and political leaders met in Davos at the World Economic Forum last week, the mood was cautious and reflective. There are too many challenges for any revival of the confidence for which this high-powered summit was once known. The global financial crisis seriously dampened this optimism over a decade ago and there is little sign of it returning.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2019/01/kazakhstan-provides-investment-opportunity-at-time-of-global-economic-uncertainty/

Kazakh leader tells central bank to push growth, berates cabinet on handling of banks

President Nazarbayev told the central bank to carry out an asset quality review of Kazakh banks and “clean up” the troubled banking sector jointly with the cabinet

Jan 30 — “Kazakhstan’s president ordered the central bank on Wednesday to focus on promoting economic growth and told his ministers they were “cowards” for not doing enough to clean up the local banking sector. Nursultan Nazarbayev’s comments, made in a cabinet meeting relayed live to reporters, could deter the central bank from monetary tightening after it hinted it might hike its policy rate from 9.25 percent at its next review in March.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kazakhstan-cenbank/kazakh-leader-tells-central-bank-to-push-growth-berates-cabinet-on-handling-of-banks-idUSKCN1PO0XO

Kazakhstan is about the size of Europe — but we know almost nothing about it

A review of Joanna Lillis book “Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan”

Feb 2 — “Kazakhstan, say signs by the side of the road in this vast Central Asian country, is ‘a land of unity and accord’. Few outside pay a great deal of attention to a state that is almost as large as Europe, and home to eye-popping natural resources, chiefly — but not only — oil.” READ MORE: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/02/kazakhstan-is-about-the-size-of-europe-but-we-know-almost-nothing-about-it/


The Gift Of Graft: Kyrgyzstan Giving Bucks Back To Bribe Busters

Under a new law, citizens whose reports lead to prosecution are to receive 30 percent of the amount granted to the police

Jan 30 — “Kyrgyz authorities hope it’s an offer potential corruption whistle-blowers can’t refuse: a cut of the dirty money returned as a result of their efforts. Under a law signed by President Sooronbai Jeenbekov on January 29, both police and citizens who report cases of official graft are to receive a portion of any financial damages recovered by the state.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/the-gift-of-graft-kyrgyzstan-giving-bucks-back-to-bribe-busters/29741601.html

A haunting glimpse of Kyrgyzstan’s abandoned Soviet towns

Photographer Thijs Broekkamp visited the town of Ming Kush in the west of Kyrgyzstan, one of the largest uranium producers during its existence, documenting all that was left behind

Jan 30 — “Deep in the mountains of eastern Kyrgyzstan, close to the border with China, lies Engilchek (Inylcheck), a former industrial mining town that was once part of the Soviet Union. Nearly 30 years after the breakup of the socialist state, the town remains, with empty factories and a selection of forgotten buildings.” READ MORE: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/news/2019/01/30/kyrgyzstan-soviet-union-towns/

Kyrgyzstan: Deterring corruption could improve governance in energy sector

Corruption is the main problem that hinders the development of Kyrgyzstan’s energy sector

Jan 31 — “Kyrgyzstan’s energy management system is inefficient and bureaucratic, experts say. The National Energy Holding has been operating for three years but no significant changes have been in the sector so far.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20785-kyrgyzstan-deterring-corruption-could-improve-governance-in-energy-sector

Russian language losing its position in Kyrgyzstan — and Moscow may be as well

For a number of political and economic reasons, Kyrgyzstan remains the last bastion of the Russian language in Central Asia, but the situation may change in the years to come

Feb 1 — “Moscow has long celebrated that Russian enjoys a higher official status and greater respect in Kyrgyzstan that in any other Central Asian country. That situation is symbolized by the fact that the current president, Sooronbay Zheenbekov, is a former Russian-language teacher. But it is reinforced by the reality that so many citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic move to the Russian Federation as guest workers and enjoy a competitive advantage in obtaining work if they know Russian.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20789-russian-language-losing-its-position-in-kyrgyzstan-and-moscow-may-be-as-well


‘We Have Succeeded In Surviving’: An Interview With Exiled Tajik Islamic Party Leader Muhiddin Kabiri

The Tajik government regards Muhiddin Kabiri as the leader of a “terrorist organization” — a label that has met with some skepticism outside Tajikistan

Jan 27 — “According to Tajikistan’s government, the disbanded Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) is a “terrorist organization” with evolving ties in the global network of extremist groups. The IRPT helped recruit citizens of Tajikistan to go to Syria and Iraq and join the ranks of jihadist groups, and even recently conspired with the militant group Islamic State (IS) to carry out attacks inside Tajikistan, Tajik authorities allege.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/interview-with-exiled-tajik-islamic-party-leader-muhiddin-kabiri/29733702.html

Crazy Talk: Presidential Bid, Talk Of Ending ‘Politics Of Fear’ Lead To Smears Against Tajik Independent

A retired doctor has repeated his determination to join the presidential race in the tightly-controlled Tajikistan, despite negligible chances of success

Jan 27 — “Few outside Tajikistan’s firmly entrenched political elite would ever dream of running against powerful incumbent Emomali Rahmon. One state-funded think tank appears to be doing its best to ensure it stays that way. The sanity of Quvvatali Murodov, a retired doctor with no political affiliations but bold ambitions to challenge Rahmon in 2020, has been questioned after he said he wanted to “end the politics of fear” in Tajikistan and suggested that the authorities drop restrictions that make it difficult to run for the presidency.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/crazy-talk-presidential-bid-talk-of-ending-politics-of-fear-lead-to-smears-against-tajik-independent/29733704.html

Tajikistan 2020: What to Watch as Tajikistan Approaches an Election Year

The family of President Rahmon is likely to strengthen their hold on power in Tajikistan

Jan 29 — “Tajikistan is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections sometime in 2020. No date has been set, and the outcome, at this juncture, is predictable: either another victory for 66-year-old President Emomali Rahmon or, if he’s not feeling up to it, for his son Rustam, the mayor of Dushanbe or another close ally.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/tajikistan-2020-what-to-watch-as-tajikistan-approaches-an-election-year/


Turkmenistan: A very private affair

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

Jan 29 — “Turkmenistan is looking to pave new roads, both figuratively and literally, in a bid to restart its sputtering economy. Serdar Berdymukhamedov, the president’s son, broke ground on the Ashgabat-Turkmenabat highway on January 24. He made sure to invoke his father’s 10-step plan to have the private sector take a larger role in the economy going forward, saying “Turkmenistan has great confidence in and is giving support to the private sector, which is developing rapidly.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-a-very-private-affair

Satellites confirm Turkmenistan is not rebuilding homes it destroyed

Many homes that Turkmenistan’s leader demolished as part of a beautification campaign have not been replaced

Jan 30 — “Turkmenistan has a long tradition of bulldozing neighborhoods and booting out residents to fulfill the president’s aesthetic impulses. A fresh look at years’ worth of satellite imagery shows that thousands of homes have never been replaced. Many neighborhoods flattened on order of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov remain deserted fields. And the imagery confirms that the destruction continues despite widespread poverty and an economic crisis that regularly features breadlines.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/satellites-confirm-turkmenistan-is-not-rebuilding-homes-it-destroyed

Turkmenistan: More Cuts and Bad Business

The Turkmen government is trying to cut expenses wherever it can as the country is experiencing an economic crisis, and even foreign companies working in Turkmenistan are feeling the pinch

Jan 31 — “As big projects in Turkmenistan move ahead (in theory, that is), the government continues to look for places to trim the budget. In a January 30 decree, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said the country would seek to privatize much of the state-owned transport system and gradually end funding for the country’s Academy of Sciences.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/02/turkmenistan-more-cuts-and-bad-business/


Uzbekistan Ltd: private-public interests clash in flagship project

As a major property development scheme gets under way in Tashkent, a data trail reveals a potential serious conflict of interest in Uzbekistan’s new corridors of power

Jan 29 — “The heart of Uzbekistan’s ancient capital is now a vast construction site. As foreign commentators celebrate an emerging “Uzbek spring” under president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Tashkent City is being vaunted as the sleek urban embodiment of the new Uzbekistan.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kristian-lasslett/uzbekistan-ltd

Transformation of Uzbekistan: How smooth transition in elite class is reshaping the country

The new leadership in Uzbekistan, despite emerging from the “Karimov elite,” seems to be doing everything the former president had opposed for years

Jan 30 — “Within the nations of the former USSR, serious transformations are accompanied by distress – active power struggles, revolutions, and outbreaks of separatism. However, today, a country that has been squandering its potential for a quarter of a century is transforming in an uncommon way for the CIS – rapidly yet without political upheaval.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/01/30/transformation-of-uzbekistan-how-smooth-transition-in-elite-class-is-reshaping-the-country/

A backpacker’s guide to Uzbekistan: a one-month itinerary

With its relaxed visa policies, Uzbekistan is encouraging foreign tourists to explore Silk Road heritage, desert landscapes, Tashkent’s metro and the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara

Jan 30 — “From the blue-tiled mosques of Bukhara to the remote semi-autonomous region of Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan offers ancient culture and ample opportunity for adventure. Highlights include riding Tashkent’s glitzy metro, admiring Silk Road-era architecture and strolling Samarkand’s backstreets.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/jan/30/backpackers-guide-to-uzbekistan-itinerary-tashkent-samarkand-bukhara

Uzbekistan’s 2019 Strategy: Foreign Investments a Key Focus

Uzbekistan’s strategy pursues economic modernization and attraction of more foreign investments

Feb 1 — “Execution of the strategy agenda in full is unlikely, but it nevertheless gives a sense of government priorities for 2019.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/02/uzbekistans-2019-strategy-foreign-investments-a-key-focus/


‘Hopeful Moment’: What An ‘Afghan-Led, Afghan-Owned’ Peace Process Might Look Like

Graeme Smith, an Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group, on prospects of an Afghan-led peace process

Jan 29 — “After six days of talks in Qatar with Taliban representatives, the U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced on January 28 that an agreement had been reached on a “framework” peace process to end the 17-year Afghan war. Khalilzad said the agreement calls for the Taliban to prevent international terrorist groups from basing themselves in Afghanistan and for the United States to withdraw its forces from the country.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/interview-what-an-afghan-led-afghan-owned-peace-process-might-entail/29740150.html

The Endgame to Afghanistan’s Long War Takes Shape

Though the speed and scale of its drawdown have yet to be determined, the United States will push to withdraw from Afghanistan as it shifts its focus to its strategic competition with China and Russia

Jan 30 — “Hopes for a lasting peace settlement in Afghanistan between the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the insurgent Taliban appear to be at their highest point in years. U.S. and Taliban officials meeting in Qatar for a fourth round of talks that started Jan. 21 and lasted most of the week both reported significant progress on a draft accord that includes a proposal for a U.S. troop withdrawal and a Taliban cease-fire, sticking points that have derailed previous efforts to negotiate a peaceful solution to the yearslong conflict in the country.” READ MORE: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/endgame-afghanistans-long-war-takes-shape-us-pakistan-kabul-taliban-war-on-terrorism-saarc?id=87179e919a&e=600669d279&uuid=22d51404-2844-4bd4-9f43-2fe564cd39fb&utm_source=Daily+Brief&utm_campaign=2eed634a07-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_01_31_01_26&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_87179e919a-2eed634a07-53490981&mc_cid=2eed634a07&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

The War in Afghanistan Shows the Bankruptcy of Our Foreign-Policy Elite

It’s clear the United States can’t win in Afghanistan, but the “experts” insist on delaying defeat forever, an analyst says

Jan 31 — “What better epitomizes the follies and failures of US foreign policy than the endless war in Afghanistan, a country on the other side of the world with illusory strategic importance? The United States has squandered over $1 trillion on the war. Over 2,000 US soldiers have lost their lives, with 20,000 wounded. The war goes on with no plan for victory.” READ MORE: https://www.thenation.com/article/afghanistan-end-taliban-trump-unwinnable/

As U.S. Mulls Withdrawal From Afghanistan, Russia Wants Back in

Moscow seeks to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, as the situation in this country directly affects Russia’s sphere of influence, that is Central Asian countries

Jan 31 — “As Washington mulls a full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Moscow is angling to take a leading role in the country’s future as part of a broader effort to counter the United States and NATO in the region. While U.S. officials tout progress in peace talks with the Taliban, Russia has been quietly conducting a parallel effort, hosting a landmark diplomatic conference in Moscow in November 2018 that was attended by a Taliban delegation and several members of the Afghan government’s High Peace Council, as well as representatives from major players in the region including Pakistan, Iran, and China. A representative from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow also attended as an observer.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/31/us-mulls-withdrawal-from-afghanistan-russia-wants-back-in-taliban-peace-talks/


Eurasian Economic (dis)Union

Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union has ambitious goals but also faces internal controversies

Jan 29 — “This month marked the fourth anniversary of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the economic grouping of Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. Although Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s president, claims credit for the idea of the union, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is its indisputable leader. The anniversary presents an opportunity to assess how the EAEU has fared over its four-year life.” READ MORE: https://www.ft.com/content/8402741a-2319-11e9-8ce6-5db4543da632

Can China Turn the Middle of Nowhere Into the Center of the World Economy?

In the barely inhabited steppes of Central Asia, China is establishing the next foothold in its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative aimed at transforming global infrastructure

Jan 30 — “The Eurasian Pole of Inaccessibility is a striking name for an absence. It is the point farthest from a sea or ocean on the planet. Located in China just east of the border with Kazakhstan, the pole gets you a good distance from harbors and coastlines — at least 1,550 miles in any direction — into an expanse of white steppe and blue-beige mountain that is among the least populated places on earth. Here, among some of the last surviving pastoral nomads in Central Asia, nestled between two branches of the Tian Shan range on the edge of Kazakhstan, the largest infrastructure project in the history of the world is growing.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/01/29/magazine/china-globalization-kazakhstan.html

Sergey Kwan


Sergey Kwan has worked for The Times of Central Asia as a journalist, translator and editor since its foundation in March 1999. Prior to this, from 1996-1997, he worked as a translator at The Kyrgyzstan Chronicle, and from 1997-1999, as a translator at The Central Asian Post.
Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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