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.


The Real Future of Green Energy in Kazakhstan

In today’s economic realities, Kazakhstan would rather not be able to shift to renewable energy anytime soon, and the use of fossil energy sources will persist

Jan 12 — “Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev welcomed the New Year by touting key accomplishments of the past year, namely the Astana Expo 2017, which in his words granted the country more “global recognition and respect.” With its theme of “Future Energy,” the Expo demonstrated the Kazakh government’s purported commitment to green energy solutions as part of a broader national development strategy.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/the-real-future-of-green-energy-in-kazakhstan/

Astana grapples with growing sinophobic sentiment in Kazakhstan

China’s western Xinjiang region is home to a large ethnic Kazakh minority. Being Muslims, the Kazakhs in Xinjiang, like the local Uighur minority, reportedly face the authorities’ pressure under the guise of fighting religious extremism. All this makes ethnic Kazakhs seek protection from Astana

Jan 15 — “Following bloody clashes between ethnic Uyghurs and Han Chinese in the city of Urumchi, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in the summer of 2009, Beijing resorted to both carrot and stick policies to secure stability in this volatile territory. On the one hand, the central government is funneling massive funds to develop the local social infrastructure as well as promote minority ethnic cultures in Xinjiang, which borders on former Soviet Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19200-astana-grapples-with-growing-sinophobic-sentiment-in-kazakhstan

Ex-U.S. Envoy Cites ‘Moderate’ Kazakhstan, Its Desire For ‘Global Role’

The first U.S. ambassador to independent Kazakhstan speaks about Kazakhstan-U.S. relations, ahead of an official visit to Washington by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev

Jan 16 — “From the first days after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the newly independent countries, the United States has had a unique relationship with Kazakhstan in comparison with other Central Asian states.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan–u-s-bilateral-relations-courtney-ambassador/28979265.html

A Troubling Scenario for Kazakhstan

A new report warns that Kazakhstan’s unstable neighbors, the potential for militant Islamism, and a precarious economic situation pose threats that Kazakh President Nazarbayev, or his successor, may not be able to control

Jan 17 — “Kazakhstan’s long-heralded stability is being challenged by growing economic problems, societal frustrations, and rising nationalism. Throughout his long tenure in office, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been the anchor that kept the political system in place. He guided the country from the chaos of the 1990s through the oil boom—the economic turnaround that is the foundation of his popularity.” READ MORE: https://www.aei.org/publication/a-troubling-scenario-for-kazakhstan/

Kazakhstan: Traffic Cop Accidentally Rams Presidential HQ in Porsche

It is curious how the offender was able to afford the expensive car on a policeman’s salary

Jan 18 — “The most trivial incidents sometimes tell the most interesting stories. Consider a curious accident that occurred overnight on January 17 in Kazakhstan’s capital. As Astana police explained, in a statement reported by Tengri News, a man was driving a Porsche Cayenne car along a road in the center of town when he slid on the ice and careened into the gates of the presidential administration.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kazakhstan-traffic-cop-accidentally-rams-presidential-hq-in-porsche

U.S. Envoy To Astana Predicts ‘Very Busy Bilateral Relationship’

U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan on Kazakh-U.S. relations and President Nazarbayev’s visit to Washington

Jan 18 — “Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has ended his official visit to Washington and headed to New York to preside over a session of the UN Security Council. Nazarbaev’s meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump dominated media coverage, but the Kazakh leader had other items on his agenda.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-kazakhstan-u-s-ambassador-krol-bilateral-relations-nazarbaev/28983142.html


Kyrgyzstan’s economic growth in 2017 exceeds the IMF forecast

Kyrgyzstan’s economy remains largely dependent on the country’s main taxpayer — the Kumtor gold mine

Jan 16 — “Kyrgyzstan’s gross domestic product in 2017 was 493 billion soms and increased by 4.5% compared to 2016, the National Statistical Committee of Kyrgyzstan said. The GDP growth was higher than the forecasts of the government and international financial institutions including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19205-kyrgyzstan-s-economic-growth-in-2017-exceeds-the-imf-forecast

Kyrgyzstan: After Defamation Cases, MPs Target Social Media

Proposed law would impose restrictions on information in social networks, which are full of “unchecked information and rumors that can harm national interests”

Jan 17 — “As Kyrgyzstan’s presidents past and present prepare to collect giant libel suit winnings from journalists and activists convicted of defaming them, pro-government members of parliament are taking aim at another venue for self-expression — social media.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kyrgyzstan-after-defamation-cases-mps-target-social-media

Repression in Kyrgyzstan is eroding Central Asia’s only democracy

Life is getting harder for opposition politicians and journalists in Kyrgyzstan, who face increasing persecution by authorities that use security services and courts

Jan 18 — “TINY and turbulent, Kyrgyzstan likes to tout itself as a trailblazer for democracy in Central Asia, a region otherwise presided over by autocrats. The former Soviet republic of 6m has “proven to the world that it is a democratic country”, its new president, Sooronbay Jeyenbekov, trumpeted triumphantly as he was sworn into office in November.” READ MORE: https://www.economist.com/news/asia/21735067-life-getting-harder-opposition-politicians-and-journalists-repression-kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan: Showcase Highway Project Stuck in Funding Jam

Most strategic roads in Kyrgyzstan have been built by Chinese companies through Chinese financing. The road construction project along the northern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, funded by the Kyrgyz government, is facing problems

Jan 18 — “The Issyk-Kul highway was supposed to demonstrate that Kyrgyzstan was capable of completing big projects single-handedly, without foreign funding. But three years after its start, construction is now at a standstill, the money has run out and laborers are complaining of unpaid salaries.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kyrgyzstan-showcase-highway-project-stuckin-funding-jam


US Planned Big Boost in Military Aid to Tajikistan

The US is increasing its military cooperation with Tajikistan, the country that hosts a Russian military base and being in the Russian orbit of military influence

Jan 11 — “The United States planned a large increase in special forces training programs for Tajikistan, newly released US government documents show. The US also was planning to offer special forces training programs to Kyrgyzstan for the first time since being evicted from the air base it used to operate in the country, according to the new data.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/node/86726

Pamir: exploring the ‘roof of the world’ in remote Tajikistan

How to get to Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region and what you can see and experience there

Jan 15 — “A range of mountains and high-altitude plateaus forming roughly half of modern-day Tajikistan, the Pamir entered into the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century, before joining much of Central Asia within the Soviet Union. Since the collapse of the USSR, the previously inaccessible Pamir has gradually emerged as a major draw for anyone looking to encounter the most remote and rewarding outposts of the New East.” READ MORE: https://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/9499/pamir-exploring-roof-of-the-world-remote-tajikistan

Tajikistan’s export records growth

Tajikistan’s trade with China declined by 33 percent in 2017 while bilateral trade with Uzbekistan showed the highest growth of 82 percent

Jan 17 — “The volume of foreign trade turnover of Tajikistan in January-December 2017 amounted to $3.9 billion, thus showing an increase of 1.1 percent, according to the Statistics Agency under the President of Tajikistan. The volume of exports in the reporting period increased by 33.3 percent compared to 2016. Export grew by $1.2 billion that is $299 million more than in 2016.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/125666.html


For Turkmenistan, Looking Good Is Everything

As Turkmenistan experiences an economic downturn and shortages of some staple foods, its authoritarian leader continues multi-million-dollar construction projects to immortalize his country’s “Golden Age”

Jan 12 — “Since independence arrived in 1991, Turkmenistan’s presidents have ordered huge sums to be spent on construction projects of seemingly little use to the general public. But that money has generally come from revenues from natural gas exports.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-economic-crisis-construction-hotels/28971663.html

The metropolitan motor transport enterprise received new buses at its disposal

New Korean, Chinese and Japanese buses purchased for the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games held in Ashgabat last fall now carry passengers in the Turkmen capital city

Jan 15 — “The development of transport infrastructure, modernization of technical base of road and other modes of transport are key aspects of socio-economic policy, implemented consistently by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.” READ MORE: http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm/_eng/?id=9779

Turkmenistan Bans Sex, Drugs and Violence on TV

Authorities in Turkmenistan impose more restrictions on citizens, some of which look rather strange — such as the recent ban on black cars

Jan 17 — “Turkmenistan has adopted broadcasting legislation that in effect bans the depiction on television or in film of sex, violence and content encouraging bad habits.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-bans-sex-drugs-and-violence-on-tv


Uzbekistan is ready for a complex game with high stakes: experts

Russian expert says Uzbekistan wants to become a real center of influence in the region and a logistics intersection hub for all Central Asian routes

Jan 11 — “An impressive delegation from Uzbekistan headed by Prime Minister Abdullah Aripov concluded a working visit to Tajikistan. During the visit, a meeting of the intergovernmental commission was held, and President Emomali Rahmon met with Aripov. During the talks, the parties reached agreements on visa and border issues, in particular, on the most controversial section of the interstate border, where the Farhad hydropower station is located.” READ MORE: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2018/01/11/uzbekistan-is-ready-for-a-complex-game-with-high-stakes-experts

Uzbekistan: Security Service Personnel to be Removed from Embassies

The President’s move obviously targets the almighty chief of the country’s National Security Service, which backed Mirziyoyev during his ascent to power a year ago

Jan 16 — “The president of Uzbekistan has embarked on another sally against the powerful security services by demanding that all the body’s agents stationed in embassies abroad be recalled. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev declared his intent on this policy during a speech to foreign diplomats over the weekend.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/node/86751

A year in review: Uzbekistan pursues liberalization at home, neighborly relations abroad

The year 2017 was marked in Uzbekistan by the President’s efforts to reform the tightly-controlled economy and financial sector, liberalize the internal political sphere, and improve the country’s tense relations with neighboring Central Asian states. Although much has been done on the domestic and foreign fronts, it is yet to be done much more to bring in the real changes to Uzbekistan

Jan 18 — “When Uzbekistanis elected Shavkat Mirziyaev as their president on December 4, 2016, they entered 2017 with a healthy dose of skepticism that real change would follow. Indeed, during his first public address as the interim head of state, Mirziyaev, previous president Islam Karimov’s prime minister of 13 years, himself vowed to continue his predecessor’s legacy (Kun.uz, September 9, 2016).” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19217-a-year-in-review-uzbekistan-pursues-liberalization-at-home-neighborly-relations-abroad

Uzbekistan Opens Islamic Studies Academy

The late President Islam Karimov used to tightly control Islam in Uzbekistan, but now the country is gradually softening restrictions on religious freedoms

Jan 19 — “The first specialized academy of higher learning in Uzbekistan devoted exclusively to Islamic studies has been registered by the Justice Ministry in seemingly more evidence of a growing embrace of religious values.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/uzbekistan-opens-islamic-studies-academy


Russia is looking to engage with the Taliban. Here’s why

Moscow has long used the Taliban threat to strengthen its political and military influence on Central Asian states bordering Afghanistan

Jan 15 — “In December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Indian diplomats that Moscow supported diplomatic engagement with the Taliban. Lavrov’s justification for this bold pronouncement? He argued that no Afghan peace settlement could proceed without the Taliban’s participation — and that dialogue with the Taliban would reduce the risk of terrorism diffusing from Afghanistan to Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/01/15/russia-is-looking-to-engage-with-the-taliban-heres-why/?utm_term=.b8f775970de6

A new U.S. air blitz in Afghanistan isn’t stopping for winter. But will it stop the Taliban?

The growing number of US airstrikes on Taliban targets is the result of new rules of engagement adopted as part of the President Trump strategy for Afghanistan announced last August

Jan 16 — “Winter usually means a lull in the fighting here. Taliban fighters blend back into their villages, where it’s warm, and U.S. forces hunker down through the holidays. But for the first time in 16 years, the cold has not slowed the war in the air.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/a-new-us-air-blitz-in-afghanistan-isnt-stopping-for-winter-but-will-it-stop-the-taliban/2018/01/16/c9bb874c-f4cd-11e7-9af7-a50bc3300042_story.html?utm_term=.b8eec56738d2

US Should Work With Russia and China to Bring Peace to Afghanistan – Journalist

Radio Sputnik discusses President Ghani’s statements with Aimal Faizi, journalist and columnist, who served as the spokesperson of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Jan 18 — “Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stated that the army could not operate for even six months without US support. The Afghan leader also noted that there were over twenty terrorist organizations operating in his country.” READ MORE: https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201801181060846652-russia-china-iran-afghanistan-peace/

US Rejects Accusations It Gave Rise to IS in Afghanistan

Former Afghan president Karzai and Russia have repeatedly blamed the US for the rise of the IS in Afghanisan, which they claim meets Washington’s geopolitical interests in Central Asia

Jan 18 — “The United States reiterated its resolve Thursday to help local forces eliminate Islamic State from Afghanistan and strongly refuted accusations Washington was behind the emergence of the terrorist group in the war-shattered country.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/a/us-rejects-accusations-it-gave-rise-is-afghansitan/4213769.html


Regional power shifts in Central Asia

Due to its central location in Central Asia, Uzbekistan has a geopolitical potential to be the region’s leader and solve its most pressing problems

Jan 17 — “Following the change of leadership in Uzbekistan in late 2016, Tashkent has embarked on rolling out adjustments to its foreign policies. While some important issues such as economic development – with shadow economy estimated to be as large as fifty percent of GDP in Uzbekistan – remain pressing, transition from the Soviet Union in Central Asia was handled in relative stability.” READ MORE: http://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/01/17/regional-power-shifts-central-asia/

Vulnerability of Mountain Societies in Central Asia

Glacier retreat in mountainous Central Asia may increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters in the region

Jan 18 — “Mountain societies in low-income developing countries are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, with global warming threatening livelihoods. A new study and conference paper from “Life in Kyrgyzstan” investigates the adaptive capacities of mountain societies in the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains to help reduce their vulnerability to climate change and improve their coping strategies under weather extremes.” READ MORE: http://glacierhub.org/2018/01/18/vulnerability-of-mountain-societies-in-central-asia/

China and India: An Emerging Gulf in Infrastructure Plans

China’s infrastructure initiatives involving Pakistan run counter to the interests of India in the region

Jan 18 — “As 2017 drew to a close, Beijing made two surprising proposals to further the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): one, extending the China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation (CPEC) to Afghanistan; and two, linking Pakistan’s Gwadar and Iran’s Chabahar Ports.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/china-and-india-an-emerging-gulf-in-infrastructure-plans/

Sergey Kwan