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.


What next for Kazakhstan after the elections?

The next President of Kazakhstan will have to oversee that there is no backsliding in economic, social and political reforms, and reassure international partners that the external policy of the country remains unchanged, writes Eli Hadzieva, director of Dialogue for Europe

May 27 — “The resignation of Kazakhstan’s long-standing leader Nursultan Nazarbayev on 19 March is seen by many as a step in the right direction for the country’s democratic development. And the snap elections on 9 June called by the interim President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who replaced Nazarbayev following constitutional procedure, are the right call to determine a legitimate successor to the country’s founding father.” READ MORE: https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-asia/opinion/what-next-for-kazakhstan-after-the-elections/

Wave of creative protests threaten Kazakhstan’s elite ahead of elections

In its attempt to silence critics, Kazakhstan’s government has inspired a series of creative actions that have been amplified by widespread internet access

May 29 — “In Kazakhstan, where the government aggressively regulates peaceful assembly and punishes those who dare to break its strict rules, there has been a surprising uptick in creative protests in recent months. The current wave of actions started in February after five young girls died in a house fire. As a result, dozens of mothers staged rallies across Kazakhstan to draw attention to insufficient welfare provisions for families.” READ MORE: https://wagingnonviolence.org/2019/05/wave-creative-protests-threaten-kazakhstan-elite-ahead-elections/

Exit stage left for Nazarbayev

Kazakhstan’s president departs after decades of tight control. Could it kickstart a privatisation push?

May 30 — “Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s first and only leader since independence, agreed in mid-March to relinquish the presidency after almost 30 years at the helm of Central Asia’s largest economy, while retaining a title of “leader of the nation”. In a move than surprised regional analysts, the Kazakh strongman resigned saying he wanted to “support the coming to power of a new generation of leaders, who will continue the transformations taking place in the country”. READ MORE: https://www.petroleum-economist.com/articles/politics-economics/europe-eurasia/2019/exit-stage-left-for-nazarbayev

Kazakhstan: Ersatz presidential candidates spar in pretend debate

The election is a purely pro-forma exercise, because it is evident that interim President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who was anointed by his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, will win the June 9 vote

May 30 — “Kazakhstan’s pretend presidential election contest would not have been complete without a pretend debate among the pretend candidates. And so, seven debaters went onto state television station Khabar on May 29 in a chronometrically choreographed process devoid of verbal sparring, policy ideas or any kind of disagreement.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-ersatz-presidential-candidates-spar-in-pretend-debate


HRW: Year After ‘Bride-Kidnap’ Murder, Kyrgyzstan Doing Too Little To Curb Violence Against Women

The practice of “bride kidnapping” is illegal in Kyrgyzstan, and lawmakers raised the maximum prison sentence from three to 10 years in 2012, but prosecutions have been rare

May 28 — “Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the government of Kyrgyzstan to do far more to stop violence against women and girls, saying that weak enforcement of legislation aimed to prevent abuse and punish the perpetrators leaves half the population of the Central Asian country at risk.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/hrw-year-after-bride-kidnap-murder-kyrgyzstan-doing-too-little-to-curb-violence-against-women/29968063.html

Kyrgyzstan: Mob boss case spells trouble for former president

Kyrgyz authorities have to date arrested at least four doctors, a judge, a former deputy prime minister and a former health minister over suspicion that irregularities were committed during the release of a notorious crime boss

May 28 — “It never looked right when authorities in Kyrgyzstan in 2013 granted notorious crime boss Aziz Batukayev compassionate release from prison on medical grounds. Police are now reopening the case and the investigation could well lead to the door of prominent politicians — most notably, the former president, who is a bitter rival of the incumbent.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-mob-boss-case-spells-trouble-for-former-president

A Wedding Dress, a Tweet, and Kyrgyzstan’s Culture Wars

A social media scandal in Kyrgyzstan raised key questions about freedom and gender equality

May 29 — “Last week in Kyrgyzstan, a social media scandal played out between a parliamentarian and a city hall bureaucrat and again exposed the contours of the country’s culture wars. On May 19, parliamentarian Makhabat Mavlianova posted a photo of a woman in a sleeveless wedding dress on her personal Facebook page. The photo included a caption warning young women against getting married in such revealing dresses, which could draw undesirable attention from wedding guests and future in-laws.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/a-wedding-dress-a-tweet-and-kyrgyzstans-culture-wars/


Activist Gives Rare Glimpse Of Tajik Prison Where Deadly Violence Occurred

Tajikistan has long been criticized for alleged mistreatment of prisoners and below-standard prison conditions

May 26 — “Azamat Shambilov is one of few outsiders to have visited Tajikistan’s Kirpichniy prison before it became the scene of a deadly riot this week.
As the head of Penal Reform International’s (PRI) office for Central Asia, Shambilov has visited the prison in the Vahdat district just outside Dushanbe earlier this year. During a weekly talk show aired by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Shambilov said that one of the facility’s major issues was the lack of separate cells.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/activist-gives-rare-glimpse-of-tajik-prison-where-deadly-violence-occurred/29963717.html

Russia’s Bulwark on the Afghan Border: Tajikistan

In recent weeks, high-level Russian security and intelligence officials have made trips to Dushanbe

May 30 — “On May 28, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu paid a visit to Tajikistan. Shoigu’s visit came exactly a week after the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov, trod a similar path to Dushanbe for talks with Tajik leaders. The visits underscore the importance Russia places, in security terms, on Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/russias-bulwark-tajikistan-on-the-afghan-border/

Tajikistan adopts laws on emergency powers, spying

The new legislation formalizes existing limitations of basic civic freedoms

May 30 — “Parliament in Tajikistan has adopted a swathe of legislation setting the terms for martial law and enabling intelligence agents to operate within the country. Officials said the laws, which were adopted by parliament on May 29, are needed to protect the nation at times of war and against the threat of terrorist sleeper cells. Many of the provisions within the adopted rules have, however, long already been in effect to all intents and purposes.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-adopts-laws-on-emergency-powers-spying


The World’s Worst Country for Journalists

Turkmenistan is so repressive — it is even worse than in Soviet times, says editor Ruslan Myatiev

May 28 — “Last month the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan overtook North Korea to become most repressive media environment in the world, according to the Reporters Without Borders annual Press Freedom Index. The media watchdog described the Central Asian nation as a news “black hole” where all media is controlled by the government and where the few independent journalists working for foreign-based news sites have been harassed, arrested, and tortured. Just 15 percent of the country can get online, and even then the version of the internet they have access to is highly censored.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/28/the-worlds-worst-country-for-journalists-turkmenistan/

Turkmenistan: A grain of untruth

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

May 28 — “Turkmenistan’s obscurity and isolation have long meant the regime largely gets away with its atrocious human rights record. Efforts are in motion to try and change that. On May 22, a small group of activists held a picket outside the Turkmen Embassy in Washington to demand the release from prison of Gaspar Matalayev, an activist jailed in 2016 for highlighting the use of forced labor during the cotton harvest. The Cotton Campaign, a pressure group that documents abuses in the cotton industry, called for Matalayev’s release earlier this month.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-a-grain-of-untruth

Turkmenistan initiates adoption of UN resolution on Aral Sea

During its chairmanship in IFAS in 2017-2019, Turkmenistan initiated the development of the UN Special Program for the Aral Sea Basin

May 30 — “A resolution on cooperation of the UN with the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), initiated by Turkmenistan, was unanimously adopted during the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, Trend reports referring to Turkmen Foreign Ministry.
Twenty-one countries cosponsored the resolution.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/151459.html


Muslims seek voice in changing Uzbekistan

Over 90 percent of Uzbekistan’s 33 million population is Muslim and social conservatism runs deep, especially in the provinces

May 27 — “Uzbek student Luiza Muminjonova wanted to work in the country’s booming Islamic tourism sphere but last year she was expelled from a university in the capital Tashkent. The 19-year-old’s only fault was being a pious Muslim and wearing the hijab, a staple of female Islamic dress. “How dare they discriminate me and stop me from getting the education I want because of my religion?” she fumed in an interview with AFP.” READ MORE: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/muslims-seek-voice-in-changing-uzbekistan-11568756

Uzbekistan: Cola label ruling signals intent on trademark rules

Antimonopoly officials found that Frutto Cola’s label was too similar to that of Coca-Cola

May 29 — “Anti-monopoly authorities in Uzbekistan have ordered a local drinks producer to change their labelling, which they found bore too close a resemblance to the Coca-Cola brand. The ruling, which was reported May 29 by Podbrobno.uz news website, is a fresh signal that Tashkent is serious about its pledge to promote the cause of protecting intellectual property.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-cola-label-ruling-signals-intent-on-trademark-rules

Revolving doors, invisible hands: how the state and private sector are merging in the new Uzbekistan

As the once infamously corrupt Uzbekistani state tries to reform itself, new research shows how the state and private sector are fusing in privatisation initiatives, raising serious concerns about conflict of interest for those at the top

May 30 — “Since the death of president Islam Karimov in 2016 and his replacement by Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan’s new government has embarked on a highly public path of economic and political reform. It is, in effect, an attempt to curtail the rampant state corruption that emerged under Karimov’s brutal 27-year rule.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/revolving-doors-invisible-hands-how-state-and-private-sector-are-merging-new-uzbekistan/


Afghanistan’s Air Is Deadlier Than Its War

Every winter, Kabul’s skies turn black — and children die

May 26 — “The respiratory ward of Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital, built with Indian aid, is filled with children gasping for breath. Some scream as they’re treated, their cries echoing off the concrete walls. Amid the shrieks, doctors, parents, and patients struggle to heal, soothe, and breathe. The ward follows a seasonal rhythm—in the summers, it’s used to treat gastric issues, but during the winter, doctors treat Afghanistan’s vulnerable population for chronic respiratory illnesses that they attribute to pollution in the air, a mix of heating from homes and pollution from industrial sources.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/05/26/afghanistans-air-is-deadlier-than-its-war/

Why is Afghanistan unable to extract its vast mineral wealth?

Poor security, weak legislation and corruption plague mining in Afghanistan, investors and experts tell Al Jazeera

May 28 — “The early afternoon sun falls on the tall walls of black marble, turning them grey and revealing a palette of shades, from silver to salmon pink and orange. The sand-dry mountainous landscape surrounding the quarry, on the outskirts of Kabul, magnifies its unexpected beauty. Marble is one of Afghanistan’s many natural resources, which – with investment in the mining sector – could help to put the foreign aid-dependent country on the path to economic independence in the face of US withdrawal.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/afghanistan-unable-extract-vast-mineral-wealth-190527111748895.html

Afghan Women Drawing #MyRedLine For Peace With The Taliban

#MyRedLine was launched in March by 26-year-old Farahnaz Forotan, who says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights, freedoms, and happiness of Afghanistan’s women

May 30 — “”I don’t want to give up my work and hobbies.” “I’m not willing to sacrifice my right to watch a football match at the stadium with my friends.” “I didn’t have a chance to chase my dreams, but my daughter now has this opportunity. I don’t want to sacrifice her future, her rights. That’s my red line.” Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined an online campaign, #MyRedLine, to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/myredline-the-afghan-women-who-won-t-accept-taliban-peace-at-any-cost/29972913.html

Insights from a Military Officer: How Cryptocurrency Holds the Key to Stabilization in Afghanistan

Cryptocurrency holds extraordinary potential for individuals seeking refuge from the throes of rampant market volatility — so much so that I began teaching a Bitcoin 101 class to Afghan citizens who lived around the military base, a data scientist for the U.S. Army recalls

May 30 — “Recently, I stumbled upon a news story about Khalil Sediq, Governor at the Central Bank of Afghanistan, who announced that the country was exploring the idea of issuing a sovereign cryptocurrency bond to raise $5.8 billion USD to support its mining, energy, and agricultural sectors. To most, it’s a story that echoes the many developing countries, from Venezuela to Turkey, that have begun to experiment with cryptocurrency initiatives in order to provide much-needed economic stability to its citizens. To me, however, the announcement hit closer to home.” READ MORE: https://www.nasdaq.com/article/insights-from-a-military-officer-how-cryptocurrency-holds-the-key-to-stabilization-in-afghanistan-cm1156786


China looks to Russia, Central Asia for support amid tensions with US

The latest flurry of Beijing’s diplomatic activity comes as competition between China and the US intensifies on several fronts including trade and technology, the South China Sea and the Arctic, where Beijing’s partnership with Moscow has drawn criticism from Washington

May 28 — “Beijing is stepping up efforts to seek support from regional and global players such as Russia and Central Asian nations as its geostrategic rivalry with Washington heats up. President Xi Jinping is expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next month, when he will also address the St Petersburg International Economic Summit, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told state-run TASS news agency earlier.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3012017/china-looks-russia-central-asia-support-amid-tensions-us

The growing Islamic State threat in Central Asia

It is a question whether IS may emerge as a genuine threat not just to Afghanistan but also to the broader Central Asian region

May 30 — “During a recent visit to Tajikistan, Russian Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov claimed that around 5,000 militants based in Afghanistan from a group known as Islamic State Khorasan, or IS-K, had been redeployed to the north of the country, near its border with the former Soviet states of Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-growing-islamic-state-threat-in-central-asia/

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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