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 political uncertainty weighs on its currency

Transition to permanent president and the ruble to determine the Kazakh tenge’s value

July 29 — “The election of a new president in Kazakhstan following the resignation of Soviet-era strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev has failed to dispel fears of political instability stemming from the former president’s sudden demise. Instead, uncertainty has risen amid questions about the new government’s longevity. Experts say this political instability now outweighs economic factors in determining the value of the Kazakh currency, the tenge. In July, the tenge hit 385 to the dollar, its lowest point in three and a half years.” READ MORE: https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/Kazakhstan-s-political-uncertainty-weighs-on-its-currency

Astana, Kazakhstan: the City of the Future?

Astana is a planned city, built with the intention of making it the capital of the country

Aug 1 — “Continuing my travels through the ex-Soviet states, I reached Astana (now, Nur-Sultan City) from Tashkent. Ever wondered what would happen if someone were to play Minecraft in real life? Like, build stuff from the ground up? Meet Astana, now known as Nur-Sultan City. This approx 1-million strong city happens to be the capital of Kazakhstan. It is also the northernmost capital city of the contemporary Islamic World.” READ MORE: https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/08/01/astana-kazakhstan-the-city-of-the-future/

Kazakhstan: Tokayev remarks on torture may signal new policy direction

While Tokayev is widely seen as a loyal continuer of Nazarbayev’s legacy, there is some chatter among the commentariat about a possible rift on reforms and appointments

Aug 1 — “The president of Kazakhstan has in a break from custom waded into a furor about torture in the nation’s prisons following the leak of footage showing inmates being mistreated by guards. Taking to his official Twitter account on July 31, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said he ordered prosecutors to conduct a thorough investigation into torture at a penal facility north of Almaty, where the images are said to have been filmed.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-tokayev-remarks-on-torture-may-signal-new-policy-direction

Kazakhstan Internet Surveillance Plan Involves Intercepting Citizens’ Web Traffic

The key aspect of Kazakhstan’s Internet surveillance strategy is forcing every citizen to install a government-issued national security certificate on every device used to access the Internet, and within every browser

Aug 1 — “For years, authoritarian governments around the world have looked for ways to snoop on their citizens online and gain access to the massive trove of personal information and sensitive data that their citizens are creating across the Internet. It now looks like the government of Kazakhstan – a country already known for its repressive, authoritarian style of control – is now implementing a so-called “man-in-the-middle” (MITM) Internet surveillance strategy that will enable it to decrypt, read, and then re-encrypt all HTTPS web traffic of Internet users in Kazakhstan.” READ MORE: https://www.cpomagazine.com/cyber-security/kazakhstan-internet-surveillance-plan-involves-intercepting-citizens-web-traffic/


The young spokespeople saving Kyrgyzstan’s capital one photo at a time

Social media platforms make it far simpler for the public to keep officials informed about their gripes

July 31 — “In a neighborhood in southwest Bishkek, a crew of garbage collectors do their rounds in the evening. One person sticks out in the gang of guys in scruffy athletic pants and orange high-vis vests – the young woman wearing pink sunglasses and shorts and with her long hair wrapped in a pink bandana. This is Zhibek Karakeyeva, the 25-year-old press secretary for Tazalyk, the municipal service responsible for clearing trash and ensuring cleanliness in Kyrgyzstan’s capital.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/the-young-spokespeople-saving-kyrgyzstans-capital-one-photo-at-a-time

Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan Frontier Descending Into Deadly Violence

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have so far demarcated only 53.5 percent of their common border (520 kilometers out of 970)

Aug 1 — “Borders in Central Asia have long been a problem. They were drawn by the Soviet government in the 1920s as part of its nation-building effort to divide the communities of the region, and these administrative lines changed many times over the ensuing decades. Yet, they generally had little impact on the populations that moved back and forth across them without much regard to their existence.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/tajikistan-kyrgyzstan-frontier-descending-into-deadly-violence/

Amnesty: Life Sentence For Kyrgyzstan Rights Defender ‘Triumph Of Injustice’

Rights groups, including the UN Human Rights Committee, have urged Kyrgyzstan to release Askarov, saying that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured, and denied his right to a fair trial

Aug 1 — “Amnesty International says a recent Kyrgyz court ruling to uphold the life sentence of imprisoned ethnic Uzbek human rights activist Azimjan Askarov is a “triumph of injustice.” The human rights watchdog renewed its call for Askarov’s release in a July 31 statement, characterizing the 68-year-old as a “prisoner of conscience.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/amnesty-life-sentence-for-kyrgyz-rights-defender-triumph-of-injustice-/30086872.html


Tajik Vloggers In Hot Water Over Secret Filming Of Sex Workers

Prostitution is illegal and considered a misdemeanor in Tajikistan punishable by a fine, while repeat offenders can face up to 15 days in jail

July 31 — “A secretly filmed video report about sex workers in the Tajik capital has landed its authors in hot water as authorities accuse them of breaching privacy laws.
The video depicts two vloggers posing as potential clients looking in Dushanbe for a prostitute to hire for the night. The men meet several sex workers separately after picking them up in their car and asking about the types of “services” they provide and the amount of money they charge.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-vloggers-in-hot-water-over-secret-filming-of-sex-workers/30085789.html

No Probe into Tajik ex Official, Suspected of Amassing Wealth

Corruption is widespread in Tajik government structures

Aug 1 — “Tajikistan’s anti-corruption agency said on Tuesday it will not investigate the former head of a customs terminal, whom the President fired and publicly scolded in May for lying about his qualifications, amassing unexplained wealth and hiding money abroad. “I know all about you,” President Emomali Rakhmon yelled at Shahboz Rajabzoda, the former head of Terminal 1 of the country’s Customs Service, at a meeting of customs and tax officials aired on state TV.” READ MORE: https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/10377-no-probe-into-tajik-ex-official-suspected-of-amassing-wealth

Officials Examine Sprawling Shadow Economy in Tajikistan

Tajikistan’s struggling economy has forced entrepreneurs to look for different ways to save, including evading taxes

Aug 2 — “A shadow economy that is depriving the Tajikistan treasury of tax revenue accounts for up to 20% of the central Asian country’s total economy, the head of the country’s State Investment Committee said on Wednesday, blasting illegal activities by businesses for much of the problem.” READ MORE: https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/10384-officials-examine-sprawling-shadow-economy-in-tajikistan


Turkmen Celebs Try To Debunk Rumors Of President’s Death

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has not been seen in public since July 5

July 29 — “As rumors persist of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s demise despite official denials, local celebrities in that tight-lidded nation have taken to Instagram to quell the speculation. Officials have avoided blunt denials but insist that the 62-year-old autocrat is merely on vacation, and a statement from the Uzbek government said Berdymukhammedov had spoken by phone with Uzbekistan’s president to wish him a happy birthday on July 24.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmen-celebs-try-to-debunk-rumors-of-president-s-death/30082030.html

Turkmenistan: Taking things littorally

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

July 30 — “If something adverse were to happen unexpectedly to Turkmenistan’s president, there is every chance that power might pass to his son and heir apparent, Serdar Berdymukhamedov. That being so, a report published this week by Vienna-based website Chronicles of Turkmenistan made for discomfiting reading. Berdymukhamedov Jr has since taking on the job of governor of the Ahal province in January run his affairs like a despot-in-waiting.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-taking-things-littorally

The President of Turkmenistan disappears from the media space

Since July 24, there have been no reports pertaining to Berdymukhammedov’s condition or his whereabouts

Aug 1 — “President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has been absent in Turkmenistan’s media space for eight days. The latest television broadcast featuring the head of state after a nine-day absence was on 24 July. The state information agency TDH reported that despite the annual leave, which started on 15 July, the head of the state “is demonstrating strong commitment to spending his free time efficiently and productively”. READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2019/08/the-president-of-turkmenistan-disappears-from-the-media-space/


Uzbekistan Focused on Developing Trade with Afghanistan

Tashkent is serious about economic opportunities with Afghanistan and actively pursuing initiatives

July 29 — “Tashkent is set to become a dominant trade partner to Afghanistan as the two sides continue to negotiate on major projects. Uzbekistan has focused on fostering trade relations both globally and regionally. Tashkent has chased and negotiated various trade opportunities, and one country that stands out is Afghanistan. In the first Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation meeting held on July 17, the sides agreed to accelerate trade, launch industrial projects, and build a new electricity line from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/uzbekistan-focused-on-developing-trade-with-afghanistan/

Uzbekistan: A private sector affair

Credit and access to hard currency are no longer problems in Uzbekistan. But the lack of experienced technicians has forced businesses to scope out other ways of bringing staff up to scratch

Aug 1 — “In Uzbekistan, the prosecutor has never been the businessman’s friend. But Adham Mamatkulov, the owner of a factory in Kokand that produces duffel bags and backpacks, says things are different these days. “Every 15 days, the prosecutor’s office calls to ask if there are any problems. They say: ‘If you have trouble, with customs, for example, here is our number, just call,’” Mamatkulov told Eurasianet.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-a-private-sector-affair

Endless Hate: Uzbekistan Bans Turkish Soap Opera For Not Upholding Country’s ‘Values’

The hard-line government in Tashkent exercises strict control over the content of all media enterprises, including private entities

Aug 1 — “The Uzbek government has ordered a private television channel to stop showing the popular Turkish soap opera Endless Love amid criticism that the show contradicts Uzbek family values. Zo’r TV channel adhered to the state’s demand and canceled Endless Love on July 31, just three days after the much-loved prime time series made a triumphant return to the airwaves after also being banned in 2018.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/endless-hate-uzbekistan-bans-turkish-soap-opera-for-not-upholding-country-s-values-/30087813.html


International Criminal Court Calls Off Investigations into War Crimes in Afghanistan

The International Criminal Court acknowledged that war crimes and crimes against humanity were indeed committed in Afghanistan

July 29 — “The decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to call off investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity that were allegedly committed in Afghanistan is said to have shattered the hopes of Afghan victims of war crimes looking for justice. However, the ICC decision need not be the end of the road for their quest for justice. Rather the ICC decision has opened space for other forms of justice, like restorative justice that enables peace and justice to co-exist. Afghanistan has a strong tradition of restorative justice. This should be revived as it would facilitate reconciliation.” READ MORE: http://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13582-international-criminal-court-calls-off-investigations-into-war-crimes-in-afghanistan.html

The Case for a New U.S. Relationship with Afghanistan

As of fiscal year 2019, the United States has spent approximately $900 billion on direct war and reconstruction costs in Afghanistan

July 29 — “Shortly after al-Qaida attacked the United States on 9/11, the U.S. Congress authorized the use of military force against those groups or individuals who planned or perpetrated the attacks as well as those who harbored them. Ultimately, this led to the invasion of Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden resided under the protection of the Taliban. Over the past almost 18 years, the mission and objective of U.S. engagement in Afghanistan has evolved over the course of three U.S. administrations, multiple military commanders, and multiple Afghan governments. Nearly 3,500 U.S. and NATO troops and tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed.” READ MORE: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2019/07/29/472611/case-new-u-s-relationship-afghanistan/

U.S. Military Calls ISIS in Afghanistan a Threat to the West. Intelligence Officials Disagree

American military commanders in Afghanistan have described the Islamic State affiliate there as a growing problem that is capable of inspiring and directing attacks in Western countries, including the United States

Aug 2 — “Senior United States military and intelligence officials are sharply divided over how much of a threat the Islamic State in Afghanistan poses to the West, a critical point in the Trump administration’s debate over whether American troops stay or withdraw after nearly 18 years of war.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/02/world/middleeast/isis-afghanistan-us-military.html


China’s Brutality Can’t Destroy Uighur Culture

The Turkic people has an ancient language and traditions. Even Mao didn’t expect to erase it

July 26 — “Daily headlines tell the story of China’s mass internment of Uighurs in its Xinjiang province, along with the closing and destruction of Uighur mosques and the demolition of their neighborhoods. But the press largely ignores other aspects of their identity, notably their significant cultural and intellectual achievements. These details matter, because Uighurs’ resilient culture may ultimately frustrate China’s efforts to stamp them out.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-brutality-cant-destroy-uighur-culture-11564175809

Russia and China romance runs into friction in Central Asia

US strategists call for driving wedge between the traditional rivals

July 29 — “China and Russia are cozying up ever closer as they find a common enemy in Washington. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia in early June, the two countries signed a joint statement pledging to deepen their ties, as well as around 30 economic agreements. Xi’s Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, has criticized the U.S. for leveling trade and technology sanctions against China and pledged to cooperate with it to resist U.S. pressure. The two countries are also pushing back against U.S. objectives regarding North Korea and Iran.” READ MORE: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Comment/Russia-and-China-romance-runs-into-friction-in-Central-Asia

Sergey Kwan