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.


With New Alphabet, Kazakhstan Moves Decisively Away From Russian World

By switching from Cyrillic to a Latin-based script, Kazakhstan distances itself from Russia and moves closer to the Turkic-speaking world

Mar 5 — “After much debate, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev has approved a new Latin-based alphabet for the titular language of his country. The new alphabet will not include apostrophes as did the Latin script he approved earlier. The adoption of the new alphabet will have three significant consequences.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/new-alphabet-kazakhstan-moves-decisively-away-russian-world/

‘Kazakhstan seeks Korean expertise in green technologies, investments’

Chairman of Kazakhstan’s International Center for Green Technology and Investment Projects on the country’s plan to become a greener economy

Mar 5 — “Kazakhstan, the world’s largest landlocked country, has primarily relied on its coal, oil and natural gas for energy, but is now moving toward renewables as global trends change. With the world shifting away from polluting energy sources to cleaner forms, Kazakhstan is keen on making the transition and eventually becoming the region’s pacesetter in the green economy, according to its top diplomat in charge of green technology investments.” READ MORE: http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20180305000796

Kazakhstan to Spend $840M on Countering Religious Extremism

Kazakh officials warn of a high level of extremist and terrorist propaganda that could enable the radicalization of Kazakhstan’s society

Mar 6 — “Security officials in Kazakhstan have reportedly said that they intend to spend more than $840 million over five years on state programs aimed at preventing terrorism and the spread of extremism.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kazakhstan-to-spend-840m-on-countering-religious-extremism

Kazakhstan Grants U.S. Access to Ports for Afghan-Bound Goods

The move would only raise Kazakhstan’s profile in the regional and world political arena

Mar 7 — “Lawmakers in Kazakhstan have approved an agreement allowing the United States to use two of the nation’s Caspian Sea ports as transit points for shipping nonmilitary material to Afghanistan. By gaining access to the ports of Aktau and Kuryk, the United States will gain an additional option in circumventing Russia, which has previously also provided transit options for NATO supplies to Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kazakhstan-grants-us-access-to-ports-for-afghan-bound-goods

Meinhardt Group to assist Kazakhstan in next phase of development

Kazakhstan’s partnership with world-class engineering and technology firms, multilateral aid agencies, educational and global financial centres would accelerate the country’s modernization effort

Mar 7 — “President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev in his address to the nation on Jan. 10, put forward an inspiring vision for the next phase of the country’s economic development and modernisation. There is no doubt that today’s digital technologies can be deployed to improve processes and productivity in all fields, including mining, industrialisation, construction of smart buildings and infrastructure, logistics facilities, smart cities, education/training and financial/government services.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/03/meinhardt-group-to-assist-kazakhstan-in-next-phase-of-development/


Can state benefit payments reduce poverty in Kyrgyzstan?

In Kyrgyzstan, 271,000 families live below the subsistence minimum of $72 per person per month and 120 thousand families spend less than $1 a day

Mar 5 — “According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development of Kyrgyzstan, 360.2 thousand people from low-income families receive monthly state benefit payments, and most of those families have children (275.9 thousand). The number of applicants for state benefits grows by 2% a year.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19435-can-state-benefit-payments-reduce-poverty-in-kyrgyzstan

What About That Proposed Second Russian Base in Kyrgyzstan?

Kyrgyzstan is open to military cooperation with and assistance from Russia — especially if it brings in financial incentives like the writing-off of the country’s debts

Mar 7 — “Last summer, then-Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev suggested that Russia open a second military base — in southern Kyrgyzstan — rather than expand its presence at the existing base, Kant, outside of Bishkek. This week, in his first press conference since assuming the presidency last November, Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov was asked about the possibility.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/what-about-that-proposed-second-russian-base-in-kyrgyzstan/

Kyrgyz Activists Name And Shame ‘Corrupt’ Judges

The court system, which is not independent, is believed to be among the most corrupt state bodies in Kyrgyzstan

Mar 8 — “A group of Kyrgyz activists have found a unique way to fight alleged corruption in the judicial system. The group is compiling a blacklist of judges the activists believe are corrupt or known for bias and “unlawful rulings.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyz-corrupt-judges-activists-rally-name-shame/29087140.html

Kyrgyzstan: high-level resignation points to trouble at the top

The President of Kyrgyzstan is gaining strength, and although he will hardly abandon the political and economic course of his predecessor, tensions are possible within the country’s ruling elite

Mar 8 — “The defection of a high-ranking figure from within Kyrgyzstan’s presidential administration has ignited talk of tensions within the ruling elite. After days of uncertainty, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov on March 7 accepted the resignation of his chief of staff, Farid Niyazov, a prominent figure on the national political scene. Niyazov is widely known as a loyal confidante of Jeenbekov’s predecessor, Almazbek Atambayev.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19451-kyrgyzstan-high-level-resignation-points-to-trouble-at-the-top


Rare Triumph For Tajikistan’s IRPT, As Leader Removed From Interpol’s ‘Red Notice’

The Tajik government targets political exiles and opposition emigres by placing them on international wanted lists through Interpol and regional organizations

Mar 3 — “There was something of a victory for the embattled Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) on March 2 when the IRPT’s leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, announced that Interpol had taken his name off its wanted list.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-islamic-renaissance-party-leader-kabiri-interpol/29076658.html

Tajikistan’s Islamist extremists concentrated in big cities at home and in Russia

As Tajikistan is facing the threat of growing Islamist extremism, the government needs to understand that poverty, unemployment, and religious illiteracy are among the main causes of this phenomenon, and to develop a strategy to counter the threat

Mar 7 — “Despite popular misperceptions of religiosity in general and Islam in particular flourishing most strongly in poor rural areas, the Islamist revival of the last 30 years has been primarily an urban phenomenon. This has been the result of the loss of familial ties by those who moved from villages into the rapidly growing cities as well as the communication revolution, which has allowed Islamist activists to reach the new urbanites.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19446-tajikistan-s-islamist-extremists-concentrated-in-big-cities-at-home-and-in-russia

Tajikistan targets exiles in Turkey

Turkey, which has a visa-free regime and direct flights to Tajikistan, is no longer a safe place for self-exiled Tajik politicians

Mar 7 — “Since 2015, the authoritarian government of Tajikistan, ruled by President Emomali Rahmon since 1994, has intensified its crackdown on all forms of potential dissent within the country. The government declared the leading opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), a moderate party whose representatives have repeatedly stated their commitment to the democratic process, a terrorist organisation in 2015.” READ MORE: https://ahvalnews.com/turkey/tajikistan-targets-exiles-turkey


President of Turkmenistan weighs establishment of ruling dynasty: experts

Experts suggest President Berdymukhamedov’s son, Serdar, may be appointed as a new parliament speaker after the upcoming parliamentary election

Mar 1 — “Registration of candidates for parliament is over in Turkmenistan. The elections are set for March 25. Representatives of three political subjects will be running for parliament: Democratic Party, Party of Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs, and Agrarian Party. Considering that there are no other political forces in the country, the new parliament will little differ from the current one.” READ MORE: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2018/03/01/president-of-turkmenistan-weighs-establishment-of-ruling-dynasty-experts

Turkmenistan Joining Southern Gas Corridor Is “Quite Realistic”

Turkmenistan seeks every opportunity to diversify its natural-gas export routes

Mar 5 — “The likelihood of Turkmenistan joining the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) gas pipeline is likely, according to remarks made by Azerbaijani Energy Minister Parviz Sahbazov, who was in Turkmenistan to participate in a ground-breaking ceremony for the start of construction of the Afghan segment to another pipeline, known as TAPI, which originates in Turkmenistan.” READ MORE: https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/turkmenistan-joining-southern-gas-corridor-is-quite-realistic-2018-3-3-24/

“Digital Turkmenistan”in the epoch of notebooks

The situation with Internet access in Turkmenistan remains poor despite government plans to introduce the latest technology

Mar 5 — “Turkmenistan decided to provide wider Internet access and develop high-tech solutions with a $273 million loan provided for this purpose by the Islamic Development Bank. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov called for designing a program to develop the Internet and electronic systems, pursuant to which 5-G networks and ID cards for residents are expected to be available and instructed to design “Digital Turkmenistan” program to eliminate “digital discrepancy” for household use.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/03/digital-turkmenistanin-the-epoch-of-notebooks/

Party Pooper: Turkmen President A No-Show For Central Asian Summit

Whatever the reasons, Berdymukhammedov’s decision not to go to the summit might turn out to be a big mistake, as Turkmenistan has much to gain from new Central Asian regional cooperation

Mar 6 — “The first Central Asian summit in many years is due to take place in Astana on March 15-16, and it was shaping up to be an epic event. But on March 2, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov took some of the excitement out of the gathering in the Kazakh capital by announcing he would not be going.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-turkmenistan-berdymukhammedov-central-asian-summit-not-attending/29083277.html


Uzbekistan’s prospective bond issues come with high risks

Despite ongoing economic reforms, Uzbekistan remains a risky place for foreign investors

Mar 2 — “Uzbekistan, run as a repressive autocracy and a highly regulated economy for almost three decades, has hardly enticed investors requiring greater assurances on the economy and an improving business environment. However, neither have there been any bond issues to pile into with the state remaining largely closed to inward investment.” READ MORE: https://www.euromoney.com/article/b174vl0m64df6z/uzbekistans-prospective-bond-issues-come-with-high-risks

Uzbekistan seeks bigger role in Afghan peace process

The Uzbek president believes that stability in Afghanistan is the decisive factor of stability in the Central Asia region

Mar 6 — “Uzbekistan wants to establish a new venue for peace talks between the government of neighboring Afghanistan and the Taliban, it said on Tuesday, having invited the world’s top diplomats to a conference later this month.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uzbekistan-afghanistan-conference/uzbekistan-seeks-bigger-role-in-afghan-peace-process-idUSKCN1GI254

Net Tightens Around Uzbekistan’s Ex-General Prosecutor

Uzbekistan’s new president continues cleansing the country’s security and law enforcement bodies, replacing the old guard with his loyalists

Mar 7 — “Authorities in Uzbekistan last month arrested long-serving former General Prosecutor Rashid Kadyrov on corruption charges and have now broadened the investigation to include immediate members of his family. The Interior Ministry this week posted a wanted notice for Kadyrov’s 38-year-old son, Alisher, who they say is suspected of multiple counts of large-scale fraud.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/uzbekistan-net-tightens-around-former-general-prosecutor

Opening Up Uzbekistan to Tourism

The government of Uzbekistan is trying to attract more foreign visitors to the previously isolated country

Mar 7 — “Uzbekistan is continuing to push forward its key policy of opening the country up for tourism by relaxing visa rules for a host of countries. Nationals of 39 countries can now obtain visas through a simplified procedure, while those of seven others – Israel, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore – will be able to stay in Uzbekistan for 30 days without a visa.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/opening-uzbekistan-tourism


Dialogue With Taliban the Only Way Out of Afghanistan

Analyst says that to resolve the Afghan war, the U.S. must seriously engage Moscow and Beijing, and indirectly reach Tehran as well

Mar 5 — “It’s past time the United States did some soul-searching and accept responsibility for exacerbating an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. This will require a rethink of Washington’s current handling of Afghanistan and indeed its entire view of the region.” READ MORE: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/dialogue-is-the-only-way-out-of-afghanistan/

A Way Forward for Afghanistan After the 2nd Kabul Process Conference

To achieve peace with the Taliban is a difficult task for Kabul, as too many players are involved in the game

Mar 7 — “While Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has sought to negotiate with the Taliban to end the group’s wave of violence, talks could already be destined to fail. The Kabul Process held its second session on February 28 after its inception in June 2017 with the participation of dozens of regional and global representatives.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/a-way-forward-for-afghanistan-after-the-2nd-kabul-process-conference/

Is peace in Afghanistan within reach?

Despite all the shortcomings and problems, the US presence has prevented the Taliban from reassuming power in Afghanistan

Mar 7 — “Here in the 17th year of American conflict in Afghanistan, and in the 39th year overall of nearly continuous strife there, everyone seems to be grasping for solutions to end the misery. The Americans are asking the Afghans to do more to secure the stability of the country, while asking the Taliban to do less to undermine it.” READ MORE: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/07/opinions/taliban-peace-talks-opinion-goel/index.html

A Struggle for Dignity: Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

The rule of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 represented a huge step backwards for women’s rights in Afghanistan and their overthrow has been a huge step forward

Mar 8 — “As the #MeToo movement triggered heated debates about sexual harassment around the world, feminists in Afghanistan were largely confined to watching its impact from the sidelines. Gains for women’s rights in the country in recent years have been incremental and accompanied by regular setbacks.” READ MORE: https://globalvoices.org/2018/03/08/a-struggle-for-dignity-womens-rights-in-afghanistan/


Russia pushes CSTO countries to legalize private military and security companies

The Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is pushing legalization of private military and security companies. The move, if successful and replicated by Russia and other CSTO member states, will potentially enable citizens of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to take part in Russia’s military operations abroad, becoming another labor migration opportunity for people from Central Asia

Mar 4 — “The Secretariat of the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s (CSTO) Parliamentary Assembly is currently examining a bill on private military and security organizations (Private Military Companies—PMC) (RIA Novosti, February 5). If adopted inside the Moscow-led alliance, the individual CSTO member states will then be tasked with introducing domestic laws to legitimize the activities of such commercial paramilitary groups.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19430-russia-pushes-csto-countries-to-legalize-private-military-and-security-companies

Russia Seeks Total Military Domination Over West

President Putin’s claims of Russia having new super weapons would only reaffirm the West’s tougher stance towards his country

Mar 8 — “During his annual address to the parliament, on March 1, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled an array of nuclear superweapons, claiming Russia has secretly overcome the mighty United States and assumed a dominant military position.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/russia-seeks-total-military-domination-west/

One Belt One Road and the risks behind the win-win situation

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is poised to bring in huge economic opportunities for the Eurasian continent and Central Asia countries

Mar 9 — “The New Silk Road Initiative was originally unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 and became known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). From the beginning, the initiative was presented as a reestablishment of the trade routes that were successful many centuries ago. The initiative was also a call for partner countries to accelerate transport infrastructure improvements and connectivity to boost trade.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19455-one-belt-one-road-and-the-risks-behind-the-win-win-situation

Sergey Kwan


Sergey Kwan has worked for The Times of Central Asia as a journalist, translator and editor since its foundation in March 1999. Prior to this, from 1996-1997, he worked as a translator at The Kyrgyzstan Chronicle, and from 1997-1999, as a translator at The Central Asian Post.
Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

View more articles fromTCA