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.


Businessman Seeks Sale Of $5.2B Stake In Kazakhstan Oil Field

An investment dispute in Kazakhstan has ended up in international court, proving that the Central Asian country is still a risky place for foreign investors

Jan 9 — “Moldovan businessman Anatolie Stati will ask courts to sell US$5.2 billion worth of a stake in Kazakhstan’s biggest oil field, Kashagan, held by a Kazakh sovereign wealth fund if Kazakhstan continues to refuse to pay an arbitration award of US$500 million, a spokeswoman for Stati told Reuters on Tuesday.” READ MORE: https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Businessman-Seeks-Sale-Of-52B-Kazakh-Stake-In-Kashagan-Oil-Field.html

Investing in Kazakhstan Is Still a Risky Business

EU Parliament members say that in relations with Kazakhstan, “economic interests cannot take precedence over human rights”, which is also true for doing business with the country

Jan 10 — “Kazakhstan and the European Union are celebrating a landmark partnership agreement that was sealed in December 2017, with an “overwhelming majority” of Parliament members voting to pursue the bloc’s first such deal with a Central Asian country.” READ MORE: https://www.fairobserver.com/region/central_south_asia/kazakhstan-european-union-partnership-agreement-human-rights-central-asia-latest-news-18501/

How a Trump SoHo Partner Ended Up With Toxic Mining Riches From Kazakhstan

Many in Kazakhstan would like to know how did so much of the country’s natural-resources wealth end up in the hands of a few businessmen

Jan 11 — “Green smoke paints the landscape on the outskirts of Aktobe, the hub of a Central Asian mining empire that produces a third of the world’s chromium — the essential ingredient in stainless steel. Locals say that the air gets so bad in summer it’s hard to breathe. Industrial waste contaminates the groundwater.” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-01-11/how-a-trump-soho-partner-ended-up-with-toxic-mining-riches-from-kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s President Heads To Trump’s White House

The US is interested in more cooperation with Kazakhstan, the country that has raised its international profile and become an even more important regional player over recent years

Jan 12 — “Their mobile internet is faster than Brazil’s, Russia’s and India’s; make that twice as fast as India’s. Their fixed broadband is faster than Australia’s, the Aussies lamented on Jan. 8, not to mention faster than Brazil’s and India’s once again. This is Kazakhstan, a frontier market on the oil and gas-rich Caspian Sea, led by a 77-year-old man named Nursultan Nazarbayev.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2018/01/12/kazakhstans-president-heads-to-trumps-white-house/#45a391e42262

A visa-free zone at the China-Kazakhstan border welcomes your wallet, but not your beard

A visa-free area and a special economic zone at the border between China and Kazakhstan covers more than 7 square kilometers and is China’s gateway to Central Asia

Jan 12 — “Except for men with long beards and women wearing veils or jewelry with a crescent moon motif, just about anyone can enter Chinese territory – at least a few kilometres of it – across a frontier marked only by two thin stripes of paint daubed across the road.” READ MORE: http://www.todayonline.com/world/visa-free-zone-china-kazakhstan-border-welcomes-your-wallet-not-your-beard


Kyrgyzstan renews the World Nomad Games concept

Kyrgyzstan’s World Nomad Games are not only an international sports competition, but also a platform for cultural disclosure of all nomadic peoples of the world

Jan 7 — “Kyrgyzstan has been ranked among the top five travel destinations for 2018 by the British Backpacker Society. Pakistan, which ranks first, was described as “one of the friendliest countries on earth, with mountain scenery that is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination”. The five top list also includes Russia, India and Turkey.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19166-kyrgyzstan-renews-the-world-nomad-games-concept

Militant Muslims Firebomb Evangelical Church in Kyrgyzstan; Flames Stop at Open Bible

A rare attack on an evangelical church took place in Kyrgyzstan — the country with a multi-cultural society tolerant to all religious beliefs

Jan 10 — “Christians said they saw a “sign from God” following a firebombing attack by Muslim militants on an evangelical church in Kyrgyzstan. The flames burned through much of the interior but stopped at the open Bible on the altar.” READ MORE: https://www.christianpost.com/news/militant-muslims-firebomb-evangelical-church-in-kyrgyzstan-flames-stop-at-open-bible-213230/

Hat Tip To Kyrgyz Officials, Olympic Athletes: Wear It Or Else!

The proposed bill would require all male Kyrgyz officials — including the president and foreign minister — to wear the kalpak at official events and when traveling abroad

Jan 11 — “Outraged by the sight of a dog wearing their beloved kalpak, the traditional Kyrgyz hat, lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan have drafted legislation to raise the status of the felt, yurt-shaped headwear favored by many men.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-kalpak-hat-dog-patriotic-kerfuffle/28969448.html

Uzbekistan to open nine enterprises in Kyrgyzstan

The improved political relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan has translated into the launch of new cooperative economic projects

Jan 11 — “Uzbekistan will open nine enterprises in Kyrgyzstan for cars servicing, agricultural machinery assembly, plastic parts production and others. This was stated by Shumkarbek Adilbek Uulu, deputy director of the Agency for Promotion and Protection of Investments of Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz media outlets reported.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/125337.html


The Feminized Farm: Labor Migration and Women’s Roles in Tajikistan’s Rural Communities

As many Tajik men are in labor migration in Russia, women take on increased roles in Tajikistan’s agriculture sector

Jan 4 — “Tajikistan is one of the world’s most remittance-dependent countries. Each year, an estimated million Tajik citizens, mostly men, travel abroad in search of work. The women who remain in Tajikistan also work, many in informal jobs in the agricultural sector.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/the-feminized-farm-labor-migration-and-womens-roles-in-tajikistans-rural-communities/

Uzbekistan: president announces fence-mending visit to Tajikistan

Uzbekistan is successfully mending its relations with Central Asia neighbors, with the new Uzbek leader having already visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. He now plans a visit to Tajikistan to break the longtime “ice” in bilateral relations

Jan 9 — “The president of Uzbekistan announced over the weekend that he is preparing to visit neighboring Tajikistan for a trip that could soothe one of the longest-standing sources of tension in the region.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19174-uzbekistan-president-announces-fence-mending-visit-to-tajikistan

Tajikistan: Brain Drain Rush Causes Annual Riot

The number of Tajiks that want to move to Russia and gain Russian citizenship has increased as people see few opportunities in their home country

Jan 10 — “Such was the crowd of people in Tajikistan’s capital that turned up this week to apply for permission to move to Russia from the local representative office of the Russian Interior Ministry that police officers had to be summoned.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/86701

Barb-Tossing Bard: Mysterious Poet Roils Sleepy Tajik Village

An unknown author ridicules his or her fellow villagers in Tajikistan

Jan 10 — “Villagers in a sleepy village in southern Tajikistan are under attack, blasted by insulting poems that are mysteriously cropping up in public places where they are sure to sting. Outraged residents of Khojaghalton say they don’t know who the author – or the authors – are, but they are certain that he or she lives among them.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-village-poet-khojaghalton-bounty/28967465.html


‘Bad Luck’ For Black Car Owners In Turkmen Capital

The personality cult of the Turkmen leader has taken a new, rather strange, twist

Jan 8 — “Turkmenistan’s president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, thinks white cars bring good fortune. And that’s bad luck for owners of black cars in the capital. For weeks, officials in Ashgabat have been impounding black vehicles without warning, wreaking havoc for owners who need special permission for repainting and then reregistering their cars.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-black-car-owners-bad-luck/28963539.html

Turkmenistan should open TAPI consortium membership to foreign companies – expert

The TAPI project remains unfeasible due to financial constraints more than to security concerns related to laying the gas pipeline in the Afghan territory, expert says

Jan 11 — “The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project certainly represents a very positive development for infrastructure integration across South and Central Asia, as it would strengthen the energy security of both supplying (Turkmenistan) and purchasing states (India, Pakistan), Luca Anceschi, an expert of the British University of Glasgow with a focus on Central Asia, told Azernews.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/other/commentary/2846277.html

Taking the temperature of Turkmenistan’s economic meltdown

Possessing huge natural-gas reserves, Turkmenistan has seen an economic downturn over the past year, which is largely due to decreasing gas-export revenues and the government’s inability to diversify the economy

Jan 12 — “In his year-end address to the nation, Turkmenistan’s president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, brimmed with enthusiasm. He extolled 2017 as a year of unprecedented success, featuring “massive transformations” and glorious achievements, and predicted the coming 12 months would be marked by a “bountiful harvest and prosperity.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19190-taking-the-temperature-of-turkmenistan-s-economic-meltdown


Transgender Woman Says Jail Awaits In Uzbekistan, Seeks Asylum In Belarus

Uzbekistan’s conservative society, and laws, remains intolerant to LGBT people

Jan 7 — “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Uzbekistan face deep-rooted homophobia, discrimination, and the threat of violence, activists and human rights defenders say.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-transgender-woman-asylum-belarus/28961587.html

Tax holidays appeared in Uzbekistan

Government in Uzbekistan is creating better conditions for the business environment and supports private entrepreneurship in the country

Jan 8 — “Uzbekistan, having improved its tax legislation, will grant tax holidays to the country’s citizens. Changes, which provide for delay in tax and other mandatory payments, were introduced to the Tax Code of Uzbekistan.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/125157.html

Uzbekistan to launch green corridors with Baltic States, Belarus

The export of fresh fruit and vegetables is a priority economic direction for Uzbekistan, as the country plans to shift away from its decades-long cotton monoculture

Jan 10 — “Uzbekistan intends to launch a green corridor for the export of agricultural products to the Baltic countries. This will significantly reduce the time of transportation of perishable goods to the Baltic coast, as well as costs for transport and customs clearance. In addition, in the future, these products, for example, can be sent to the EU countries through the Latvian ports and transport hubs.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/125284.html

Uzbekistan: business empire of Karimov’s other daughter under attack

In Central Asia — and Uzbekistan is no exception, state power succession is inevitably associated with property redistribution with new elites coming to power and taking control of lucrative businesses

Jan 11 — “In a speech full of surprises over the weekend, the president of Uzbekistan dropped an interesting hint about the fate of the former ruling family. On January 5, Shavkat Mirziyoyev made a reference to the sudden bonanza of revenue coming into the state coffers from the Abu Sahiy wholesale market in Tashkent. Where in the first half of December alone, the market generated around $4.4 million in taxes, the monthly amount before was a relatively meager $625,000, he said.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19185-uzbekistan-business-empire-of-karimov-s-other-daughter-under-attack


The Politics of Washington Have Wrecked Afghanistan’s Future

For Afghanistan, relations with the region’s neighbors, including Pakistan, is perhaps more important than relations with the US which can easily quit the country

Jan 8 — “President Donald Trump rang in the new year with a Twitter salvo directed at Pakistan, claiming that Washington has given Islamabad more than $33 billion in aid after 9/11, but has only received “lies and deceit” in return. The administration has since announced the suspension of military assistance to Pakistan.” READ MORE: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-politics-washington-have-wrecked-afghanistans-future-23986

How the heroin trade explains the US-UK failure in Afghanistan

Western intervention has resulted in Afghanistan becoming the world’s first true narco-state, an author believes

Jan 9 — “After fighting the longest war in its history, the US stands at the brink of defeat in Afghanistan. How could this be possible? How could the world’s sole superpower have battled continuously for more than 16 years – deploying more than 100,000 troops at the conflict’s peak, sacrificing the lives of nearly 2,300 soldiers, spending more than $1tn (£740bn) on its military operations, lavishing a record $100bn more on “nation-building”, helping fund and train an army of 350,000 Afghan allies – and still not be able to pacify one of the world’s most impoverished nations?” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jan/09/how-the-heroin-trade-explains-the-us-uk-failure-in-afghanistan

News Analysis: IS strengthening grip in Afghanistan could destabilize broader region

Thousands of IS fighters have fled Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan from where they could destabilize the whole Central Asia region

Jan 11 — “Militants loyal to the Islamic State (IS) terror group have been attempting to strengthen their grip and boost their presence in militancy-plagued Afghanistan, local analysts have warned.” READ MORE: http://xinhuanet.com/english/2018-01/11/c_136887600.htm

How the US failed to rebuild Afghanistan

After 16 years and $3 billion spent on the Ring Road in Afghanistan, it remains unfinished

Jan 11 — “The US invaded Afghanistan 16 years ago. The Taliban were swiftly driven out, but after decades of war, the country’s roads, schools, and cities were destroyed, so the US and partnering countries poured billions of dollars into rebuilding Afghanistan. One of the highest priorities, most touted by the US, was the project to rebuild the Ring Road.” READ MORE: https://www.vox.com/world/2018/1/11/16878056/afghanistan-us-fail-war-taliban


What the Iran Protests Were Not

Analyst believes the recent protests in Iran were purely economic, reflecting deep-seated frustration with economic stagnation, mismanagement and corruption, and growing income inequality in the country

Jan 10 — “Recent protests in numerous Iranian cities and towns caught the world by surprise, and embarrassed Iran’s government and ruling political establishment. But the expectation that the protests would escalate into a popular uprising and unravel the Islamic Republic did not come to pass.” READ MORE: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/01/iran-economic-protests-urban-rural-divide/550211/

With U.S. Aid Cut, Pakistan Drifts Closer to China

China is a party that could benefit from the ongoing tensions in the US-Pakistan relations

Jan 10 — “Senior Pakistani officials warned that the U.S. suspension of security aid announced last week will push their country closer to China, Washington’s main rival for influence in Asia, as regional alliances realign.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/with-u-s-aid-cut-pakistan-drifts-closer-to-china-1515580200

China’s Increasing Security Buffer on Its Western Frontier

China’s security concerns about Uighur militants is the driving force behind Beijing’s increased focus on the Wakhan corridor that connects China and Afghanistan

Jan 11 — “An increasingly important component of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative can be found in the Central Asian corridor that connects China and Afghanistan. China has been expanding its economic and security cooperation in Central Asia in recent years. Reports this week that China plans to build a military base for Afghanistan’s armed forces in the northeastern province of Badakhshan suggest that the strategic yet perennially unstable country is quickly following through on the plan.” READ MORE: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/chinas-increasing-security-buffer-its-western-frontier?id=87179e919a&e=600669d279&uuid=d95ae52d-7773-46b6-b176-2d88190f853a&utm_source=Daily+Brief&utm_campaign=4c10fd1103-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_01_11&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_87179e919a-4c10fd1103-53490981&mc_cid=4c10fd1103&mc_eid=600669d279

Sergey Kwan