Weekly Digest of Central Asia

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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

EXPO 2017 in Kazakhstan: when the carnival is over

After the Expo 2017 in Astana is over, the question is was it worth the money spent on it and what to do with the expensive complex that hosted the large-scale event

Sep 26 — “A giant globe flanked by a pair of hardly less modest looking humps on either side, surrounded by several blocks of square buildings on the desolate outskirts of Astana – itself not exactly an organic urban centre and in turn located in an endless barren environment. This is what is left of the complex hosting this year’s EXPO through summer.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/18687-expo-2017-in-kazakhstan-when-the-carnival-is-over

Kazakhstan to increase gas exports to China

Kazakhstan is a major transit country for gas exports from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to China through the Central Asia-China gas pipeline that goes to China’s western Xinjiang province at the border with Kazakhstan

Sep 27 — “Energy-rich Kazakhstan intends to increase the export and transit of gas to China up to 100 billion cubic meters per year. This was announced by Erkanat Temirkhanov, Deputy General Director for Transformation and Development of KazTransGas JSC, who spoke at the 16th ERRA conference on investments and energy regulation” READ MORE: http://www.hellenicshippingnews.com/kazakhstan-to-increase-gas-exports-to-china/

KAZAKHSTAN’S TOURISM: TOURIST TRAFFIC GREW BY 21% SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THIS YEAR

Among foreign tourists, Kazakhstan is mostly visited by tourists from Germany, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea, and China

Sep 28 — “Kazakhstan is gaining recognition as a new tourist destination. Local travel agencies are offering a wide range of services in order to attract a greater number of tourists. Tourist traffic grew by 21% since the beginning of this year.” READ MORE: http://kazakh-tv.kz/en/view/news_kazakhstan/page_187696_kazakhstan’s-tourism-tourist-traffic-grew-by-21-since-the-beginning-of-this-year

Kazakhstan needs to establish Kazakh school of Islamic studies, says minister

Kazakhstan established the Ministry for Religions and Civil Society Affairs in September 2016 to pursue government policies to preserve the secular nature of the state, ensure citizens’ rights to freedom of conscience, and prevent the increasing influence of radical ideologies

Sep 28 — “Kazakh Minister for Religions and Civil Society Affairs Nurlan Yermekbayev spoke about the need to establish a Kazakh school of Islamic studies during a Sept. 18 Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) government hour.” READ MORE: http://astanatimes.com/2017/09/kazakhstan-needs-to-establish-kazakh-school-of-islamic-studies-says-minister/

Kazakhstan Boosts Its International Credentials By Playing Role Of Peacekeeper

By hosting several rounds of talks on Syria in Astana and the international low-enriched uranium bank, Kazakhstan has raised its international profile as a regional peacekeeper

Sep 28 — “Having played a role in mitigating conflicts and maintaining peace in Africa and the Middle East, to spearheading a major global initiative aimed at reducing the number of countries capable of producing enriched uranium, Kazakhstan has steadily played the role of peacekeeper and peace-broker since its founding in 1991.” READ MORE: https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/kazakhstan-boosts-its-international-credentials-by-playing-role-of-peacekeeper-2017-9-27-1/

Iran, Kazakhstan Call for Increased Naval Relations

As Caspian littoral states are yet to determine the legal status of the sea, their navies continue friendly contacts with each other, strengthening security and stability in the hydrocarbon rich Caspian region

Sep 28 — “Amid the arrival of Kazakhstan’s flotilla in northern Iran, Iranian and Kazakh naval commanders underlined the importance of further engagement and continued relations based on peace and friendship in the Caspian Sea region.” READ MORE: http://ifpnews.com/exclusive/iran-kazakhstan-call-increased-naval-relations/

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: Foreigners May Be Allowed to Buy Real Estate

The move is intended to attract more foreign investment but it can also cause some discontent of local population

Sep 26 — “Parliament in Kyrgyzstan this week began considering changes to the law that would allow foreign citizens to freely build and buy property.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/85286

Following The Twists, Turns In Kyrgyzstan’s Presidential Race

As before, the presidential election campaign in Kyrgyzstan is taking place amid accusations of the use of “administrative resources” and political bargaining among the numerous candidates

Sep 26 — “There are no elections in Central Asia like Kyrgyzstan’s elections, and the upcoming presidential election there is further proof of that. As of early August, there were 59 people saying they would run for president. There are now 11 candidates left in the race and there will probably be even fewer by October 15, when the election is held.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-kyrgyzstan-election-rundown/28758572.html

Chaarat speeds up work in Kyrgyzstan as investment climate improves

The investment climate for mining companies in Kyrgyzstan is said to have improved with the conclusion of a long-running dispute between the Kyrgyz government and Canadian firm Centerra in relation to the Kumtor mine

Sep 27 — “Exploration and development company Chaarat Gold is planning to accelerate work on its Kyrgyzstan gold project, which has all the necessary approvals in place for production to start in 2019.” READ MORE: http://www.miningweekly.com/article/chaarat-speeds-up-work-in-kyrgyzstan-as-investment-climate-improves-2017-09-27/rep_id:3650

Kyrgyzstan trying to sell major mobile operator by direct sale

The planned deal to sell Kyrgyzstan’s major cellular communication company to a little-known Russian investor has sparked debates in parliament and society

Sep 28 — “In Kyrgyzstan, the main news of this week was that a Russian citizen, Elena Nagornaya, importer of coffee and tea from Africa, is going to buy the Alfa Telecom CJSC (MegaCom trademark) mobile operator. MegaCom was offered for auction five times, but no one applied for participation.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/18699-kyrgyzstan-trying-to-sell-major-mobile-operator-by-direct-sale

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan’s crackdown on observant Muslims intensifies

The government’s efforts to suppress Islam and prevent religious extremism sometimes have the opposite effect and ‘help’ radicalize devout Tajik Muslims

Sep 21 — “THE young Tajik man does not want to leave home, despite his mother’s assurance that he looks fine. The day before he had sported a curly black beard, just like his friends from the mosque. But the police had frogmarched him and other bearded young men to the barber shop, where their beards were shaved off.” READ MORE: https://www.economist.com/news/asia/21729451-beards-veils-madrassas-and-arabic-sounding-names-are-all-banned-tajikistans-crackdown-observant

In effort to combat extremism, Tajikistan’s government places further restrictions on what people can wear

Authorities in Tajikistan continue imposing restrictions on the private lives of Tajik citizens in the name of combating religious extremism. Such moves, however, may cause the opposite effect, driving Tajik Muslims into the hands of banned Islamist organizations

Sep 24 — “In early September, six million mobile phone users in Tajikistan received text messages telling them to “respect traditional clothes” and “make it a tradition to wear traditional clothes.” The messages, sent at the behest of the State Committee on Women’s and Family Affairs, are the latest stage in a government campaign to suppress Islamic clothing in the name of countering violent extremism” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/18676-in-effort-to-combat-extremism-tajikistan-s-government-places-further-restrictions-on-what-people-can-wear

Tajikistan: Anti-Graft Officials Snared in Elite Rumble are Sentenced

The recent arrests and convictions of high-ranking law enforcement officials in Tajikistan may be the ruling elite’s steps to consolidate their grip on power which is in fact in the hands of President Rahmon and his family members

Sep 26 — “Tajikistan’s highest court has over the past few weeks been convicting former top officials in the nation’s anti-corruption agency in cases that look to be not so much about graft as elite infighting.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/85281

Meet Tajikistan’s embattled Islamists

Under the pretext of combating terrorism and religious extremism, authorities in Tajikistan are proceeding with one of the worst crackdowns on dissent since the country’s independence

Sep 28 — “On a rainy day in March, I met Ilhomjon Yaqubov in a town I will not name. In a nondescript socialist-era apartment block, we drank tea from ceramic bowls, and ate dried fruits. Two years ago, Ilhomjon was detained by the Tajik authorities, beaten, and made to renounce his membership of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) on camera.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan to hold int’l golf tournament

Turkmenistan, located in the Karakum desert, is to open a golf course in Ashgabat, and plans to hold an international golf tournament after lavishly hosting the Asian Indoor Games this month

Sep 26 — “Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov gave specific instructions the capital administration to hold an international golf tournament, the Turkmenistan TV channel reported Sept. 26.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/casia/turkmenistan/2800756.html

Turkmen economy should be based on market relations

As the Turkmen economy is experiencing hard times due to decreasing export revenues caused by lower natural gas prices, the government is looking for ways to diversify the economy now based on the oil and gas sector

Sep 27 — “Supporting the entrepreneurship and private sector remains one of the most prioritized areas in terms of the large-scale economic reforms carried out in Turkmenistan. The state will continue to support entrepreneurship, promote the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, said Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/119584.html

Some Winners, Many Losers, After Turkmenistan Hosts Asian Games

Turkmenistan’s hosting the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games was a vanity project of one man: President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who for 10 days wanted the world to come and pay attention to Turkmenistan

Sep 28 — “The fifth international Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG), hosted by Turkmenistan, have come to a close, ushered out with the same lavish pomp that marked the entire 10-day event. In defiance of expectations, or logic, Turkmenistan’s athletes, who had never won a medal in any major international sporting event, came out on top by a very large margin.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-asian-games-winners-losers-money-berdymukhammedov/28762293.html

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan in the Spotlight

Under the new president, Uzbekistan is taking steps to engage in dialogue, constructive interaction and strengthening the good-neighborliness with Central Asian countries

Sep 27 — “In the week before Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, died last year, Uzbek and Kyrgyz border troops were facing off on a mountain. The standoff was just the most recent flare in a 25-year-old dispute over the border and part of a larger deterioration in relations between the two Central Asian states.” READ MORE: http://thediplomat.com/2017/09/uzbekistan-in-the-spotlight/

American companies expand activity in Uzbekistan

As Uzbekistan has taken a number of steps to liberalize its currency regime and introduce economic reforms, the country has become more attractive to foreign companies and investors

Sep 28 — “The American-Uzbek business ties are expected to grow as a number of U.S. companies seek to enter the market of Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation of over 30 million. U.S. Eximbank resumes cooperation with Uzbekistan after a 13-year pause, Sukhrob Holmuradov, chairman of the board of the National Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs (NBU), said during a meeting on September 27.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/119651.html

Panel cautiously optimistic on improving human rights in Uzbekistan

Analysts say that Uzbekistan’s ongoing reforms in the spheres of human rights and economy might not be deep enough to build a true democracy in the tightly controlled country

Sep 29 — “A panel of scholars and journalists convened in Washington, D.C. in late September to voice cautious optimism that Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev – overwhelmingly elected to succeed the late autocratic ruler Islam Karimov in 2016 — can bring democratic and human rights reforms to the Central Asian nation.” READ MORE: http://astanatimes.com/2017/09/panel-cautiously-optimistic-on-improving-human-rights-in-uzbekistan/

Uzbekistan: cotton slave labor out, human rights ombudsman in?

After years of being condemned by international rights organizations for the use of forced and child labor on cotton fields, the government of Uzbekistan has suddenly abandoned the practice during the ongoing harvesting season. It remains to be seen if the move is irreversible or just a campaign to mend the country’s poor rights record

Sep 29 — “Just as the annual cotton-picking season entered its most intense phase in mid-September, the government made a surprise announcement to recall students and state workers from the fields.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/18705-uzbekistan-cotton-slave-labor-out-human-rights-ombudsman-in

AFGHANISTAN

EU to help Afghanistan curb illegal mining that fuels insurgency

Afghanistan is rich in mineral resources, but illegal mining poses serious threats to the country’s security and stability as it fuels insurgency

Sep 28 — “On September 27, the European Union Delegation in Afghanistan and Parliament of Afghanistan held a joint high level conference on “Challenges to the Extractive Industries and Impacts of Illegal Mining on Security and Stability in Afghanistan” with the participation of Muhmmad Sarwar Danish, Second Vice President of Afghanistan, and European Union Head of Delegation Ambassador Pierre Mayaudon.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/18696-eu-to-help-afghanistan-curb-illegal-mining-that-fuels-insurgency

NEITHER FRIEND NOR FOE: PAKISTAN, THE UNITED STATES AND THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

The Director of South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney believes that Pakistan and the United States do not share the same goals in the fight against terrorist groups: what the United States views as a threat to its national interest, Pakistan perceives as a vital national security interest in the region

Sep 28 — “In a speech announcing his administration’s Afghanistan policy, President Trump singled out Pakistan saying that the United States “can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations”. But the likelihood that increased US incentives or threats will change Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan are low. If anything the goals of the United States and Pakistan in Afghanistan have moved further apart.” READ MORE: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/neither-friend-nor-foe-pakistan-united-states-and-war-afghanistan

India a stabilising factor: US envoy to Afghanistan

In his South Asia strategy, US President Trump has made India the “stabilizing factor” in South Asia, as Washington and New Delhi are building a new strategic partnership aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan

Sep 28 — “Terror groups in Afghanistan form a very tiny minority and huge sections of the population are hopeful of a better future where India as a natural strategic partner of Kabul has a significant role to play, said Hugo Llorens, US Ambassador to Afghanistan.” READ MORE: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-a-stabilising-factor-us-envoy-to-afghanistan/articleshow/60875582.cms

In Afghanistan, Mattis Confident of Eventually Breaking Stalemate

During their visit to Afghanistan this week, the Pentagon and NATO chiefs reiterated their committment to support the government and security forces of Afghanistan in their fight against the Taliban and other militant groups in the country

Sep 29 — “The new U.S. strategy for the war in Afghanistan unveiled last month by President Donald Trump is already showing results insisted senior military officials who met with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Afghanistan this week.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/a/afghanistan-mattis-confident-of-ending-stalemate/4049401.html

WORLD

Kurdistan: after vote for independence, what’s next?

An independent Kurdistan will present problems for other states with secessionist movements, and change the status quo in the Middle East region and beyond

Sep 27 — “After much anticipation and under threat of retaliation, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan turned out in high numbers to return what appears to be an overwhelming vote in favour of independence from Iraq. Advocates for independence covered a broad spectrum, from those using the vote as a way to negotiate a better future within Iraq to those demanding a new sovereign state.” READ MORE: http://theconversation.com/kurdistan-after-vote-for-independence-whats-next-84715

China Eyes Syria Rebuild

Chinese entrepreneurs are showing greater interest in the reconstruction of Syria as part of Beijing’s One Belt, One Road initiative

Sep 28 — “Since this past April, at least 30 Chinese have traveled to Syria looking for investment opportunities in the war-torn country, entering it from Lebanon. Their visit took them to Damascus and Homs where they were greeted by Syrian ministers and governors and could sit down and discuss possible projects.” READ MORE: https://sputniknews.com/business/201709281057764315-china-eyes-syria-rebuild/

Can Russia’s own ‘belt and road’ project make a big impact?

Russian expert believes that the point of Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership idea is, among others, an attempt to bring greater international legitimacy to the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union

Sep 29 — “Even though the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is in limbo, large-scale economic projects remain the latest trend in geo-economic competition among great powers. Central, South and East Asia seem to be in the focus of such schemes, from China’s “belt and road” to South Korea’s Eurasia Initiative. Russia has rolled out a mega project of its own – the “Greater Eurasian Partnership” READ MORE: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2113366/can-russias-own-belt-and-road-project-make-big-impact

Sergey Kwan

TCA