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.


Bling Cake Wows VIPs At Nazarbaev Relative’s Wedding In Kazakhstan

As the majority of Kazakhstan citizens have been hit by the Kazakh tenge devaluation and decreasing incomes, the Kazakh elite throws money into the wind

Jan 26 — “The king of all wedding cakes — more than three meters tall and weighing more than 1,500 kilos — was unveiled at a star-studded wedding in Kazakhstan of a relative of omnipotent President Nursultan Nazarbaev.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhstan-wedding-cake-nazarbaev-wedding/29000637.html

The high toll of traffic injuries in Central Asia: unacceptable and preventable

Central Asian countries, and Kazakhstan in particular, have high numbers of road traffic accidents resulting in deaths and injuries every year. The problem can be solved by joint efforts of the governments and the public, and introduction of international best practices in the road traffic safety sphere

Jan 29 — “Do you know that in Kazakhstan we live in the country with the deadliest roads? Every year, 3,000 people die on roads in Kazakhstan, and over 30,000 are injured. Imagine if an airplane crashed every month! Would you fly? We are 11 times more likely to die in a traffic accident in Kazakhstan than in Norway. Indeed, the numbers for road deaths are high in all Central Asian countries.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19269-the-high-toll-of-traffic-injuries-in-central-asia-unacceptable-and-preventable

The Sorrows of Kazakhstan’s Generation Z

A new survey reveals the problems facing the young generation in Kazakhstan

Jan 30 — “The generation that has come of age on the sidelines of a sustained economic crisis for the past decade in Kazakhstan has showed high hopes for modernization accompanied by strong traditional values, a recent sociological survey has revealed.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/the-sorrows-of-kazakhstans-generation-z/

Kazakh agricultural sector ripe for development

Rector of the Kazakh Agrotechnical University and a former Minister of Agriculture of Kazakhstan on how education and new technology can boost the country’s agricultural sector

Jan 31 — “The tasks set by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in his state-of-the-nation address to the people of Kazakhstan aim at bringing the country to a whole new level of development. As is well-known, the global resources for extensive development are almost exhausted, and further growth is possible only by means of intensive factors, that is, through a maximum use of scientific achievements.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/01/kazakh-agricultural-sector-ripe-for-development/

Kazakhstan pushes for US deals — helped by China’s investments

Kazakhstan can use its success in accessing the Chinese market as a leverage to lure US investors to invest in Kazakhstan — not just for the Kazakh but also for the Chinese market

Feb 1 — “China’s “Belt and Road” investments in Kazakhstan are paying off, allowing the Central Asian country to promote itself as an attractive market for the U.S. and other global investors.” READ MORE: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/31/kazakhstan-pushes-for-us-deals–helped-by-chinas-investments.html

Kazakhstan: Online Anonymity Ban in Force from April

The new anonymity rule is part of a broader set of restrictions on the media approved by Kazakh President Nazarbayev in November

Feb 2 — “Kazakhstan has set the clock running on stamping out anonymous commenting on the internet. As of April, any locally registered websites will be in trouble if they allow visitors signing off as jigit_krutoi1989 — or any such faceless combination — to post their messages.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kazakhstan-online-anonymity-ban-in-force-from-april


China helps Kyrgyzstan with drinking water safety research

Kyrgyzstan possesses huge freshwater resources but the quality of water in many areas of the country fails to meet drinking standards

Jan 30 — “Chinese researchers have helped their counterparts in Kyrgyzstan finish an initial assessment of drinking water pollution in the Central Asian country. The study is part of an ongoing joint program aimed at addressing grave safety concerns about drinking water in Kyrgyzstan.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-01/30/c_136936692.htm

Why the Eurasian Union Has Been A ‘No Brainer’ for Kyrgyzstan

Some 80 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population is positive about the country’s membership of Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union

Jan 30 — “Jyldyz Mamadjanova counts herself as one of the winners in the Eurasian Union. She sells knockoff tracksuits, sporting the Nike swoosh, or beadazzled with “Armani,” at the Dordoi Bazaar on the outskirts of Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital. Before Kyrgyzstan joined the Eurasian Union, she explained, everything she sold was imported from China.” READ MORE: https://codastory.com/disinformation-crisis/information-war/why-the-eurasian-union-has-been-a-no-brainer-for-kyrgyzstan

Management style needs to be changed in Kyrgyzstan’s energy sector

Many in Kyrgyzstan have raised questions about the modernization of the Bishkek thermal electric power plant, which the authorities announced among key elements of energy independence

Jan 31 — “Despite an expensive modernization, an accident occurred at the Bishkek thermal power plant last Friday. As a result, most of the city residents remained without heating when the air temperature outside was minus 20 degrees Celsius and below, including hospitals and schools. Schoolchildren are on an unplanned vacation until February 3.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19282-management-style-needs-to-be-changed-in-kyrgyzstan-s-energy-sector

KYRGYZSTAN: Burial blocked with violence “resolved peacefully”?

Kyrgyzstan is home to people of various faiths, but some cases of religious intolerance have been reported here of late

Feb 1 — “An imam admitted to Forum 18 he had, accompanied by a “mob” of young men and officials, blocked a Christian’s burial in the state-owned cemetery in Barskoon in Issyk-Kul Region. He then denied all responsibility and tried to blame everything on villagers.” READ MORE: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2349


Disparate Housewives: Tajikistan Says Government WAGs Must Labor Like Everyone Else

The wives of Tajik government officials often skip volunteer work, such as cleaning neighborhoods or planting trees and flowers in communal gardens

Jan 27 — “The wives of Tajik government officials have received news they might not like: their husbands could get in trouble if their spouses don’t take part in volunteer work. The warning came from the head of the State Services Agency, a body that oversees state employees’ compliance with the country’s laws and their professional Code of Ethics.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-officials-wives-volunteer-work-/29001983.html

Tajik Ex-Con Helps Prisoners Stitch Lives Back Together

A former convict is now a private entrepreneur that provides an option for Tajik convicts to work outside the prison walls

Jan 28 — “Atmiya Azimova is no ordinary employer — she makes it her business to work with convicted killers, drug dealers, and fraudsters. The 41-year-old former chemistry teacher, having served time in a Tajik prison herself for dealing drugs, changed the course of her life and now operates a successful blanket factory.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-women-former-prisoner-hires-others-in-factory/29003162.html

Tajikistan: Roghun to Begin Producing Power on President’s Day

This year, Tajikistan may launch its largest-ever hydropower project — Rogun, aimed to put an end to the country’s chronic power shortages and allow electricity export to neighboring countries

Feb 1 — “The first turbines at Tajikistan’s Roghun hydropower plant are set to go into operation on November 16 — a date chosen to coincide with a national holiday recently created in tribute to President Emomali Rahmon.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-roghun-to-begin-producing-power-on-presidents-day

Tajikistan resumes building Turkmenistan-China pipeline

The new pipeline will allow Tajikistan to earn by natural gas transit and help Turkmenistan increase gas exports to China — currently the only buyer of Turkmen natural gas

Feb 1 — “Work has resumed in Tajikistan on construction work on a natural gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan to China. Deputy Energy and Water Resources Minister Jamshed Shoimzoda said at a press conference on January 30 that funding for building work is being provided by China. Payments are being made on a regular basis, he said.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19289-tajikistan-resumes-building-turkmenistan-china-pipeline


Turkmenistan sees increased demand for VPN software

As authorities restrict Turkmenistan citizens’ access to information sources, ordinary people spend money on software and devices to access blocked Internet resources

Jan 25 — “Correspondents of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” report that the demand for VPN software, the installation of which allows visiting the Internet resources blocked in the country, is growing.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/01/turkmenistan-sees-increased-demand-for-vpn-software/

Turkmenistan Anxious to Diversify Gas Export Markets

Despite its huge natural-gas reserves, Turkmenistan lacks sufficient pipeline infrastructure to export greater volumes of natural gas. Moreover, its traditional export markets are shrinking, as Russia and Iran no longer buy Turkmen gas

Jan 29 — “Judged by statistics alone, Turkmenistan has the potential to be one of the world’s major natural gas exporters. According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Agency, as of January 2015, Turkmenistan has estimated natural gas reserves of 265 trillion cubic feet (tcf), giving it the world’s fourth to sixth largest natural gas reserve holders, depending on which statistical yardstick is used.” READ MORE: http://www.silkroadreporters.com/2018/01/29/turkmenistan-anxious-diversify-gas-export-markets/

Slim Down To Move Up In Turkmenistan?

President Berdymukhammedov has spent years exhorting Turkmenistan citizens to get into good physical shape and display good health and fitness

Jan 31 — “Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is big on appearances. That preoccupation is reflected in the white marble buildings that increasingly dot the capital, Ashgabat, and the Caspian coastal area of Avaza. Everything along the routes that Berdymukhammedov’s motorcade take through the capital, and generally around the country, is expected to be tidy and orderly when the president comes through.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-personal-appearance-fat-government-jobs/29009932.html


Uzbekistan: Contentious Figure Takes Over Top Boxing Post

The International Boxing Association will be headed by an Uzbek businessman linked to organized crime by US authorities

Jan 29 — “Gafur Rakhimov, a businessman from Uzbekistan who has been linked by US authorities to organized crime, has promised to “make boxing great again” following his appointment as president of the International Boxing Association, the body responsible for overseeing the amateur sport.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/uzbekistan-contentious-figure-takes-over-top-boxing-post

Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia sign loan agreement

Saudi funds will be used to build modern housing in rural areas in Navoi, Fergana and Tashkent regions of Uzbekistan

Feb 1 — “Uzbekistan and the Saudi Development Fund signed a $50 million loan agreement. The document was signed during the visit of the Uzbek delegation headed by First Deputy Finance Minister Ahadbek Khaydarov to Saudi Arabia.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/126460.html

Uzbekistan sets new security goals, including anti-radicalism legislation

Uzbekistan is developing new legislation aimed at preventing, fighting and eliminating the threat of extremism as part of a broader effort to retool Uzbekistan’s national security goals

Feb 1 — “As part of an effort to deal with shifting security threats, work is under way in Uzbekistan to pass legislation aimed at preventing, fighting and eliminating the threat of extremism. The Fighting Extremism Act, which is expected to be finalised by August 30, is part of the State Action Programme for 2018, approved by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev January 24.” READ MORE: http://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2018/02/01/feature-02

As Uzbekistan’s last Stalinist politician exits scene, what next?

This week’s removal of the powerful and longtime security services chief from his post in Uzbekistan has caused hopes that the Soviet- and Karimov-era repressive policies will finally come to an end. It remains to be seen, however, if the move was just the sidelining of a strong political figure or a decisive step to advance real reforms in the country

Feb 2 — “The morning in Uzbekistan began, fittingly enough, with an earthquake. But the slight seismological activity registered on January 31 was as nothing compared to the developments playing out at the headquarters of the National Security Services (SNB).” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19295-as-uzbekistan-s-last-stalinist-politician-exits-scene-what-next


The Taliban and ISIS are still powerful forces in Afghanistan

Despite having different goals, both the Taliban and ISIS cause deaths and instability in Afghanistan

Jan 26 — “Two recent attacks in Afghanistan — the Taliban’s siege of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on Jan. 20 and ISIS’s attack on a Save the Children office in Jalalabad on Jan. 24 — underscore the deep threat posed by the two main terrorist organizations operating in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: http://thehill.com/opinion/international/370881-the-taliban-and-isis-remain-powerful-forces-in-afghanistan

We Can’t Win in Afghanistan Because We Don’t Know Why We’re There

The Trump administration is trying to rethink the Afghan war, to realize how to align goals with reality

Jan 26 — ““The United States is not losing in Afghanistan, but it is not winning either, and that is not good enough,” reads the opening sentence of a top-secret review of the war in Afghanistan commissioned by President George W. Bush in 2008, according to multiple participants in that review. Subsequent classified reviews of the American strategy in the war have repeated that conclusion.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/opinion/sunday/united-states-afghanistan-win.html

Taliban threaten 70% of Afghanistan, BBC finds

A BBC study shows the Taliban are now in full control of 14 districts (4% of the country) and have an active and open presence in 263 districts (66%) — the figures played down by the Afghan government

Jan 31 — “Taliban fighters, whom US-led forces spent billions of dollars trying to defeat, are now openly active in 70% of Afghanistan, a BBC study has found. Months of research across the country shows that the Taliban now control or threaten much more territory than when foreign combat troops left in 2014.” READ MORE: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42863116

In Afghanistan’s Unwinnable War, What’s the Best Loss to Hope For?

Possible scenarios for future developments in Afghanistan

Feb 1 — “After 16 years of war in Afghanistan, experts have stopped asking what victory looks like and are beginning to consider the spectrum of possible defeats. All options involve acknowledging the war as failed, American aims as largely unachievable and Afghanistan’s future as only partly salvageable. Their advocates see glimmers of hope barely worth the stomach-turning trade-offs and slim odds of success.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/world/asia/afghanistan-war.html


Iran: One of the bravest women in the world stands up for freedom — The West should stand with her

Police in Iran have arrested dozens of women who removed their head scarves in a growing protest against a law requiring women to wear the Islamic veils in public

Jan 31 — “In Iran, a young woman with a growing Twitter reputation as the world’s bravest proponent of women’s rights is now reported to be facing serious criminal charges in that repressive theocracy for a single act of peaceful defiance — appearing in public without a head scarf.” READ MORE: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/01/30/iran-one-bravest-women-in-world-stands-up-for-freedom-west-should-stand-with-her.html

Don’t Fear China’s Arctic Takeover

China’s plan to extend its Silk Road initiative to the Arctic causes natural concern of Russia, Canada, and the US

Jan 31 — “Last week, China said it plans to build a “Polar Silk Road” that will open shipping lanes across the largely pristine region at the top of the world. It’s an ambitious idea for a country that lacks an Arctic border, and it has raised concerns around the world about China’s ultimate intentions and its capacity for environmental stewardship. Although these are reasonable worries, they’re almost certainly overblown.” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-01-30/don-t-fear-china-s-arctic-takeover

Is there an agreement on Caspian Sea delimitation?

Defining the legal status of the Caspian Sea by its littoral countries — Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan — has been a pending issue since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The way the Sea will be defined is important for geostrategic and military plans of Russia and Iran, and for energy projects pursued by Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan

Feb 1 — “On December 5, 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that all the key issues regarding the delimitation of the Caspian Sea had been resolved and that a treaty was being prepared for heads of state to sign in 2018 in Astana. Yet less optimistic statements from the other parties, particularly Iran, suggest that Lavrov’s assessment was premature.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19288-is-there-an-agreement-on-caspian-sea-delimitation

Sergey Kwan