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

Was That Kazakhstan’s Opposition I Heard?

Support of the recent coal miners’ strike by Kazakhstan’s opposition Nationwide Social Democratic Party may help it re-emerge as a player in Kazakhstan’s politics dominated by pro-government parties

Dec 17 — “Among the many interesting aspects of the recent coal miners’ strike in Kazakhstan’s central Qaraghandy region was the reappearance of Kazakhstan’s opposition Nationwide Social Democratic Party (OSDP). The OSDP has been quiet for many months.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-kazakhstan-opposition-appears/28923036.html

Kazakhstan Willing to Invest in Cereal Warehouses

Kazakhstan is reportedly interested in investing in the establishment of wheat warehouses in Afghanistan in an effort to increase grain exports to this country

Dec 21 — “Afghan officials said the establishment of storage facilities, especially for wheat, would help cut down on import costs of wheat that comes from central Asia.” READ MORE: http://www.tolonews.com/business/kazakhstan-willing-invest-cereal-warehouses

BNY Mellon freezes $22 bln in Kazakhstan assets

In a number of cases, foreign investors in Central Asian states have tried to solve their investment disputes with local authorities in international courts

Dec 21 — “ALMATY/LONDON, Dec 21 (Reuters) – Bank of New York Mellon has frozen $22.6 billion in assets held by Kazakhstan’sNational Fund in a rare move that escalates a legal battle between the government and a Moldovan investor.” READ MORE: http://www.nasdaq.com/article/bny-mellon-freezes-22-bln-in-kazakhstan-assets-20171221-00139

President Nazarbayev’s new book presented in advance of Independence Day

The president’s new book explains the essence and evolution of Kazakhstan’s development model

Dec 22 — “Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s book “The Era of Independence” was presented in the capital Dec. 15 on the eve of the country’s Independence Day. The work outlines the sovereign state’s development stages and the challenges the young nation faced on its path to success.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2017/12/president-nazarbayevs-new-book-presented-in-advance-of-independence-day/

Is Kazakhstan Open For Business?

The story of one of the first foreign companies to invest in Kazakhstan, which is all too familiar with the problems associated with doing business in the country

Dec 22 — “Now that almost six months since the launch of the Expo 2017 Astana have passed, how successful was Kazakhstan’s $3 billion effort to tell the world that it’s “open for business?” Ahead of the Expo, the government of Kazakhstan certainly did its best to raise expectations and to position itself as a regional powerhouse, keen on diversifying its oil-dependent economy.” READ MORE: https://www.eureporter.co/business/2017/12/22/is-kazakhstan-open-for-business/

KYRGYZSTAN

Russia still interested in Kyrgyzstan’s energy sector

Russia may resume implementation of Kyrgyz hydropower projects with the emergence of sufficient energy sales markets under acceptable conditions

Dec 17 — “Russia has not ruled out the possibility of building a hydroelectric power plant in Kyrgyzstan, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said at the sixth Russian-Kyrgyz interregional conference in Bishkek on December 15. Russia had begun several hydropower projects in Kyrgyzstan, but not everything turned out as planned at the first stage, Dvorkovich said.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19076-russia-still-interested-in-kyrgyzstan-s-energy-sector

China will finance the reconstruction and rehabilitation of 60 streets of Bishkek

China remains Kyrgyzstan’s largest infrastructure investor, financing projects in road construction, energy and mining

Dec 21 — “China will finance the reconstruction and rehabilitation of 60 streets of the city of Bishkek, Kabar with reference to the press service of the Ministry of Economy of the Kyrgyz Republic reported. Minister of Economy of the Kyrgyz Republic Artem Novikov met with Chinese Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic Xiao Qinghua.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/casia/2838659.html

Kyrgyzstan: Top Official Quits Over Bomb Scare

A misunderstanding (or something else?) has cost Kyrgyzstan’s high-ranking government official his chair

Dec 21 — “A high-ranking official in Kyrgyzstan announced his resignation on December 21 after facing accusations he sparked a panic by suggesting a recent presidential inauguration ceremony was the target of a bomb plot.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86556

Kyrgyzstan Goes Back To Russia For Hydropower Project Help

Not many foreign investors stand in line to invest in Kyrgyzstan’s costly hydropower projects. So Russia, as well as Uzbekistan, seems to be the only realistic, potential partner

Dec 22 — “It has been nearly two years since Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted to rescind an agreement with Russia to construct hydropower plants (HPP) in Kyrgyzstan. In January 2016, when Kyrgyzstan scrapped the agreement for Russia to construct the Kambar-Ata-1 HPP and four smaller HPPs along the Upper Naryn River, then-Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariev said, “We will think of attracting other investors,” and he asserted, “There are plenty of them.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-kyrgyzstan-hydropower-needs-russia/28933533.html

TAJIKISTAN

Barbie Brush-Off: Tajik Officials Warn Against Dolls In Islamic Dress, Push National Look Instead

In an effort to combat religious extremism, authorities in Tajikistan have banned the Islamic clothes in schools and workplaces as alien to local culture

Dec 18 — “The first commercial batches of dolls in Tajik national dress have arrived in shops and bazaars across the country in time for the New Year’s shopping season, part of an intensified government effort against overt displays of conservative Islam.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-barbie-hijab-national-dress-dolls/28925173.html

Tajikistan: Major Debtors to Collapsed Bank Detained

Tajikistan’s banking sector is experiencing a crisis, with two troubled banks liquidated and two others still owing large amounts to their customers striving to withdraw their deposits

Dec 19 — “The state anticorruption agency in Tajikistan has detained three major debtors to a recently liquidated bank, raising vague prospects that long-suffering accountholders might get some of their savings back.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86521

Russian arms and military equipment delivered to Tajikistan — Defense Ministry

Amid growing insecurity threats in Central Asia originating from Afghanistan, Russia provided Tajikistan with military products worth $122 million this year

Dec 19 — “A new batch of Russian armaments, military and military-technical equipment has been delivered to Dushanbe for Tajikistan’s Armed Forces on Tuesday to protect the border with Afghanistan.” READ MORE: http://tass.com/defense/981765

President Emomali Rahmon proposed to declare 2018 as the Year of tourism and folk- crafts

Tourism can become a new driver of economic growth in Tajikistan, creating new jobs and bringing in much-needed foreign cash

Dec 22 — “With a view to developing tourism, presenting our country’s unique tourism opportunities and national culture at the international stage, as well as attracting investment for tourism infrastructure improvement, I would like to propose to declare 2018 as the Year of tourism and folk- crafts in the country.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/casia/2839301.html

TURKMENISTAN

A terminal crisis in Turkmenistan?

The ongoing economic crisis in gas-rich Turkmenistan may pose a threat to the country’s authoritarian leader’s grip on power

Dec 20 — “While Turkmens are told they’re living in a “golden age”, food shortages, labour unrest and unemployment are on the rise. Unless president Berdymukhamedov changes things fast, his days could be numbered.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bruce-pannier-and-luca-anceschi/a-terminal-crisis-in-turkmenistan

UAE business circles demonstrate keen interest in the TAPI gas pipeline project

For cash-strapped Turkmenistan, the UAE may become a source of much-needed investment in the country’s oil and gas sector, the main revenue source for the ailing Turkmen economy

Dec 20 — “President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov received the representative delegation of the United Arab Emirates, headed by Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Minister of Energy of the UAE Suhail Mohammed Faraj Al Mazroui, Minister of Infrastructure Development of the UAE Abdullah bin Mohammed Belhaif Al Nuaimi and Director General of Abu Dhabi Fund for Development Mohamed Saif Al Suwaidi took part in the meeting.” READ MORE: http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm/_eng/?id=9657

Turkmenistan to send another satellite into space

Despite economic woes caused by lower gas export revenues, Turkmenistan does not intend to refuse from its space program

Dec 22 — “Turkmenistan plans to launch its second satellite, Turkmen State News Agency (TDH) reports on Friday. In 2018-2024, Turkmenistan will invest about 1.3 billion Turkmen manats to develop the space industry.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/124455.html

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan: Robbie Williams’ Bottom Ignites Online Firestorm

As Uzbekistan still remains a terra incognita to many in the West, some manifestations of western behavior are alien to conservative Uzbek society

Dec 18 — “British pop singer Robbie Williams has sparked online rage in Uzbekistan by pointing at his bottom during a concert in the capital, Tashkent. Those unfazed by the singer’s mildly saucy gesture, meanwhile, are bristling with irritation at the cost of tickets for the December 15 show.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86506

Uzbekistan’s Forced Subscribers Question Value Of State-Run Press

In the continuation of the Soviet-era practice, public-sector employees in today’s Uzbekistan are still forced to subscribe to mostly non-interesting and boring state-run newspapers that report official point of view

Dec 19 — “In Uzbekistan, where media has remained tightly controlled by the government even decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union, public-sector workers say they still don’t have the freedom to choose whether to subscribe to state-run newspapers.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-newspapers-forced-subscribers-free-press/28926634.html

Briton criticised over sculpture of ‘terrible’ Uzbek dictator Karimov

A leading British sculptor has been criticized for accepting the proposal to work on a memorial to late Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Moscow

Dec 20 — “The late president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, was widely regarded as one of the most ruthless dictators in recent history. His regime jailed and tortured critics, and massacred hundreds of unarmed protesters in the town of Andijan in 2005.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/20/uzbekistan-islam-karimov-to-be-memorialised-by-british-sculptor-paul-day

Pulling A Festoon: Uzbek Mosques Told To Donate For New Year’s Decorations

In the tightly-controlled Uzbekistan, the state continues regulating religious institutions with a tough hand, even by enforcing mosques to donate for decorations for the New Year — which is in fact not a Muslim holiday

Dec 22 — “Imams in central Uzbekistan are being compelled ahead of the New Year’s holiday to donate funds for something that’s normally well outside their purview — street decorations. Uzbek authorities have demanded millions of soms from more than 100 mosques across Bukhara Province in connection with the civic plans, sources in the former Soviet republic have told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-mosques-told-pay-new-years-decorations/28933995.html

AFGHANISTAN

America, EU, Japan: time to reunite Afghanistan with Central Asia

Post-Soviet republics of Central Asia seek to build stronger economic ties with their southern neighbor, as Afghanistan is a promising sales market and transit link for access to the Indian subcontinent and southern sea ports. This cannot be ignored by Russia and other world powers

Dec 19 — “With respect to Afghanistan, the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea and the major international financial institutions are all caught in a time warp. Dating back a century and a half, this distortion today impedes Afghanistan’s development as a normal country. No less, it helps isolate the other countries of Central Asia from a nearby major market, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, and pushes the other countries of Central Asia into a one-sided relationship with their former imperial overlord, Russia. It’s time to correct this long-standing mistake.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19086-america-eu-japan-time-to-reunite-afghanistan-with-central-asia

The Longest War: 8 Years After My Last Deployment, I Returned To Afghanistan As A Reporter. Here’s What I Found

A former US serviceman has returned to Afghanistan as a journalist, and shared his impressions of the current situation in the country and about prospects of ending America’s ‘longest war’

Dec 20 — “You know the story. On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacked our nation. A few weeks later, we sent over a couple of Special Forces ODAs, a battalion of Army Rangers, and a few brave CIA paramilitary officers to extract a price from the responsible parties, as well as anyone who harbored them. We were going to wage a war on terrorism. The good guys were gonna go get the bad guys.” READ MORE: http://taskandpurpose.com/afghanistan-sitrep/

China’s Belt and Road Meets Trump’s Afghanistan Plan

Analyst insists that China and the United States should be partners in Afghanistan, as both the United States and China need a peaceful Afghanistan under a secular government

Dec 21 — “In August, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a new Afghanistan strategy. Featuring an extra 4,000 U.S. soldiers and additional NATO troops in Afghanistan, the new policy was tough on the issue of tackling terrorism. Even military autonomy is improved under the plan, enhancing the authority for U.S. armed forces to target terrorists and criminal networks as well as expanding the scope of unmanned aircraft and special operations.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/chinas-belt-and-road-meets-trumps-afghanistan-plan/

Europe rebuked for removing Afghans to one of world’s most dangerous countries

Despite criticism, some European countries are sending Afghan migrants back to their home country. One of the reasons is terrorism and security concerns in Europe flooded by migrants from the Middle East and Afghanistan

Dec 22 — “Britain and other European nations are under increasing pressure to explain why they are sending hundreds of desperate Afghans back to one of the world’s most dangerous countries. MPs and MEPs have raised questions about whether the EU tied a 2016 aid package for Afghanistan to its willingness to take back refused asylum seekers.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/22/europe-rebuked-for-removing-afghans-to-one-of-worlds-most-dangerous-countries

WORLD

Why It’s Still Not Springtime in Central Asia

Analyst looks into why foreign investors still remain cautious about investing in Central Asia’s largest economies — Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

Dec 19 — “In Central Asia’s two biggest economies, there are signs of a modernisation drive underway that could lead to a spurt growth in foreign business and investment. Uzbekistan and neighbouring Kazakhstan are witnessing a shift in attitudes as the former undergoes a series of major economic and political reforms and the latter ramps up its campaign to boost its soft power and attract foreign investors.” READ MORE: https://themarketmogul.com/still-not-springtime-central-asia/

What Happened On China’s New Silk Road In 2017

An analysis of the accomplishments and challenges of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a mega-project aimed at building transport links between Asia and Europe, and increasing Beijing’s influence in Eurasia

Dec 20 — “Year four of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is now in the books. The purpose-built, ground breaking’endeavor to insert China as the connective tissue between most of the other countries of Eurasia and Africa is no longer the new geopolitical kid on the block, and we are starting to get a good look at what this thing is really all about beyond the rhetoric and propaganda” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2017/12/20/what-happened-on-chinas-new-silk-road-in-2017/#217dfa7c72e9

The Belt and Road through Eurasia: who wins and how?

The countries of Central Asia, especially Kazakhstan, may significantly benefit from China’s Belt and Road initiative aimed to create transport and transit routes from Asia to Europe. But such benefits may turn out to be not as big as expected

Dec 20 — “China’s Belt and Road infrastructure development initiative will have its winners and losers. But for now, Beijing is trying to bolster international support for the project, which will link its western provinces to Europe, by keeping some aspects of the specific routing of rail corridors ambiguous.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19091-the-belt-and-road-through-eurasia-who-wins-and-how

Sergey Kwan

TCA