Weekly Digest of Central Asia

BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Central Asia is an important geopolitical area between Europe, Russia and China. It is in Central Asia that world powers have confronted each other for centuries; it is here that China needs to succeed with its new Silk Road Belt for direct access to the Western markets; and it is here that a large wealth of raw materials has its origin. Every week thousands of news appears all over the world in printed and online media and it is quite understandable that 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 the region, and for this reason we are presenting this Weekly Digest of Central Asia which compiles what other media have reported during the past week.

KAZAKHSTAN

The Reality of Religious Freedom in Kazakhstan

As it has happened to political and press freedoms, religious freedom has also constricted over the past decade in Kazakhstan

July 14 — “For those whose impressions of Kazakhstan’s domestic religious situation come solely from public relations whitewash, the country might appear a multiconfessional bastion in a region rocked by fundamentalism.” READ MORE: http://thediplomat.com/2017/07/the-reality-of-religious-freedom-in-kazakhstan/

Kazakhstan and Eurasia new oil consortium in a multi-billion Caspian project

Given the ongoing efforts and finance in alternative and renewable energy sources, there will be an excess of supply and the Eurasia oil project may remain unfinished due to the lack of financial convenience

July 16 — “In a move presented as glorious and spectacular, oil companies from Russia (Rosneft), China (CNPC), Kazakhstan (Kazmunaygas), Azerbaijan (SOCAR) and Italy (Eni) have teamed up to form a consortium for the exploration and exploitation of what is expected to be a new “giant” located in the very heart of the northern Caspian tectonic structure.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/18349-kazakhstan-and-eurasia-new-oil-consortium-in-a-multi-billion-caspian-project

Kazakhstan Seeks to Become Regional Hub for Cryptocurrency Industry

The government in Kazakhstan has announced plans to make the country host to “the most favourable business climate” for cryptocurrency and fintech companies

July 17 — “Kazakhstan has announced that the AIFC will work in partnership with Deloitte and Waves to develop a permissive regulatory apparatus for cryptocurrency, blockchain, and fintech businesses.” READ MORE: https://news.bitcoin.com/kazakhstan-seeks-to-become-regional-hub-for-cryptocurrency-industry/

Kazakhstan Bets Big On China’s Silk Road

For Kazakhstan, China is perhaps the main economic partner along with Russia. But unlike Russia, Beijing offers big financial investments in infrastructure and transport-transit projects

July 18 — “The jury is still out about China’s One Belt One Road development project. But Kazakhstan isn’t too worried. If there is one country in Eurasia, if not the world, that is more gung-ho about the new Silk Road to Europe, it’s these guys.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2017/07/18/kazakhstan-bets-big-on-chinas-silk-road/#6bf78d7a5805

Russia looks to give Kazakhstan MiG-35 workshare

Russia and Kazakhstan agreed to establish servicing and production centres for Russia’s MiG-35 warplanes in Kazakhstan, in a new step to bolster their defense cooperation

July 21 — “Russia’s MiG has signed an agreement with Kazakh firm Kazakhstan Engineering to help promote the MiG-35 ‘Fulcrum-F’ to the Kazakh government, alongside a number of potential workshare and offset agreements.” READ MORE: http://www.janes.com/article/72518/russia-looks-to-give-kazakhstan-mig-35-workshare

Ukraine and Kazakhstan: 25 years of friendship and cooperation

A Ukrainian former Foreign Minister reviews the history, the present and prospects of relations between his country and Kazakhstan

July 22 — “July 22, 2017 is a special date in the modern history of Ukrainian-Kazakh relations as it marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our states.” READ MORE: http://astanatimes.com/2017/07/ukraine-and-kazakhstan-25-years-of-friendship-and-cooperation/

KYRGYZSTAN

Did Kyrgyzstan get sold a hydropower pup?

A EurasiaNet article looks into a scandal around Kyrgyzstan’s major hydropower project that has been taken up by a little-known Czech company. The project of the Naryn hydropower plants cascade was previously abandoned by Russia over cashflow problems

July 19 — “Barely a week passed after Kyrgyzstan triumphantly declared it had struck a deal with an international company willing to take up one of its ambitious hydropower projects for the agreement to begin looking highly suspect.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/18364-did-kyrgyzstan-get-sold-a-hydropower-pup

Kyrgyzstan detains terror suspect preparing for attack

Fortunately, there have been no major terrorist acts in Kyrgyzstan so far. But as hundreds of Kyrgyz citizens have been fighting with Islamic State militants in Syria, and many of them may return to their home country, such a threat is becoming more realistic

July 20 — “National Security Committee of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan officers detained a suspect in preparation of a terrorist attack in the country, the press service of the committee reported on Wednesday. The 37-year-old detainee, a citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic, is a member of the international terrorist organization, said the report.” READ MORE: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1057189.shtml

China, Kyrgyzstan discuss setting up cooperation fund

China is a leading investment partner of Kyrgyzstan, which due to its location in the heart of Eurasia can benefit from Beijing’s One Belt, One Road project

July 21 — “A delegation of China’s Silk Road Fund was here Thursday for a meeting to discuss establishing a cooperation fund between Kyrgyzstan and China within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.” READ MORE: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2017-07/21/content_30200179.htm

Kyrgyzstan presidential election: leading party poised to reinforce its position

With the support of pro-presidential SDPK party and expected votes in the south of the country, the current Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov seems to be a leading candidate in the upcoming presidential election

July 22 — “The cards may not have been completely shuffled but it is already clear who hold the trump card in the upcoming presidential polls in Kyrgyzstan scheduled for October 15: current Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov and outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/18377-kyrgyzstan-presidential-election-leading-party-poised-to-reinforce-its-position

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan: Authorities Go After Relatives of Opposition

Tajik authorities have banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan — the only real opposition force in the tightly-controlled country. Now, the authorities are persecuting relatives of those opposition members that remain in Tajikistan

July 19 — “A crackdown in Tajikistan that began in 2015 has forced large swaths of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan membership into self-imposed exile, with many resettling in Poland and Germany.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/84441

Tajikistan to get $230M from China for new parliament building

Along with Russia, China is a major foreign investor in Tajikistan. But unlike Russia, China is the main investor in Tajikistan’s infrastructure projects in various spheres

July 19 — “China will provide Tajikistan with $230 million to build a new parliament, authorities in the impoverished state said on Wednesday, the latest step by Beijing to bolster its influence in the country.” READ MORE: http://www.trtworld.com/asia/tajikistan-to-get-230m-from-china-for-new-parliament-building-404260

TAJIKISTAN: Protestant Pastor jailed for three years

Authorities in Tajikistan have imposed a ban on all exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission. Officials say this policy is aimed at preventing and suppressing any signs of religious extremism

July 20 — “Protestant Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov has been jailed for three years for allegedly “singing extremist songs in church and so inciting ‘religious hatred'”. Tajikistan has threatened family members, friends, and church members with reprisals if they reveal any details of the case, trial, or jailing.” READ MORE: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2298

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan, U.S. keen to develop business ties

As Washington supports regional gas pipeline projects from Turkmenistan, such as TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) and the Trans-Caspian pipeline, to transport Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan and on to Europe via Turkey, Turkmen-US trade and economic ties remain weak

July 19 — “Trade and economic relations were high on agenda as Washington hosted the Turkmen-U.S. business session on development of business ties on July 18. The event was held with the participation of officials of Argus Ltd, Boeing, CNH Industrial, Ellicott Dredges, General Electric, John Deere, Lindsey, Microsoft, Oxbox Energy Solution, Caterpillar and Westport Trading Europe Ltd, said the Turkmen Foreign Ministry.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/116421.html

Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan seek to bolster ties

The three Turkic-speaking countries have big potential of trilateral cooperation in the transit and transport sphere, and in the export of natural gas to Europe

July 19 — “Foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on Wednesday exchanged their views on strengthening cooperation among the three countries. “This trilateral meeting will solidly strengthen the ties between the three countries,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.” READ MORE: http://www.trtworld.com/turkey/turkey-azerbaijan-turkmenistan-seek-to-bolster-ties-404259

Turkmenistan’s foreign minister sent to raise funds for Asian Games

Turkmenistan lacks some $1.5 billion to host the Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games to be held in Ashgabat this September, as the country is experiencing an economic downturn caused by low prices for its hydrocarbon resources

July 21 — “Over the past few days Turkmenistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Rashid Meredov has visited Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, and Azerbaijan where he held meetings with his counterparts and heads of state, the Chronicles of Turkmenistan independent website reported on July 20.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/18374-turkmenistan-s-foreign-minister-sent-to-raise-funds-for-asian-games

Romania ready for partnership with Turkmenistan in energy, transport fields

Turkmenistan and Romania seek cooperation in developing the Black Sea-Caspian Sea trade and transport corridor using the advantages of Constanta and Turkmenbashi ports

July 22 — “Romania’s President Klaus Werner Iohannis sent a letter to Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov congratulating him and the people of Turkmenistan on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/casia/turkmenistan/2780002.html

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan bans 225 foreign films

The listed films have been banned due to “scenes of violence, inhumanity, ruthlessness, promotion of the consumption of alcohol and tobacco products, promiscuity, frivolity, sexual intemperance, homosexuality, and swinging”

July 17 — “Last week, Uzbekistan’s Agency for Intellectual Property unveiled a list of 225 foreign films to be banned for import and distribution in the country, with the offending works featuring such risqué themes as homosexuality, swinging and promoting the use of tobacco products.” READ MORE: https://www.calvertjournal.com/news/show/8607/uzbekistan-bans-225-foreign-films

British Museum helps return stolen artefact to Uzbekistan

The prime minister of Uzbekistan expressed his “sincere gratitude” to the British side, as the Uzbek government is now going to restore the monument

July 17 — “The British Museum has helped to recover an important medieval Islamic artefact that surfaced in a London gallery after it was stolen from a monument in Uzbekistan. The enormous calligraphic glazed tile – half a metre in height – had disappeared in 2014. Thieves left a gaping hole after they removed it from the magnificent entrance facade of a 12th-century monument, just over 12 miles (20km) from Bukhara, the Unesco world heritage site on the ancient Silk Road route.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/17/british-museum-helps-return-stolen-artefact-to-uzbekistan

EU grants 21 million euros for horticulture development project in Uzbekistan

This week Brussels hosted the first meeting of the EU-Uzbekistan council since 2015 and the highest-level political meeting between the European Union and Uzbekistan since the death of longtime Uzbek President Islam Karimov in 2016

July 18 — “On July 17, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Kamilov, in Brussels, attended a meeting of Uzbekistan-European Union Cooperation Council and met with Stefano Manservisi, Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO), and Helga Schmid, the Secretary General of European External Action Service (EEAS), Uzbekistan’s official Jahon information agency reported.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/18358-eu-grants-21-million-euros-for-horticulture-development-project-in-uzbekistan

AFGHANISTAN

The ‘Blackwater 2.0’ Plan for Afghanistan

There are proposals to send a private mercenary army to Afghanistan instead of sending more US troops. In both cases, it is the American taxpayer who will pay the bill

July 17 — “Here’s a crazy idea floating around Washington these days, outlandish even by today’s outlandish standards: The United States should hire a mercenary army to “fix” Afghanistan, a country where we’ve been at war since 2001, spending billions along the way.” READ MORE: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/07/afghanistan-erik-prince-trump-britain/533580/

India ‘well-suited’ for greater role in Afghanistan, US Senate committee says

Like China, India is a major infrastructure investor in Afghanistan, but New Delhi does not consider any direct military involvement in the war-torn country

July 20 — “India can work closely with the US and Afghanistan in providing security in the war-torn country and supporting wider stability in the region, the US Senate Armed Services Committee says, but Indian experts rule out any direct military involvement of India in Afghanistan, Russia’s Sputnik news agency reports.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/18369-india-well-suited-for-greater-role-in-afghanistan-us-senate-committee-says

Trump suggests that more U.S. troops might not be needed in Afghanistan

Washington has not yet decided if to send more US troops to Afghanistan, as many experts say a troops increase will not help to curb insurgency in the country

July 20 — “President Trump suggested in a visit to the Pentagon Thursday that he might hold off on sending more troops to Afghanistan, despite a recent order that he signed authorizing the Pentagon to add more forces.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-has-rare-meeting-of-full-national-security-team-to-discuss-afghanistan/2017/07/19/05c25cc6-6cc4-11e7-9c15-177740635e83_story.html?utm_term=.1ef735cb70dd

The stakes are high for China in Pakistan and Afghanistan

China needs regional stability as it invests billions in infrastructure projects in Pakistan as part of its One Belt, One Road project, which could also involve Afghanistan

July 21 — “The world wants China to persuade North Korea to abandon its insistence on developing nuclear weapons, believing that Beijing alone has the influence to do this. It is also seen as the only power that can reduce the worsening relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and bring the Taliban to the peace table.” READ MORE: https://www.ft.com/content/3a779394-66e5-11e7-9a66-93fb352ba1fe

WORLD

A reverse side of struggle against ISIS in Central Asia

An expert in political Islam analyzes how members of opposition in Central Asian countries emerge as jihadists

July 21 — “Often, the authorities of the Central Asian states fight against supporters of the so-called “Islamic states” by using the actions of their political opponents to prosecute their family members. In particular, under the slogan of combating Islamic extremism Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon has been repressing the leaders of Islamic Revolutionary Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and their family more than two years.” READ MORE: http://moderndiplomacy.eu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=2786;a-reverse-side-of-struggle-against-isis-in-central-asia&Itemid=134

India 3rd largest terror target after Iraq and Afghanistan: US report

India has to deal with terror groups operating from safe havens in Pakistan and an upsurge in attacks in Jammu & Kashmir. At the same time, experts warn that India can become a potential target for Islamic State militants

July 23 — “India has displaced Pakistan on a list of countries facing terror attacks in 2016, with higher fatalities and injuries than its restive neighbour, according to data compiled by the US state department.” READ MORE: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-3rd-largest-terror-target-after-iraq-and-afghanistan-us-report/articleshow/59719216.cms

Commentary: One Belt, One Road, a grand design drawing the world closer to China

The Financial Times’ political commentator Philip Stephens says Beijing’s One Belt, One Road Initiative is drawing Eurasian nations closer to China

July 23 — “Among this year’s under-reported events was the opening of a new rail freight route. A locomotive, pulling wagons loaded with Chinese manufactures, set out in early January from Yiwu in Zhejiang province. Some 18 days and seven countries later, it arrived at a goods depot almost 7,500 miles away on the eastern edge of London. The jury is out on the economics of this latest reincarnation of the ancient silk route.” READ MORE: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/commentary-one-belt-one-road-a-grand-design-drawing-the-world-9052206

Sergey Kwan

TCA

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.
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Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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