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.


Freed Kazakh Activist Says Authorities Offered Plea Bargain to Placate China

The activist said Kazakhstan was forced to make an arrangement with regards to his case that satisfied both Beijing and the Western governments and rights groups that had called for his release

Aug 22 — “The punishment meted out by a court in Kazakhstan to activist Serikzhan Bilash, who works to release ethnic Kazakhs from internment camps in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), is part of a bid by Kazakh authorities to placate Beijing, he recently told RFA. Bilash, who faced seven years imprisonment for “inter-ethnic incitement” after calling for an “information Jihad” against China’s policies in the XUAR, accepted a plea bargain during his trial in his hometown of Almaty on Aug. 16 that restricts his activism in exchange for his freedom.” READ MORE: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/bargain-08222019170107.html

Browsers Take a Stand Against Kazakhstan’s Invasive Internet Surveillance

Authorities in Kazakhstan have taken steps to impose control on Internet traffic and social media in an effort to prevent any dissent

Aug 22 — “Yesterday, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple’s Safari browsers started blocking a security certificate previously used by Kazakh ISPs to compromise their users’ security and perform dragnet surveillance. We encourage other browsers to take similar security measures. Since the fix has been implemented upstream in Chromium, it shouldn’t take long for other Chromium-based browsers, like Brave, Opera, and Microsoft’s Edge, to do the same.” READ MORE: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/08/browsers-take-stand-against-kazakhstans-invasive-internet-surveillance

Kazakhstan: Castles, cows and a grumpy old man

Nazarbayev slams greedy Kazakh mothers, but omits to mention his daughter’s newly bought Swiss castle

Aug 23 — “If the art of politics is about timing, Kazakhstan’s septuagenarian former president Nursultan Nazarbayev is getting worse at it. In the months since he retired as head of state in March, Nazarbayev’s public appearances have begun to dwindle. Citizens of Kazakhstan have instead become used to hearing more from the loyalist who inherited the position that he held for close to three decades – if not all of his power – Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-castles-cows-and-a-grumpy-old-man

Nazarbayev urges new ideas for Nur Otan party to meet needs of people

Nazarbayev called on party members to focus on solving people’s everyday problems

Aug 23 — “Kazakhstan’s First President and current chairman of the Nur Otan party, Nursultan Nazarbayev, suggested at the party’s Aug. 21 expanded political council meeting progressing the party’s activities to better meet the challenges of the 21st century and the needs of the public. “We understand that a new period of party development has begun. The world has changed. Nur Otan is a leading political force and must mobilise society so that no one goes astray,” he said.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2019/08/nazarbayev-urges-new-ideas-for-nur-otan-party-to-meet-needs-of-people/


What is happening in Kyrgyzstan?

With the arrest of a powerful former president, Kyrgyzstan’s political scene prepares to “clean house” once again

Aug 19 — “In recent weeks, tensions in Kyrgyzstan have reached their limits. Former president Almazbek Atambayev, who ruled the country between 2011 and 2017, has been arrested in a highly public special operation, though security forces were successful in detaining him at his compound only on the second attempt – and after causing mass injuries. Atambayev is now facing a number of serious charges – 14 at the current count.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/what-happening-kyrgyzstan/

Kyrgyzstan: Pressured ex-candidate says he wants no part of power

A wealthy businessman, Babanov has returned to Kyrgyzstan to secure his business interests inside the country rather than with the intention to re-enter Kyrgyz politics

Aug 21 — “A popular former presidential candidate whose return to Kyrgyzstan has complicated a highly brittle political scene appears convinced that his self-preservation demands a career change. In the past two days ex-presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov has twice been questioned in connection with criminal cases that his supporters say were only opened because he was current President Sooronbai Jeenbekov’s main challenger during elections in 2017.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-pressured-ex-candidate-says-he-wants-no-part-of-power

The Failure of Atambayev’s Planned Power Transition

Atambayev is the first president who has been arrested in Kyrgyzstan after leaving office — while two other former presidents fled the country

Aug 23 — “Unlike in Russia and Kazakhstan, an effort in Kyrgyzstan to carefully orchestrate the transition of power backfired.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/the-failure-of-atambayevs-planned-power-transition/


Who are they in Pamirs afraid of?

The situation in Tajikistan directly affects China’s national security and affects the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative

Aug 16 — “In Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region (GBAO), the Tajik and Chinese troops liquidated hypothetical terrorist groups, which, according to legend, had entered Ishkashim region from Afghanistan. The drills were held on August 12-16 at the Jelondi military training area in the Shughnon District as part of the joint exercises of the two countries’ militaries. Local mid- and top-level officials of the GBAO, including the heads of all regions of the district, were also put into the field.” READ MORE: http://vestnikkavkaza.net/analysis/Who-are-they-in-Pamirs-afraid-of.html

A lost city rises: archaeologists have unearthed the ‘Machu Picchu of Tajikistan’

In 2012, a Tajik landowner uncovered a curious man-made structure at an elevated site. Will this become one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of our time? Telegraph Travel went to investigate

Aug 16 — “In the 21st century, an era of satellite imaging when we thought the entire world had been mapped, it hardly seems plausible that a complete city could be lost. How could you possibly miss palaces and polo fields, temples, mausoleums, and mines? Especially when they are located in a strategically important position overlooking the border with Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/asia/tajikistan/machu-picchu-tajikistan-karon/

Tajikistan: Authorities to monopolize money transfer system

The move may be intended to keep the troubled Tajik banking system solvent

Aug 20 — “In a measure that looks like the government of Tajikistan’s latest attempt to keep its disastrous banking industry afloat, money transfer companies may be forced to keep billions of dollars in local accounts. Russian business daily Kommersant reported on August 20 that cash-wiring services, such as Western Union, will from September only be able to effect transactions equivalent to what they have on accounts placed with the National Bank.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-authorities-to-monopolize-money-transfer-system


Iran, Turkmenistan to establish direct shipping route

Iran is a vitally important transit destination for Turkmenistan goods

Aug 20 — “Iran and Turkmenistan have reached an agreement for establishing a direct shipping route between the two countries, ISNA reported on Monday, quoting the Iranian Transport and Urban Development Minister Mohammad Eslami as saying. According to the minister, the agreement, along with several others, will be discussed comprehensively in the upcoming weeks and will be officially signed in the end of the seventh Iranian calendar month of Mehr (which ends on October 22) in Ashgabat.” READ MORE: https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/439435/Iran-Turkmenistan-to-establish-direct-shipping-route

Turkmenistan: Like a bat out of Awaza

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

Aug 20 — “State newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan this week divulged some interesting and closely guarded information about the level of foreign investment into the nation’s energy sector. According to an article published on August 14, Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas has invested at least $11 billion. China’s CNPC has invested more than $8 billion in the past 12 years, the newspaper claimed.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-like-a-bat-out-of-awaza

Three generation genealogy certificate as one of the most important documents in Turkmenistan

This may be a way to identify “untrustworthy” residents whose family members had committed a crime or demonstrated “dissent”

Aug 22 — “Public sector employees have been obliged to present the list of personal information about relatives up to the third generation (üç arka maglumat), popularly referred to as “uch arka”, since Saparmurad Niyazov, the first President of Turkmenistan, came to power. Tree generation genealogy certificates are required to be presented during admissions to higher or secondary vocational educational establishments.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2019/08/three-generation-genealogy-certificate-as-one-of-the-most-important-documents-in-turkmenistan/


Uzbekistan: Utilities prices to go up as lure to investors

Uzbek officials insist the new rates will still be relatively low in regional terms

Aug 16 — “Households in Uzbekistan will soon be getting steeper utility bills as the government seeks to nudge consumers toward a more economic use of resources and make utilities providers being put up for privatization more palatable to buyers. In the most recently reported development, Tashkent-based news website Podrobno on August 15 cited the Energy Ministry as saying that electricity bills may in future be divided into three categories, for high-, middle- and low-volume consumers.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-utilities-prices-to-go-up-as-lure-to-investors

Uzbekistan: The limbo existence of the stateless

There may be up to 87,000 stateless people in Uzbekistan. Many are ethnic Uzbeks who fled Tajikistan’s civil war in the early 1990s

Aug 19 — “Dreams of Mecca are frustratingly out of reach for Goyibnazar Ernazarov. Ernazarov, 70, spoke with unconcealed despair as he explained how, yet again, he had been denied the chance to embark on a pilgrimage to Islam’s most holy site. His wife, 66-year-old Bahriniso, cried as he told the story. The reason the Ernazarovs cannot make the trip is that even though they have lived in Uzbekistan for 27 years, they are not citizens. On paper, they are not citizens of any country. And without Uzbek citizenship, they are not eligible to qualify for the annual quota of Muslims granted permission to make the trip to Mecca.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-the-limbo-existence-of-the-stateless

New Faces, Old Patterns in Uzbekistan’s Foreign Policy

In its foreign policy, Uzbekistan is now paying more attention to cooperation with Central Asia neighbors

Aug 21 — “Uzbekistan’s change of foreign policy course has its roots in a 2012 concept that recognized changing regional dynamics.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/new-faces-old-patterns-in-uzbekistans-foreign-policy/


The Islamic State is far from defeated. Here’s what you need to know about its affiliate in Afghanistan

Islamic State in Khorasan has never successfully captured territory in Afghanistan and it remains much weaker than rival militant groups in the region like the Taliban and al-Qaeda

Aug 19 — “The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 63 and wounded nearly 200 people at a wedding in Kabul over the weekend, signaling the group’s enduring reach and underscoring one of the challenges to a U.S. and Taliban peace negotiation. The militant group lost its self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria earlier this year.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/08/19/islamic-state-is-far-defeated-heres-what-you-need-know-about-its-affiliate-afghanistan/

Op-Ed: Terrorist ‘safe havens’ are a myth — and no reason for continuing the war in Afghanistan

Pretending that the Taliban can be defeated, and that an independent and democratic government can be left in its place, is unrealistic

Aug 19 — “America’s longest war may be coming to an end. Although major obstacles remain, the Trump administration’s negotiations with the Taliban, led by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, have made progress toward an agreement that would include a U.S. military withdrawal. In July, President Trump said “it’s ridiculous” that we’re still in Afghanistan after almost two decades of stalemate. His 2020 Democratic challengers seem to agree — most have called for an end to the war — and fewer and fewer Republicans are willing to defend it.” READ MORE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-08-16/terrorist-safe-havens-war-afghanistan

Wrong peace deal could mean ‘return to chaos’ for Afghanistan

US-Taliban agreement will not be successful without involvement of government and citizens, say Afghan women’s rights groups

Aug 20 — “Afghanistan could “return to chaos” with the wrong peace deal, say women’s rights groups in the country. A poorly negotiated agreement without proper representation of Afghan citizens and a clear counterterrorism strategy would place the democratic gains of the past 18 years at risk, says Suraya Pakzad, founder of the Voice of Women Organisation.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/aug/20/wrong-peace-deal-could-mean-return-to-chaos-for-afghanistan


China’s International Partnerships: Pakistan, CPEC, and Central Asia

As China is redrawing the global security map beyond Asia-Pacific, the following article examines how Beijing’s ‘march West’ strategy is impacting regional security architecture in Pakistan and Central Asia

Aug 18 — “China’s deep relationship with Pakistan is anchored by security. PRC officials Wang Qishan and Guo Shengkun have recently met with Pakistan counterparts, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee chair Gen. Zubair Mahmood Hayat in late July 2019, to discussanti-terrorism and security cooperation. At stake is the protection of its headline-grabbing 60 billion dollar investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and other One Belt, One Road-related projects.” READ MORE: https://globalriskinsights.com/2019/08/china-pakistan-cpec-central-asia/

China looks west to solve energy riddle

China’s Xinjiang has potentially huge untapped reserves, but exploration in the desert province presents complex geological and political challenges

Aug 22 — “Chinese NOCs are forging ahead with challenging ultra-deep drilling and shale projects in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, underlining the far western province’s potential importance to the country’s drive to meet ambitious energy security plans. PetroChina, one of China’s ‘big three’ NOCs, completed Luntan 1, Asia’s deepest well at 8,882m, in the Tarim basin at the end of July, saying it had taken a year to drill due to complex geology and difficult ultra-high-temperature and ultra-high-pressure conditions. It was the latest completed of 27 ultra-deep wells drilled at the Shunbei field.” READ MORE: https://www.petroleum-economist.com/articles/politics-economics/asia-pacific/2019/china-looks-west-to-solve-energy-riddle

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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