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

Despite Bumpy History, Zhenis Holds Promise For Lukoil & Kazakhstan’s KMG

A Kazakh-Russian consortium will be formed to oversee well drilling and seismic work, which is expected to cost roughly $270 million

Feb 20 — “Companies from Kazakhstan and Russia may soon be conducting joint exploration of the Zhenis oil and gas field in Kazakhstan’s sector of the Caspian Sea. Earlier this week representatives signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and negotiated a protocol that would guide the work. State-owned KazMunayGas (KMG) and the Russian company Lukoil were given rights to subsoil use in the Zhenis field, which is expected to create jobs for local Kazakhstani nationals. Astana and Moscow are now one step closer to inking a contract.” READ MORE: https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/despite-bumpy-history-zhenis-holds-promise-for-lukoil-kazakhstans-kmg-2019-2-20-10/

Finding Kazakhstan’s Troll Farms

Infiltrating internet discourse is not the only way the government of Kazakhstan executes control over its internet space — temporarily and permanently blocking websites and slowing internet connection speeds are increasingly becoming avenues of such control

Feb 20 — “The topic of Russian interference in the American online space is widely discussed today; however, similar attacks on domestic online discourse in authoritarian states is rarely noticed. Every day, the comment sections on Kazakhs news sites fill with thousands of comments, many of them eerily similar in praising the government, no matter the content of the article. For example, after opening a video on Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s latest public speech on a major news portal, we see a series of similar comments expressing support for the president.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/02/finding-kazakhstans-troll-farms/

How Costly is Kazakhstan’s Foreign Policy?

As Kazakhstan seeks to increase its global standing and role on the international arena, its foreign aid expenditures have grown

Feb 21 — “Over the last few years, Kazakhstan has significantly increased its foreign assistance to neighboring countries. Indeed, according to the “Concept of the foreign policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2014-2020,” one of Kazakhstan’s main foreign policy objectives is assistance to developing countries.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/02/how-costly-is-kazakhstans-foreign-policy/

Kazakh President Dismisses Government for Failures on Growth

Nazarbayev accused the government and the central bank last month of “doing a bad job” supporting the economy

Feb 21 — “Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered the government to resign, saying ministers and the central bank had failed to improve living standards. State programs “are being implemented but there are no concrete results in many important areas,” Nazarbayev said Thursday in a statement on the presidential website.” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-21/kazakh-president-dismisses-government-for-failures-on-growth

KYRGYZSTAN

From Kerry to Kyrgyzstan farming captured on TG4

The experiences of two Ireland natives from farming backgrounds while living and working as nomadic shepherds and farmers in Kyrgyzstan

Feb 16 — “Ann Martin and Ronan O Siochru from Dingle travelled to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia last May for a week. On arrival in Kyrgyzstan, the pair were faced with toiling on farms without running water or electricity and had to build and live in their own yurt. Ronan, who had never been on horseback, was put straight to work, riding the hills and rounding up horses and cattle. Ann, an experienced horse rider, was confined to the homestead, cooking and looking after the children. Ann and Ronan were also tasked with selling sheep in the busiest market in the country, Kochkor.” READ MORE: https://www.agriland.ie/farming-news/from-kerry-to-kyrgyzstan-farming-captured-on-tg4/

Things to do in Kyrgyzstan

A review of the most popular tourist and leisure activities in mountainous Kyrgyzstan

Feb 22 — “Kyrgyzstan is a safe and hospitable country for tourists. According to Deputy Director of the Tourism Department Chubak Omorov, 7 million tourists visited Kyrgyzstan in 2018. Here are some things tourists can do while in Kyrgyzstan” READ MORE: https://akipress.com/news:616574

Former Kyrgyz PM’s Defense Lawyer Says Targeted By Smear Campaign

The lawyer says the smear campaign was organized by the State Committee of National Security in an attempt to put pressure on his professional activities

Feb 22 — “A defense lawyer in a high-profile corruption case for former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sapar Isakov says he has been targeted in a smear campaign by security officials. A two-minute video, posted anonymously, has circulated on the Internet for several days with claims that Nurbek Toktakunov has psychological problems and was involved in the killing of a police officer in southern Kyrgyzstan during ethnic clashes in 2010.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/former-kyrgyz-pm-s-defense-lawyer-says-targeted-by-smear-campaign/29785685.html

Kyrgyzstan: Subsoil users concerned about possible tax burden increase

There is a risk that many exploration and mining enterprises that are currently actively operating in the country can stop production due to economic inexpediency

Feb 23 — “The International Business Council based in Bishkek, mining enterprises and associations of the mining industry of Kyrgyzstan appealed to President Sooronbai Jeenbekov with a request to assist in solving problems in the subsoil use sector. The appeal is related to the recent decision of the Security Council on measures in the subsoil use.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20869-kyrgyzstan-subsoil-users-concerned-about-possible-tax-burden-increase

TAJIKISTAN

In Central Asia’s forbidding highlands, a quiet newcomer: Chinese troops

Tajik villagers say dozens, maybe hundreds, of Chinese troops have been posted for three years at an outpost near Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan

Feb 18 — “Two miles above sea level in the inhospitable highlands of Central Asia, there’s a new power watching over an old passage into Afghanistan: China. For at least three years, Chinese troops have quietly monitored this choke point in Tajikistan just beyond China’s western frontier, according to interviews, analysis of satellite images and photographs, and firsthand observations by a Washington Post journalist.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/in-central-asias-forbidding-highlands-a-quiet-newcomer-chinese-troops/2019/02/18/78d4a8d0-1e62-11e9-a759-2b8541bbbe20_story.html?utm_term=.c5e34b327b51

Why Tajikistan Is Fighting To Bring Its Islamic State Widows Back Home

Tajik authorities say some 1,900 Tajik nationals left for Syria and Iraq to join IS since 2014 and that nearly 500 of them are believed to have been killed. Some have returned, and the fate of the rest is unknown

Feb 21 — “With Islamic State (IS) fighters on the verge of defeat in their last stronghold in Syria, hundreds of foreign women and children, the family members of the militants, have ended up in refugee camps in the war-torn country’s northeast. Among them are at least 50 Tajiks.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/why-tajikistan-is-fighting-to-bring-its-islamic-state-widows-back-home/29782787.html

Tajik Opposition Figure Arrested After Return From Self-Imposed Exile, Netherlands Confirms

Authorities in Tajikistan take any steps to suppress and eliminate any dissent and opposition to the ruling regime — both inside the country and abroad

Feb 21 — “The Netherlands’ Foreign Ministry says Tajik authorities have confirmed that an opposition activist who resurfaced in Dushanbe last week from self-imposed exile was arrested, and that he is accused of “criminal activities.” “At this time the Dutch [Foreign Ministry] investigates whether and how it can assist [Sharofiddin] Gadoev. We are following the case closely,” ministry spokeswoman Willemien Veldman said in a statement sent to RFE/RL on February 21.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-opposition-figure-taken-away-after-return-from-self-imposed-exile-mother-says/29782967.html

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Hitting the bottleneck

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

Feb 19 — “The president this week treated a congress hall brimming with sycophants to a morality lesson in verse. “When two people argue, do not more discord sow / In neither one nor the other must you let the hatred grow,” Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov declaimed to a room full of representatives of would-be civic organizations on February 14. If only he could extend such wisdom further afield.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-hitting-the-bottleneck

Turkmen police stop women drivers

Turkmenistan has a reputation for arbitrary rules about public conduct, from growing beards to installing air conditioners to banning dark-colored cars. Now, authorities are persuading women to give up driving

Feb 19 — “Turkmen women are complaining that the police are taking away their driving licences on spurious grounds, amid reports that the Central Asian country has quietly banned women from driving altogether. Since the weekend, groups of four traffic police have been routinely pulling over female drivers at the busiest junctions in the capital Ashgabat and searching their cars for any reason to take them off the road, according to Chronicles of Turkmenistan, a prominent opposition news site.” READ MORE: https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-47293757

Turkmenistan looks to gas expansion

Turkmenistan aims to increase natural gas production and expand volumes of refined hydrocarbons, thus boosting exports of oil and gas

Feb 20 — “Turkmenistan holds the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves, but most of them remain undeveloped. The authorities now want to upgrade domestic and export infrastructure to make the country a major gas supplier. But a reluctance to open Turkmenistan up to foreign investment could restrain expansion plans. The Turkmen leadership has so far declined to follow the example of countries like Azerbaijan in signing major production-sharing agreements (PSA), allowing the energy majors to invest in the upstream.” READ MORE: https://www.petroleum-economist.com/articles/politics-economics/middle-east/2019/turkmenistan-looks-to-gas-expansion

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan: Acquittal in Telia trial dismays transparency advocates

Sweden’s weak anti-bribery laws have led to the acquittal of a former top executive at a Swedish telecommunications giant engaged in corrupt practices in Uzbekistan

Feb 21 — “A former top executive at a telecommunications giant in Sweden has been cleared of charges that he engaged in corrupt practices in Uzbekistan. It is not that Stockholm-based Telia, where Lars Nyberg was formerly chief executive, denies doling out cash sweeteners to ease its dealings in the Central Asian nation. That is something it readily admits doing. But the judge at Stockholm District Court argued that the recipient of these huge payments – the daughter of Uzbekistan’s late president – was not “amenable to bribery” as she did not formally hold a position that could advance Telia’s interests.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/20861-uzbekistan-acquittal-in-telia-trial-dismays-transparency-advocates

The strange connections of Tashkent City’s “British investor”

Questions emerge over a Scottish limited partnership linked to a major urban redevelopment project in Uzbekistan, including the global corporate network it is connected to

Feb 21 — “Corso Solutions LP appears to be an unusual property developer. The Edinburgh-registered company has no website, no contact details and no obvious business activity. And yet it was named last autumn as a foreign investor on the Tashkent City project, a giant property redevelopment in the centre of Uzbekistan’s capital. openDemocracy has found that Corso Solutions has connections to an opaque international network that provides company formation services, including to apparent money laundering vehicles.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/opendemocracy-investigations/strange-connections-of-tashkent-city-s-british-investor

Uzbekistan: Ensuring Business-Friendly Conditions: Uzbekistan Aims To Enhance Its Position In The “Doing Business Report”

Uzbekistan plans to increase its overall ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report from the latest 76th position to 66th by 2020, 33rd by 2021 and 20th by 2022

Feb 21 — “Uzbekistan continues to undertake measures to improve its business environment and promote the country’s positive image in the international arena. On February 5, 2019, the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, signed Resolution PP-4160 “On Additional Measures to Improve the Ranking of Uzbekistan in the Annual ‘Doing Business’ Report of the World Bank and International Finance Corporation.” READ MORE: http://www.mondaq.com/x/783004/Corporate+Governance/Ensuring+BusinessFriendly+Conditions+Uzbekistan+Aims+To+Enhance+Its+Position+In+The+Doing+Business+Report

The National Guard of Uzbekistan: Rising Profile, Lingering Problems

Initially created as a Ministry of Interior department, the National Guard of Uzbekistan has reemerged as an independent body cooperating with foreign partners

Feb 22 — “The National Guard of Uzbekistan was a thousand-strong paramilitary body created in 1992 without clear functions. Since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev ascended to power, the guard has enjoyed overwhelming support from the government in re-emerging as a major domestic law and order body. Mirziyoyev not only delegated the tasks of protecting public order, fighting domestic terrorism, and guarding state assets to the guard but also trusted his own protection to the guards.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/02/the-national-guard-of-uzbekistan-rising-profile-lingering-problems/

AFGHANISTAN

US officials warn ISIS’ Afghanistan branch poses a major threat

ISIS has the “mandate to attack across the Atlantic” and ISIS-K is one of its affiliates that has been “tasked to do that,” the commander of US Central Command said

Feb 19 — “ISIS’ Afghanistan-based affiliate has emerged as a major threat capable of carrying out direct attacks on the US and is actively using its members’ social media to acquire contacts in the United States, a US intelligence official in Afghanistan tells CNN.” READ MORE: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/02/19/politics/isis-afghanistan-threat/index.html

Farewell, Afghanistan

The best way for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan would be to coordinate the withdrawal with nearby countries that have an even more urgent interest in a stable Afghanistan

Feb 20 — “LIKE A DISTANT light at the end of an excruciatingly long tunnel, the prospect of American withdrawal from Afghanistan now seems to glimmer ahead. Several rounds of negotiation in Russia, Qatar, and elsewhere have produced the outlines of an agreement. Details are unknown, but by all accounts, the accord will be based around a simple deal: the United States pulls its troops out and the Taliban pledges to never again host terror groups.” READ MORE: https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2019/02/20/kinzer/mw5C4hp9KK8jZePQ6SlMNL/story.html

What Is Wrong With Afghanistan’s Peace Process

A hasty American withdrawal from Afghanistan would jeopardize hard-won gains such as constitutional rights, citizens’ rights and democratic institutions

Feb 20 — “President Trump’s announcement of an impending withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s declaration that the Americans and the Taliban have “in principle” agreed to a framework for a deal have been described by both sides as a leap toward ending the war in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/20/opinion/afghanistan-peace-talks.html

The U.S. Sent Its Most Advanced Fighter Jets to Blow Up Cheap Opium Labs. Now It’s Canceling the Program

The U.S. has spent $8.9 billion in counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan since 2001, yet the war-torn country has consistently produced about 85% of the world’s illicit opium supply

Feb 21 — “After hundreds of airstrikes failed to curtail the Taliban’s $200 million-a-year opium trade, the U.S. military quietly ended a yearlong campaign that targeted drug labs and networks laced around the Afghan countryside. The end of the operation, code-named Iron Tempest, comes as Trump Administration officials engage in direct peace talks with Taliban leaders that could end the 17-year-old war.” READ MORE: http://time.com/5534783/iron-tempest-afghanistan-opium/

WORLD

Do fighters returning from Syria threaten Central Asia and China?

From Beijing’s perspective, if efforts to stabilise Syria are not managed correctly, the resulting insecurity will have a negative influence on its Belt and Road Initiative and undermine China’s policies in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region

Feb 17 — “Throughout 2018, various security organisations, from Russia to the European Union, pointed out the threat created by foreign fighters returning from the Middle East, especially from Syria. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which includes China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and India (Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia have observer status), refers to the danger posed by these returning combat veterans, as “terrorist spillover.” READ MORE: https://thearabweekly.com/do-fighters-returning-syria-threaten-central-asia-and-china

China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is the most ambitious infrastructure investment effort in history. It may also be a plan to remake the global balance of power in Beijing’s favor

Feb 21 — “In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the launch of both the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, infrastructure development and investment initiatives that would stretch from East Asia to Europe. The project, eventually termed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) but sometimes known as the New Silk Road, is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived.” READ MORE: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative

Sergey Kwan

TCA