Weekly Digest of Central Asia

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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

Kazakhstan Railways: more comfort, better safety, bigger opportunities in light of Silk Road’s reincarnation

As Kazakhstan lies at the crossroads of transit routes between China and Europe, Kazakhsan’s national railway company plays a key role in Eurasian cargo flows from the East to West

Dec 4 — “In an exclusive interview with The Astana Times, Kazakhstan Railways (KTZ) Chairman of the Management Board Kanat Alpysbayev spoke about the national logistic operator’s priorities, its development within the Digital Kazakhstan programme and the ways to make Kazakhstan more attractive for transit cargo traffic, an area that has seen remarkable changes as Kazakhstan’s Nurly Zhol infrastructure development programme and China’s Belt and Road Initiative have moved forward full steam ahead.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2017/12/kazakhstan-temir-zholy-more-comfort-better-safety-bigger-opportunities-in-light-of-silk-roads-reincarnation/

Kazakhstan: prime minister promises paradise for foreign investors

During the current difficult period for the national economy, Kazakhstan’s Government reiterated its commitment to the policy of creating the most favorable conditions for foreign investors

Dec 5 — “On December 5, at Kazakhstan Global Investment Roundtable in Astana, Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev discussed topical issues of investing in Kazakhstan with representatives of more than 100 major companies from 30 countries, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reports.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19022-kazakhstan-prime-minister-promises-paradise-for-foreign-investors

Turning 20, Astana is the pride of Kazakhstan

The Astana Times editorial looks through the 20-year history of Kazakhstan’s new capital city, which has during this period hosted many high-profile international events

Dec 6 — “When the settlement of Akmola was established on the banks of the Yessil River in 1830, perhaps few could have imagined that this place, which initially had a population of approximately 2,000 people, would one day become a major modern city and a transport and financial hub for Eurasia.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2017/12/turning-20-astana-is-the-pride-of-kazakhstan/

Kazakhstan: President Demands Return of Offshore Funds

With two capital amnesties over the years since independence, Kazakhstan is again trying to bring money from foreign accounts back home to make it work for the country’s economy

Dec 6 — “Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has threatened companies stashing money abroad with ominous consequences unless they repatriate their funds, media reported. The president’s latest sally against the prevalent use of offshore banking accounts is, however, undermined by his own family’s predilection for salting away their riches overseas.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86386

Green Technologies Introduced in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is moving to collect used fluorescent bulbs for further recycling, in a drive to switch to energy saving and environmentally friendly technologies in the people’s daily life

Dec 7 — “Two hundred containers for the disposal of mercury-containing bulbs are to be installed in the cities of the Pavlodar region of Kazakhstan, Pavlodar, Ekibastuz, and Aksu, at no cost. In the regional center, there will be 160 containers, in Ekibastuz 30 and 10 in Aksu.” READ MORE: http://georgiatoday.ge/news/8459/Green-Technologies-Introduced-in-Pavlodar%2C-Kazakhstan

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan territorial disputes threaten regional stability

Shared by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, the densely-populated Fergana Valley is an area of disputed borderlines, enclaves and exclaves. While Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have of late agreed on delimitation of the majority of their border, the situation with the Kyrgyz-Tajik border delimitation remains unresolved

Dec 5 — “After gaining their independence a quarter century ago, all of the countries of the post-Soviet space have had to delimit their borders with each other. Most have had conflicts, but all but a few of those have since been resolved. One of the most serious of the remaining border conflicts involves the state border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as the status of an ethnic-Tajik exclave (Borukh) within the borders of Kyrgyzstan.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19021-kyrgyzstan-tajikistan-territorial-disputes-threaten-regional-stability

Serbia, Kyrgyzstan agree to cancel visas for citizens of both countries

For Serbia, Kyrgyzstan could become a doorway for trade with its largest Eurasian Economic Union fellow members — Kazakhstan and Russia

Dec 6 — “Serbia and Kyrgyzstan Tuesday signed an agreement to cancel visas for citizens of the two countries. The deal was signed by the foreign ministers of Serbia and Kyrgyzstan Ivica Dacic and Erlan Abdyldaev, according to the government’s press office.” READ MORE: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-12/06/c_136803322.htm

Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan Dispute on Track for Resolution, but Risks Remain

The border controls dispute between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, although successfully resolved, has revealed weaknesses in the regulatory structure of the Eurasian Economic Union and high potentiality of conflicts between its member states

Dec 7 — “Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are the only two countries of Central Asia that participate in regional economic integration as members of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). While bilateral relations have historically been cordial, with Kazakhstan actively supporting Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to modernize its economy and ensure macroeconomic stability, their recent trade dispute has had many skeptics predicting the unraveling of the EEU.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/kazakhstan-kyrgyzstan-dispute-track-resolution-risks-remain/

A Kyrgyz Democratic Revolution?

Analyst looks into the significance of Kyrgyzstan’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power for the country and Central Asia region

Dec 8 — “The Kyrgyz Republic, a small mountainous country in Central Asia, has been through multiple violent revolutions, in both 2005 and 2010.The post-Soviet nation has just been through another revolution, yet of a completely different kind; on October 15th, the nation held its first truly democratic elections, not just in the country’s history, but in that of the region’s.” READ MORE: http://www.brownpoliticalreview.org/2017/12/kyrgyz-democratic-revolution/

TAJIKISTAN

Solar capacity ups by more than half in developing nations: cases of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan

In Tajikistan, a public-private partnership supported by the Tajik Government, the World Bank Group, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and the Aga Khan Foundation was awarded a 25-year concession granting it a monopoly over generation, transmission and retail of electricity in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region

Dec 4 — “New solar-powered generating capacity is growing at a crackling pace in emerging markets including Central Asia. The growth is fuelled by low-priced equipment and innovative new applications that are expanding energy access for millions, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) finds in a comprehensive new study of clean energy activity in key developing nations.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19015-solar-capacity-ups-by-more-than-half-in-developing-nations-cases-of-kyrgyzstan-tajikistan

Tajikistan to allocate over $125.4 million from state budget for external debt

Tajikistan’s external debt now exceeds $2.8 billion, with China being the country’s largest foreign creditor

Dec 5 — “More than 1.1 billion somoni (more than $125.4 million) is planned to be allocated from the state budget of Tajikistan for servicing the main external debt next year. Financing of repayment of the country’s main external debt is determined in the amount of 1.6 percent of the GDP, or more than 1.1 billion somoni, according to the Tajik Finance Ministry.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/123482.html

Tajikistan: Aluminum Giant Suffers Output Slump

TALCO produces Tajikistan’s main export commodity — aluminium, which brings in large state-budget revenues but at the same time is a very energy-consuming production in a country suffering from chronic electricity deficit

Dec 7 — “Tajik Aluminum Company, by far Tajikistan’s largest industrial concern, has said it reduced output by 23 percent over the first 10 months of 2017, compared to the same period last year. The company, better known by its acronym TALCO, said that aluminum production over that period reached 85,600 tons.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86396

Tajik Journalist Arrested, Charged After Alleged Extortion By Officials

In the tightly controlled Tajikistan, the profession of journalist is associated with the risk of being prosecuted by authorities, often on fabricated charges

Dec 8 — “Prominent Tajik journalist Hairullo Mirsaidov has been arrested and charged with embezzlement, inciting hatred, document forgery, and false reporting to police.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-journalist-mirsaidov-arrested-extortion/28905563.html

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan’s Bogus Budget

With the current economic downturn in Turkmenistan caused by lower natural-gas export revenues, the country’s state budget for next year looks unrealistic

Dec 2 — “Turkmenistan’s parliament approved a budget for 2018 that is amazing — one could even say unbelievable. According to the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH), the 2018 budget approved on November 24 plans revenues of some 95.508 billion manats and expenses of approximately the same amount.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-bogus-budget/28892094.html

Turkmenistan to take $1.8 billion gas dispute with Iran to international arbitration

With China remaining Turkmenistan’s only natural-gas buyer today, Ashgabat is taking steps to somehow resolve its long-lasting gas dispute with Tehran, in an apparent move to resume gas supplies to Iran

Dec 6 — “Turkmenistan plans to take to international arbitration a dispute with Iran over $1.8 billion Ashgabat claims Tehran owes for Turkmen natural gas deliveries, Turkmen media reported on December 5. Turkmenistan stopped the gas flow to Iran in January 2017, demanding that the Islamic Republic settle a debt which allegedly remained outstanding from previous supplies.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19024-turkmenistan-to-take-1-8-billion-gas-dispute-with-iran-to-international-arbitration

Strengthening Links With a New Member State: IAEA Mission to Turkmenistan Explore New Areas of Cooperation

The fact-finding mission will help the International Atomic Energy Agency and Turkmenistan to shape technical cooperation projects and find other areas of cooperation

Dec 6 — “During a busy week in Ashgabat from 6 to 10 November, a team of IAEA staff held detailed discussions with a wide range of government institutions in Turkmenistan, to set up the first technical cooperation programme in the country.” READ MORE: https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/strengthening-links-with-a-new-member-state-iaea-mission-to-turkmenistan-explore-new-areas-of-cooperation

Turkmenistan: Animal Rights Activist Detained

Human Rights Watch says that authorities in authoritarian Turkmenistan tolerate no criticism, ‘not even on the treatment of stray animals’

Dec 7 — “Police in Turkmenistan arbitrarily detained a prominent animal rights activist, Galina Kucherenko, on December 7, 2017, and are holding her at an undisclosed location, Human Rights Watch said” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/07/turkmenistan-animal-rights-activist-detained

UZBEKISTAN

Why Uzbekistan Should Be Your Next Destination

A few reasons why Uzbekistan should be the next travel destination for a Western tourist

Dec 5 — “In a world where going on holiday is as much about what to ‘gram next as it is about enjoyment, Uzbekistan hits both nails on the head. Whether you’re interested in the diverse culture, the rich history, the food, or simply the stunning architecture, this land-locked country has a little something for everyone.” READ MORE: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/why-uzbekistan-should-be-your-next-destination_uk_5a25db62e4b087120d865eb6

Afghanistan’s Ghani Visits Uzbekistan on Mission to Plug Into Central Asia

For landlocked Uzbekistan, Afghanistan’s railway links will in the future give access to Iran’s seaports and help boost international trade

Dec 5 — “The president of Afghanistan has visited Uzbekistan on a mission to plug his struggling nation into a region from which it has long been isolated, despite the tantalizing proximity.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86356

Uzbekistan: A Voice from Eurasia

A geopolitical analyst shares his opinion about Uzbekistan’s role in today’s world and how is the country perceived in the West

Dec 8 — “Uzbekistan is a peaceful friendly country, smiling faces, many of them struggling to make a living, but still smiling. Uzbekistan is a double landlocked nation, meaning she is surrounded by other landlocked countries; i.e., Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.” READ MORE: https://dissidentvoice.org/2017/12/uzbekistan-a-voice-from-eurasia/

Export, import of currency simplified in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has taken another step towards liberalization of its foreign-currency regime, which will help to further liberalize the Uzbek economy and attract investments

Dec 8 — “The procedure for compulsory declaration of foreign currency by individuals for import to Uzbekistan and export from the country within the amount equal to or not exceeding the equivalent of $2,000 will be canceled from January 1, 2018.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/123665.html

AFGHANISTAN

America Can’t Win the Drug War in Afghanistan

Opium production in Afghanistan has reached 9,000 tons, compared to 4,800 tons in 2016 — a record level since the UN began keeping opium production statistics in 1994

Dec 5 — “As if the United States needed more evidence that its sixteen-year mission in Afghanistan is an exercise in futility, a new United Nations report provides an additional reason for depression. The 2017 Afghanistan Opium Survey from the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, released on November 15, confirms that Washington’s effort to curb illicit narcotics trafficking in the country has failed.” READ MORE: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/america-cant-win-the-drug-war-afghanistan-23507

Afghanistan Is A Proxy War, Not An Insurgency

A retired US Army Reserve colonel and veteran of Afghanistan believes that the current US strategy in Afghanistan is a bridge to nowhere

Dec 7 — “There is a reason why we are still struggling in Afghanistan. We are fighting the wrong war, using the wrong strategy, under conditions that make it virtually impossible to win.” READ MORE: http://dailycaller.com/2017/12/07/afghanistan-is-a-proxy-war-not-an-insurgency/

Bombing to Victory in Afghanistan?

By increasing their airstrikes in Afghanistan the US military seem to repeat Russia’s strategy of combating, and defeating, Islamic State militants in Syria

Dec 8 — “Donald Trump has introduced a military policy aimed at winning the war in Afghanistan. So far, this has involved an increase in US combat troops and expansion of the aerial bombing campaign.” READ MORE: https://www.globalresearch.ca/bombing-to-victory-in-afghanistan/5622038

Private War: Erik Prince Has His Eye On Afghanistan’s Rare Metals

BuzzFeed News has published the slide presentation by the founder of Blackwater to privatize the Afghan war and mine Afghanistan’s valuable minerals

Dec 8 — “Controversial private security tycoon Erik Prince has famously pitched an audacious plan to the Trump administration: Hire him to privatize the war in Afghanistan using squads of “security contractors.” Now, for the first time, Buzzfeed News is publishing that pitch, a presentation that lays out how Prince wanted to take over the war from the US military — and how he envisioned mining some of the most war-torn provinces in Afghanistan to help fund security operations and obtain strategic mineral resources for the US.” READ MORE: https://www.buzzfeed.com/aramroston/private-war-erik-prince-has-his-eye-on-afghanistans-rare?utm_term=.hp9QErWzZ#.fpBRDZVvr

WORLD

Is Chabahar port a game changer in India-Afghanistan-Central Asia trade?

Iran’s Chabahar port will give Afghanistan access to the sea and to the markets of India, South Asia, and the Middle East, and will also enable Afghanistan and India to connect via the International North South Corridor to Central Asia and Russia

Dec 4 — “On December 3, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated the first phase of the Chabahar port development project on the Gulf of Oman, with the participation of senior Afghan and Indian ministers, including the Indian Minister for External Affairs Mrs. Sushma Swaraj.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19016-is-chabahar-port-a-game-changer-in-india-afghanistan-central-asia-trade

Is China’s Uyghur Challenge Changing Its Calculus on Syria?

Reports that Beijing plans to send Chinese special forces to Syria to assist the Assad regime in countering extremists, including Uyghur militants from the Turkestan Islamic Party, signal a shift in China’s policy in the Middle East

Dec 7 — “China’s approach to the Middle East is often described as an aloof one, defined by the pursuit of narrow self-interest. Wu Bingbing, professor of Arabic studies at Peking University, has argued that China’s approach has been guided by the maxim that it should be “detached generally and involved appropriately.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/is-chinas-uyghur-challenge-changing-its-calculus-on-syria/

‘Bring Turkey to Heel, Surround Russia’: US Mideast Strategy as Seen From Ankara

A Middle East political observer says that Washington’s targets include both Turkey and Iran, with the US’s long-term goal being to weaken the latter’s position in the region

Dec 7 — “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reiterated his concerns over ongoing US arms deliveries to Kurdish militia in Syria, and questioned the growing US military presence in the region, asking against whom the concentration of US power was aimed. Turkish political and security observers took a shot at answering the question.” READ MORE: https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201712071059801858-turkish-analysts-us-plan-for-mideast/

Sergey Kwan

TCA