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.


The Women Who Came Home: Kazakhstan Tries To Rehabilitate Islamic State Returnees

Kazakhstan has launched a rehabilitation and reintegration program designed for those who returned to the country after living under the extremist IS militants in Syria and Iraq

June 23 — “Freshly returned from Syria to Kazakhstan, 24-year-old Zarina says she is taking one day at a time and has no clear plan for the future. The widowed mother of two sons born in Syria — where she spent five years married to an Islamic State (IS) fighter — spends most of her days in shopping centers and parks in her hometown of Aqtobe, in western Kazakhstan.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/the-women-who-came-home-kazakhstan-tries-to-rehabilitate-islamic-state-returnees/30015082.html

As Kazakhstan’s activists find their voice, next comes the message

Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake Up, Kazakhstan), a fledgling political movement that coalesced ahead of the much-lambasted June 9 presidential election, speaks for the need for root-and-branch political reforms, guarantees on the right to public assemblies and an end to internet censorship

June 26 — “Thirty-six attempts. That is all it took for one civic activist in Kazakhstan to get permission from city authorities to hold a demonstration. Thanks to Alnur Ilyashev’s efforts, citizens and movements opposed to how the government is being run will – on June 30 – be able to state their case in an Almaty public square without running the risk of arrest. The timing is fortuitous. Critics of the ruling order have a lot on their mind.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/as-kazakhstans-activists-find-their-voice-next-comes-the-message

Kazakhstan President on Bank Bailouts, Economy, Policy Changes

The new Kazakh president outlines his economic and political priorities and plans

June 26 — “Kazakhstan’s newly-elected President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signaled a sharp change in policy, telling Bloomberg there will be no more bank bailouts and pledging a “political transformation” in the country. He spoke to Bloomberg’s Nariman Gizitdinov and Tony Halpin on June 25 in the capital, Nur-Sultan” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2019-06-26/kazakhstan-president-on-bank-bailouts-economy-policy-changes-video

US-led Steppe Eagle helps build Kazakhstan into stable partner in Central Asia

Kazakhstan continues to have to balance relations with its two powerful neighbors, Russia and China, against those with the U.S.

June 27 — “On a plain in rural Kazakhstan, soldiers from this former Soviet republic worked with American troops and coalition partners to practice neutralizing snipers, to help women who were victims of violence and to locate hidden weapons. The scenarios were part of the annual, U.S.-led Steppe Eagle exercises, but the increase in Kazakhstan’s contributions to global peacekeeping and security efforts, after more than a decade of such training with the Americans, is very real.” READ MORE: https://www.stripes.com/news/us-led-steppe-eagle-helps-build-kazakhstan-into-stable-partner-in-central-asia-1.587858


Photos of Kyrgyzstan, The Beauty of the South

A photo series by an award-winning Dutch photographer presents the amazing beauty of South Kyrgyzstan

June 24 — “The first time I visited Kyrgyzstan, I explored a bit of everything. The second time, I focused on the south shore of Issyk-kul Lake, where I mostly found impressive canyons and dry landscapes. This time I decided to visit the South of Kyrgyzstan. Starting at Osh and surroundings, I made my way back to Bishkek and explored locations that I didn’t know before. The main thing that surprised me here was how green the landscapes were.” READ MORE: https://petapixel.com/2019/06/24/photos-of-kyrgyzstan-the-beauty-of-the-south/

Caritas Kyrgyzstan’s main thrust – charity and education

Caritas Kyrgyzstan runs several charitable and educational projects in the fight against poverty in the mountainous Central Asian country with a predominantly Muslim population

June 26 — “Caritas Kyrgyzstan is a new member of Caritas Internationalis (CI), the global federation of over 160 national Catholic charities under the bishops’ conferences worldwide. Caritas reaches out to the poor, the vulnerable and the excluded, regardless of race or religion, in order to build a more inclusive world based on justice and fraternal love.” READ MORE: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2019-06/kyrgyzstan-caritas-charity-education-youth-interreligious.html

The global measles outbreak arrives in Kyrgyzstan (again)

Amid a global measles surge, vaccine refusals for religious reasons are growing in Kyrgyzstan

June 26 — “Kyrgyzstan is witnessing a growing complacency towards measles, with some people believing that the vaccine is more dangerous than the disease itself. This misconception has led to a significant decrease in immunisation coverage in the Central Asian state in recent years, especially among children under 12 months. And this growing number of unvaccinated children is translating into an overall decrease in collective immunity – as well as an increase in measles cases.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/global-measles-outbreak-arrives-kyrgyzstan-again/

Kyrgyzstan: Ex-president readies for final stand in redoubt as clouds darken

Atambayev’s supporters say they will go to any lengths to stop his arrest

June 27 — “From early in the morning on June 26, groups of people starting trickling to the countryside home of Kyrgyzstan’s former president, Almazbek Atambayev. There was only one thing on their mind as they arrived in Koi-Tash, a village not far from the capital, Bishkek: the proceedings to revoke Atambayev’s immunity status playing out in parliament. Soon after lunchtime on June 27, the MPs pulled the trigger, leaving the embattled former head of state exposed to arrest.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-ex-president-readies-for-final-stand-in-redoubt-as-clouds-darken


UN committee offers grim view Tajikistan’s human rights record

Authorities in Tajikistan often violate citizens’ rights and suppress any dissent under the pretext of combating extremism and terrorism

June 23 — “Government authorities in the former Soviet Central Asian republic Tajikistan have jailed many government critics, including opposition political figures and activists, lawyers, journalists, and relatives of peaceful dissidents abroad, for lengthy prison terms on politically motivated grounds, including life imprisonment, merely for peacefully exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said in advance of its pre-sessional review of Tajikistan, which set to be released in July.” READ MORE: https://www.neweurope.eu/article/un-committee-offers-grim-view-tajikistans-human-rights-record/

Climate Change Finds Its Way to the ‘Rooftop’ in Tajikistan

In the recent years, climate change has had its toll on the great mountains of Tajikistan

June 24 — “The great mountains of Pamir that have been known as the ‘Roof of the World’ over the centuries is now falling victim to climatic change. One of the largest glaciers here, Garmo glacier, has retreated by a staggering 7 kilometers in the past few decades with the annual mean temperatures recording an upwards trend over the past decade.” READ MORE: https://www.indepthnews.net/index.php/archive-search/central-asia/2773-climate-change-finds-its-way-to-the-rooftop-in-tajikistan

Tajik Officials Use Family Members To Pressure Critics To Return

Life for opposition politicians, activists, and independent journalists in Tajikistan has become much worse in the recent years

June 26 — “Tajikistan’s government has earned an unfavorable reputation in recent years as authorities have stepped up a campaign to eliminate any form of opposition. And it seems anything goes — any tactic can be employed — to secure the regime of Emomali Rahmon, Tajikistan’s leader since 1992. The recent case of 33-year-old Humayra Bakhtiyar is a prime example.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-officials-use-family-members-to-pressure-critics-to-return/30022245.html


Labour migration as a cause for the break-up of Turkmen families

As Turkmenistan is experiencing an economic crisis, many Turmens go abroad to make a living — but some do not come back

June 22 — “Labour migration has become one of the main reasons for the break-up of Turkmen families. Often people who left Turkmenistan in search of jobs and had the first-hand experiencing of the lifestyle in Turkey or the UAE after Turkmenistan’s reality are reluctant to go back to their home country under any circumstances.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2019/06/labour-migration-as-a-cause-for-the-break-up-of-turkmen-families/

Turkmenistan: Shining city upon a desert

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

June 25 — “Turkmenistan is finally making a public show of thinking about the security implications of its trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline dream. On June 22, Afghanistan national security advisor Hamdullah Mohib travelled to Ashgabat to discuss joint efforts on providing protection for the infrastructure projects they hope will give their respective economies a much-needed leg-up. Although the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India, or TAPI, pipeline is the best known of these, the highly optimistic agenda is much broader and envisions the construction of fiber optic internet links and high-voltage power lines.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-shining-city-upon-a-desert

Joint Letter: Turkmenistan Country Strategy Review by the EBRD

Rights watchdogs believe that the EBRD should not expand its programs in Turkmenistan to public sector lending until the government has demonstrated that its stated commitment to human rights and democracy has translated into concrete and measureable progress

June 25 — “Dear Mr. Chakrabarti, We are writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch, International Partnership for Human Rights and Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights regarding the new draft country strategy for Turkmenistan for the years 2019-2024. We are grateful for the opportunity to provide comments in writing, in follow-up to the consultation meeting held with civil society in November 2018, in which our representatives also participated.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/25/joint-letter-turkmenistan-country-strategy-review-ebrd


How Trade Shapes Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Relations

With new initiatives and new infrastructure, trade plays a dominant role in relations between Tashkent and Kabul

June 24 — “In May 2019, Tashkent launched an Afghanistan-Uzbekistan trade zone that will function within the Termez Cargo Center terminal at the Afghan-Uzbekistan border. The trade zone promises expedited handling of paperwork for products from and into Afghanistan. This unprecedented movement toward closer trade relations between Tashkent and Kabul is taking place as Uzbekistan desires to play a larger role in the stabilization of Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/how-trade-shapes-afghanistan-uzbekistan-relations/

How a Central Asian business empire dines out on British secrecy

A report examined the serious potential for conflicts of interest as Uzbekistan undergoes rapid privatisation and business reforms

June 27 — “In recent years, the idea that Central Asia is closed off to the rest of the world has been increasingly debunked. Whatever hardships ordinary citizens face – and there are many – the region’s rich and powerful have proven avid consumers of all the benefits, licit and illicit, that globalisation has to offer.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/how-central-asian-business-empire-dines-out-british-secrecy/


Most cars sold in Uzbekistan are Chevrolets, and GM’s internal market in Uzbekistan is protected by the Uzbek government

June 28 — “You could choose any car in Uzbekistan, as long as it was a Chevrolet. Even now, with asphalt melting on the streets of Tashkent in the June heat, it’s a Chevy-heavy dystopia: Nexias, Malibus, Trackers, Cobalts and Sparks whiz by, occasionally joined by an old Soviet Lada, a ghost from the past.” READ MORE: https://www.ozy.com/flashback/how-chevrolet-ruled-uzbekistan/94984


Opinion: America’s three big mistakes in Afghanistan

A retired US general believes the expansion of US forces and the introduction of large conventional units into the vast expanse of Afghanistan was one of America’s big mistakes in the country

June 24 — “War is often filled with its share of mistakes and errors in judgment. It’s the nature of this lethal business. Some are the result of changing circumstances on the ground, while others are more systemic. The United States has committed more than a few during its 18 years in Afghanistan. Indeed, the entire war is a story of one mistake after another, putting success or “victory” as we typically define it further out of reach.” READ MORE: https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/2019/06/22/opinion-americas-three-big-mistakes-in-afghanistan/

How Band-e-Amir National Park became Afghanistan’s oasis of peace

It’s been close to 10 years since Afghanistan officially designated the roughly 600-square-kilometer slice of central Bamiyan province as a national park in the hope that it would offer citizens a respite from the turmoil that has ravaged their country

June 26 — “You can camp. You can picnic. You can even rent swan-shaped paddle boats to navigate one of six deep blue lakes that shimmer high in the Hindu Kush mountains, amid picturesque red-hued cliffs and rocky natural dams. Sounds like an idyllic vacation destination, until you consider that Band-e Amir National Park lies in the heart of Afghanistan, a nation still firmly under “do not travel” advisories from the United States and other countries.” READ MORE: https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/band-e-amir-afghanistan-national-park/index.html

Afghanistan shares a tiny 46-mile border with China — here’s the intriguing story of how the 2 countries became neighbors

China and Afghanistan came to be neighbors via British Empire rule and Soviet invasion

June 27 — “China and Afghanistan are not immediately recognizable as close neighbors. But sandwiched Pakistan and Tajikistan, is an inaccessible 46-mile border which is mostly more than 5,000 meters above sea level. Afghanistan has been a close, if troublesome, ally to China is recent decades. Relations between the two have avoided the tensions sparked by the repression of the Uighur Muslim minority, many of whom live near the Afghan border.” READ MORE: https://www.insider.com/afghanistan-china-tiny-46-mile-border-what-it-is-like-2019-6


Tiptoeing around the two elephants in the room? Assessing the EU’s new Central Asia Strategy

A new EU Central Asia Strategy was adopted by the European Council on 17 June. Thomas Kruessmann assesses the content of the new strategy, writing that the EU’s efforts to pursue ‘non-exclusive partnerships’ with Central Asian countries are likely to be heavily restricted by China and Russia’s influence in the region

June 26 — “The new EU Central Asia Strategy (The EU and Central Asia: New Opportunities for a Stronger Partnership) is an intellectually pleasing document, well written and aiming to create overall coherence in the conceptual approaches of the EU. As a second-generation document, it replaces the 2007 Strategy, albeit without questioning the choice of regional focus. Other regional initiatives, e.g. CAMCA, are grouping the South Caucasus together with Central Asia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. Getting out of the regional straitjacket thinking would indeed be refreshing, especially since developments in Russia’s Southern Siberia, in Western China (Xinjiang) and in Afghanistan are important to take into account as well. But the EU is not yet ready to think “out of the box”. READ MORE: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2019/06/26/tiptoeing-around-the-two-elephants-in-the-room-assessing-the-eus-new-central-asia-strategy/

From Genghis Khan to Belt and Road: The Uncertain Future of Central Asia

Today, the countries of Central Asia find themselves surrounded by would-be powers in Turkey and India, a declining power in Russia, a rising power in China and an American superpower whose policies vary from political and economic indifference to military urgency

June 27 — “The Eurasian plain is the largest geographic feature on continental earth. It stretches across two continents: from the North Sea almost to the Pacific Ocean. Its heart is the vast central Asian steppe. To the sophisticated civilizations that surrounded it, the Eurasian steppe was a wild and primitive region. Inhabited by tough nomads that eked out a living as herders, it was a place of little consequence. The enormous mineral resources of the region were either unknown or beyond the technology of the times.” READ MORE: https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/06/27/genghis-khan-belt-and-road-uncertain-future-central-asia.html

Sergey Kwan