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 Presidential Transition Bodes Well For Energy Investors

The situation bodes well for oil majors like Exxon, Chevron, and Royal Dutch shell which all maintain multi-billion-dollar interests in Kazakhstan’s oil and gas fields

May 3 — “With the unexpected resignation of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in March, all eyes are on the largest energy producer in Central Asia. Kazakhstan’s power transition to president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev – which thus far has been smooth and transparent – is a good sign for crude markets that have recently been roiled by geopolitical crises across Libya, Venezuela, and now Iran.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/arielcohen/2019/05/03/kazakhstans-smooth-presidential-transition-bodes-well-for-energy-investors/#327fbc3f7ccc

A Man in Kazakhstan Held Up a Blank Sign to See if He’d Be Detained. He Was

The protest sentiment is on the rise in Kazakhstan as the country is heading to a snap presidential election

May 9 — “To test the limits of his right to peacefully demonstrate in Kazakhstan, Aslan Sagutdinov, 22, stood in a public square holding a blank sign, predicting he would be detained. He was right. Mr. Sagutdinov’s encounter with the police in the city of Uralsk on Monday, which was filmed and posted on YouTube, came as the country prepares for a presidential election in June, its first transfer of power in decades.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/09/world/asia/kazakhstan-protests-blank-sign.html

Kazakhstan’s banking sector under pressure, bracing for more M&A or defaults

Since early 2017, the government has spent close to $14 billion taking over bad debts on the banks’ books that cost the country the equivalent of 9% of 2018 GDP

May 9 — “Fears of a fresh banking crisis are mounting in Kazakhstan thanks to a backdrop of rising political risk in the lead-up to the snap presidential elections in June, a debt-ridden banking sector, a recent wave of currency devaluations and chronic levels of non-performing loans (NPL) that are still plaguing the financial sector. However, analysts say a full-blown crisis is unlikely and the upshot of the current pressure will be another round of mergers and liquidations.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/kazakhstan-s-banking-sector-under-pressure-bracing-for-more-manda-or-defaults-160929/

Kazakhstan: the Saskatchewan of Asia

The climate and growing conditions in parts of Kazakhstan are comparable to Canada’s Saskatchewan, and the mix of annual crops is similar — wheat, flax, oilseeds and pulses

May 9 — “Last April, North Kazakhstan issued a statement on seeding and crop production for the province. The language and data in the document is astounding, sounding like an episode of The Simpsons that mocks Soviet-era propaganda from the 1970s. “Last year, our agrarians increased oilseeds by 40 percent; we continue to intensively engage in this work this year,” the document says.” READ MORE: https://www.producer.com/2019/05/kazakhstan-the-saskatchewan-of-asia/


Kyrgyzstan moves to confiscate home of jailed activist’s wife

Azimjan Askarov’s jailing has been a black mark on Kyrgyzstan’s reputation for nine years

May 8 — “The wife of a human rights activist serving a life sentence in Kyrgyzstan on politicized charges says the state is trying to take her home away. Her husband, Azimjan Askarov, was caught up in the communal violence that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, shortly after a bloody change of power in Bishkek. An ethnic Uzbek, Askarov was reviled by predominantly ethnic Kyrgyz security forces who long bristled at his human rights activism and reporting.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-moves-to-confiscate-home-of-jailed-activists-wife

How Can Native Language Journalism in Kyrgyzstan Improve?

Kyrgyz citizens have limited access to good journalistic pieces in their native language

May 9 — “Compared to its neighbors in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan enjoys press freedom. Yet biased, blackening and hypothetical information, which I call “low quality journalism,” prevails in Kyrgyzstan’s online media. To be fair, low quality journalism appears in both the Kyrgyz and Russian languages, and there are some high standard journalistic pieces among Kyrgyz online media.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/how-can-native-language-journalism-in-kyrgyzstan-improve/

Uranium mining in Kyrgyzstan: danger or benefit?

Kyrgyz authorities found themselves in a difficult situation — they cannot ignore the opinion of the local population which may cause unrest. On the other hand, if they prohibit any works with uranium, the country may lose investment as well as the image of a reliable partner in the eyes of foreign investors

May 11 — “On May 7, the Kyrgyz Parliament held public hearings on the draft law banning the development of uranium deposits in Kyrgyzstan for 50 years. The discussion was attended by the parliament members, local community activists, journalists and residents of the regions where uranium mining is possible.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/21153-uranium-mining-in-kyrgyzstan-danger-or-benefit


Tajikistan’s Pamirs, ignored at “the roof of the world”

A photo essay on Central Asia’s most remote region

May 3 — “Tajikistan is the poorest country to emerge from the Soviet Union. And Tajikistan’s vast Pamir mountain region, known as Badakhshan, is poor by Tajik standards – its shredded roads often impassable, jobs scarce. Many believe the government in Dushanbe ignores this region sandwiched between Afghanistan, China and Kyrgyzstan because the people practice a different faith and speak different languages.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/photo-essay-tajikistans-pamirs-ignored-at-the-roof-of-the-world

Tajikistan’s ruler-in-waiting rides out Ramadan grumbling with handouts

The president’s son is overseeing a campaign to limit price rises during the holy month of Ramadan

May 6 — “Across swaths of the Islamic world, the holy month of Ramadan means discounts on food. In Tajikistan, prices usually go in the other direction. President Emomali Rahmon has tried to put his finger on the scales a little this year, quoting what he said was a hadith of the prophet Muhammad to caution against price-fixing. “For anyone who, through their interference in the setting of prices, affects the life of Muslims … should know that on judgment day they will burn in hell,” Rahmon said in a statement to wish his fellow Tajiks a content Ramadan.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistans-ruler-in-waiting-rides-out-ramadan-grumbling-with-handouts

Pak-Tajik ministerial commission likely to meet in July

For Tajikistan, Pakistan is an important regional partner that can provide access to seaports for Tajik goods

May 10 — “The Pak-Tajik Joint Ministerial Commission is likely to meet on July 2 this year to review cooperation between the two countries in different areas of the economy, particularly agriculture. During a meeting with Minister for National Food Security and Research Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan on Thursday, Tajikistan Ambassador Ismatullo Naserdin said a meeting of the joint working group was likely to be held on July 2 as part of the Joint Ministerial Commission huddle between the two countries.” READ MORE: https://tribune.com.pk/story/1969589/2-pak-tajik-ministerial-commission-likely-meet-july/


China, Russia May Vie For Turkmenistan’s Gas

Although the Russian restart of Turkmen gas imports only covers small volumes so far, it could be increased, putting an added strain on China’s imports of Turkmen gas

May 6 — “After years of inaction, Russia has resumed natural gas imports from Turkmenistan, raising the prospect of competitive pressure for one of China’s main sources of supply. On April 15, monopoly Gazprom and the Turkmengaz state company confirmed the restart of flows from the isolated Central Asian nation for the first time since Russia stopped imports at the start of 2016.” READ MORE: https://www.rfa.org/english/commentaries/energy_watch/china-russia-may-view-for-turkmenistans-gas-05062019104507.html

Turkmenistan: Trying to take flight

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

May 7 — “Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s portrait will soon return to three of Europe’s largest airports. On May 1 Turkmenistan Airlines, whose cabins are festooned with the president’s picture, published a new timetable including flights to Birmingham, Frankfurt, and London from the beginning of June. The airline had been barred since February from European airspace over safety concerns.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-trying-to-take-flight

TURKMENISTAN: Human Rights Committee finds former prisoners’ rights violated

The UN Human Rights Committee found Turkmenistan wrongly jailed three Jehovah’s Witnesses for having religious literature, being at a religious meeting, and conscientious objection to military service respectively

May 9 — “In two Decisions the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee has found that Turkmenistan violated the rights of three Jehovah’s Witness prisoners of conscience. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses were jailed on fabricated pornography charges to punish them for exercising their right to freedom of religion and belief. The third was among the many Jehovah’s Witness young men jailed for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience.” READ MORE: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2476


Hyundai plans to start electric vehicle production in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan remains Central Asia’s leading automobile manufacturer

May 7 — “Uzbekistan and South Korea build mutually beneficial relationships, starting with economy and investments and ending with global security issues. The South Korean company Hyundai plans to start production of electric vehicles in the Kokand free economic zone, Podrobno.uz reported. The President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev was presented this project during his visit to the Fergana region.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/150245.html

How Will Uzbekistan Become A Regional Transit Hub?

Uzbekistan now seeks new opportunities to be a key player in the region by promoting various transit projects

May 8 — “On 5th April of 2019, a meeting of the railway authorities of Kazakhstan, China, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan took place in Almaty dedicated to advancing cargo traffic along the North-South Transit Corridor. In fact, the participation of Uzbekistan in the project will shorten the route of goods from China to Iran and forward. Being a part of the ambitious North-South Transit Corridor — a 7,200 km long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road routes for moving freight between India and Europe —the China-Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Iran railway can shape the geopolitics of Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/05/08/how-will-uzbekistan-become-a-regional-transit-hub/

Uzbekistan’s troubled Nukus Museum embroiled in new row

The museum seeks fourth director in as many years amid claims its renowned avant-garde collection is being “mistreated”

May 8 — “The director of Uzbekistan’s Nukus Museum, home to the prized Savitsky collection of Russian avant-garde art, is accusing the ministry of culture of advertising her job behind her back. In February, a foundation run by the ministry announced an open call for an “experienced director” to “devise and implement an ambitious development strategy” for the museum, which has been plagued by reports of mismanagement and missing gifts.” READ MORE: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/uzbekistan-s-troubled-nukus-museum-embroiled-in-new-row


Beijing Eyes Afghanistan’s Intimate Wars

Afghan militia members driven from their homes square off against Uighur exiles

May 6 — “The valley is like many others in Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Badakhshan: verdant trees and fields dwarfed by dusty mountains. But for the exiled unit of the Afghan Local Police from the district of Warduj, it hosts the battlefield that separates them from their nearby homes, where the Taliban hold sway. The Afghan Local Police was established in 2010 to formalize local groups that defended their villages.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/06/beijing-eyes-afghanistan-intimate-wars-warduj-uighur/

Afghan Women Activists Fear Return Of Taliban-Era Repressions

A study found that only 15 percent of Afghan men think women should be allowed to work outside of their home after marriage, and that two-thirds of Afghan men think women already have too many rights in Afghanistan

May 7 — “Khalida Khorsand, a 35-year-old rights activist from the western Afghan city of Herat, is skeptical about Taliban claims that it has dispensed with its strict rules against girls’ education and women working. The militant Islamic group made the declaration in the midst of recent peace talks with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad aimed at bringing an end to the long U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/afghan-women-activists-fear-return-of-taliban-era-repressions/29926375.html

Afghanistan: What happens the ‘day after’ peace?

There are serious threats facing Afghanistan that will not miraculously disappear with the drying of the ink on a peace agreement

May 8 — “As I have done at the beginning of every Congress since my appointment as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, I recently released our agency’s High Risk report listing the most serious threats to America’s 18-year, $133 billion reconstruction effort there. But this year, something is different — the spring air brings a faint whiff of the possibility of peace and a hoped-for end to our nation’s longest war.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/442484-afghanistan-what-happens-the-day-after-peace

Great Powers in Afghanistan, Between Cooperation and Competition

In examining the interests of the United States, China, and Russia in Afghanistan, it appears that the three share similar interests, at least on the surface

May 9 — “On Thursday, April 25 representatives of the United States, Russia, and China convened at the first trilateral meeting on the Afghan Peace process in Moscow. At the conclusion of this meeting, the United States released a statement outlining the agreements reached during the trilateral consultation. This meeting was preceded by visits of the U.S. Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation to both Beijing and Moscow in recent months. Following the trilateral diplomatic meeting, the U.S. Department of State released a statement outlining the agreements that the U.S. reached with the two countries with which it is increasingly at odds in the international forum.” READ MORE: https://intpolicydigest.org/2019/05/09/great-powers-in-afghanistan-between-cooperation-and-competition/


Central Asian states plan ‘silk visa’ in bid to revive trade

Creating a “silk visa” for entry to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is a long-range ambition

May 6 — “Not long ago, the nations of Central Asia were planting landmines along their shared borders. Now they plan a Europe-style visa-free travel zone. Abdulaziz Kamilov, foreign minister of Uzbekistan, said: “There are certain elements similar . . . to the European model aimed at increasing the tourist flow to the region. To make their visit easier, we will support the common visa.” READ MORE: https://www.ft.com/content/23a16e02-553a-11e9-a3db-1fe89bedc16e

China: A loan shark or the good Samaritan?

Beijing has been accused of strong-arming poor countries through predatory lending as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. A new analysis seeks to debunk claims surrounding China’s “debt-trap diplomacy”

May 9 — “Security hawks in the West, especially in the United States, look at China as a new imperial power, which is creating vassal states through predatory loan practices. Fueling their anxiety is China’s colossal Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — a gargantuan global infrastructure development program mostly funded or sponsored by the Chinese government. By one estimate from mining company BHP, total spending on BRI-related projects could touch nearly $1.3 trillion (€1.16 trillion) in the decade to 2023 — more than seven times the investment made under the US Marshall Plan to rebuild European economies after World War II.” READ MORE: https://www.dw.com/en/china-a-loan-shark-or-the-good-samaritan/a-48671742

Sergey Kwan

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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