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 and corruption: young blood, old habits

Old habits die hard — this is proven by the ongoing high-profile corruption trial of a former economy minister in Kazakhstan, which shows that the young generation of public servants is as susceptible to corruption as their older-age peers

Feb 24 — “Sometimes a corruption case is about more than just the corruption. The downfall of Kuandyk Bishimbayev is a story about how Kazakhstan continues to struggle to uproot graft and how the scourge has been handed on seamlessly to a generation in which the elite had placed great hopes of a more transparent future.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19397-kazakhstan-and-corruption-young-blood-old-habits

Detention of Businessman in Kazakhstan Prompts Fears Over Torture, Political Motivations

When it comes to persecuting, and prosecuting, political opponents, Kazakh authorities are using any means possible to achieve their goal

Feb 27 — “Iskander Yerimbetov runs multiple businesses in Kazakhstan, including a sweet factory and a large helicopter transport company. He is not a major political player in the Central Asian country and yet finds himself accused of laundering money on behalf of Mukhtar Ablyazov, the arch-nemesis of the country’s long-reigning President Nursultan Nazarbayev.” READ MORE: https://globalvoices.org/2018/02/27/detention-of-businessman-in-kazakhstan-prompts-fears-over-torture-political-motivations/

Kazakhstan’s Kashagan to increase oil production

Despite its oil production cut commitment, Kazakhstan is increasing crude output at Kashagan, to sooner repay the huge investments made to start production at the giant oil field

Feb 28 — “Kashagan, the largest oil field in the Kazakh part of the Caspian shelf, will increase the extraction of oil, said Kazakhstan’s Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbayev while at a meeting of the board of the Ministry of Energy in Astana.” READ MORE: https://www.neweurope.eu/article/kazakhstans-kashagan-increase-oil-production/

Kazakhstan says Russian not banned from government after all

Language is a sensitive issue in Kazakhstan, where ethnic Russians make up a fifth of the population. The issue also has an impact on the country’s relations with Russia

Mar 1 — “Kazakhstan will allow cabinet and parliament members to speak Russian, the Central Asian nation’s government said on Thursday, softening the tone of an earlier statement by President Nursultan Nazarbayev who had ordered a switch to Kazakh.” READ MORE: http://www.businessinsider.com/r-kazakhstan-says-russian-not-banned-from-government-after-all-2018-3

‘Kazakhstan’s new alphabet good for Turkic literature’

Kazakhstan’s transition from Cyrillic to a Latin-based script would distance the country from Russia and make it closer to the Turkic world

Mar 2 — “A move by Kazakhstan to change its alphabet to the Roman script would contribute to Turkic literature, an academic said Thursday. The country is set to switch from Cyrillic to a Roman-based script by 2025.” READ MORE: https://aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/kazakhstans-new-alphabet-good-for-turkic-literature/1077672

KYRGYZSTAN

Hour of truth for media freedom in Kyrgyzstan

The pluralism of the Kyrgyz media is still exceptional in comparison with the rest of Central Asia, but concern is mounting about the growing harassment of independent journalists in the country, Reporters Without Borders says

Feb 26 — “What with prosecutions, astronomic damages awards and travel bans, there is mounting concern about the threats to media freedom in Kyrgyzstan. The need to end the abuses and to respect press freedom is urgent, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says.” READ MORE: https://rsf.org/en/news/hour-truth-media-freedom-kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan and UK building stronger trade and investment ties

Kyrgyzstan urges British companies to invest in the Kyrgyz processing industry, energy sector, tourism, and light industry

Mar 1 — “On March 1, the second UK Trade Mission is finishing its visit to Kyrgyzstan, having conducted a series of business meetings in the country. On February 28, there were B2G meetings in the Government Office, the Ministry of Culture, Information and Tourism, the Ministry of Education and Science, the State Committee for Industry, Energy and Subsoil Use, and other state agencies.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19418-kyrgyzstan-and-uk-building-stronger-trade-and-investment-ties

Son Of Ex-Kyrgyz Envoy Under House Arrest In U.S. For Arms Smuggling

U.S. authorities allege that the Kyrgyz citizen was involved in buying more than 100 disassembled firearms and attempting to ship them to Russia’s Chechnya region without a license

Mar 2 — “A U.S. court has ordered the son of a former Kyrgyz ambassador to Washington to be placed under house arrest on charges including firearms trafficking and smuggling, Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry says. In a statement on March 2, the ministry said that 28-year-old Kyrgyz citizen Tengiz Sydykov was placed under house arrest at a court hearing the previous day.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/son-of-ex-kyrgyz-envoy-under-house-arrest-united-states-arms-smuggling/29072659.html

Government reshuffle in Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan’s steady drift away from Kazakhstan

There are signs that Kyrgyzstan’s president has begun to get rid of the political legacy of his predecessor, with the strained relations with neighboring Kazakhstan being a difficult issue on Bishkek’s foreign-policy agenda

Mar 2 — “The security forces of Kazakhstan carried out a special operation on February 16, and detained 29 members of a criminal gang, which included customs officials as well as law enforcement officers. Among those arrested was Damirbek Asylbek ulu, a deputy of the parliament of neighboring Kyrgyzstan. The detention of such a high-ranking public figure prompted a note of protest from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19425-government-reshuffle-in-bishkek-and-kyrgyzstan-s-steady-drift-away-from-kazakhstan

TAJIKISTAN

TAJIKISTAN: Almost 2,000 mosques closed in 2017

Authorities in Tajikistan continue imposing full control of the religious life of Tajik citizens in an effort to prevent any form of Islamic extremism

Feb 26 — “On 5 February 2018 Tajikistan’s State Committee for Religious Affairs and Regulation of Traditions, Ceremonies and Rituals (SCRA) claimed that 1,938 mosques were in 2017 forcibly closed and converted to secular uses. However, human rights defender Faizinisso Vokhidova noted that the SCRA’s claims that the mosques were illegal is not credible. She also noted that many closed mosques had refused to complain about their closure, even when offered legal assistance in bringing court cases.” READ MORE: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2356

Orphaned By IS: Tajik Grandfather Seeks Return Of 10-Year-Old Survivor

The government of Tajkistan estimates that there are some 200 children among more than 1,000 Tajik nationals who left for Iraq and Syria to join the IS since 2014

Feb 26 — “They left Tajikistan as a family of six, but only one would live to tell the tale of how they lived — and most of them died — in Iraq after joining the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-grandfather-seeks-return-islamic-state-orphan-from-iraq/29064024.html

Central Asia: Put Out the Islamic State Flags

Possession of an Islamic State flag could be pretty much dangerous in Tajikistan, whose authorities have stepped up efforts to combat Islamic extremism

Mar 1 — “A curious little drama has played out in Tajikistan that neatly encapsulates the state’s relation to would-be terrorist symbols and how the government perceives — or wishes the public to perceive — the ways in which extremist religious beliefs can take root in society.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/central-asia-put-out-the-islamic-state-flags

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Visa Cards Halted Amid Foreign Currency Drought

Turkmenistan is facing a shortage of foreign cash as revenues from the export of natural gas have been decreasing in recent years

Feb 26 — “With the available pool of foreign currency dwindling to ever smaller amounts in Turkmenistan, banks have reportedly suspended the operations of locally issued Visa cards, both inside and outside the country. Particularly badly hit are young people studying abroad, who are largely unable to receive funding from relatives in Turkmenistan as a result.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-visa-cards-halted-amid-foreign-currency-drought

Colour turmoil with Turkmenistan’s motor transport

Despite the absence of any official decree banning dark-colored cars, road police in Turkmenistan continue removing all cars except the white ones from Ashgabat streets

Feb 26 — “Correspondents of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” report that in Ashgabat vehicles of all colours except white are being towed away to car impounds. Road inspection officers stop vehicles and demand that the drivers remove their cars to car impounds to get them repainted in other colours. A driving license may be revoked for failure to disobey the requirement.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/02/colour-turmoil-with-turkmenistans-motor-transport/

TAPI: Afghan section launched, skepticism kept

For the Turkmen president, construction of the TAPI gas pipeline is his ‘grand project’ that is crucial for the future of Turkmenistan

Feb 28 — “The Afghan section of the TAPI gas pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) was officially inaugurated on February 23rd. The ceremony aimed among other things to show that despite difficulties the project is still going forward. Nevertheless, big questions remain regarding this crucial project for Turkmenistan’s future” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/02/tapi-afghan-section-launched-skepticism-kept/

Turkmenistan: TAPI Deadline Pushed Back to 2022?

The revised timeframe is a blow for Turkmenistan, as the country badly needs to have new sales markets for its natural gas as soon as possible

Mar 2 — “The government of Turkmenistan has regularly stated it expects the trans-Afghan TAPI natural gas pipeline to be completed by 2019, but a recent statement from Afghanistan’s government suggests that target has been pushed back to around 2022.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-tapi-deadline-pushed-back-to-2022

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan Announces Cryptocurrencies legalization by mid 2018

Uzbekistan may become one of the pioneering countries in terms of cryptocurrency use in Central Asia, proposing not only readiness to adopt e-currencies but also to promote their use

Feb 27 — “In a decree signed by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, public institutions have a duty to establish all the legal parameters necessary to lawfully allow bitcoin trading and other forms of “digital money” to circulate on Uzbekistan’s economy.” READ MORE: https://zycrypto.com/uzbekistan-announces-cryptocurrencies-legalization-mid-2018/

Amid Reform Talk, Zakir Almatov, At Center Of Andijon Bloodshed, Is Back

President Mirziyoev has brought back one of the most controversial figures from the darkest days of Uzbekistan’s post-independence history

Feb 28 — “In a surprise move, Zakir Almatov has returned to Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry after more than 12 years. Perhaps more than any other Uzbek official, Almatov’s name is linked with the violent events — some say massacre — that took place in Uzbekistan’s eastern city of Andijon on May 13, 2005.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-zakir-almatov-andijon-violence-returnss-to-government/29068297.html

High Hopes for Mending Tajikistan-Uzbekistan Relations Ahead of State Visit

The Uzbek president continues repairing his country’s relations with Central Asian neighbors, with Tajikistan being the next stop in a series of his visits to the next-door neighbors

Mar 1 — “There are high hopes for Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s upcoming state visit to Tajikistan, set for March 9-10. In a little more than a year in office, Mirziyoyev has made strides to repair the country’s relations with its neighbors, making three visits to Turkmenistan, four to Kazakhstan and one to Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbekistan-Tajikistan relationship was in particularly poor condition by the time Mirziyoyev took over in Tashkent, having deteriorated steadily throughout Islam Karimov’s 25-year tenure as leader.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/high-hopes-for-mending-tajikistan-uzbekistan-relations-ahead-of-state-visit/

Uzbekistan Filmgoers Get to See Death of Stalin. For Free

The showing of a comedy that ridicules authoritarianism is seen as another sign of a thaw in the tightly-controlled Uzbekistan

Mar 1 — “In a sublime feat of Russia-trolling, a theater in Uzbekistan is marking the 65th anniversary of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s death with a showing of hit comedy “The Death of Stalin” — and allowing viewers in for free to boot.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/uzbekistan-filmgoers-get-to-see-death-of-stalin-for-free

AFGHANISTAN

The Guardian view on the war in Afghanistan: give peace a chance

The Taliban views the government in Kabul as a puppet regime and calls for direct talks with Washington

Feb 28 — “In extending an olive branch to the Taliban at an international conference in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Wednesday, President Ashraf Ghani has boosted the prospects for peace in his battle-scarred country. These are admittedly pretty dim; but Mr Ghani’s offer to work with the Taliban as a nascent political party – with the promise to provide passports to the group’s representatives and open an office for them in Kabul – was a generous one.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/28/the-guardian-view-on-the-war-in-afghanistan-give-peace-a-chance

Afghanistan’s fragile government picks a dangerous fight

President Ashraf Ghani is now trying to reduce bloodshed in the country by offering to negotiate with the Taliban, which, however, says no talks possible until foreign troops exit Afghanistan

Mar 1 — “FROM behind the counter of his optician’s shop on the north bank of the Kabul river, Noorullah looks anxiously at his ten-year-old son. He fears for the boy’s education under the current government and—worse—for his life. In the past month terrorists from Islamic State and the Taliban have run amok in the city, killing 150 civilians.” READ MORE: https://www.economist.com/news/asia/21737512-warlords-do-not-being-told-what-do-afghanistans-fragile-government-picks-dangerous-fight

HOW GREENHOUSES ARE WARMING AFGHANISTAN UP TO PEACE

The government and foreign donors are trying to give Afghan farmers an alternative to poppy cultivation

Mar 1 — “Abdul Hadi is a farmer in a village in southern Afghanistan. For more than a decade, he has wrestled with the difficult landscape, producing wheat and other sustainability crops despite failing irrigation systems and harsh winters. “Less than half of the farmers could afford to irrigate their farmland by water pumps,” Hadi told U.S. government workers two years ago, “and the rest of the lands were left barren. Even some of the farmers were obligated to leave their villages.” READ MORE: http://www.ozy.com/politics-and-power/how-greenhouses-are-warming-afghanistan-up-to-peace/85040

Afghanistan: Has ‘The Great Game’ Returned Between Russia and the US?

Analysts suggest that a new Great Game has already started in Afghanistan between Russia and the US, with the US replacing Britain which was a player in the 19th-century Great Game

Mar 1 — “Today, we often hear commentary on our longest war and continued involvement in Afghanistan. Many Americans probably do not realize that the British Empire was heavily involved in that region in a struggle with Imperial Russia during the 19th century. In fact, British forces fought in three Afghan wars. Fortunately, the U.S. has evaded that fate.” READ MORE: https://inhomelandsecurity.com/afghanistan-great-game/

WORLD

Deepening Central Asian nonproliferation partnerships

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are taking the lead in Central Asia in terms of efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), thus contributing to a safer Central Asian region and showing a good example to such countries as Iran and North Korea

Feb 26 — “Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has been a priority for Uzbek-U.S. and Kazak-U.S. relations for decades. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are surrounded by nuclear weapons states and lie at the crossroads of potential WMD trafficking routes. As the U.S. struggles to keep North Korea and Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, deny WMDs from terrorists and other actors, and sustain a major security presence in Central Asia, partnering with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan against WMDs offers low-cost, high-yield opportunities.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19403-deepening-central-asian-nonproliferation-partnerships

Pakistan-Russia counter-terrorism cooperation

Russia fears that instability in Afghanistan can allow terrorism and drug trafficking to spill over to Russia through its Central Asian neighbors and Pakistan believes that an unstable Afghanistan is counter-productive to its counter-terrorism efforts

Feb 27 — “Counter-terrorism cooperation has been an important aspect of Pakistan-Russia relations. During the visit of former President Pervez Musharraf to Russia in 2003, both sides condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and agreed that a comprehensive approach was needed to combat it. Both sides declared their interest in establishing a constructive cooperation in fighting international terrorism.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19408-pakistan-russia-counter-terrorism-cooperation

China Is Reevaluating Economic Ties In 65 Foreign Countries

Officials in Beijing worry about high project costs and possible capital flight along China’s pan-Eurasian Belt and Road initiative

Mar 1 — “When 3,000 Chinese legislators kick off their major annual meeting next week, a bulk of the attention will go to the country’s fabled economic expansion. Much of that expansion over the past five years has broken past Chinese borders into deals with countries from Pakistan into Europe — China helps build infrastructure in exchange for smoothing trade routes that help commerce on both sides.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphjennings/2018/03/01/china-is-reevaluating-its-economic-ties-in-65-foreign-countries/#7101fec82743

Sergey Kwan

TCA