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: Intimidation rules as authorities seek to control the message

Press freedom campaigners say that Kazakhstan’s reporting environment has “drastically turned to the worse” since the new president came to power

Aug 11 — “The press conference was supposed to be one of the last that Nurgul Tapayeva would cover before heading on maternity leave. With only two months to go before her baby was due, Tapayeva, a journalist with the Kazakhstan service of U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was visibly pregnant. That did not deter her assailants. The attack occurred on July 22 at the offices of the Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights and Rule of Law, which is situated on the fourth-story of a nondescript, out-of-the-way building in Almaty.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-intimidation-rules-as-authorities-seek-to-control-the-message

Privatization and Kazakhstan’s Emerging Higher Education System

Since the introduction of neoliberal reforms, government spending on higher education has decreased dramatically in Kazakhstan

Aug 11 — “The Republic of Kazakhstan is one of the Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union. It is the ninth-largest country in the world in physical size with a population of over 17 million people and significant oil, iron ore, coal, copper and gas reserves. In the early 1990s, the Supreme Court of the Kazakh Social Soviet Republic declared the transition of a planned economy to a market economy. Kazakhstan’s market system has impacted its emerging higher education system significantly as a result of less government spending and the creation of private universities.” READ MORE: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/world-view/privatization-and-kazakhstan%E2%80%99s-emerging-higher-education-system

Kazakhstan working hard for foreign direct investment

As an anchor nation in the region, Kazakhstan is working hard to secure FDI through the launch of the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC)

Aug 13 — “The lifeblood of any developing economy is foreign direct investment (FDI). Nations need to attract outside capital to develop infrastructure and human resources, to spur economic growth in order to create better living conditions for their people. The process can be tricky, as governments grapple with legacy issues, like heavy state asset ownership, poor rule of law, corruption and misallocation of capital.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/aug/13/kazakhstan-working-hard-for-foreign-direct-investm/

Economy of Simple Things programme to create 16,000 jobs in Kazakhstan by 2025

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the key driver of economic growth in Kazakhstan

Aug 16 — “Kazakhstan’s Economy of Simple Things programme will create 16,000 jobs by 2025. The programme, launched in March, received 600 billion tenge (US$1.55 billion) to develop domestic production of daily consumed goods and services. Twenty billion tenge (US$516.3 million) will be devoted to agriculture and 400 billion tenge (US$1.03 billion) to support the processing industry and service sector.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2019/08/economy-of-simple-things-programme-to-create-16000-jobs-in-kazakhstan-by-2025/


INVESTOR WARNING: Kyrgyzstan contains frequent scenes of unsettling violence

Kyrgyzstan’s image cannot inspire confidence in many potential foreign investors, who were already suspicious of the country’s volatile environment

Aug 14 — “Blaring news headlines describing violent episodes in a remote land are rather a big turn-off for most foreign investors, but in the past few weeks all hell has broken loose in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan on a frighteningly regular basis. First came the latest clashes on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border that left one civilian dead and seven wounded; then a brawl between stone-throwing Kyrgyz locals and Chinese gold miners ended with 47 workers injured and Chinese company Zhong Ji Mining’s operations suspended; and, last but not least, a bloody confrontation erupted after Kyrgyz security forces botched a raid on ex-president Almazbek Atambayev’s compound and found themselves in a violent standoff with Atamabayev’s incited supporters.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/investor-warning-kyrgyzstan-contains-frequent-scenes-of-unsettling-violence-166103/

Kyrgyzstan activists use satire to fight powerful kingmaker

Rayimbek Matraimov, a.k.a. Rayim Million, has also waded into the public and dramatic political story now roiling Kyrgyzstan

Aug 14 — “The premium-class Lexus automobiles parked outside Buddha Bar distinguish it as a high-end joint. At 11 p.m., it is rush hour. Patrons are coming and going, so anybody on fishy business needs to play it cool. Also, this is no regular Bishkek bar. The received wisdom is that it belongs to one Rayimbek Matraimov, a hugely influential, behind-the-scenes powerbroker in the political life of Kyrgyzstan. And that is why Alina was lurking in the shadows, wearing a dark T-shirt, pants and cap, on a recent July night.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-activists-use-satire-to-fight-powerful-kingmaker

Stateless No More: Kyrgyzstan Shows Central Asia the Path to Citizenship

A practical approach to the problem of statelessness, pioneered in Kyrgyzstan, offers hope across Central Asia

Aug 15 — “The remote mountainous areas of Kyrgyzstan used to be populated by invisible people. Lack of documents and lawful status had concealed their existence from the authorities, and in turn deprived them of access to legal employment, education, and healthcare. In limbo, they were exploited for their labour by criminal societies, and were often threatened by kidnappers or by the government police of neighbouring countries.
Yet on 4 July 2019, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) confirmed that the last known cases of statelessness in Kyrgyzstan had been resolved, and hailed Kyrgyzstan as the first of the five Central Asian post-Soviet states to fully eradicate the issue of statelessness on its territory.” READ MORE: https://www.tol.org/client/article/28528-stateless-no-more-kyrgyzstan-shows-central-asia-the-path-to-citizenship.html


Tajik Man Emerges In Afghanistan As Leader Of IS Unit Of Central Asian Fighters

The government in Dushanbe says some 1,900 Tajik nationals had joined IS in Syria and Iraq before the terrorist group was largely defeated there

Aug 12 — “A little-known, 31-year-old Tajik man who grew up in a Dushanbe suburb has emerged as a unit leader of the Islamic State (IS) affiliate in Afghanistan as the extremist group tries to expand its footprint in the war-torn country. A recent report by the UN Security Council says Sayvaly Shafiev leads a group of approximately 200 fighters who hail from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and other Central Asian countries.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-islamic-state-central-asia-leader-sayvaly-shafiev/30105372.html

Tajik Entrepreneurs Struggle to Stay Afloat

Although official figures show that the private sector is thriving, Tajik business owners tell a different story

Aug 12 — “For more than ten years, entrepreneur Zainiddin Karimov owned a chain of clothing shops in the city of Khujand. He supplied the Shaparak stores with goods from Turkey, employing 21 local people. But Karimov is now closing the retail chain, complaining that a lack of government support and unreasonable tax conditions has made it untenable to continue.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/tajik-entrepreneurs-struggle-stay-afloat

Inmates Receive Life Sentences, Lengthy Prison Terms For Deadly Prison Riot In Tajikistan

Tajik authorities publicly acknowledged the riot two weeks after it broke out, saying that 23 inmates and two prison guards were killed in the incident

Aug 14 — “Three inmates in Tajikistan have been sentenced to life in prison and 30 others received sentences of between 14 and 24 years for their roles in a deadly prison riot in November. An attorney told RFE/RL on August 13 on condition of anonymity that the men were sentenced in late July, adding that one of the three inmates sentenced to life in prison was Amirali Davlatov, who was found guilty of instigating the riot in the northern city of Khujand in which dozens of people were killed.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/inmates-receive-life-sentences-lengthy-prison-terms-for-deadly-prison-riot-in-tajikistan/30109603.html


A hermit nation ruled by an egomaniac: Is Turkmenistan on the brink of collapse?

For years, Turkmenistan has been able to survive on its vast gas reserves, but with the collapse of gas prices in recent years, the screws are tightening

Aug 11 — “Men in white fur caps proudly ride horses across the steppe, rows of modern machinery glisten, Barbie-pink flamingos strut before clear blue skies and a white yacht cuts through the turquoise waters of the Caspian Sea. These are idyllic scenes from a one-minute video promoting the inaugural Caspian Economic Forum, which between August 11 and 12 will see heads of state from Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan descend on Awaza, a new resort town that has been touted by Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry as the country’s Las Vegas.” READ MORE: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/10/asia/turkmenistan-caspian-sea-intl-hnk/index.html

Turkmenistan: Welcome to Awaza, or No Trespassing

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

Aug 13 — “The president’s flamboyant return to state television after rumors of his early demise helped bring heaps of attention to his country. This came just in time for Turkmenistan’s biggest event this year – the inaugural Caspian Economic Forum. The kind of attention garnered, however, strains the old line about how “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is now vying with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (not to speak of U.S. President Donald Trump) for the title of most ridiculed world leader.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-welcome-to-awaza-or-no-trespassing

Quiet Tyrannies Like Turkmenistan Aren’t a Laughing Matter

The existence of such quiet dictatorships is proof that Western sanctions have more to do with interests than values. Turkmenistan isn’t under any sanctions, and it has a most-favored-nation trade agreement with the U.S.

Aug 15 — “The latest episode of British comedian John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” show, watched more than 3.6 million times on YouTube in addition to its usual audience of several million on HBO, drew Western watchers’ attention to one of the world’s most secretive countries, Turkmenistan – the only nation that ranks below North Korea on the Reporters Without Borders 2019 press freedom list.” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-08-15/quiet-tyrannies-like-turkmenistan-aren-t-a-laughing-matter


Uzbekistan closes infamous prison, but experts question motive

Jaslyk prison, where death and torture were common, is closing as Uzbekistan seeks to improve its image on the global stage

Aug 12 — “Muhammad Bekjan was lucky to survive Uzbekistan’s most notorious prison. Jaslyk, or Youth, Prison was where thousands of alleged “radicals”, “terrorists”, secular opposition figures and dissidents ended up after government-orchestrated trials based on trumped-up charges and “confessions” acquired through torture and threats, according to rights groups, Westerngovernments and the United Nations.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/uzbekistan-closes-infamous-prison-experts-question-motive-190811101338923.html

How uncontrolled urban development in Uzbekistan could lead to mass unrest

State-led property development projects are running at full steam in Uzbekistan. But is the pace too fast for residents?

Aug 13 — “This summer in Uzbekistan has been a hot one – and not only because of the weather. Pressure has also been building in society: in July alone, two incidents demonstrated that people are fed up with the campaign of mass housing demolitions and evictions. First, there was an attempt to set a deputy mayor alight in Uzbekistan’s southeastern Kashkadarya region. Then, residents in the city of Urgench came out onto the streets demanding justice. Now it feels as if public dissatisfaction, growing in certain parts of Uzbekistan, only needs a spark for it to spread.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/how-uncontrolled-urban-development-uzbekistan-could-lead-mass-unrest/

Uzbekistan claims investment bonanza

Uzbekistan is opening up its tightly-controlled economy and attracting more foreign investments

Aug 15 — “Investments in Uzbekistan saw a massive surge year-on-year in the first half of 2019, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev told a meeting of top officials on August 14, claiming the development as a vindication of his economic reform agenda. According to a statement on the presidential website, Mirziyoyev stated that the volume of investments as a share of gross domestic product had hit 38 percent over that period, far outstripping the previous ceiling of 25 percent.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-claims-investment-bonanza


The U.S. Abandoned Iraq. Don’t Repeat History in Afghanistan

The Taliban have left no doubt that they’ll try to overthrow the government if American forces leave

Aug 9 — “The announcement of a peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban is said to be imminent, after years of combat and months of negotiation. The U.S. will reportedly promise to reduce its military presence in Afghanistan in exchange for a Taliban commitment to cooperate against international terrorism and enter direct talks with the Afghan government.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-u-s-abandoned-iraq-dont-repeat-history-in-afghanistan-11565385301

Boys With Brides: Afghanistan’s Untold Dilemma Of Underage Marriages

Afghan boys in rural areas are often impelled to marry because of long-held local or tribal traditions — customs on the inheritance rights of widows, the settlement of blood feuds, or prearranged agreements between families to exchange their children for marriage

Aug 12 — “Mohammad Wali was just 12 years old when his widowed mother began arranging his marriage to a 24-year-old woman from their village in Ghazni Province. “I don’t want to be married,” Mohammad’s mother remembers her son telling her. “I just want to play soccer and cricket. I want to go to school.” But his mother insisted on the marriage to ensure that she and Wali’s two teenage sisters would not become street beggars — a possibility she feared because of local inheritance customs for widows who don’t have a male heir.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/boys-with-brides-afghanistan-untold-dilemma-of-underage-marriages/30106032.html

Taliban, U.S. pact in Afghanistan could boost Islamic State

For some Taliban fighters, IS will offer an opportunity to continue jihad against those they see as infidels and their supporters

Aug 15 — “A deal between the Taliban and the United States for U.S. forces to withdraw from their longest-ever war in Afghanistan could drive some diehard Taliban fighters into the arms of the Islamic State militant group, Afghan officials and militants say. Such a deal is expected to see the United States agree to withdraw its forces in exchange for a Taliban promise they will not let Afghanistan be used to plot international militant attacks.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-afghanistan-islamicstate/taliban-us-pact-in-afghanistan-could-boost-islamic-state-idUSKCN1V50XS


Can Central Asia be transformed into an automotive hub?

Two former soviet republics — Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — have set their sights on growing an automotive sector to help modernize their economies

Aug 14 — “Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have ambitions to grow the automotive sector as they industrialise and modernise their economies, but, like most other emerging markets, they will be reliant on Korean and Chinese investors in particular because American and European players have largely stayed away, as have the Japanese. Russian players are also expected to play a role, although on a much smaller scale than their Asian counterparts.” READ MORE: https://www.automotivelogistics.media/policy-and-regulation/can-central-asia-be-transformed-into-an-automotive-hub/38888.article

Russia After Putin Is Not a Solved Problem

The end of Putinism won’t be the end of Russia’s geopolitical ambitions

Aug 16 — “Tyrannies are fragile things and when the fear upon which they are based crumbles, they collapse. The protests in Russia over the past weeks may be a sign of the growing fearlessness of some Russian citizens and the resulting weakness of Putin and his gang. There is good reason, therefore, to be hopeful that the Putinist kleptocracy may end. Who, or what type of regime, will follow the two decades of Putin’s rule is another matter. We can hope that it will be more lenient and less authoritarian, but the future of Russia’s domestic system is anyone’s guess.” READ MORE: https://www.the-american-interest.com/2019/08/15/russia-after-putin-is-not-a-solved-problem/

Sergey Kwan