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.


Features of Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism in Kazakhstan

Too vague definition of the terms extremism and terrorism in Kazakhstan significantly complicates the work on prevention and counteraction

Nov 22 — “Countering violent extremism in Kazakhstan is combined with several key points that reflect the understanding, approach and measures of state bodies to solve this problem. Firstly, it concerns the terminology. In the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK), the term “violent extremism” is absent in the conceptual construct, and as a result at the legislative level. The term violent extremism, widely used in English-language literature and professional communities, has not received widespread support and understanding at the official level, although it continues to be used by both parties while working with foreign partners and international organizations. The same applies to the meaning of the terms “counteraction/prevention” and “battle”. READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/features-of-countering-violent-extremism-and-terrorism-in-kazakhstan/

Extensive hacking operation discovered in Kazakhstan

Researchers say an advanced hacking group has been using custom-developed hacking tools, expensive surveillance kits, mobile malware, and radio communications interception hardware to spy on Kazakhstan targets

Nov 23 — “Chinese cyber-security vendor Qihoo 360 published a report on Friday exposing an extensive hacking operation targeting the country of Kazakhstan. Targets included individuals and organizations involving all walks of life, such as government agencies, military personnel, foreign diplomats, researchers, journalists, private companies, the educational sector, religious figures, government dissidents, and foreign diplomats alike.” READ MORE: https://www.zdnet.com/article/extensive-hacking-operation-discovered-in-kazakhstan/

Victims Of Kazakhstan’s Soviet-Era Nuclear Tests Feel ‘Abandoned’ By Government

At least a half-million people lived in areas close to the site where more than 450 nuclear tests were conducted by Soviet authorities between 1949 and 1989

Nov 23 — “Hundreds of thousands of people in northeastern Kazakhstan are still suffering the consequences from 40 years of nuclear-weapons tests that were conducted near their homes during the Soviet era. But a majority of Kazakhstan’s nuclear-test victims say they don’t receive adequate financial compensation and social benefits from the government.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/victims-of-kazakhstan-s-soviet-era-nuclear-tests-feel-abandoned-by-government/30288299.html

Falling Water Levels Point To Deeper Ecological Malaise On Ural River

In 2018, environmentalists stated that the water level in the Ural river reached a new record low. Activists and government officials said it dropped even more in 2019

Nov 28 — “Water levels are falling on the Ural, the third-longest river in Europe. The river begins in Russia’s Ural Mountains, flowing through Kazakhstan before emptying into the Caspian Sea. This year, despite a very snowy winter and the expectation of floods, the water level of the river did not rise at all.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-ural-river-ecology-problem/30293382.html


Kyrgyzstan: “Re:Action” Against Corruption

According to experts, civil control over the activities of the authorities will strengthen; however, they don’t expect any real actions against Raimbek Matraimov, whose name appears in the investigation of the illegal withdrawal of millions of dollars from Kyrgyzstan

Nov 26 — “On November 25, more than a thousand people gathered at the square of Bishkek to a peaceful protest against corruption demanding to carry out reforms. “Re:Action” is a civil protest action, which was organised with the use of internet technologies for the first time. The protest does not have any specific organisers; the calls for the protest were distributed mainly on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Three days before the peaceful protest, the journalists of Radio Azattyk, OCCRP (The Organized Crime & Corruption Reporting Project) and Kloop.kg published the investigation of corruption schemes used by the customs service of Kyrgyzstan, which were a part of the illegal business run by former deputy head of the customs service of Kyrgyzstan, Raimbek Matraimov.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/kyrgyzstan-re-action-against-corruption/

The Bakiyevs expand their business in Belarus

Kyrgyzstan has so far failed to extradite convicted former president Bakiyev from Belarus

Nov 28 — “A premium multifunctional Centropol complex is being built by the Bakiyevs in the capital of Belarus. Mass media report. Journalists found a connection between the family members of the fugitive ex-president of Kyrgyzstan Kurmanbek Bakiyev and the developer of the premium multi-purpose complex Centropol with casinos and boutiques.” READ MORE: https://24.kg/english/136245_The_Bakiyevs_expand_their_business_in_Belarus/

Kyrgyzstan: The (underground) empire strikes back?

A blogger is arrested and state media turns on investigative journalists. The wheels of Kyrgyz justice are prioritizing a crackdown on free speech over one on graft

Nov 30 — “When hundreds took to Bishkek’s streets this week outraged over the findings of a blockbuster media investigation into high-level corruption, they demanded a “reaction”from the authorities. The investigation – which reflected particularly badly on Kyrgyzstan’s Customs Service – shed light on an “underground cargo empire” run by a previously little-known family, the Abdukadyrs. And it claimed their success was facilitated by a notorious and powerful gatekeeper, former Deputy Customs Chief Rayimbek Matraimov.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-the-underground-empire-strikes-back


Tajik Security Official Muddies Official Reports On Border Post Attack

There are contradictory reports detailing the recent deadly border post attack in Tajikistan

Nov 26 — “A Tajik security official’s statement on a deadly attack on a border post earlier in November has contradicted official reports about the incident that claimed many lives. A representative of Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security, Muhammad Sattarov, said at a conference in Dushanbe on November 25 that nine men, 11 women, and 13 children between the ages of 4 years and 15 years were among the attackers on a border post near Uzbekistan, located in Tajikistan’s Rudaki district about 60 kilometers southwest of Dushanbe.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-security-official-clouds-events-in-deadly-attack-on-border-post/30293292.html

It’s Time for Tajikistan to Become a Startup Nation

For Tajikistan to fulfill its potential it must develop its human capital, boost access to financing, and tap into international networks

Nov 27 — “Alif Sarmoya, a fin-tech startup, came on to the market in Tajikistan six years ago. The company started as an organization that brings financial, retail, corporate, and private banking services to people using informational technologies. It was launched by three young Tajiks educated in the United Kingdom and United States. Today the company boasts over 250 employees and is expanding regionally. At its core, Alif Samoya’s business is a revolution in the Tajik banking sector. The company wants Tajikistan to go cashless, and provide the technological infrastructure to achieve that ambition.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/11/its-time-for-tajikistan-to-become-a-startup-nation/

#Tajikistan might become next US target in Central Asia for Washington’s political ambitions

Positive social and economic changes integrated by the United States in Tajikistan are building up a solid ground for lobbying Washington political ambitions in the country

Nov 28 — “The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is increasing its presence in Central Asia, particularly in Tajikistan through various economic, trade, health care and social projects. For the past three years, the USAID has introduced a number of agriculture projects for the country’s farmers and has launched campaigns aimed at fighting Tuberculosis along with other projects involving funding of local prospective journalists, students, businessmen and entrepreneurs. According to the Agency, USAID investment strategy in Tajikistan involves large-scale and ambitious projects for the next three to four years that aim to increase the living standard in the country” READ MORE: https://www.eureporter.co/frontpage/2019/11/28/tajikistan-might-become-next-us-target-in-central-asia-for-washingtons-political-ambitions/


Fat Cops In Turkmenistan Told ‘Lose Weight Or Lose Job’

The Interior Ministry has reportedly told police officers they must not weigh more than 100 kilograms because the country’s newly appointed Interior Minister “doesn’t like fat cops”

Nov 25 — ““Lose weight or lose your job,” police across Turkmenistan have been told as law-enforcement employees in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation undergo mandatory requalification tests. The Interior Ministry has ordered officers to get in shape by December 25 if they want to keep their jobs, several police officers have told RFE/RL correspondents in Turkmenistan.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/fat-cops-in-turkmenistan-told-lose-weight-or-lose-job-/30291506.html

Turkmenistan: La commedia è finita!

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

Nov 26 — “Such was the disdain that Turkmenistan’s late dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, had for outside cultural influences that he decreed in 2001 that opera should be banned. On November 19, the artform made a return to Ashgabat, thanks to a joint Italian-Turkmen staging of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s 19th-century opera Pagliacci. Numerous Turkmen performers were in the cast, including baritone Aman Amanov, who reprised the same role he performed in the last opera that Ashgabat saw almost 19 years before.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-la-commedia-e-finita

Scientists stumble upon ‘large’ Turkmenistan gas plant leak

Turkmenistan remains a secretive nation in all spheres of political and economic life

Nov 27 — “Scientists studying a volcano in Turkmenistan have identified a major leak of methane coming from a nearby gas plant, potentially offering a new way of monitoring emissions of the damaging greenhouse gas. Writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, they outline how they discovered the leak and calculated that it had emitted around 140 kilotonnes of methane from February 2018 to January 2019.” READ MORE: http://www.spacedaily.com/afp/191127175540.jf2leuv1.html


History Repeats Itself: Uzbekistan’s New Eurasian Gamble

There are different opinions inside Uzbekistan about the country’s possible accession of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), as the move would have serious implications for Central Asia’s most populous nation

Nov 22 — “During an official visit to Tashkent on October 2, 2019, the Speaker of the Federal Council of the Russian Federation, Valentina Matvienko, stated that Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev had decided to resolve the question of Uzbekistan’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). If Tashkent actually decides to join, this will be the most dramatic and fateful geopolitical turn in Uzbekistan’s post-Soviet history, since it will signify the transformation of a non-Eurasian country to an Eurasian one. This is, indeed, a moment of truth for Uzbekistan and its foreign policy since it will require public support and a clear explanation of the country’s national interests.” READ MORE: http://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13596-history-repeats-itself-uzbekistans-new-eurasian-gamble.html

How One Singer Is Taking On Censorship In Uzbekistan

Uzbek authorities routinely scrutinize musicians’ lyrics, outfit, and hairstyles when they need to receive or renew their licenses to perform in Uzbekistan

Nov 24 — “The latest music video by popular Uzbek singer Lola Yuldosheva has been hailed by many critics and fans as a “social protest” and “revolutionary” for criticizing censorship in her native Uzbekistan. The video, Sevgingni Menga Ait (Tell Me About Your Love), depicts Yuldosheva as a singer who performs in front of a two-person panel in order to get the mandatory license needed by singers and musicians in Uzbekistan.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-pop-star-lola-s-video-dubbed-revolutionary-for-criticizing-state-censorship/30289188.html


The bullet train has made travel around Uzbekistan and three of its four most popular tourist destinations easy and affordable, as well as being part of the tourist experience itself

Nov 27 — “The 7.28am train to Bukhara, via Samarkand, pulls out of the Uzbek capital Tashkent on time. The Spanish-built Talgo bullet train will reach over 137mph as it speeds across the largely flat expanse of central Uzbekistan on its way to the country’s cities and religious buildings associated with the rise and fall of empire and its Silk Road trade history. As train travel benefits from the renewed appeal of slow travel – taking the most energy-efficient transport option, not necessarily the quickest – crossing Uzbekistan’s vast landscape by rail is something the country is keen to promote.” READ MORE: https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/asia/uzbekistan-train-travel-slow-tashkent-bukhara-samarkand-a9218276.html


Afghanistan woman breaks ground with Kabul recycling plant

Kabul’s 6 million people generate up to 308 tons of trash each day — most ends up in the city’s only landfill, neither separated nor reused

Nov 25 — “After decades of conflict across Afghanistan, recycling is not at the top of most people’s agendas. But now, one Kabul woman is declaring war on the Afghan capital’s trash. Zuhal Atmar, 35, has set up a recycling plant where she processes 33 tons of garbage a week. She’s the first woman in Afghanistan to have launched such a business, often at a high personal cost.” READ MORE: https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2019-11-25/afghanistan-woman-breaks-ground-with-kabul-recycling-plant

Whistleblowers on school paedophile ring in Afghanistan arrested

Human rights defenders alleged that teachers and social workers were involved in abuse of more than 500 boys

Nov 25 — “Two people have been detained by Afghanistan’s intelligence services after they exposed a paedophile ring operating in some of the country’s schools. Human rights organisations and the former president Hamid Karzai have called for the immediate release of Mohammed Mussa and Ehsanullah Hamidi, both well-known human rights defenders from Logar province, who were picked up by the National Directorate of Security last week when they were on their way to meet with the EU ambassador in Kabul.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/nov/25/afghanistan-launches-investigation-into-alleged-school-paedophile-ring

Founder of Afghanistan’s first private insurance firm optimistic about economic growth

Insurance Corporation of Afghanistan (ICA), the country’s first private insurance firm, was registered in 2007, and the UK-based Capital Finance International recently declared ICA as 2019 winner of the Best Insurance Company (Afghanistan) award

Nov 26 — “Afghan entrepreneur Sayed Sadat Mansoor Naderi who founded Afghanistan’s first private insurance firm is optimistic about the economic growth of the country, expressing hopes that an absolute peace would have a huge positive impact on economy. “For the Afghanistan economy I always like to be optimistic hoping for absolute peace in our country which will have a huge positive impact on Economic growth,” he said in response to a question about the future of Afghanistan’s economy.” READ MORE: https://www.khaama.com/founder-of-afghanistans-first-private-insurance-firm-optimistic-about-economic-growth-04402/


How China-led AIIB and US-backed ADB can cooperate in the infrastructure ‘Great Game’, starting in Central Asia

The Asian Development Bank’s activities in Central Asia may look like a challenge to the AIIB and Belt and Road projects. But Beijing could welcome help in bridging the vast infrastructure gap in the region, which can only enhance its links with Europe

Nov 24 — “What might be called the “battle” of the Belt and Road Initiative has shifted ground and split into two fronts: one, still involving the trade initiative to link economies into a China-centred trading network, and the other, involving the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The other main protagonist is the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Who is really on top in the struggle is not always clear.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3038796/how-china-led-aiib-and-us-backed-adb-can-cooperate-infrastructure

Huge leaks are exposing Xinjiang’s re-education camps. But don’t expect Beijing to back down

The leaks paint a grim picture of heavily fortified re-education centers, designed to turn Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities into good Chinese citizens

Nov 27 — “The Chinese government’s carefully constructed narrative around its Xinjiang detention centers appears to have been shattered by hundreds of pages of leaked documents published by Western media over the last two weeks. Beijing has long insisted that its vast camps are voluntary “vocational training centers,” where people learn job skills and are then free to leave.” READ MORE: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/11/26/asia/china-xinjiang-leaks-analysis-intl-hnk/index.html

Sergey Kwan