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 Passes Torch To New Leader. Investors Hope For More Lively Market

Tokayev inherits a country Nazarbayev invented amid the throes of the dying Soviet Union, taking it to nation building. Tokayev has a much more forbidable foundation than the one Nazarbayev was left to build upon

June 17 — “It’s probably safe to say that few would equate Kazakhstan (KZ) with the kind of modernity akin to something straight out of a science fiction novel. Two years ago, following their hosting of the World Fair dedicated to Future Energy in the capital Astana (renamed Nur-Sultan), Kazakhstan expanded an ambitious, pro-market reform push in a country that’s been led by the same man for 29 years. Some 52% of the country’s population have only had one leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in their lifetimes.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2019/06/17/kazakhstan-passes-torch-to-new-leader-investors-hope-for-more-lively-market/#48b668fc7cb0

Kazakhstan Elects New President

Under the new president, Kazakhstan is not likely to undergo radical changes, since previous President Nazarbayev will retain substantial clout in the country’s political life

June 18 — “On June 9, 2019, Kazakhstan held snap presidential elections following the resignation of long-term President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayev’s close associate and former speaker of the Senate Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won the ballot receiving 70.76 percent of the votes. The election was accompanied by large protests in the country’s capital Nur-Sultan and in Almaty, followed by detentions of hundreds of protesters. It is unlikely that the change of president will bring radical change in Kazakhstan. Tokayev has already declared his commitment to preserving Nazarbayev’s legacy.” READ MORE: http://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13575-kazakhstan-elects-new-president.html

Kazakhstan’s Government Can No Longer Avoid a Conversation With Its People

The most striking aspect of recent demonstrations in Kazakhstan has been a call for dignity and decent living standards, rather than regime change as a political end in itself

June 18 — “Transitions which seek to preserve the political status quo are always difficult, even in democracies. But this political lesson is now being experienced very directly by Kazakhstan’s ruling regime, following presidential elections held on 9 June. These were meant to be a coronation for Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the designated successor to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the last leader of Soviet Kazakhstan, who raised a newly independent state to become a respected regional leader and home for foreign investment.” READ MORE: https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/kazakhstan-s-government-can-no-longer-avoid-conversation-its-people#

Kazakhstan’s police are cracking down on protesters — as political activism keeps rising

Former Soviet governments — including in Kazakhstan — are particularly caught between liberalizing public discussion and unreformed police forces devoted to repression

June 20 — “After Kazakhstan voted for president on June 9, police arrested thousands of protesters who believed the regime falsified the results. Since independence in 1991, Kazakhstan had been ruled by its communist-era leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had handpickedcandidate Kassym-Jomart Tokayev — and declared him the winner. As protests continued despite mass arrests, Kazakhstan’s urban areas were blanketed by police forces, at times visibly outnumbering the civilian population.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/06/20/kazakhstans-police-are-cracking-down-protesters-political-activism-keeps-rising/?utm_term=.89a584d7f988


Kyrgyzstan-China win-win cooperation enters a new stage

China is not only among the main trading partners and investors of Kyrgyzstan, but also its main creditor

June 15 — “More than 150 representatives from 80 Chinese companies took part in the Kyrgyzstan-China Business Forum held in Bishkek on June 13 as part of the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Kyrgyzstan. “After President Xi Jinping proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt concept, Kyrgyz-Chinese relations have reached a new level, and there is active interaction both at the Government level and between the business circles of the two countries. In this regard, the holding of the Kyrgyz-Chinese business forum plays a key role in expanding cooperation between our countries in trade and investment,” First Deputy Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Kubatbek Boronov said opening the forum.” READ MORE: https://www.timesca2stg.wpenginepowered.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/21277-kyrgyzstan-china-win-win-cooperation-enters-a-new-stage

Feature: China-built road facilitates transportation in Kyrgyzstan

China is the major investor in Kyrgyzstan’s motor roads reconstruction

June 15 — “For Kyrgyz farmer Mairambek Sarkulakov, the gigantic mountains he could see were almost the boundaries of his world. What visitors may see as picturesque in Sarkulakov’s hometown in Jalal-Abad Region in southwest Kyrgyzstan — grassland where animal graze, the Naryn River and snow-capped mountains — made travel difficult and dangerous for the locals. The existing narrow road connecting major cities in Kyrgyzstan have been worn down over years without proper maintenance, badly hindering the flow of people, goods and natural resources in this landlocked country.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-06/15/c_138145407.htm

Former British Ambassador Becomes Kyrgyzstan’s Business Ombudsman

The post was established by the Kyrgyz government in January

June 19 — “The former British ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Robin Ord-Smith, has been elected as the Central Asian state’s business ombudsman. Bishkek-based business expert Azamat Akeneev told journalists on June 19 that the decision was made by a special commission consisting of business groups and associations, representatives of the Kyrgyz government, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/former-british-ambassador-becomes-kyrgyzstan-s-business-ombudsman/30008229.html


China in Tajikistan: New Report Claims Chinese Troops Patrol Large Swaths of the Afghan-Tajik Border

A new WSJ report cites a Tajik official claiming China is much more deeply involved in Tajikistan than it admits

June 18 — “On June 15, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon agreed to deepen their comprehensive strategic partnership, shaking hands over more than a dozen deals after meeting on the sidelines of the fifth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit in Dushanbe. According to Xinhua’s description of the joint statement issued by the two leaders, “China and Tajikistan will continue to support each other on issues concerning their core interests, such as national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, and give priority to the development of bilateral ties in each side’s foreign policies.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/china-in-tajikistan-new-report-claims-chinese-troops-patrol-large-swaths-of-the-afghan-tajik-border/

Tajikistan’s female laborers battle life’s crushing adversities

Female mardikor (casual laborers) are by and large the abandoned wives of men who have gone abroad for work, or divorcees with children

June 20 — “Rajabgul Boboyeva’s workday begins before dawn and lasts until the early evening. For the past year, she has joined the ranks of Tajikistan’s uncounted mardikor – casual laborers who will take a day’s work for a pittance. Day laborers muster in large groups at several points around the country. The only mardikor bazaar where women can tout for work is in Bokhtar, the administrative center of Khatlon province, in southern Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistans-female-laborers-battle-lifes-crushing-adversities

Tajikistan hands Chinese company rights to silver reserves

China, Tajikistan’s largest foreign investor, is expanding its economic influence in the poor Central Asian country

June 21 — “Tajikistan has reportedly granted a Chinese company development rights over a silver deposit in the high-altitude Pamir region – just the latest in a long series of similar agreements. RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported on June 20 that Kashgar Xinyu Dadi Mining Investment, a metals miner based in China’s Xinjiang province, signed the deal with Tajikistan’s state investment committee during an investment forum in the city of Kulyab.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-hands-chinese-company-rights-to-silver-reserves


Turkmenistan: Son of a gunslinger

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

June 18 — “The ascent of Turkmenistan’s dauphin proceeded by a notch this week with his appointment as governor of Ahal province. He was previously deputy governor. Serdar Berdymukhamedov, the 37-year-old son of the president, is being rotated through important government posts with a likely view to one day putting him in charge of the whole country. Ahal is the province that surrounds the capital, Ashgabat, and is the source of much of the current ruling elite.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-son-of-a-gunslinger

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Is the World’s Most Expensive City for Expats

The capital of Turkmenistan, famous for its flashy architecture and empty streets, is a pricey place for foreigners

June 18 — “IF YOU’RE AN EXPATRIATE working abroad, your new location’s cost of living is an important factor in determining your salary. You might think the world’s most expensive city for foreigners is a popular tourist trap, like Paris or New York City. But according to a recent analysis, the most expensive place in the world – for expats at least – is unlikely to be on your summer vacation destination list.” READ MORE: https://www.usnews.com/news/cities/articles/2019-06-18/ashgabat-turkmenistan-is-the-worlds-most-expensive-city-for-expats

What Are US Interests in Turkmenistan?

As a new U.S. Ambassador heads to Turkmenistan, the time is ripe to assess American interests in the energy-rich Central Asian state

June 18 — “The government of Turkmenistan will soon welcome a new U.S. ambassador in Ashgabat. On June 13, 2019, Matthew S. Klimow was sworn in as the next United States Ambassador to Turkmenistan in the Ben Franklin Room at the Department of State. Undersecretary of State David Hale administered the oath on the Bible that Klimow and his father each carried in war.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/what-are-us-interests-in-turkmenistan/


Uzbekistan in a hurry to grow its Islamic economy

In the Islamic economy sectors, Uzbekistan’s focus has been primarily on three fronts: building an Islamic finance ecosystem, making itself accessible to Muslim tourists, and establishing trade links with key Islamic economies

June 17 — “Uzbekistan has been busy the last two years building its Islamic economy. The former Soviet state is the most populous country in Central Asia, with the majority of its 32 million people Muslim. Following the death in 2016 of former president Islam Karimov, who came to power in the communist era and had an iron grip on the country, his successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev vowed to open the economy and attract foreign investments.” READ MORE: https://www.salaamgateway.com/en/story/profile__uzbekistan_in_a_hurry_to_grow_its_islamic_economy-SALAAM17062019184554/

No Turkish soaps please, we’re Uzbek

A large number of people in Uzbekistan are complaining that the Turkish soap operas are immoral

June 20 — “A fast-growing number of people in Uzbekistan is reportedly appealing to officials with requests to have romantically charged Turkish soap operas pulled off the air. Komil Allamjonov, the head of the state agency for information and mass communication, said this week that his office has received five times as many complaints about the shows in the past five months than it did over the whole of last year.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/no-turkish-soaps-please-were-uzbek

From hostility to fraternity: Turkish-Uzbek relations

The reconciliation and rapprochement between Turkey and Uzbekistan was achieved when the new Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office

June 21 — “Under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey made serious efforts to establish ties with the Turkic populations in Central Asia. However, the closed nature of the Soviet political regime and Moscow’s jealous control over non-Russian nations made any communication with the people of Central Asia difficult. In the first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ankara strongly aspired to become an unofficial leader of the Turkic-speaking states in Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://www.dailysabah.com/op-ed/2019/06/21/from-hostility-to-fraternity-turkish-uzbek-relations


How Afghanistan Commercial Bank Went Bankrupt?

A banking expert says the Central Bank of Afghanistan has not paid the required attention to save Afghanistan Commercial Bank from bankruptcy

June 18 — “An investigation by TOLOnews shows that Afghanistan Commercial Bank, commonly known as ACB, went bankrupt last year, being the third bankrupted private bank in the country after Kabul Bank and Afghanistan Development Bank. The Central Bank information shows that the problem in the ACB goes back to 2012 when the bank was operating under the name of BRAC Bank, providing small loans to its customers. The BRAC Bank was founded by a Bangladeshi investor in 2006.” READ MORE: https://www.tolonews.com/business/how-afghanistan-commercial-bank-went-bankrupt

Going, Going, Ghazni: Ancient Afghan City Crumbling Under Weight Of Neglect, Corruption

Ghazni, which means “jewel” in Dari, is now a city plagued by violence and poverty. Its 150,000 residents live in fear of extremist Taliban fighters and without adequate electricity or water

June 19 — “The ancient city of Ghazni was once a great center of Islamic power and culture, filled with treasure-adorned minarets, grand libraries and mosques, and a towering fortress overlooking a vast empire. But today the city in southeastern Afghanistan pales in comparison to its glory days, when it anchored a dominion that reached far and wide — to modern-day northern India in the east, and spanning Iran to the west.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/ghazni-ancient-afghan-city-crumbling-under-weight-of-neglect-corruption/30008740.html

Afghanistan’s refugees: forty years of dispossession

Afghan refugees represent one of the world’s largest protracted refugee population

June 20 — “Forty years ago, Afghans began fleeing the violence in their country and seeking refuge across nearby borders. More than 400,000 people fled the violence of the Communist-led Taraki and Amin government, crossing over into Pakistan. The numbers progressively swelled after the Soviet invasion on Christmas Eve in 1979. By the end of 1980, there were more than four million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Over the next four years, that number grew further still, with more than five million refugees in Pakistan and Iran.” READ MORE: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/06/afghanistan-refugees-forty-years/

Kevin Green: U.S. must rethink Afghanistan engagement

U.S. national interests in Afghanistan are limited, believes Vice Adm. (ret.) Kevin Green, a former Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Policy and a fellow at the American College of National Security Leaders

June 21 — “THE U.S. military is a can-do institution by nature. As a joint force composed of the best and brightest warfighters the world has to offer, we are taught that there is no threat on the planet that America’s men and women in uniform can’t extinguish. Afghanistan has severely challenged our confidence in this principle. Nearly 18 years since U.S. military operations commenced against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the war continues at an intense pace. Afghanistan’s politics have only gotten more divisive as Afghan officials and politicians spend as much time undermining one another as they do in meeting the demands of their constituents.” READ MORE: https://pilotonline.com/opinion/columnist/guest/article_70c0af9a-92bb-11e9-ac96-7fada89735a5.html


America Must Prepare for the Coming Chinese Empire

China is not the challenge America faces: rather, the challenge is the new Chinese empire — an empire that stretches from the arable cradle of the ethnic Han core westward across Muslim China and Central Asia to Iran; and from the South China Sea, across the Indian Ocean, up the Suez Canal, to the eastern Mediterranean and the Adriatic Sea

June 17 — “BEFORE ONE can outline a grand strategy for the United States, one has to be able to understand the world in which America operates. That may sound simple, but a bane of Washington is the assumption of knowledge where little actually exists. Big ideas and schemes are worthless unless one is aware of the ground-level reality of several continents, and is able to fit them into a pattern, based not on America’s own historical experience, but also on the historical experience of others. Therefore, I seek to approach grand strategy not from the viewpoint of Washington, but of the world; and not as a political scientist or academic, but as a journalist with more than three decades of experience as a reporter around the globe.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/america-must-prepare-coming-chinese-empire-63102

Russia, China Vie for Influence in Central Asia as U.S. Plans Afghan Exit

Rivals are wary of Islamist militancy spilling into neighboring countries, while Beijing seeks to safeguard its Belt-and-Road Initiative

June 18 — “As the U.S. seeks an exit from the Afghan war, Central Asia is on the cusp of a new era, with Russia and China vying for influence in a region that will no longer be dominated by America’s post-9/11 undertaking to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. The two countries are wary of Islamist militancy, both on their soil and spilling over from Afghanistan, while China wants to safeguard the billions of dollars its companies have invested in the region under President Xi Jinping’s Belt-and-Road Initiative, according to regional experts.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-china-vie-for-influence-in-central-asia-as-u-s-plans-afghan-exit-11560850203

Sergey Kwan