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: Confidence low in government trust-building exercise

Over the past two decades, the Kazakh president’s office has instituted at least six ad hoc commissions to defuse some kind of political impasse. The latest is not off to an auspicious start

Nov 4 — “When it became evident that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 66, a lifelong apparatchik, was to become Kazakhstan’s new president, the development generated little enthusiasm. Some of those not reeling from the shock of Nursultan Nazarbayev leaving a job he had held for three decades took to the streets. For them, Tokayev was more of the same.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-confidence-low-in-government-trust-building-exercise

Russia’s ‘Coal Weapon’: Hampering Kazakhstani Exports to Ukraine

Kazakhstan’s economic interests suffer from the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Nov 5 — “The press service of the Ministry of Trade and Integration of Kazakhstan reported, on October 25, that Russia’s current ban on the transit of some Kazakhstani goods contradicts the fundamental principles of the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Russia’s restrictions are negatively affecting Kazakhstan’s economy, especially its coal industry and, in particular, coal exports to Ukraine. According to Kazakhstani authorities, the Central Asian republic’s coal miners are losing more than $11 million monthly.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/russias-coal-weapon-hampering-kazakhstani-exports-to-ukraine/

Traveling Kazakh exhibition leaves scandal in its wake

A chance for contemporary Kazakh artists to show their works on three continents has been overshadowed by mismanagement and dodgy contracting

Nov 6 — “Kazakhstan spends many millions burnishing its international reputation. This year the government spent one of those millions introducing the global art elite to the country’s shady business culture. Last fall and winter, a government-funded traveling exhibition called Focus Kazakhstan showcased contemporary Kazakh art on three continents. Roughly 400 pieces by 100 artists were met with rave reviews in Berlin, London, South Korea, and New Jersey.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/traveling-kazakh-exhibition-leaves-scandal-in-its-wake

No Distress: Kazakhstan’s ‘Opening Up’ Makes It A Standout Among Frontier Markets

In building up their capital market, Kazakhstan has made itself a standout in frontier markets

Nov 7 — “Famous hedge fund manager Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates in Connecticut likes to say that either you’re being paid for earnings or you’re being paid for yield. With earnings growth and yield shrinking in many of the advanced economies (negative in parts of Europe), investors are forced to look far from home. That’s not taking them to the usual places like Brazil, where interest rates aren’t what they used to be.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2019/11/07/no-distress-kazakhstans-opening-up-makes-it-a-standout-among-frontier-markets/#7ba38a0e36bd


British Ambassador Charles Garret: In Order to Protect and Develop Democracy, Everyone in the Country Needs to Play a Role

British Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic Charles Garrett’s interview to CABAR.asia analytical platform

Nov 6 — “‘Institutions and individuals all need to play their roles openly and in line with the law. This is very much a challenge for the UK as well as Kyrgyzstan and other countries that believe democracy is best foundation for a fair and prosperous society’” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/british-ambassador-charles-garret-in-order-to-protect-and-develop-democracy-everyone-in-the-country-needs-to-play-a-role/

The mountain valley ‘one landslide away’ from radioactive catastrophe

In Kyrgyzstan, environmentalists say the radioactive waste is just one landslide away from contaminating the water supply for the Fergana valley

Nov 6 — “Decades-old uranium stockpiles are threatening the water supply of millions of people in the mountainous peaks of Kyrgyzstan – prompting an urgent call for help to prevent a radioactive catastrophe. It’s said to be one of the most polluted places on the planet – the land near the town of Mailuu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan.” READ MORE: https://www.euronews.com/2019/11/06/the-mountain-valley-one-landslide-away-from-radioactive-catastrophe

Kyrgyzstan’s journalists dare where authorities do not

Investigative journalism is only just taking hold in Kyrgyzstan. Although Kyrgyz media enjoy relative levels of freedom compared to neighboring countries, meticulous and in-depth reporting is poorly funded and often ignored

Nov 7 — “Few places symbolize Kyrgyzstan’s long-running failure to address corruption as well as Bishkek’s Ataturk Park. Once a green oasis, it has been shrunken repeatedly at the hand of the state for private gain. As part of a year-long investigation into the distribution of residential plots in what was once a protected green belt of land, journalist Metin Dzhumagulov, 24, paid multiple visits to homeowners there, usually posing as a prospective buyer.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstans-journalists-dare-where-authorities-do-not


Tajikistan, Uzbekistan reportedly reach border settlement

Tajiks are angered by reports that the government is giving away a gold mine

Nov 5 — “The governments of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have reportedly reached an agreement to resolve outstanding disagreements about the delimitation of their shared 1,312-kilometer border. Asia-Plus newspaper on November 5 cited an unnamed official in Dushanbe as saying that a document finalizing the arrangement will be signed by the nations’ heads of government early next year.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-uzbekistan-reportedly-reach-border-settlement

Attack In Tajikistan Could Have Broad Implications For Central Asia

The reported shoot-out in Tajikistan near the Uzbek and Afghan borders will concern Russia and China as well

Nov 6 — “A deadly attack on a Tajik border post reported early on November 6 is disturbing for many reasons, including the fact Tajik officials are blaming the so-called Islamic State (IS) militant group for the assault that authorities say left at least two security servicemen and 15 militants dead. The alleged attack has raised alarms across the southern parts of Central Asia and will no doubt be duly noted by the Kremlin, where officials have long warned of such a possibility. Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, is also sure to take notice.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/reported-attack-in-tajikistan-could-have-broad-implications-for-central-asia/30256653.html

Its Media Muzzled, Tajikistan Prepares To Extend Ruling Family’s Grip On Power

Tajik President Rahmon has consolidated power by silencing and exiling opponents while subordinating all nascent media outlets to the official line

Nov 7 — “On a recent afternoon, Tajik bloggers, reporters, and journalism students gathered to hone their skills in digital media. Huddled over laptops in a stuffy classroom, they discussed ways to present data, engage viewers, and highlight the issues at stake for the poor, corrupt Central Asian state they call home. As the session drew to a close, they revealed the capstone projects they’d present to culminate the weeklong program. In a place where criticizing authority is fraught with danger, some ideas seemed to skirt the edge.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/media-muzzled-tajik-ruling-family-prepares-to-extend-grip-on-power/30258700.html


Turkmenistan: Not cottoning on

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

Nov 5 — “RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, Radio Azatlyk, last month ran a first-person account from a young Ashgabat doctor wishing to share his story about the challenges of living as a gay man in Turkmenistan. Kasymberdy Garayev, 24, gave his account under pseudonym, but was later exposed. What he described was a life of torment, both mental and physical, meted out by his family and the authorities.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-not-cottoning-on

Who inspires Turkmenistan’s elites?

Multilingualism is a common feature among Turkmenistan’s educated class

Nov 7 — “Ashgabat, 4.30 am. A crowd of foreign guests has gathered in the arrivals hall of the capital’s international airport, sleepy but excited. They are met by a young man in his early 30s, who runs back and forth between from the group in the arrivals hall and the street, ensuring that everyone gets onto the right car headed for the right hotel.” READ MORE: https://globalvoices.org/2019/11/07/who-inspires-turkmenistans-elites/

Caspian Cooperation as a Way to Solve Economic Problems of Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is now in vital need of extra resources, but according to experts it will be hard to get them

Nov 8 — “In the last 2-3 years, independent media write regularly about the inflation in Turkmenistan, incessant queues, shortage of basic goods, and strengthened punitive measures against those who are disgruntled. The authorities of the country never comment these statements and still claim Turkmenistan lives in the age of “power and happiness.” However, certain official measures still show that the country experiences hard times: since early 2019, Turkmenistan totally cancelled all public utilities privileges for the people that existed since 1993 and qualified the country as the “social paradise.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/caspian-cooperation-as-a-way-to-solve-economic-problems-of-turkmenistan/


Uzbekistan Comes in From the Cold

Under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan is abandoning its traditional isolationism and becoming an increasingly important player in the dynamic relationship among Russia, China and, to a lesser degree, the U.S.

Nov 5 — “For years, isolationism guided Uzbekistan’s interactions with the wider world. Now, however, reforms stemming from a political succession in Central Asia’s most populous country are reverberating far beyond Tashkent. As part of its political evolution, Uzbekistan has strengthened cooperation within Central Asia while also becoming an increasingly attractive partner for Russia, China, and the United States as they engage in a strategic competition for influence and investment in the region. The opening presents significant opportunities for Uzbekistan to expand its economic and security outreach to its neighborhood, yet the changes also pose risks, as the competition among these larger powers could pull the country in directions it doesn’t want to go.” READ MORE: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/uzbekistan-comes-cold-bri-russia-central-asia-china

Startup Success for Uzbekistan?

Hopes are high in Uzbekistan for hi-tech entrepreneurship as an emerging market

Nov 6 — “Amid increasing government investment, experts in Uzbekistan believe the country could be on track to become a regional leader in the startup sphere. The state has taken a number of measures to support the country’s emerging hi-tech industry since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016, not least improving internet access. More than 33 million people live in the largest country in Central Asia, with 68 per cent of them able to access the internet through mobile subscriptions. In 2018, on Mirziyoyev’s personal initiative, the data network bandwidth grew ten times from 110 to 1200 gigabits per second.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/startup-success-uzbekistan

Uzbekistan’s Unsinkable Zoyir Mirzaev

Governor Mirzaev emerged politically clean himself after forcing six men to stand in a muddy ditch

Nov 6 — “The name Zoyir Mirzaev probably means little or nothing to most people. But the newly appointed governor of Uzbekistan’s southern Kashkadarya Province is clearly someone President Shavkat Mirziyoev wants in his government. The 51-year-old Mirzaev has experience: He was governor of Samarkand Province from 2010 to 2016. But just a year ago, he was being called a major embarrassment to the Uzbek government.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-s-unsinkable-zoyir-mirzaev-/30255942.html


The Afghan President (To Be) Who Lived A Secret Life In A Czechoslovak Forest

Documents for the first time reveal details of Babrak Karmal’s secret life in Czechoslovakia and the dramatic events that preceded his rise to power in Afghanistan

Nov 3 — “In the winter of 1978-79, Afghanistan’s communist regime deployed a hit squad to find and kill Babrak Karmal, the high-profile ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Fearing for his life, Czechoslovak authorities secretly hid Karmal and his family in a remote hunting lodge in the dense forests straddling the border with East Germany. The family-of-six lived covertly for a year under the protection of the StB, Czechoslovakia’s notorious secret police. To ward off the assassins, they were relocated to a sanatorium in a secluded mountain village and then an abandoned villa that was once used by the Soviet Army.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/that-time-an-afghan-president-(to-be)-was-secretly-hiding-in-a-czechoslovak-forest/30250494.html

The Islamic State Will Outlive Baghdadi. Afghanistan Shows How

The Islamic State-Khorasan in Afghanistan offers a powerful case study of the militant group’s ability to create autonomous affiliates that flourish and endure

Nov 5 — “A couple of years ago, a conspiracy theory emerged alleging that the United States was backing the Islamic State in Afghanistan. It had a curious mix of propagators: former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Russian government, and large numbers of Pakistani Twitter handles, among others.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/11/05/isis-terrorism-killing-islamic-state-outlive-baghdadi-afghanistan/

How the Taliban Won America’s Nineteen-Year War

It is likely that more and more Afghans will start either associating themselves with—or relating to—the Taliban insurgency

Nov 6 — “As a supporter of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, I hoped that we Afghans—in addition to ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban menace—would utilize this opportunity to revive our economy, build an infrastructure, raise our standards of living, and bring an end to warlordism and the culture of impunity. Despite some important—albeit fragile—achievements, Afghanistan as a whole hasn’t benefitted the way it should have from U.S. presence, owing to the collective incompetence and irresponsibility of the international community and the Afghans alike.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/middle-east-watch/how-taliban-won-americas-nineteen-year-war-94356


New Silk Road money is paving the Old Silk Roads

A hurricane of yuan blowing through Central Asia funds everything from high-rise hotels to thousands of km of highways

Nov 6 — “There never used to be much to do in Khorgos, a remote and dusty outpost on the China-Kazakh border. As recently as 2011, it was a settlement of a mere 500 souls – a sleepy village lost in endless steppe. No longer. Today, it’s not just on the map, it boasts newly paved roads, 5-star hotels and soaring shopping malls. And in the the not-too-distant future, it could be one of Asia’s great trade and trans-shipment nodes.” READ MORE: https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/11/article/new-silk-road-money-is-paving-the-old-silk-roads/

Central Asia: Towards Development in an Era of Turbulence

The situation in Central Asia is often viewed through the prism of various kinds of challenges resulting from both the general state of affairs in the world, conflicts at the regional level, and the rapidly changing situation in individual countries

Nov 6 — “The uncertainty associated with the weakening of international institutions and the arms control system, the increased level of conflicts in the Middle East, the continuing tension in Afghanistan, as well as the radicalisation and spread of violent ideologies by terrorist Islamist organisations cannot but have a direct impact on Central Asia.” READ MORE: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/central-asia-towards-development/

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.

View more articles fromTCA