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.


Kazakhs Won’t Be Silenced on China’s Internment Camps

Activists in Kazakhstan speak out for ethnic Kazakhs imprisoned in Xinjiang, despite the fact that the government in Astana doesn’t like it for fear of possibly spoiling relations with China

March 4 — “Gulzira Auelkhankyzy remembers little about the January day when she was released from Xinjiang’s vast network of re-education camps. Auelkhankyzy, an ethnically Kazakh Chinese citizen, spent 15 months inside an internment camp, where she was regularly interrogated, forced to give blood, and required to learn Chinese and Communist Party songs. Auelkhankyzy was then coerced into signing a contract and sent to a “black factory” in October 2018, where she worked long hours sewing gloves for a measly wage.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/03/04/961387-concentrationcamps-china-xinjiang-internment-kazakh-muslim/

Kazakhstan wants to tap Malaysia’s Halal expertise

Kazakhstan and Malaysia expand cooperation in the fields of Islamic finance, agriculture, halal industry, e-commerce, healthcare, and information security

March 5 — “Kazakhstan aims to develop its halal industry ecosystem with focus on foods and beverages and Islamic finance while leveraging on Malaysia’s halal industry development experience. Embassy of Kazakhstan in Malaysia counsellor Dr Serik Amirov said it was keen to expand cooperation with Malaysia in e-commerce, healthcare, cyber security and renewable energy sectors.” READ MORE: https://www.salaamgateway.com/en/story/kazakhstan_wants_to_tap_malaysias_halal_expertise-SALAAM06032019032001/

Kazakhstan Vows To Help Revive Afghanistan’s Economy

Kazakhstan has provided $75 million in financial aid to Kabul since 2001

March 5 — “Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Beibut Atamkulov said that Central Asia’s largest economy is ready to help Afghanistan rebuild after years of conflict and turmoil. “As of today, this is a new kind of solution and transition from a forceful approach for conflict resolution to a peaceful one – an economization,” the minister said on Monday while addressing the parliament’s meeting, according to reports by Zakon.” READ MORE: https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/kazakhstan-vows-to-help-revive-afghanistans-economy-2019-3-5-4/

EU-Kazakhstan relations evolving cooperatively, providing a model for region, says European envoy

The European Union envoy in Astana on EU-Kazakhstan relations

March 7 — “The European Union is Kazakhstan’s biggest foreign investor, and Kazakhstan is the EU’s closest political and economic partner among the countries of Central Asia while EU-Kazakhstan cooperation is expanding in education, research, trade, transport, agriculture and environmental work, among many areas, the European envoy in Astana said.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2019/03/eu-kazakhstan-relations-evolving-cooperatively-providing-a-model-for-region-says-european-envoy/


Explaining China in Kyrgyzstan

In recent months, anti-China sentiments have increased in Kyrgyzstan, which requires efforts to build a better understanding of bilateral relations among ordinary Kyrgyz people

March 3 — “Kyrgyzstan needs to extend its understanding of China beyond language and pop culture, according to an expert discussion organised by IWPR’s analytical platform CABAR.asia. The two countries have an often-complicated diplomatic and economic relationship. Participants agreed that measures were needed to address what they described as a skills deficit in Kyrgyzstan, including the academic study of Chinese politics, economics and its international relations.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/explaining-china-kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan: President holds national dialogue on regional development

As Kyrgyzstan is mainly an agrarian country, the development of the country’s regions is of paramount importance for the economic and social spheres

March 3 — “Conflicts between investors and the local population are the result of poor interaction between the relevant state bodies and local authorities, as well as the lack of outreach with the population. “This significantly reduces the opportunities for attracting foreign investors,” President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbai Jeenbekov said at the conference “National Dialogue on Regional Development” held on February 27-28 in Bishkek.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20899-kyrgyzstan-president-holds-national-dialogue-on-regional-development

Inside Kyrgyzstan’s growing webcam model business

For many young women in Kyrgyzstan, sexual video chats are the only way they can make a living

March 4 — “Over the last few years, webcam modelling has transformed into a fully-fledged market in Kyrgyzstan, with mostly young women offering virtual sexual services to foreigners online. There are as yet no official statistics on the numbers of people involved in this business, but it’s a highly controversial and much discussed issue in the country. Yet while some people want to point the finger at the young women and accuse them of immorality, others earn a very good (and apparently tax-free) living from them.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/webcam-modeling-en-kyrgyzstan/

UNICEF Explores Blockchain to Improve Internet for ‘Every School’ in Kyrgyzstan

As part of the initiative called Project Connect, UNICEF aims to engage over 1,500 local schools in Kyrgyzstan and explore the use of a blockchain-based solution for improving and monitoring Internet connectivity levels

March 6 — “Children’s non-profit organization UNICEF is in talks with the government of Kyrgyzstan to leverage blockchain technology to provide Internet access to every school in the country. “We are at the early stages of exploring a blockchain-based solution for the Project Connect initiative in Kyrgyzstan where the government is working with UNICEF and the private sector to connect every school in the country to the Internet and provide access to information and opportunity to all young people,” Munir Mammadzade, deputy representative for UNICEF Kyrgyzstan, told CoinDesk this week.” READ MORE: https://www.coindesk.com/unicef-explores-blockchain-to-improve-internet-for-every-school-in-kyrgyzstan


Tajikistan: Children barred from attending church, 5,000 Bible verse calendars burned

Christian converts from a Muslim background are most vulnerable to persecution in Tajikistan

March 2 — “Tajik authorities implementing a new religion law are barring children from attending religious services and have burned thousands of calendars with Bible verses. Amendments to Tajikistan’s Religion Law came into force in January last year, giving the state greater control over religious education, and increasing the amount of information religious organizations must pass on to the state.” READ MORE: https://www.christianpost.com/news/tajikistan-children-barred-attending-church-5000-bible-verse-calendars-burned.html

Tajikistan: Opposition activist reveals details of state-ordered kidnapping

The abducted and then released activist says he was told by Tajik authorities to support the president’s son in the presidential elections next year

March 6 — “For two weeks, opposition activist Sharofiddin Gadoyev was held in captivity by the government of Tajikistan. But a swell of indignation from supporters, rights advocates and diplomats led to a rare climbdown by the authoritarian government in Dushanbe. On March 2, Gadoyev was allowed to leave Tajikistan and return to the Netherlands, where he enjoys political asylum.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-opposition-activist-reveals-details-of-state-ordered-kidnapping

As Russia loses its luster, Tajik laborers head to Turkey

Turkey has now become an attractive destination for labor migrants from Central Asia countries — including Tajikistan — instead of Russia

March 8 — “As you turn the corner from the stairs into the seventh floor corridor at Istanbul’s Hotel Malkoc, the strains of Persian-language pop music can sometimes be heard filtering through one of the doors. When Eurasianet visited recently, that was a clue that a long-time guest at the hotel might be from Tajikistan. Tahmina Hotamova is among the growing crowd of Tajiks spurning Russia as a place for work in favor of Turkey.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/20919-as-russia-loses-its-luster-tajik-laborers-head-to-turkey


Ashgabat, The Forbidden City

There has been no government word of any ban on nonlocals entering the Turkmen capital, but in fact, it has been in effect — even if irregularly enforced — for nearly three years

March 2 — “To outsiders, Turkmenistan’s capital has long had a reputation as a difficult-to-reach destination. But it’s also gotten tougher lately for many of the country’s own citizens. The website Hronika Turkmenistana reported on February 21 that authorities “are not permitting vehicles from the regions into Ashgabat.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-ashgabat-the-forbidden-city-/29799883.html

Turkmenistan: Dreaming of Europe

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

March 5 — “There is an ever-growing array of means by which to move goods from east to west, and vice versa. Foreign ministers from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Turkmenistan met in Bucharest this week to adopt the notional blueprint for an addition to that list of transportation corridors. A more-or-less straight line drawn through those four disparate nations crosses the Caspian and then the Black Sea.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-dreaming-of-europe

Public sector employees to plant mulberry trees as the authorities intend to harvest silk cocoons

As the US authorities imposed a ban on the importation of Turkmenistan cotton, the country is switching to growing mulberry trees for silk cocoons

March 6 — ““Turkmenistan: golden age” reported on 5 March that 60 thousand seedlings of mulberry trees are scheduled to be planted in the course of the spring landscaping campaign in Dashoguz velayat. According to the news outlet, the expansion of agricultural land to grow mulberry trees has an economic aspect: at least 485 tons of silk cocoons are projected to be produced this year.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2019/03/public-sector-employees-to-plant-mulberry-trees-as-the-authorities-intend-to-harvest-silk-cocoons/


Uzbek Cops Given Six Months To Get Fit For Duty

The Uzbek president has expressed concern about what he described as Uzbeks’ increasingly sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet

March 4 — “Police officers in Uzbekistan have been handed a sentence of three to six months — to get fit. “We have no need for an overweight police officer. How can they catch a criminal?” President Shavkat Mirziyoev was quoted as saying by Uzbek media during a March 1 meeting.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-cops-given-six-months-to-get-fit-for-duty/29802662.html

Successor to ruthless dictator eases fears, plants seeds of reform in Uzbekistan

Rights groups see a clear improvement in Uzbekistan since Karimov’s death, although they say there is a long way to go

March 4 — “Two and a half years after the death of Islam Karimov, the ruthless dictator who ruled Uzbekistan for over a quarter century, most people in this former Soviet state in Central Asia have stopped worrying about an unannounced visit by the secret police in the night. “There is no fear anymore that the state security service could come and just grab you,” said Andrei Kudryashov, a photographer in Tashkent, the sprawling Uzbek capital.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/mar/4/shavkat-mirziyoyev-successor-islam-karimov-sees-uz/

Uzbekistan hopes Islamic education is the antidote to extremism

Authorities in Uzbekistan have softened their attitude to Islam in an effort to prevent religious extremism, but the state still strictly controls the religious sphere

March 5 — “The staircase that leads to the row of cells in Bukhara’s Mir-i Arab madrasa is steep and narrow. Ascending necessitates a bow that feels suitably reverent. Akbarali Mamadaliyev, 24, has been treading those steps for three years now. His hujra, or cell, is an almost cruelly cramped space, just 2.5 by 2 meters. There is no bed. Just a low ottoman where to sit and sleep, and small bookcase. On the ottoman lies a copy of Mamadaliyev’s most treasured book, the Koran. He has committed more than half of the 300 or so pages to memory. This feat has earned Mamadaliyev a photo on the honors board.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/20906-uzbekistan-hopes-islamic-education-is-the-antidote-to-extremism

Gulnara Karimova: Uzbekistan ex-leader’s daughter jailed

The daughter of Uzbekistan’s late president Islam Karimov has been sent to prison for allegedly violating the terms of her five-year house arrest

March 6 — “Gulnara Karimova repeatedly used the internet and left her flat, which she was banned from doing, prosecutors say. In 2017 Ms Karimova was sentenced to 10 years in jail for fraud and money laundering but that was commuted last year to house arrest. She was once a diplomat and pop singer who was tipped to succeed her father.” READ MORE: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47468741


America’s New ‘Plan’ for Afghanistan

The stability of the region and future of American interests in Central Asia depend in part on a well-planned extrication of U.S. forces from Afghanistan

March 6 — “After nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan—the longest conflict in American history—the United States has finally begun to seriously consider potential exit strategies. Nevertheless, the White House’s recent announcement on the partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from the ongoing war in Afghanistan raises serious questions. At a recent Center for the National Interest panel discussion, three experts on the Afghan conflict weighed both the merits and repercussions of withdrawing from America’s longest war.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/americas-new-plan-afghanistan-46287

What Will Follow a U.S.Withdrawal from Afghanistan?

An agreement between the Taliban and the U.S. would be an impressive accomplishment for the Taliban. From their perspective, it would be their reward for fighting the world’s strongest military power to a stalemate

March 6 — “The United States and the Taliban may be nearing an agreement to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan after more than 17 years of conflict. In return, the Taliban would commit to refusing access to anti-American organizations such as al-Qaida on its territory. How did we get to this point – and what will be the consequences of such an agreement?” READ MORE: https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2019/03/what-will-follow-us-withdrawal-afghanistan/155311/

End Washington’s stagnant Afghanistan war

The war is still a costly and futile project that does nothing to serve U.S. interests or move Afghanistan toward political reconciliation or peace

March 7 — ““America would be more secure and stronger economically if we recognized that we have largely achieved our objectives in Afghanistan and moved aggressively to bring our troops and tax dollars home,” Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) write in an op-ed article.” READ MORE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-kristian-afghanistan-war-withdrawal-20190307-story.html

U.S. Peace Talks With Taliban Trip Over a Big Question: What Is Terrorism?

US negotiators have insisted on specifying that Afghanistan not be used by “terrorist” groups, but the Taliban have resisted, saying there was no universal definition of terrorism

March 7 — “Nearly 11 days after peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban began with high hopes, it has become clear that any resolution to the 18-year war could be frustratingly slow. One of the most prominent issues thwarting progress is a disagreement over a fundamental question: What is terrorism, and who is a terrorist?” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/07/world/asia/taliban-peace-talks-afghanistan.html


A new great game unfolding: Priorities for a new EU strategy on Central Asia

As the EU is expected to approve a new strategy for engaging with countries in Central Asia this year, Ann Sander Nielsen writes that in developing the new strategy, the EU must avoid compromising its founding values under the guise of ‘principled pragmatism’

March 5 — “During the first part of this year, the European Union will adopt a new strategy for its engagement in Central Asia. This will replace the EU’s strategy for a ‘new partnership’ with Central Asian countries that it developed in 2007, which laid out the Union’s commitment to regional and bilateral cooperation with Central Asia and its five republics, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.” READ MORE: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2019/03/05/a-new-great-game-unfolding-priorities-for-a-new-eu-strategy-on-central-asia/

Sino-Russian alignment in reality: The case of Central Asia

An assessment of what the Sino-Russian relationship means for Central Asia and the United States

March 6 — “At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on January 29, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, warned that “Moscow’s relationship with Beijing is closer than it has been in many decades.” The statement and Worldwide Threat Assessment report has spurred heated debate over the nature of Sino-Russian relations. President Trump’s disdain of the Intelligence Community and its implications for U.S. national security has become a cause of uncertainty.” READ MORE: https://globalriskinsights.com/2019/03/china-russian-central-asia/

Sergey Kwan