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

Kazakhstan: A new dawn?

Nazarbayev’s resignation has been masterfully executed. In so doing he eases the pressure on him to go and only enshrines more deeply the powers to which he has grown accustomed

April 1 — “Nursultan Nazarbayev’s strong and sombre governance has long set him apart in a region of crumbling dictatorships. Recently Kazakhstan’s leader opened a surprise new chapter in his country’s history; resigning from the Presidency after three decades to assume his new position of Chairman of the Security Council and leader of the ruling party.” READ MORE: https://globalriskinsights.com/2019/04/kazakhstan-nazarbayev-central-asia-new-dawn/

Huge fish die-off in Kazakhstan’s Ural River fuels fear for future stocks

Ecologists say that the waste chemicals of Atyrau Oil Refinery, built in 1991 around 2.5 kilometers from the riverbank, contributed to the deaths of the fish

April 3 — “When Nursultan Tauman went out for a stroll along the banks of the Ural River, he could not believe what he saw. “Dead fish, floating on the dirty river,” recalled Tauman, a native of the western Kazakhstan city of Atyrau, where the 2,500-kilometer Ural enters the Caspian Sea. Since December, more than 120 tons of lifeless fish have washed ashore on the banks of the Atyrau delta. The massive die-off has stunned ecologists and sparked a debate about what might be the root cause.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/huge-fish-die-off-in-kazakhstans-ural-river-fuels-fear-for-future-stocks

The nuclear sins of the Soviet Union live on in Kazakhstan

Decades after nuclear weapons testing stopped, researchers are still struggling to decipher the health impacts of radiation exposure around Semipalatinsk

April 3 — “The statues of Lenin are weathered and some are tagged with graffiti, but they still stand tall in the parks of Semey, a small industrial city tucked in the northeast steppe of Kazakhstan. All around the city, boxy Soviet-era cars and buses lurch past tall brick apartment buildings and cracked walkways, relics of a previous regime.” READ MORE: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01034-8

In Kazakhstan, transgender people face discrimination

In Kazakhstan, transgender persons have the right to surgical procedures to change their sex – but little access to other rights

April 4 — “In Kazakhstan, a transgender woman has filed a legal case against the country’s largest bank, whose manager refused to serve her when she presented ID with a male name on it. Of course, the situation in terms of LGBT rights, and transgender people in particular, is much better in Kazakhstan than, for example, Chechnya, where people are openly persecuted. But as across Central Asia, the rights and freedoms of LGBT people are restricted by law in Kazakhstan.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/kazakhstan-transgender-discrimination-ru-en/

KYRGYZSTAN

Putin’s Visit to Kyrgyzstan Bolsters Integration in Eurasia

Russia is not only one of Kyrgyzstan’s largest trade and economic partners and investors, but also its main military and strategic ally

April 2 — “Russian-Kyrgyz relations have been making steady progress in general. However, over the past several years, bilateral cooperation has been marred by a number of negative trends. First, the initial benefits Kyrgyzstan derived from joining the EAEU have already had their effect. These included resolving the bulk of issues with migrant workers; redistributing revenue from customs duties in the Union, which replenished the Kyrgyz budget; expanding trade with Russia and Kazakhstan; and receiving a number of financial subsidies for building the customs, sanitary and economic infrastructure.” READ MORE: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/putins-visit-to-kyrgyzstan/

A Spring Split for Kyrgyzstan’s Major Party?

The first of two rival party congresses on April 3 set up Kyrgyzstan’s biggest political party for a genuine split

April 3 — “Kyrgyzstan’s dominant political party is splitting. With parliamentary elections expected in October 2020, the shattering of the Social Democratic Party (SDPK) has implications for the balance of power in the state. In the first of two competing party congresses this week, on April 3 the SDPK Without Atambayev movement gathered 300 delegates in Bishkek to break with former President Almazbek Atambayev.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/04/a-spring-split-for-kyrgyzstans-major-party/

Kyrgyzstan: Former president on verge of losing immunity

According to the new law, the Parliament will now have the right to strip former presidents of immunity

April 4 — “Parliament in Kyrgyzstan has adopted legislation making it possible for former presidents to be stripped of immunity should they engage in political activity. Of the120 lawmakers in the Jogorku Kenesh, 111 voted on April 4 in favor of the change to the law. The stripping of immunity is a transparently ad personam measure aimed at ex-President Almazbek Atambayev, who has over the past year or so engaged in a losing battle of attrition with his successor, Sooronbai Jeenbekov.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-former-president-on-verge-of-losing-immunity

TAJIKISTAN

The Deeper Meaning of China’s Base in Tajikistan

Chinese military and security measures are a challenge to Russian pillars of power in Central Asia

April 2 — “It is au courant among analysts and scholars to compare modern-day China to early 20th-century Germany, in that it too is a rising power that desires a larger role for itself in world affairs. But a better comparison might be with the United States of the late 19th-early 20th century. The US of that era presented itself as non-interventionist, but it also proclaimed a “manifest destiny” to expand its influence.” READ MORE: https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/china-base-tajikistan/

Tajik Pop Star Fined $530 For Asking Friends To Birthday Party

The law on private celebrations was passed in 2007 to discourage lavish spending on weddings and other events in the impoverished Central Asian country

April 3 — “Tajikistan has fined a pop star for holding a birthday at home with friends rather than family members only as required by a restrictive law on private celebrations. State prosecutors said singer Firuza Hafizova was fined $530 for violating the law after a video emerged of her dancing at home with friends.” READ MORE: https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/tajik-pop-star-firuza-hafizova-fined-530-for-asking-friends-to-birthday-party-2017388

In Tajikistan, Christians are government targets

In Tajikistan, pressure on Christians comes mostly from the government, but also the wider Muslim society

April 4 — “Pressure continues to build on Christians in Tajikistan. In the latest encounter, officials burned more than 5,000 Christian calendars. They also told parents not to bring kids under 10 years old to “religious meetings” – a broad category that could include church services.” READ MORE: https://www.mnnonline.org/news/in-tajikistan-christians-are-government-targets/

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Third time lucky?

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

April 2 — “Alexei Miller, the head of Russia’s state-owned gas behemoth Gazprom, is becoming a familiar figure around Ashgabat. For the third time in the space of six months, Miller on March 27 visited Turkmenistan’s capital in what looks like yet another attempt to revive the supplies of Turkmen gas to Russia. It had been hoped the deliveries might start up again in January, but that came to naught.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-third-time-lucky

Joke In Turkmenistan Goes Too Far For Women Drivers Facing Unofficial Ban

There is no official law or decree against female drivers or legislative obstacles preventing them from obtaining licenses, but women in Turkmenistan have been complaining for years about the discrimination from authorities when it comes to them operating vehicles

April 2 — “A government-run news agency in Turkmenistan has published an April Fool’s Day cartoon that mocks women drivers. For hundreds of women in Turkmenistan who’ve had their driving licenses confiscated by police in an unofficial crackdown against female drivers, it is no laughing matter.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-women-drivers-joke-facing-unofficial-ban/29857453.html

Another Turkmen Pipe Mystery

More than a year after Ashgabat announced its section of the TAPI natural-gas pipeline was done, state company Turkmengaz is still ordering sections for the project

April 4 — “Turkmenistan has been purchasing a lot of pipeline segments for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural-gas pipeline project lately.
Which is interesting, because the head of the TAPI Pipeline Company said in February 2018 that the Turkmen section, which runs more than 200 kilometers, was completed.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-tapi-turkmen-pipe-mystery/29862029.html

UZBEKISTAN

Ongoing reforms in Uzbekistan’s Energy sector

The President’s Resolution introduces significant changes in the structure of energy administration of Uzbekistan by reorganizing or liquidating certain existing bodies and establishing new entities

April 1 — “Uzbekistan continues to undertake measures to enhance the legal and institutional framework of the country’s energy sector. On March 27, 2019, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed the Resolution “On strategy for further development and reform of the electric energy sector of the Republic of Uzbekistan.” READ MORE: https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/ongoing-reforms-in-uzbekistan-s-energy-95831/

Legislative Changes to Improve Business Climate in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is taking measures to improve its business climate and attract more foreign investment

April 2 — “Uzbekistan aims to increase its overall ranking in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report from the latest 76th to the 20th position by 2022 (Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. PP-4160) and continues to adopt measures to enhance its business environment. Currently, the country is bringing its legislation into conformity with these measures.” READ MORE: https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/legislative-changes-to-improve-business-76037/

Evicted without warning: sudden Tashkent demolitions spark anger

Controversial regeneration projects in Uzbekistan have cost thousands their homes – but have also sparked an unprecedented burst of grassroots activism

April 2 — “It was the middle of the afternoon when a demolition crew got to work on the three-floor residential building in the centre of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Usually there would be nothing untoward about this – but eight of the flats were still occupied.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/apr/02/evicted-without-warning-demolitions-spark-activism-in-tashkent-uzbekistan

Uzbekistan Praised For Curtailing Forced Labor In Cotton Harvest. Activists Say Not So Fast

Uzbek and Western rights activists say that while forced child labor has dramatically decreased in Uzbekistan, there’s still a significant level of forced labor involving adults

April 4 — “In Uzbekistan, it’s called white gold — cotton, one of the country’s most important cash-crop exports. For decades, hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks have been forced to do the annual backbreaking work of harvesting the crop. Last year, according to the International Labor Organization, around 170,000 people were forced to pick cotton, a sizable number but one the agency says showed “major progress” in eliminating the problem.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-cotton-harvest-forced-labor/29862119.html

AFGHANISTAN

Ashraf Ghani’s grand plan for sustainable peace in Afghanistan

The deputy spokesperson to the president of Afghanistan says that the Afghan president has a plan that would deliver not only peace but also justice, equality and development

April 3 — “Peace, once seen as an impossible prospect, has now become part of the national discourse in Afghanistan. Last month, for example, around 3,500 women from all ethnic and linguistic groups in the country issued a joint communique calling for a peace in which Afghan women would not be subjected to the horrors of the Taliban era once again.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/ashraf-ghani-grand-plan-sustainable-peace-afghanistan-190402101100457.html

Left Out: Afghanistan Watches Its Own Peace Process From The Sidelines

The Taliban has refused to negotiate with Ghani’s administration, calling it a U.S. “puppet”

April 3 — “When the United States’ special representative for Afghan reconciliation arrived in Kabul this week amid ongoing peace talks with the Taliban, the country’s national-unity government was in disarray. Zalmay Khalilzad met with the leaders of the government, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, separately on April 1: Ghani with his running mate in the upcoming elections; and Abdullah, the de facto prime minister, with the country’s foreign minister, an electoral ally.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/left-out-afghanistan-watches-its-own-peace-process-from-the-sidelines/29859400.html

IS, Taliban Fight Displaces 1000s in Eastern Afghanistan

Clashes between the Taliban, IS and the Afghan security forces are a continuing issue in eastern Afghanistan, particularly in Nangarhar province

April 4 — “In Afghanistan, fighting between Islamic State militants and Taliban insurgents has displaced over 20,000 people in eastern Kunar province recently, according to U.N. officials. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Thursday that 3,000 families fled their homes, and warned the situation could escalate as the warring sides mobilize more fighters.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/a/islamic-state-taliban-fight-displaces-thousands-in-eastern-afghanistan/4863010.html

Why Is Zalmay Khalilzad Such a Controversial Figure in Afghanistan?

President Trump’s Afghan peace envoy is an extremely disputed figure in Afghanistan

April 4 — “When the name Zalmay Khalilzad appeared on the news as a potential nominee for President Trump’s Afghan peace initiative, different reactions surfaced. Some non-Afghan commentators, though not all, welcomed his appointment given his impressive background. Yet, inside Afghanistan, Khalilzad’s appointment was not much welcomed. Indeed, a group of Afghan political activists set up a petition to urge the U.S. government to reconsider their decision given Khalilzad’s “ethnonationalism motivated” prior conduct in Afghanistan, as the petition put it.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/04/why-is-zalmay-khalilzad-such-a-controversial-figure-in-afghanistan/

WORLD

China’s plan for railway to Uzbekistan is transforming Central Asian geopolitics

China is competing with Russia for greater influence on Central Asia countries, using infrastructure and transport investment and projects to achieve that goal

March 31 — “Chinese plans to construct a railway from Xinjiang through Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan and onward to Turkmenistan will, if realized, transform the geopolitical situation in the region. This rail corridor promises to open up new possibilities for regional countries to bypass Russia in pursuit of foreign markets. And if completed, this railway will accelerate China’s gradual displacement of Russia as the dominant power in post-Soviet Central Asia, particularly given that Beijing has already demonstrated its willingness to use its economic might to extract political concessions from governments there. Finally, this railway will reduce Chinese dependence on routes passing through Russia, thus increasing Beijing’s freedom of action.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/21002-china-s-plan-for-railway-to-uzbekistan-is-transforming-central-asian-geopolitics

Re-navigating the lands of Central Asia

Nations both within and beyond Central Asia are now beginning to band together to address environmental and related socioeconomic issues

April 2 — “The five countries of Central Asia comprise one of the world’s most vulnerable and rapidly degrading areas in the world. Across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, lands once wealthy on the route of the Silk Road are now prone to desertification, soil erosion, salinization and forest loss, incurring huge costs financially and on the livelihoods of the region’s rural poor.” READ MORE: https://news.globallandscapesforum.org/33773/re-navigating-the-lands-of-central-asia/

China and Russia are not breaking up anytime soon

The biggest strategic misread in Washington is about the other great powers — China and Russia

April 3 — “Two weeks ago, I was in Moscow for a conference — part of a series — on the future of the Russian-American relationship. One of my takeaways from that meeting was that the state of the bilateral relationship is pretty bad and the best that anyone could hope for in the next few years was not making anything worse. And no, Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the special counsel’s report does not alter that conclusion.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/04/03/china-russia-are-not-breaking-up-anytime-soon/?utm_term=.2717f5c6e4d0

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