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’s toi: A feast or a fuss?

Lavish celebrations often turn out to be a vanity fair for the rich and a financial burden for the poor in Kazakhstan

Apr 15 — “The bride’s relatives glowed with satisfaction at the scene. Dozens of guests filed into a huge banquet hall in Almaty teeming with snow-white tables festooned with food, flowers and balloons. The party, or toi as it is known in Kazakh, was a roaring success. “A good place was chosen, well done,” one satisfied guest said at the wedding party last year.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstans-toi-a-feast-or-a-fuss

Kazakhstan succession clears roadblock to foreign investment

Questions remain over economic reform after the upcoming snap presidential elections in Kazakhstan

Apr 16 — “Even as investors poured billions into Kazakhstan, attracted by its oil riches, one question loomed over central Asia’s largest economy: what would happen when Nursultan Nazarbayev finally ended his three-decade tenure as president. Mr Nazarbayev formally handed power to a trusted associate in March after ruling the country since Soviet days. Investors saw the peaceful transition as a positive sign, but are now wondering who will lead the country after elections in June and whether a new government will bring structural change to the economy.” READ MORE: https://www.ft.com/content/c2b28efe-5166-11e9-b401-8d9ef1626294

Kazakhstan: Nur-Sultan goes off the rails

The Kazakh capital city is in desperate need of a congestion-busting solution

Apr 17 — “City hall in the capital of Kazakhstan has announced that a project to build a congestion-busting light railway transit system has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. National Economy Minister Ruslan Dalenov said on April 17 that the postponement follows a holdup in the supply of credit from China’s State Development Bank. The news will dismay many citizens of what is now called Nur-Sultan — recently renamed after retired President Nursultan Nazarbayev.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-nur-sultan-goes-off-the-rails

Kazakhstan’s Teachers: Underpaid, Overburdened, and Undervalued

Like in other post-Soviet states, secondary school teachers remain an underprivileged part of society

Apr 17 — “What can be done to better support Kazakhstan’s teachers?” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/04/kazakhstans-teachers-underpaid-overburdened-and-undervalued/


To improve school education, Kyrgyzstan needs to focus on its quality and innovation

Kyrgyzstan is facing an educational crisis. There are not enough textbooks, computers, as well as the schools themselves

Apr 14 — “Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov promised to raise secondary school teachers’ salaries at a Parliament meeting on April 11. The country has a chance to develop not due to the amount of human resources, but due to their quality, the President said. Therefore, it is necessary to pay special attention to education and healthcare and introduce new technologies into these sectors, he added. To achieve this goal, the State should improve social welfare of its citizens.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/21055-to-improve-school-education-kyrgyzstan-needs-to-focus-on-its-quality-and-innovation

Radio Connects a Kyrgyz Community with the World

A community radio project run by a handful of passionate young volunteers is giving a new meaning to radio in the broadband age, where this traditional media is liberating the community from remoteness by connecting them with the world

Apr 15 — “Travelling on the new Silk Roads recently upgraded by the Chinese, one drives up through stunning mountains that are still covered by snow even as summer approaches. The road from Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek climbs up to a peak of about 4.000 meters before descending over 1500 meters to a picturesque valley to reach one of the remotest communities in the country, the village of Suusamyr home to about 1,300 traditionally nomadic people.” READ MORE: https://www.indepthnews.net/index.php/archive-search/central-asia/2625-radio-connects-a-kyrgyz-community-with-the-world

Kyrgyzstan: Officials float idea of plastic bag ban

A quarter of trash in Kyrgyzstan’s landfills is plastic

Apr 17 — “Kyrgyzstan produces 320 tons of plastic bags every year. And one quarter of the trash in the country’s landfills is made up of non-biodegradable plastic. For those reasons, a senior state environmental protection official said on April 17, the government is fashioning a draft bill to ban the import and production of plastic carrier bags for general-purpose use.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-officials-float-idea-of-plastic-bag-ban

Multimillion Passport Deal Under Investigation in Kyrgyzstan

The new passports supply winning bid of US$13.4 million is at the center of a major corruption probe in Kyrgyzstan

Apr 18 — “Citizens of Kyrgyzstan can enter only 17 countries without obtaining a visa — one of the lowest such rankings in the world. The introduction of new, biometric passports was supposed to make things easier. Having bought the necessary equipment and created a biometric database, the government’s next step in reaching this goal was to procure the latest generation of passport booklets. A tender to obtain the booklets was held, and the winner announced in February.” READ MORE: https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/multimillion-passport-deal-under-investigation-in-kyrgyzstan


Tajikistan resorts to desperate measures to avert deficits

The government plans to keep pumping the population for more cash, starting by tripling the price of phone calls

Apr 16 — “Officials in Tajikistan over the weekend finally pulled the trigger on plans for an internet price hike that some quietly hoped had gone away. By decree of the state antimonopoly service, as of April 14, the minimum fee for mobile internet connections has more than doubled. At the same time, the cost of making calls from one mobile phone provider to another has risen around threefold.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-resorts-to-desperate-measures-to-avert-deficits

Tajikistan’s foreign trade reaches almost $1B

Russia, Kazakhstan, China, and Turkey remain the main trade partner of Tajikistan

Apr 16 — “Tajikistan’s net trade in the first quarter of 2019 amounted to about $964 million, which is 3.1 percent more compared to the same period last year. The Republic exported products worth $244 million in January-March 2019, according to the Statistics Agency under the Government of Tajikistan. Exports compared to the same period of last year increased by 0.3 percent or $700,000.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/149056.html

In Tajikistan, America’s beacon for a free press may have been corrupted

At Radio Ozodi, according to EurasiaNet and Tajik-language news outlets, reporting is skewed in favor of the government, requests from the state security service to strike articles critical of the government are routinely honored, and the station is financially entangled with the president’s family

Apr 17 — “RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, a network of radio stations funded by the US government to counter misinformation abroad, pledges to provide “fair and objective news, analysis, and discussion.” It was described last month in this magazine as “Washington’s open, public way to compete with Russian state-controlled media and disinformation.” READ MORE: https://www.cjr.org/watchdog/tajikistan-radio-ozodi.php


Turkmenistan: Turning the gas back on

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

Apr 16 — “At midday on April 15, Turkmenistan resumed its deliveries of natural gas to Russia, ending a 40-month hiatus and earning something of a reprieve for a troubled economy. State company Turkmengaz said in a statement that the resumption of flows are taking place under a previously existing bilateral agreement on energy cooperation running up to 2028. Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller has made three visits to Ashgabat since October – the most recent was at the end of March – a level of shuttle business diplomacy that indicated a breakthrough was a priority.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-turning-the-gas-back-on

Foreign companies queue up to sue cash-strapped Turkmenistan

Arbitration claims against Ashgabat are piling up as companies from Belarus, Germany, Turkey, and Russia have sued the Turkmen government

Apr 17 — “A deal for Russia’s Gazprom to resume buying gas from Turkmenistan came not a moment too soon for the Central Asian state because it is so short of foreign currency that a number of foreign companies have taken it to court over unpaid bills. Turkmenistan’s economy had boomed until 2015, supported by high energy prices and gas exports, and the government awarded megaproject contracts for new factories and highways.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/turkmenistan-economy/foreign-companies-queue-up-to-sue-cash-strapped-turkmenistan-idUSL8N21U3Q6

Gazprom Resumes Imports of Turkmen Gas After Three-Year Break

China, however, remains the largest importer of Turkmen natural gas, and Ashgabat badly needs to diversify its gas export routes

Apr 18 — “The spokesperson for Gazprom, Sergey Kupriyanov, stated, on April 15, that the company had resumed gas imports from Turkmenistan (News Central Asia, April 16). His announcement was immediately confirmed by a statement from TurkmenGaz, Turkmenistan’s state natural gas company (Oilgas.gov.tm, April 15). Discussion on the resumption of imports accelerated following Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller’s series of visits to Ashgabat in late 2018 (see EDM, February 25) and in March 2019 (Gazprom.com, March 27).” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/gazprom-resumes-imports-of-turkmen-gas-after-three-year-break/


Is jail saving Uzbek ‘princess’ from extradition to the US?

Uzbek authorities oppose Gulnara Karimova’s extradition to the US because she knows too much about top Uzbek officials, including President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who served as prime minister in her father’s government

Apr 16 — “Gulnara Karimova, the late Uzbek autocrat Islam Karimov’s eldest daughter once known simply as ‘Princess’ and rumoured to become his heiress apparent, has a new residence – a women’s jail outside the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Five years after the glamorous socialite, singer, diplomat and business tycoon fell out of her dictatorial dad’s favour and less than three years after his death, the 46-year-old mother of two found herself behind bars – purportedly, because Karimov’s successor didn’t want her extradited to the US, where she is accused of extortion and trying to launder no less than $866 million.” READ MORE: https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/is-jail-saving-uzbek-princess-from-extradition-to-the-us-25876

Forced Labor Lives on in Uzbekistan’s Cotton Fields

Reforms need to target the underlying Soviet-era system encouraging forced labor in Uzbekistan’s agriculture, Human Rights Watch says

Apr 16 — “Despite a slew of steps taken to curb the practice, forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields remains widespread, according to a recently released report. The Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF), which has been monitoring Uzbekistan’s cotton sector for ten years, reported earlier this month that despite reforms taken by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s government, citizens are still being forced to work in the annual harvest.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/16/forced-labor-lives-uzbekistans-cotton-fields

‘Thieves-In-Law’ Syndicate Crowns New Crime Boss From Uzbekistan

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Thieves-in-Law has grown into a vast criminal organization which has spread throughout the former Soviet Union, Europe, and the United States

Apr 18 — “A notorious criminal syndicate that brings together mafia bosses from across the former Soviet Union has crowned a new kingpin from Uzbekistan — bestowing 42-year-old convicted murderer Akhtam Yakubov with the title of “thief-in-law.”
RFE/RL sources with ties to Central Asia’s criminal underworld say Yakubov’s crowning was approved “as an exception” by the imprisoned Russian mafia godfather Zakhary Kalashov.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/thieves-in-law-crown-new-crime-boss-from-uzbekistan/29889309.html


Lessons From Vietnam on Leaving Afghanistan

There’s no good way to end a bad war, but some options are worse than others

Apr 15 — “The prospect of an end to the conflict in Afghanistan has led many U.S. foreign policy experts to ponder the ignoble conclusion of another war, now a half century past. Vietnam reportedly offers a cautionary tale for some Pentagon officials who worry about reliving the ignominious events of 1975, when the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (NLF) marched triumphantly into Saigon and the last Americans, along with some South Vietnamese allies, struggled frantically to escape by helicopter.” READ MORE: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2019-04-15/lessons-vietnam-leaving-afghanistan

The International Criminal Court crashes and burns over Afghanistan

International Criminal Court judges rejected a request by the court’s prosecutor to open an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and alleged crimes by U.S. forces linked to the conflict

Apr 16 — “In a classic 1970s television commercial, a greasy mechanic rolled out from under a car holding a $200 bearing that needed replacing and a $4 oil filter that would have prevented the problem if installed earlier. The mechanic delivered a prophetic line: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” The International Criminal Court in The Hague has learned that lesson the hard way, paying the higher price now because it did not pay a more reasonable price 20 years ago.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/the-international-criminal-court-crashes-and-burns-over-afghanistan

Time to Get U.S. Soldiers Out of Afghanistan

The U.S. will continue to be a major player in Afghanistan even without thousands of troops on the ground

Apr 16 — “The death of three U.S. service members near Bagram Airfield is one more grim reminder of a conflict in Afghanistan that has proceeded in almost autopilot fashion (“Americans Are Killed In Afghan Attack,” World News, April 9). The American people are justifiably exhausted by this conflict, one that seems to continue with little light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/time-to-get-u-s-soldiers-out-of-afghanistan-11555440540

‘Afghanistan Has Changed’: Post-2001 Generation On Prospects Of Peace With Taliban

RFE/RL spoke with Afghans born after the fall of the Taliban regime to see how they feel about the prospect of the fundamentalist movement officially returning to the fold

Apr 19 — “Talk of peace in Afghanistan is ramping up, with the United States and the Taliban negotiating and Kabul preparing to host hundreds of ethnic, religious, and tribal leaders to settle on a road map for ending nearly 18 years of war. But while those born after the U.S. invasion in 2001 make up around half of Afghanistan’s population of 33 million, their voice has largely gone unheard.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-has-changed-post-2001-generation-on-prospects-of-peace-with-taliban/29892071.html


The Belt and Road Initiative 2019 Survey – A new driver for globalisation?

The second Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Survey of 28 central banks reveals that they view the BRI as a major driver of globalisation, with a high percentage of respondents expecting the initiative to provide a significant boost to GDP

Apr 18 — “The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been a beacon in the past five years as a China-led effort with the aim of supporting global economic growth and development. For this reason, the BRI stands out at a time when many existing multilateral efforts are facing significant problems.” READ MORE: https://www.centralbanking.com/central-banks/economics/4129801/the-belt-and-road-initiative-2019-survey-a-new-driver-for-globalisation

European Union must ‘play offence’ to offset China’s rising influence in Africa and Asia, insiders say

Brussels has to move away from its defensive strategy if it wants to compete for global infrastructure deals, promote its ideals, MEPs say

Apr 18 — “The European Union must adopt a more attacking strategy if it wants to compete with China on infrastructure development projects and promote its values in Africa and Asia, according to two of the bloc’s leading authorities on Beijing policy. Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the European Parliament and deputy chairman of its delegation for relations with China, said that after the promises made at last week’s EU-China summit the time was ripe for Brussels to push ahead with its global “connectivity strategy”. READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3006608/european-union-must-play-offence-offset-chinas-rising


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