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.


Loan Loophole Saved Central Bank Head From Kazakh Debt Claim

Plagued by risky lending and poor debt collection, Kazakhstan’s banking sector has gone through a decade-long slump that has cost the state at least $18 billion in bailouts

March 12 — “The new chief of Kazakhstan’s central bank dodged a debt claim in 2014 thanks to a legal system that’s failed to protect lenders from rampant defaults and repeated crises. In 2014, Yerbolat Dossayev and three business partners were given a reprieve on repaying 1.9 billion tenge, then worth $13 million, that they’d personally guaranteed to the central Asian country’s biggest bank at the time.” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-12/new-kazakh-central-bank-head-saved-from-debt-claim-by-loophole

Kazakhstan at the Crossroads

Political instability could open the door for either Beijing or Moscow to expand their influence on Kazakhstan

March 13 — “Imagine a region with energy resources that could help break Western Europe’s dangerous dependence on Russian oil and gas. Now imagine that Russia has revisionist ambitions for that same region; China is already expanding its economic influence there; extremism is on the rise . . . and U.S. policymakers are pretty much ignoring it.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/kazakhstan-crossroads-47407

Kazakh activist decries official pressure in China spat

The detained activist is a spoiler to Kazakhstan’s relations with China

March 14 — “A prominent activist from Kazakhstan who is campaigning for the release of ethnic Kazakhs in China says he was forced to sign blank documents while under house arrest. Serikzhan Bilash, head of the advocacy group Atajurt, was accused of “inciting ethnic hatred” and placed under house arrest in the Kazakh capital of Astana earlier this week, although the charges against him have not been officially announced.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/kazakh-activist-complains-of-pressure-by-authorities/2019/03/14/4cb9f6cc-4637-11e9-94ab-d2dda3c0df52_story.html?utm_term=.1648af869259

Kazakhstan: System marginalizes children with disabilities, report finds

Rights watchdog says a state body tasked with helping disabled children is instead serving as a barrier to inclusivity

March 14 — “Kazakhstan’s education system is failing children with disabilities by dooming them to segregated and lonely lives, a new report has found. The study released on March 14 by Human Rights Watch, titled “On the Margins: Education for Children with Disabilities in Kazakhstan,” makes the case that children with disabilities need to be taught within the mainstream system if they are to reach their full potential. Instead they are marginalized.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-system-marginalizes-children-with-disabilities-report-finds


Kyrgyzstan native realizes her American dream in US Air Force

Her father was an American contractor who helped facilitate the construction of Manas Air Force Base in Bishkek, where he met her mother, who served there as an interpreter through the U.S. Embassy Military Cooperation Projects

March 13 — “Freedom, peace, prosperity and opportunity. The American Dream at full bloom can look like a lot of different things, but it usually stems from the heartfelt desire for the fruit of democracy. For one 16-year-old girl from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the freedom to choose her own path as a woman and the promise of peace away from violent revolution were enough motivation to uproot her life.” READ MORE: http://www.dailystarjournal.com/news/military/kyrgyzstan-native-realizes-her-american-dream-in-us-air-force/article_3a8fe290-cf3d-5604-83f0-c04b71538500.html

Kyrgyzstan: Ratification of CRPD opens new opportunities to hundreds of thousands

The ratification of the Convention paves the road to the effective inclusion of 180,000 people living with disabilities in the social and economic life of Kyrgyzstan

March 14 — “Amnesty International welcomes today’s signing into law of the bill ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) without reservations by the President of Kyrgyzstan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov. The bill will enter into force in ten days after publication.” READ MORE: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/03/kyrgyzstan-ratification-of-crpd-opens-new-opportunities-to-hundreds-of-thousands/

U.S. Department of State names political prisoners in Kyrgyzstan

The US Department of State report names Kyrgyz officials convicted for corruption as ‘political prisoners’

March 14 — “U.S. Department of State published a report on human rights for 2018, including the leader of Ata Meken party Omurbek Tekebayev and former deputy of the Parliament Sadyr Japarov in the category «Political Prisoners and Detainees» with reference to some observers. Its annual report says.” READ MORE: https://24.kg/english/111870_US_Department_of_State_names_political_prisoners_in_Kyrgyzstan/


Will Rustam Emomali Become The Next President Of Tajikistan?

It looks like the President of Tajikistan has chosen a father-to-son presidential succesion scheme

March 8 — “At age 29, he was appointed as mayor of Dushanbe. In 2018, the Tajik Constitution was amended to allow a person as young as 30 to run for president. Now, following claims by a prominent opposition activist that he was recently abducted, tortured, and pressured to support Rustam Emomali in the 2020 presidential election, the 31-year-old son of the country’s long-standing authoritarian leader is squarely back in the spotlight.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/will-rustam-emomali-become-the-next-president-of-tajikistan-/29810996.html

Tajikistan: Internet just got way more expensive

The cost of going online in Tajikistan now compares with that in Western Europe

March 9 — “The internet in Tajikistan is not just bad now — it is also becoming very expensive. The state anti-monopoly agency announced this week that as of March 27, mobile telecommunication services providers will be able to sell online data for no less than 5 dirhams per megabyte.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-internet-just-got-way-more-expensive

No IS Kids Left Behind: Tajikistan To Repatriate Dozens Of Islamic State Children From Iraq

Authorities in Dushanbe say there are 92 Tajik children stranded in Iraq

March 12 — “As Islamic State’s attempt to establish a caliphate crumbles, many countries are turning their backs on children born into the extremist group. Tajikistan is not one of those countries. “We’re planning to bring them home,” the country’s ambassador to Iraq and Kuwait, Zubaidullo Zubaidzoda, told RFE/RL.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/no-is-kids-left-behind-tajikistan-to-repatriate-dozens-of-islamic-state-children-from-iraq/29817362.html


Turkmenistan’s Route To The European Union

The Black Sea-Caspian Sea International Transport Corridor is a new trade route running between Turkmenistan’s Caspian Sea port at Turkmenbashi City and Constanta on Romania’s Black Sea coast

March 11 — “Turkmenistan has gotten involved in a trade project whose proponents are promising quick revenue and bigger returns further in the future. The country’s economy has been in bad shape for the last four years, so it could be an example of “any port in a storm,” which seems an apt way of looking at this case.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-s-route-to-the-european-union/29815005.html

Turkmenistan: Losing its marble?

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

March 12 — “Turkmenistan’s foreign minister is in Pakistan this week to try to inject fresh impetus into the TAPI pipeline undertaking. A state bulletin describes Rashid Meredov’s March 11-13 mission as focusing on “the intensification of work on the implementation of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.” This was not how things were supposed to be. The plan was once for work on the Pakistan section of the pipeline to begin in May 2018.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-losing-its-marble

Marble did not help. Ashgabat is at the bottom of the quality of living city ranking

In 2013 Ashgabat was listed in the Guinness World Records as having the highest density of marble buildings, but that’s not enough to provide for a high quality of living for its residents

March 14 — “The international consulting company Mercer has published its annual quality of living city ranking. Ashgabat ranks 211 out of 231 cities on the list. Central Asia neighbours turned out to be neighbours in the rating: Tashkent ranks 203, Bishkek – 206 whereas Dushanbe is listed as 215. Almaty ranks a bit higher occupying the 177th place.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2019/03/marble-did-not-help-ashgabat-is-at-the-bottom-of-the-quality-of-living-city-ranking/


Uzbek Official Faces Death Threats After Prophet Muhammad Comment

A female official with the Uzbek Press and Information Agency made a post in response to a reader’s comment supporting polygamy, which led to threats and demands for her dismissal

March 12 — “An Uzbek government official was forced to take a leave of absence and was placed under police protection after she received death threats following a online post she made referring to polygamy and the Prophet Muhammad.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-official-rakhimova-death-threats-muhammad-comment/29817483.html

Gulnara Karimova: new details emerge in story of Uzbekistan’s first daughter

Gulnara Karimova’s daughter Iman, who has spent much of the past five years in effect held hostage by Uzbek authorities along with her mother, has spoken publicly for the first time in an interview with the Guardian

March 12 — “Police raids, an ad hoc trial, and an aide who committed suicide by drinking vinegar: the 20-year-old daughter of Gulnara Karimova has provided new details about the remarkable fall from grace of her mother, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s late dictator Islam Karimov.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/12/gulnara-karimova-new-details-emerge-in-story-of-uzbekistans-first-daughter

Flydubai marks start of flights to Uzbekistan

The inauguration of flydubai’s direct route between Dubai and Tashkent is an important step to reinforce economic and trade ties between the two countries and expand the UAE’s economic partnership with the Central Asia region

March 13 — “Flydubai has inaugurated its new service from Dubai to Tashkent, becoming the first carrier based in the UAE to offer direct flights to Uzbekistan. The inaugural flight departed on March 11 from Terminal 3, Dubai International (DXB) and was welcomed on arrival at Tashkent International Airport (TAS). On board the inaugural flight was a senior delegation from the UAE led by Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, Minister of Economy in the UAE, as well as officials from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce. On arrival at Tashkent, the delegation was received by the Deputy Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade of Uzbekistan, Shuhrat Vafaev, and plenipotentiary ambassador of the UAE to Uzbekistan, Mohammed Al Mehairbi.” READ MORE: https://www.khaleejtimes.com/flydubai-marks-start-of-flights-to-uzbekistan

Islamic Finance & Markets in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan’s attitude to Islamic finance is consistent with its philosophy of cautious and gradual implementation of reforms, and growing demand for Islamic finance instruments in Uzbekistan contrasts with the absence of a regulatory platform to accommodate Islamic finance and shariah-compliant investments

March 13 — “With its population of 30 million and traditional Islamic roots, Uzbekistan is probably one of the most promising markets for Islamic financing in Central Asia. But it is fair to say that, until recently, the banking and financial services sector and business in Uzbekistan have had limited exposure to and understanding of Islamic finance. Despite the active presence of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and investment, albeit limited in scope, from Islamic countries and investment institutions, Uzbekistan has not adopted a level playing field approach towards Islamic finance.” READ MORE: https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=9ac3c478-4055-4425-bbd9-c5af20339e26


The Price of Inequality: The Dangerous Rural-Urban Divide in Afghanistan

The staggering and growing levels of inequality in Afghanistan—in terms of wealth, income, political status, and socio-economic conditions—increases the likelihood of regime change in the country

March 5 — “In Afghanistan, coups and regime changes are often initiated from the mountainous countryside by heavily-indoctrinated and disgruntled young men. These young men, who live in severe poverty and are without much in terms of economic prospects, are at the forefront of the fight between various ideologies and regional proxy powers. Afghanistan’s urban elites, however, reside comfortably in barricaded homes in city centers, often forgetting there is a broader Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://globalsecurityreview.com/inequality-dangerous-rural-urban-divide-afghanistan/

China In Afghanistan: Dividends For Afghanistan And The Region – OpEd

Afghanistan is now becoming an ideal channel for China to implement its strategy to expand its economic and strategic influence to Central Asia, the Middle East and beyond

March 11 — “The historical connection between Afghanistan and China is many centuries old. The relationship began in the 7th century when the Chinese’ monk Xuan Zang visited the Buddhist valley of Bamiyan. China and Afghanistan established their first diplomatic relations in the 1950s. China has both commercial and security interests in Afghanistan, it seems like economic reasons are the reasons why an ever-growing China wants to get involved into other countries. It is widely believed in China that China’s Afghan policy is driven by the Forming of the “March west Strategy”. READ MORE: https://www.eurasiareview.com/11032019-china-in-afghanistan-dividends-for-afghanistan-and-the-region-oped/

Amid peace talks, what’s next for Afghanistan?

Experts discuss the state of U.S. policy in Afghanistan today and prospects of future developments in the country

March 13 — “For over 17 years, the United States has expended considerable blood and treasure to deny safe haven to extremist groups in Afghanistan. Despite this, the Afghan government struggles to assert its authority over the entirety of the country’s territory, while the Taliban—which governed Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks—remains a potent force that will be part of any negotiated political settlement in the future. Meanwhile, the United States stands on the precipice of significant changes to its longest war.” READ MORE: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2019/03/13/amid-peace-talks-whats-next-for-afghanistan/

US withdrawal from Afghanistan: The cure is worse than the disease itself

The current withdrawal and the postwar policy of US and its allies don’t suggest acceptable terms for the Afghans as well as affect regional actors

March 15 — “The US withdrawal from Afghanistan seems to be the replica of what already happened after Obama decided to leave Iraq in 2012.Recent withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan is considered as the prospect of imminent defeat factor that influenced Trump’s decision,and also the innumerable financial cost of war in both countries would impact US taxpayers around US 15.3 billion dollars in Syrian war and US 45 billion dollars in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/03/15/us-withdrawal-from-afghanistan-the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-itself/


Principles and Rules of Water Relations in Central Asia

The use and sharing of water resources has always been a very sensitive issue in Central Asia, and the reason for conflicts between neighboring states

March 11 — “Today, it is fashionable to talk about water and its role in the destiny of the human race in the future. “Water will cost more than oil” is a common theme put forth by experts and scientists at global and regional forums and symposiums, and continuously expressed in their publications and speeches over at least the past 30 years. But, regrettably, this political science fad has not produced serious, circumspect projects and recommendations on what should be done and how. It must be acknowledged that at this point several fairly reputable publications with desperate alarmist forecasts have been published. In this context, Central Asia is no exception.” READ MORE: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/principles-and-rules-of-water-relations/

Islamic countries engage with China against the background of repression in Xinjiang

For the majority of Islamic countries — including in Central Asia — their relations with China are far more important than any concern for Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang

March 12 — “Throughout 2018, a steadily growing body of evidence revealed the existence of a vast network of detainment facilities in China’s western Xinjiang Province, in which hundreds of thousands of Uighurs—a Turkic-speaking and majority Muslim ethnic group—are or have been confined for extended periods of time (China Brief, May 15 2018; China Brief, November 5 2018). Many of these facilities function as “transformation through education” centers, in which detainees are made subject to abusive treatment and severe psychological pressure to proclaim loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) (China Brief, February 1; Freedom House, February 13).” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20931-islamic-countries-engage-with-china-against-the-background-of-repression-in-xinjiang

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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