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 positions itself as a bridge between Asia and Europe

The main areas that the Central Asia region wants to focus on in the next years are environment protection and trade liberalisation

Sep 30 — “The Central Asia countries – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Turkmenistan – have been opening to the world in recent years. They want to take advantage of the New Silk Road Initiative, Eurasian Economic Union and the EU´s efforts to liberalise world trade. Closer cooperation with the EU is important mainly for Kazakhstan, the region’s biggest country.” READ MORE: https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-asia/news/kazakhstan-positions-itself-as-a-bridge-between-asia-and-europe/

Kazakhstan: Xinjiang rights movement registered, but in neutered form

Ata-Jurt was launched in 2017 and quickly became a prominent campaigner against China’s anti-Muslim crackdown in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Sep 30 — “An activist group in Kazakhstan that has led the charge in spotlighting the mass detention of ethnic Kazakhs in western China has after several unsuccessful attempts been registered by the authorities. Opinions are divided, however, about whether the government’s September 24 decision to grant Ata-Jurt permission to operate was capitulation to public demand or a sign that the group has been rendered toothless.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-xinjiang-rights-movement-registered-but-in-neutered-form

China’s Path Forward Is Getting Bumpy

The Khorgos Gateway in Kazakhstan was once touted as one of the most ambitious projects in the Belt and Road Initiative, but it has come to represent the limits of Beijing’s global push

Oct 1 — “To better understand the future of China’s role in Central Asia, and the world, you need to come here, the middle of nowhere. Straddling the Kazakh-Chinese border, a collection of cranes, railways, and buildings rises out of a barren stretch of desert surrounded by towering mountains to form the backbone of the Khorgos Gateway, one of the most ambitious projects in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, Beijing’s sprawling infrastructure project.” READ MORE: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/10/china-belt-road-initiative-problems-kazakhstan/597853/

President Permits Protests. How Kazakhstanis Exercise Their Right to Protests?

The protest moods have been on the rise in Kazakhstan in the recent months, and the authorities have tried to find an adequate response

Oct 1 — “On September 28, an authorised protest of Kazakhstan feminists was held in Almaty. This was the first authorised protest action after the message of President Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev to the people of the country, in which he told to permit peaceful protests. The protest was held in the afternoon of September 28, in the only place permitted for peaceful gatherings – on the square behind the Sary Arka cinema theatre at Almaty. This is not the suburb, yet not the centre.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/president-permits-protests-how-kazakhstanis-exercise-their-right-to-protests/


Events | Kyrgyzstan: Seeing no evil in Xinjiang

The Kyrgyz foreign minister said he had not seen concrete evidence of rights abuses in Xinjiang

Oct 1 — “Human rights have not been high on the U.S. diplomatic agenda in recent years. But amid growing tension with China, Washington seems willing to take Beijing to task over its treatment of Muslim minorities in western Xinjiang Province. The American initiative is facing headwinds, however, in part because some of China’s neighbors, including those directly affected by the Xinjiang crackdown, are unwilling to publicly criticize Chinese policies.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/events-kyrgyzstan-seeing-no-evil-in-xinjiang

Kyrgyzstan and Longhai: Chasing the dragon

Many Chinese companies are making bold forays into Central Asia, and Kyrgyzstan in particular, where they often face troubles with doing business

Oct 2 — “One afternoon in late July 2012, Christopher Kliner and a colleague stepped out of an elevator into a penthouse apartment in the Chinese city of Qingdao expecting to talk business. What greeted them was a most peculiar sight. Cheng Shoufang, the man in whom U.S.-based investors had entrusted millions of dollars to execute a major real estate project, was splayed out on a bed in a backroom, complaining of ill-health.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-and-longhai-chasing-the-dragon

Intrepid lawyer achieves quest to eradicate statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Lawyer Azizbek Ashurov and his team have helped Kyrgyzstan to end statelessness of many people — a leftover from the collapse of the Soviet Union

Oct 2 — “Softly spoken, with a warm smile, the lawyer has spent the last 15 years championing the rights of over 10,000 stateless people in Kyrgyzstan, leaving no stone unturned in his fight to ensure that they have citizenship. Together with a team, he has scoured the country in a battered four-wheel-drive Lada. He has scaled treacherous mountains on horseback and trekked the streets of remote communities to find people living deep in the shadows without papers.” READ MORE: https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2019/10/5d7a4fe24/intrepid-lawyer-achieves-quest-eradicate-statelessness-kyrgyzstan.html


Domestic Violence Widespread In Tajikistan; Abuse Is Not A Crime

Domestic violence against women is commonplace in Tajikistan — at least one in five women in the country are affected by domestic abuse

Sep 28 — “Ruyo, a 23-year-old victim of domestic abuse in Tajikistan, says her unemployed husband beat her often at their home in Dushanbe before she finally separated from him and filed for divorce. “He punched me even when I was pregnant,” says Ruyo, who asked that her full name not be used because she doesn’t want her family to recognize she is speaking out publicly about the abuse.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/domestic-violence-tajikistan/30188502.html

Tajik Activist Detained, Sparking Concerns from Opposition

After 2015, dozens of members of banned Tajik political parties and organizations were put on the wanted list

Oct 2 — “Belarusian border guards detained last week a member of Tajikistan’s banned Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) and former director general of Safo TV channel human rights activists told OCCRP on Friday. Farhod Odinayev, 49, was detained on Wednesday at the border to Lithuania. He was on his way to Warsaw for the annual conference of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and was invited by Eurasian Dialogue, registered in Lithuania.” READ MORE: https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/10783-tajik-activist-detained-sparking-concerns-from-opposition

E-Government in Tajikistan: Myth or Reality

E-government has been discussed for 10 years in Tajikistan. However, despite the growing number of Internet users, the e-government has not become a part of citizens’ daily lives

Oct 3 — “After establishment of independence in Tajikistan, the telecommunications infrastructure inherited from the times of the former Soviet Union was almost completely destroyed; the remaining equipment exhausted its resources. Active development of the telecommunications market and advanced technologies such as Internet, IP-telephony and mobile cellular communications of GSM standard started in Tajikistan in 1998[i].” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/e-government-in-tajikistan-myth-or-reality/


Queuing For Bread In Ashgabat: Turkmenistan Faces Fresh Food Shortages

Food shortages and price hikes in Turkmenistan first appeared in late 2016, although authorities have never publicly acknowledged or addressed them

Sep 27 — “In Turkmenistan, a good day means a state store in your area is stocked with meat, or you finally get your hands on a 50-kilogram sack of subsidized flour, your family’s monthly allowance. Flour, rice, and other staples are becoming increasingly scarce in Turkmenistan’s state-run stores that offer basic food products at relatively stable and affordable prices.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/food-shortages-ashgabat-turkmenistan/30187280.html

Turkmenistan: Echo chambers

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

Oct 1 — “Why have just one rubber stamp when you can have two? In a speech last week, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov proposed turning parliament into a bicameral chamber. He aired this idea before the Khalk Maslahaty, or People’s Council, the very institution upon which this second chamber of the legislature would be built.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-echo-chambers

Experts comment on Turkmenistan’s two-chamber Parliament

Chronicles of Turkmenistan has asked experts to comment on the unexpected idea proposed by the head of state

Oct 1 — “On 25 September at the session of the Khalk Maslakhaty (the People’s Council) President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov put forward a proposal to combine the Council and the existing Majlis (Parliament) into a unified two-chamber representative body.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2019/10/experts-comment-on-turkmenistans-two-chamber-parliament/


All work, no play: Uzbek officials can’t keep up with workaholic-in-chief

President Mirziyoyev usually works longer hours than his predecessor, prompting everyone down the chain of command to do the same

Sep 30 — “As participants took their seats at an international conference in Tashkent this month, an official scurrying back and forth making last-minute arrangements suddenly collapsed. While fellow government workers carried the unconscious man away, colleagues remarked that the official had probably come under too much stress in the run-up to the event.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uzbekistan-officials-fatigue/all-work-no-play-uzbek-officials-cant-keep-up-with-workaholic-in-chief-idUSKBN1WF135

Uzbekistan rapidly opening up but inflation and credit boom represent substantial danger ahead

Inflation is the main macroeconomic problem that the Uzbek government needs to contain

Oct 1 — “Uzbekistan is rapidly opening up, having embarked on a path of structural reforms and economic growth that is making headlines around the world. Growth is expected to pick up with the government working itself to exhaustion to create a modern market-driven economy, fuelled by large public investments. But there are a string of challenges to overcome, including high unemployment. The rapid credit expansion, price liberalisation and a sharp devaluation of the local currency, which is raising inflationary pressures, are among other problems, the Institute of International Finance (IIF) noted in a report entitled “Uzbekistan – opening towards the world.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/uzbekistan-rapidly-opening-up-but-inflation-and-credit-boom-represent-substantial-danger-ahead-168920/

Researchers Say They Uncovered Uzbekistan Hacking Operations Due to Spectacularly Bad OPSEC

Initially Kaspersky didn’t know who SandCat was, but it didn’t take a lot of work to tie it to Uzbekistan’s State Security Service

Oct 3 — “Nation-state spy agencies are only as good as their operational security—the care they take to keep their digital spy operations from being discovered. But occasionally a government threat actor appears on the scene that gets it all wrong. This is the case with a threat actor recently discovered by Kaspersky Lab that it’s calling SandCat—believed to be Uzbekistan’s repressive and much-feared intelligence agency, the State Security Service (SSS).” READ MORE: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/3kx5y3/uzbekistan-hacking-operations-uncovered-due-to-spectacularly-bad-opsec


A U.S.-Taliban Deal Is Likely. Peace in Afghanistan Is Not

The wider war in Afghanistan will continue until the Taliban and the Afghan government agree to a nationwide cease-fire in separate talks

Oct 3 — “On Sept. 2, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad heralded a draft peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, capping almost a year of negotiations. But an insurgent attack in Kabul on the heels of that announcement prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to abruptly call off negotiations on Sept. 7, which were aimed at starting the long process to finally end their 18-year conflict in Afghanistan. U.S.-Taliban talks, however, were always likely to resume due to the two sides’ shared need for a political settlement. And indeed, with officials from both sides arriving in Pakistan on Oct. 2, it looks as if they might soon recommence.” READ MORE: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/us-taliban-deal-likely-peace-afghanistan-not-war-election?id=87179e919a&e=600669d279&uuid=717e1104-4747-42f4-8077-11883dd0442a&utm_source=Daily+Brief&utm_campaign=2a4724952c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_03_11_36&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_87179e919a-2a4724952c-53490981&mc_cid=2a4724952c&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

Afghanistan: Water management for peace

Formalising Afghanistan’s agreements with neighbouring countries over water usage will go a long way towards preventing conflict

Oct 4 — “In the optimistic view, Afghanistan is closer to peace today than at any time in the past decades. The presidential election last weekend may have been hampered by low turnout, and US negotiations with the Taliban have halted, but one of the factors which can significantly contribute to maintaining sustainable peace is the willingness of the Afghan government to engage in peace talks directly with the Taliban.” READ MORE: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/afghanistan-water-management-peace

The Slow US Withdrawal From Afghanistan

Amid collapse of peace talks with the Taliban, the US cuts and suspends aid to Afghanistan and ends anti-drug efforts

Oct 4 — “Negotiations for a political settlement between the Taliban and the United States to end the war in Afghanistan, a once-promising process, all but collapsed in early September. Many analysts have mulled over what the conclusion of the longest foreign military engagement in American history might have meant for the War on Terror. A question of equal importance: How would these developments affect the War on Drugs? Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium and 95 percent of Europe’s. The Taliban earns as much as $400 million every year from its own role in the illegal drug trade.” READ MORE: https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/slow-us-withdrawal-afghanistan


Who wins in China’s great Central Asia spending spree?

China’s Belt and Road Initiative seems to benefit only Central Asia’s richer countries

Oct 2 — “Cynics often ask if China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has increased trade between China and its neighbors, or if it threatens to trap participants in debt. There are myriad reasons why countries sign on to the BRI. Some seek to plug gaps in domestic infrastructure, some to improve global trade ties, and some because China, with its population of 1.4 billion, is an attractive market for their goods.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/who-wins-in-chinas-great-central-asia-spending-spree

China and Russia in Central Asia: A Tricky Balance

Although China has invested significantly in Central Asia, Western powers nonetheless have a role to play in the region

Oct 3 — “This fall, Central Asia’s richest country was shaken yet again, on at least two separate occasions, by anti-government protests with decidedly anti-Chinese sentiments. Local unease with Beijing’s intentions and investments—which have ballooned to tens of billions of dollars throughout the region—has become easy to exploit for “the mischievous and hot-headed,” as a veteran Central Asia reporter wrote after the protests. It’s no wonder then that China’s role in the region, alongside Russia and other world powers, was a popular topic of discussion at a recent conference held by PONARS-Eurasia, a global network of scholars who convene once a year in Washington, D.C.” READ MORE: https://www.russiamatters.org/blog/china-and-russia-central-asia-tricky-balance


Times of Central Asia