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.

KAZAKHSTAN

Russia is losing staunch ally Kazakhstan

Many in Russia are concerned about Kazakhstan’s recent steps to go out of Russia’s orbit of economic and political influence

Mar 21 — “Kazakhstan has been distancing itself from Russia. The Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan has recently rejected the requirement from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to abolish the visa-free regime with the United States. Earlier, the head of the former Soviet republic Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered to switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet. Finally, Kazakh officials are not allowed to speak Russian publicly.” READ MORE: http://www.pravdareport.com/world/ussr/21-03-2018/140442-kazakhstan-0/

Kazakhstan Closes Spigot to Opposition Leader’s Information Channels

Authorities in Kazakhstan are preventing President Nazarbayev’s long-standing foe Mukhtar Ablyazov’s attempts to disseminate his ideas via social media websites

Mar 21 — “Communications authorities in Kazakhstan have revealed that their efforts to delete online material produced by a banned opposition movement are behind the recent inaccessibility of popular social media websites and messaging applications.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kazakhstan-closes-spigot-to-opposition-leaders-information-channels

Almaty city guide: Where to eat, drink, shop and stay in Kazakhstan’s biggest metropolis

Some recommendations for western visitors wishing to discover Kazakhstan’s largest city

Mar 21 — “Almaty, on the wild plains where Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and China meet, is a sophisticated surprise, an outlier of skyscrapers, leafy parks, museums and coffee shops. The mighty Tien Shan mountains tower over Kazakhstan’s biggest city, which was decimated by an earthquake in 1911 and stripped of its capital city status in 1997.” READ MORE: https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/48-hours-in/almaty-kazakhstan-things-to-do-see-best-hotels-restaurants-bars-city-guide-a8266121.html

Kazakhstan’s Financial Restructuring Continues Despite Failed Mergers

In oil-rich Kazakhstan, the banking sector is perhaps the weakest and most dependent of state support in Central Asia

Mar 22 — “TsesnaBank will not buy Bank CenterCredit after all. The two mid-sized banks will remain separate despite several transactions in the past year anticipating a merger. Such a merger would have potentially competed with Halyk Bank and Qazkom, which merged in the second half of 2017 and now control 34 percent of Kazakhstan’s banking sector.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/kazakhstans-financial-restructuring-continues-despite-failed-mergers/

Locally-made electric cars to be available in Kazakhstan this year

Kazakhstan is poised to become the leading automobile manufacturer in Central Asia

Mar 23 — “The Kostanai car plant has started serial assembly of electric cars and customers will be able to buy the Chinese JAC iEV7S in the second half of this year, reported kapital.kz. The price is expected to start at 7.5 million tenge (US$23,300).” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/03/locally-made-electric-cars-to-be-available-in-kazakhstan-this-year/

KYRGYZSTAN

Journalism in Kyrgyzstan: Shoot the Messenger?

In Kyrgyzstan, which has often been referred to as an “island of democracy” in Central Asia, the pressure on the mass media has increased in recent years

Mar 16 — “On March 6, Kyrgyzstan’s President Sooronbay Jeenbekov invited 40 representatives of the national media to a meeting at the state residence Ala Archa, located approximately 10 kilometers southwest of Bishkek. For more than two hours, the new president — whose election in October 2017 marked Central Asia’s first peaceful handover of power from one democratically elected leader to another — answered questions from journalists on a variety of subjects, including corruption, reform of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, and freedom of speech.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/journalism-in-kyrgyzstan-shoot-the-messenger/

US military giving up on Kyrgyzstan

After the closure of the US air force base at Bishkek’s Manas airport in Kyrgyzstan in 2014, the US has been losing the competition with Russia and China in the sphere of military cooperation with the Central Asian country

Mar 20 — “The United States appears to have given up on military cooperation with Kyrgyzstan – once its closest partner in Central Asia – because Bishkek has thrown its lot in with Russia and China, a senior US general has said. General Joseph Votel, the commander of US Central Command, testified before the US Senate last week to present CENTCOM’s annual “posture statement,” its assessment of what the US military is doing in the region.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19506-us-military-giving-up-on-kyrgyzstan

Work permits to foreigners simplified in Kyrgyzstan

The government is taking efforts to attract investors and foreign specialists to the Kyrgyz economy

Mar 21 — “Kyrgyzstan has simplified the conditions for obtaining work permits for foreign citizens. Earlier, six documents were required to obtain such permits, while only two documents are needed now, Medetbek Aydaraliev, Chairman of the State Migration Service of Kyrgyzstan, said at a press conference in Bishkek.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19511-work-permits-to-foreigners-simplified-in-kyrgyzstan

25 reasons to visit Kyrgyzstan

A list of attractions and pastimes that will make your trip to Kyrgyzstan unforgettable

Mar 21 — “American Internet media company BuzzFeed told about 25 reasons to come to Kyrgyzstan. “Kyrgyzstan is a small country in Central Asia but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t an interesting place for tourists. The most area of Kyrgyzstan is mountains this why Kyrgyzstan has only 7 big cities. Kyrgyzstan has gorgeous nature, many historical monuments, special culture and traditions.” READ MORE: https://akipress.com/news:603857

TAJIKISTAN

Thighs Wide Shut: Tajik Cinema Without The Sex

Authorities will be censoring sex scenes in foreign movies, as they are not compatible with Tajik mentality and culture

Mar 17 — “Foreign films in Tajikistan are going to be leaving a little more to the imagination. An official with the state film regulatory body and studio, Tojikfilm, said on March 13 that a special commission will soon review foreign films for content, and that scenes with sex or nudity would be edited out before the films could be shown to Tajik audiences.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-cinema-without-the-sex/29106011.html

Tajikistan ministry’s book tells women how to dress

The ministry recommends traditional Tajik dress, and advises against both overtly Western and Islamic wear

Mar 21 — “A book published by the government in Tajikistan is telling women what they should – and should not – be wearing. The “Book of Recommendations” is published by the Ministry of Culture, and is filled with photos of models wearing outfits suitable for “women from seven to seventy”, the Asia-Plus news website reports.” READ MORE: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-43488511

Tajikistan’s Somon Air confirms talks for eight EMB-190-E2s

The deal would allow the Tajik airline to expand the scope of its flights and cut costs of flights

Mar 22 — “Somon Air (SZ, Dushanbe) confirmed it has now has opened a dialogue with Embraer (São José dos Campos) over its proposed purchase of eight EMB-190-E2s. The Tajik carrier said in a statement on March 21 that financing for the proposed purchase could come through the Brazilian BNDES bank under a finance leasing scheme.” READ MORE: https://www.ch-aviation.com/portal/news/65583-tajikistans-somon-air-confirms-talks-for-eight-emb-190-e2s

Call for new ways to expand Belarus-Tajikistan economic ties

Belarus and Tajikistan have raised cooperation onto a new level, especially in industries and agriculture, and the supply of Belarusian agro machinery

Mar 22 — “Belarus and Tajikistan should seek new ways to expand trade and economic relations, Chairman of the Council of the Republic Mikhail Myasnikovich said as he met with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Tajikistan to Belarus Mahmadsharif Haqdod.” READ MORE: http://eng.belta.by/economics/view/call-for-new-ways-to-expand-belarus-tajikistan-economic-ties-110243-2018/

TURKMENISTAN

Stranger than fiction: sorting the real from the fake in the bizarre media world of Turkmenistan

Leading journalists covering Turkmenistan explain how they try to make sense of what’s real in the secretive nation where information is scarce and the absurd often turns out to be true

Mar 16 — “For Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, father protector and president of Turkmenistan, image is everything. He’s the world leader you’ll see throwing knives at the target range, performing self-composed pop hits to adoring fans, and scoring a flawless hole-in-one on the country’s only golf course. Clickbait-worthy clips of the president calling in airstrikes and unveiling statues to himself have endeared him to journalists across the globe.” READ MORE: https://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/9762/stranger-than-fiction-sorting-real-from-fake-turkmenistans-media

Berdymukhamedov met with Rouhani; «Iran’s debt» unchanged

Relations between Turkmenistan and Iran have several unresolved issues, the main of which being the long-lasting dispute over Iran’s debt for Turkmen natural-gas supplies

Mar 21 — “The conflict between Ashgabat and Tehran has been growing. The parties cannot come to agreement on how Iran will be paying its debt for the supplied Turkmen natural gas, this is accompanied by controversial issues of the Caspian Sea. Delaying the problem could lead to a breakdown in signing the Caspian Sea status agreement at the Caspian summit to be held this spring in Astana.” READ MORE: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2018/03/21/berdymukhamedov-met-with-rouhani-irans-debt-unchanged

Turkmen Elections Look Like Next Step Toward Dynasty

Many believe that the upcoming parliamentary election in Turkmenistan would be a step towards future presidency for Serdar Berdymukhammedov, President Berdymukhammedov’s only son

Mar 22 — “As astounding as it may sound to those familiar with Turkmenistan’s previous parliamentary elections, it’s true: For once, there’s something interesting about the Turkmen parliamentary elections. The voting is scheduled for March 25.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-turkmenistan-berdymukhammedov-the-second/29115690.html

UZBEKISTAN

Turkish Airlines launches flights to Samarkand

Historic city of Samarkand has become Turkish Airlines’ second destination in Uzbekistan after the capital city Tashkent

Mar 16 — “Turkey’s national flag carrier Turkish Airlines started flights from Istanbul to the historic city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan on Friday, according to a company announcement. “Samarkand, part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list, has been added to the flight network as the 302nd destination of Turkish Airlines,” the flag carrier said.” READ MORE: https://www.yenisafak.com/en/economy/turkish-airlines-launches-flights-to-samarkand-3136891

How Russia and Uzbekistan cooperate on the kidnap trail to Central Asia

Many Uzbeks move to Russia seeking safety and jobs, but some of them find prosecution and abduction there

Mar 21 — “In the last six years, the number of people charged with extremism offences in Russia has risen more than three-fold. Many of them have migrated from Uzbekistan, seeking safety in Russia from poverty and political persecution. The Russian judicial system, however, has no intention of offering them protection. On the contrary, it fabricates terrorist and religious extremism charges against them and hands them back to the Uzbek security services, in circumvention of all international agreements.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/how-russia-and-uzbekistan-cooperate-on-the-kidnap-trail

Uzbekistan Opens New Railway Routes to Kyrgyzstan, Russia

Uzbekistan continues to open up to neighboring countries, launching new rail and air transport routes

Mar 22 — “A weekly train running the route from the capital of Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk-Kul region was set to depart on its maiden trip on the evening of March 22. And earlier in the week, Uzbekistan Railways began offering the option to travel by rail from Tashkent to the Russian cities of Saratov and Volgograd.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/uzbekistan-opens-new-railway-routes-to-kyrgyzstan-russia

Uzbekistan is open for business, ending torture, ambassador says at Bellevue conference

The Uzbek ambassador says his country wants to strengthen economic ties with the United States

Mar 23 — “Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the U.S., only two months on the job, told a Bellevue University conference on trade Thursday that his central Asian country is ending human rights violations and is now open for business.” READ MORE: http://www.omaha.com/money/uzbekistan-is-open-for-business-ending-torture-ambassador-says-at/article_a8f734b0-14f7-5f78-8737-327164a83400.html

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban and ISKP attacks foreshadows violent year in Afghanistan

The rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan poses a threat to both the Kabul government and neighboring Central Asian states, while the rivalry between the IS and the Taliban (both in terms of ideology and the scope of terrorist attacks) would only mean an increase in insurgency and terror

Mar 19 — “Afghanistan has seen a bloody start of the New Year. In January, the Taliban and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) – Khorasan is the old name for Afghanistan and surrounding areas – carried out four major attacks on high-profile targets in Kabul. With competition between the two intensifying and each trying to outdo the other in the magnitude of the terror they unleash, violent attacks in the Afghan capital can be expected to increase this year. Public confidence in the Afghan government has hit rock bottom.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19501-taliban-and-iskp-attacks-foreshadows-violent-year-in-afghanistan

Sustaining U.S. Counterterrorism Pressure in Afghanistan

Analyst says the United States must maintain a high-end counterterrorism capability in Afghanistan to unilaterally address threat networks

Mar 20 — “The United States has conducted sixteen years of counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan at a high-operational tempo, which has helped to prevent a catastrophic terror attack from occurring on the homeland. The last one occurred on September 11, 2001.” READ MORE: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/sustaining-us-counterterrorism-pressure-afghanistan-24999

Why Peace Talks Are Washington’s Best Bet in Afghanistan

There are increasingly more voices saying that the US will never win its war in Afghanistan, and should better negotiate for peace

Mar 21 — “Every day, 15,000 U.S. forces deployed in Afghanistan fight Washington’s longest war. In 2018, their mission will cost Americans $45 billion in defense spending alone, almost enough to build U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico twice. Trump, who had campaigned on getting the United States out of Afghanistan, was well positioned to change course.” READ MORE: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2018-03-21/why-peace-talks-are-washingtons-best-bet-afghanistan

How the Islamic State got a foothold in Afghanistan

The Islamic State is gaining ground in Afghanistan, potentially threatening the Kabul government and neighboring Central Asian states

Mar 21 — “Last April, the U.S. military set out to take on the Islamic State in Afghanistan. At the time, officials estimated the group had about 700 fighters in the country. The U.S. forces seemed confident they could extinguish the Islamist militants.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/03/21/how-the-islamic-state-got-a-foothold-in-afghanistan/?utm_term=.bc7ef674af0c

WORLD

Can Central Asia and the Caucasus Cooperate?

In an interview, Svante Cornell, director of the Swedish Institute for Security and Development Policy, says that the countries of Central Asia are looking at ways to build closer economic ties with the Caucasus, all the while balancing concerns about Moscow’s dominant role in the region

Mar 22 — “The five countries of Central Asia have yet to fully exploit the economic potential of greater access to European and Middle Eastern markets. The possibilities of acting as a land corridor between Asia and Europe have also not been properly explored, even though the region has opened up to some extent since the fall of the Soviet Union.” READ MORE: https://iwpr.net/global-voices/can-central-asia-and-caucasus-cooperate

The Hidden Economic Rationale Of China-Europe Rail

Analyst claims that most of Silk Road projects are not about making a profit in the short-run — or even at all — but about creating a platform for future development

Mar 22 — “It’s 2018 and trans-Eurasian rail is nothing new. Freight trains have been regularly traversing the 12,000 kilometer expanse between China and Europe for six years now, as the transport method matures from a once counter-intuitive oddity to a standard logistics offering.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2018/03/22/the-hidden-economic-rationale-of-china-europe-rail/#586802d340d1

Central Asia ready to move on without Russia

The latest developments in Central Asia and the fence-mending efforts undertaken by the Uzbek president have shown that the regional countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — are capable of working together and without outside interference, particularly from Russia

Mar 22 — “Since becoming independent in 1991, the countries of Central Asia, both individually and collectively, have been viewed by many outsiders and even some of their own people as the inevitable objects of politics rather than as potential subjects. The region is widely considered one of international competition among Russia, the United States and China. But now, two tectonic shifts in Central Asia as well as key changes in the international environment are calling that vision into question.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19516-central-asia-ready-to-move-on-without-russia

Sergey Kwan

TCA

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.
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Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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