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’s Small Lenders Suffer Financial Crunch

Kazakhstan’s troubled banking sector remains heavily reliant on state support

May 11 — “Kazakhstan’s Single Pension Fund (ENPF) could lend cash again to bail out small banks faced with a liquidity crisis, another indication that the financial sector’s malaise can only be cured with state intervention.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/kazakhstans-small-lenders-suffer-financial-crunch/

Kazakhstan suggests connecting Black and Caspian seas by a ship canal

Kazakhstan seeks to become a key transit country for transport flows between Europe and Asia

May 14 — “Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has called the leaders of the Eurasian Economic Union to discuss a project of connecting the Black and Caspian seas by a navigable canal.” READ MORE: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2018/05/14/kazakhstan-suggests-connecting-black-and-caspian-seas-by-a-ship-canal

Second Kazakhstan Competitiveness Forum focuses on Kazakh-US economic cooperation

U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan says that since President Nazarbayev’s visit to Washington, DC, he witnessed a steady stream of American companies interested in doing business and investing in Kazakhstan

May 17 — “Kazakh and U.S. government officials and business executives discussed May 16 the implementation of commercial agreements reached during President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s January 2018 official visit to the United States and increasing trade and investment cooperation during the Second Kazakhstan Competitiveness Forum.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/05/second-kazakhstan-competitiveness-forum-focuses-on-kazakh-us-economic-cooperation/

Kazakhstan Plans IPO of World’s Largest Uranium Miner

The government of Kazakhstan has hired Wall Street banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., to offer shares in state-owned KazAtomProm in London or Hong Kong

May 17 — “Kazakhstan plans to sell at least 25% of the world’s largest uranium miner this year, the centerpiece of an effort to open up the economy of the former Soviet republic sandwiched between China and Russia.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/kazakhstan-plans-ipo-of-worlds-largest-uranium-miner-1526567873

Kazakhstan’s hunt for supporters of tycoon Ablyazov gets absurd and goes abroad

Despite government persecution, the protest moods in Kazakhstan are gaining momentum

May 18 — ““As usual, there were more police on the scene than protesters,” a journalist living in a provincial town recently told Global Voices of one of the freedom of speech pickets that rippled across Kazakhstan but were immediately shut down by authorities. “It’s a sad state of affairs,” said the journalist, who wished to remain anonymous.” READ MORE: https://globalvoices.org/2018/05/18/kazakhstans-hunt-for-supporters-of-tycoon-ablyazov-gets-absurd-and-goes-abroad/

KYRGYZSTAN

Former Kyrgyz President Otunbayeva: Road to Democracy Not a Straight Path

Former president on the challenges of building a parliamentary democracy from scratch in Kyrgyzstan and on establishing a system of checks and balances

May 11 — “‘We’ve been infected by freedom,’ shares Dr. Roza Otunbayeva, who led the opposition faction in Kyrgyzstan during the 2010 revolution and became head of the interim government of the Kyrgyz Republic.” READ MORE: https://www.middlebury.edu/institute/academics/centers-initiatives/graduate-initiative-russian-studies/girs-news/former-kyrgyz-president

Kyrgyzstan marks 25th anniversary of national currency

The Kyrgyz som is the most stable currency in Central Asia, having seen the lowest devaluation against the US dollar in recent years compared to other national currencies in the region

May 13 — “A quarter of a century ago, on May 10, 1993, Kyrgyzstan was among the first CIS countries to introduce its own currency. The correctness of this historic decision has been confirmed by time. The Kyrgyz som has proved its independence and consistency despite the periodic shocks of the economy, Chairman of the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic (NBKR) Tolkunbek Abdygulov said on May 7 at a meeting commemorating the 25th anniversary of the national currency.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19735-kyrgyzstan-marks-25th-anniversary-of-national-currency

First Kyrgyz electric car to be presented in few days

Electric cars will be assembled in Bishkek from imported components

May 18 — “The first Kyrgyz electric car will be presented on May 25. Guarantee Fund OJSC reported. Within the framework of the Year of Development of Regions, the company will support the project on the creation and development of electric vehicles production in Kyrgyzstan. The Guarantee Fund noted that this project is a response to the requirements of environmental friendliness and produciability of transport.” READ MORE: https://24.kg/english/84866__First_Kyrgyz_electric_car_to_be_presented_in_few_days/

Kyrgyzstan: MPs want to strip former president’s immunity

The move represents a remarkable turn of events that takes place against the backdrop of a behind-the-scenes tussle between ex-President Atambayev and incumbent President Jeenbekov

May 18 — “Members of parliament in Kyrgyzstan have embarked on an initiative to strip former president Almazbek Atambayev of immunity. The initiator of the proposal put before parliament on May 17, Iskhak Masaliyev, says the intention is to require Atambayev to face investigation over a contentious and costly project to overhaul a thermal power plant in Bishkek.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kyrgyzstan-mps-want-to-strip-former-presidents-immunity

TAJIKISTAN

Uzbekistan, Tajikistan resume bus connection after 26-year break

The Uzbek president is re-establishing ties with neighboring Central Asian countries, including Tajikistan, which also includes reestablishment of transport communication

May 15 — “Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have resumed regular bus connection between the two countries since May 15, Russian RIA Novosti reported citing the Uzbek Agency for Road Transport (Uzavtotrans). The bus connection between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan was discontinued in 1992 with the outbreak of the civil war in Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/131994.html

Tajikistan: Saudis to acquire stake in troubled bank

Saudi Arabia’s interest in Tajikistan’s banking sector is largely caused by the intention to squeeze out Iran from the Central Asian country

May 15 — “An investment fund from Saudi Arabia has agreed to buy a controlling stake in a troubled bank in Tajikistan, throwing a lifeline to the country’s wrecked banking system. Tojiksodirotbank announced on its official website on May 14 that the deal for Saudi Investment Group to acquire a 51 percent stake in the Dushanbe-based lender has been agreed in principle. It is unclear when the acquisition will formally occur and on what terms.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19745-tajikistan-saudis-to-acquire-stake-in-troubled-bank

Tajikistan Faces Epidemic Of Childhood Malnutrition

Poverty remains high in Tajikistan, as a large number of Tajik people goes abroad, mainly to Russia, to earn their living

May 17 — “A recent UN report finds that Tajikistan has the highest rate of malnutrition in the former Soviet states. One in four Tajik children suffers from stunted growth resulting from an inadequate diet.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-hunger-malnutrition/29232753.html

TURKMENISTAN

“In depth”: pertaining to work, goals and opportunities for Turkmen human rights activists

Chronicles of Turkmenistan’s interview with Chairperson of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the country

May 12 — “On 7 May 2018 at a hearing of the UN Human Rights Council Turkmenistan officials reported on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan. Deputy Foreign Minister Vepa Hadjiyev denied most accusations of violations. Among other things the head of the Turkmen delegation said that there is no Internet censorship in Turkmenistan and that access to information websites is not restricted.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/05/in-depth-pertaining-to-work-goals-and-opportunities-for-turkmen-human-rights-activists/

Turkmenistan: Fast and furious. And broke

As Turkmenistan is experiencing an economic downturn, its President keeps surprising local mass-media audiences

May 15 — “Readers of the habitually tedious Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper were greeted with an initially candid-seeming op-ed last week. Is the country facing challenges? the unsigned author asks rhetorically. Why, yes it is. And is there a solution? Yes, there is: President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-fast-and-furious-and-broke

New project of Amul – Hazar 2018 rally in the racing world is presented in Russia

The race will take place from September 11–15, 2018, with 1500 kilometres of the route to run across Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan

May 17 — “Moscow hosted the presentation of Amul – Hazar 2018 International Rally organized in Turkmenistan by the initiative of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. New project in the racing world was presented to wide public and mass media in prestigious business complex – the Centre of International Commerce, in the Club Complex of Crowne Plaza Moscow.” READ MORE: http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm/_eng/?id=10596

The conference on the role of Turkmenistan in the world integration processes held in Tbilisi

The year 2018 was declared to be held in Turkmenistan under the motto “Turkmenistan is the heart of the Great Silk Road”, as the country seeks to become a transport and transit hub in Eurasia

May 17 — “The conference “Turkmenistan is the heart of the Great Silk Road” was organized at the Georgian National Academy of Sciences with the assistance of the Embassy of Turkmenistan on May 16. The forum brought together the representatives of the diplomatic missions and international organisations accredited in Georgia, scientists, the youth and journalists.” READ MORE: http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm/_eng/?id=10593

UZBEKISTAN

Some 2,000 Uzbeks Forcibly Relocated From Andijon’s Historic Center

Dozens of old houses are being pulled down in the neighborhood to make way for tower blocks of new apartments that will be sold to affluent Uzbeks

May 13 — “Shahzoda Yunusova and her relatives own a house on state-owned land in the historic center of the Uzbek city of Andijon, where the family has lived for decades. In line with a centuries-old Uzbek custom, the family has added a new room to their house whenever space was short and a son was married — giving the newlywed couple a chance to live separately, but stay close to home.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-2000-forcibly-relocated-from-andijon-historic-center/29224260.html

Uzbekistan Grants First Ever Accreditation to a VOA Journalist

Uzbekistan is opening up to the world, including in the mass-media sphere

May 14 — “For the first time since the VOA Uzbek language service went on air in 1972, a VOA journalist received accreditation from the Republic of Uzbekistan to work as foreign media correspondent inside that country.” READ MORE: https://www.insidevoa.com/a/uzbekistan-grants-first-ever-accreditation-to-a-voa-journalist/4392962.html

Uzbekistan: Reforms on the Right Path

The Diplomat’s exclusive interview with Uzbekistan’s Minister of Justice about progress in Uzbekistan, human rights protection, and how a government should interact with its people

May 16 — “Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is scheduled to visit Washington, DC, from May 15 to 17, the first Uzbek president to do so since Islam Karimov in 2002. The visit occurs at a particularly dynamic time for Uzbekistan, which has undergone a bevy of reforms over the past year and a half.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/uzbekistan-reforms-on-the-right-path/

Tashkent syndrome: is Uzbekistan getting a free pass?

As Uzbekistan is pursuing economic and political reforms aimed at liberalizing the tightly-controlled country, there are different viewpoints as to whether Tashkent’s intentions are genuine and the ongoing changes irreversible

May 17 — “What is the right bar against which to measure the seriousness of Uzbekistan’s commitment to ushering in the rule of law and basic freedoms? Token giveaways and promises? Or genuine, deep and irreversible reforms?” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19755-tashkent-syndrome-is-uzbekistan-getting-a-free-pass

AFGHANISTAN

The Great Russian involvement in Afghanistan

In recent years, Russia has taken efforts to increase its economic role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, as stability in this country is important for Moscow’s interests in neighboring Central Asian countries

May 11 — “For the last 8 years Russia has been spending millions of dollars internationally in order to improve its public diplomacy. Afghanistan has become a model of public diplomacy throughout the early 20th century.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2018/05/11/the-great-russian-involvement-in-afghanistan/

Afghanistan As It Once Was: The Photographs Of William Podlich

Photos from the late 1960s show how Afghanistan looked like before the almost 40 years of war and destruction triggerred by the Soviet invasion and continued with the rise of the Taliban and the ongoing America’s longest war in this country

May 12 — “The Kabul in William Podlich’s photographs is an almost unrecognizable place — a bustling capital of modern cars, green parks, and nattily attired men and women, many wearing Western dress. A place where women — Afghans and foreigners — could freely walk the streets. A peaceful place where tourists, unconcerned for their safety, could take buses to the major historic sites in the country or across the border to Pakistan.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-as-it-once-was-the-photographs-of-william-podlich/29222700.html

How the World Bank Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan

The World Bank’s problems in Afghanistan often stem from providing donor funds to programs in areas where the security dangers are so high that on-the-ground inspections are not possible, a report finds

May 17 — “U.S. government investigators have found far-reaching mismanagement by the World Bank in its capacity as the administrator of the largest multi-country official fund to assist the Afghan government with its social expenditures and to reconstruct the country.” READ MORE: https://www.theglobalist.com/afghanistan-corruption-world-bank-reconstruction/

My week with John ‘Mick’ Nicholson, Trump’s top general in Afghanistan

Reporter shadows US General Nicholson in Afghanistan as he pursues the Trump administration’s new counter-insurgency strategy in the war-torn country

May 17 — “When I moved to Afghanistan in 2010, soldiers in uniforms from all over the world were fighting and dying there in a war with no end. Packs of journalists, NGOs and an army of civilian nation builders clogged the roads, bars and restaurants. As I was heading back eight years on I wondered, would much have changed?” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2018/05/week-john-mick-nicholson-trump-top-general-afghanistan-180516124657753.html

WORLD

Across China: Xinjiang firms eye stronger growth in Central Asia

More companies from China’s western Xinjiang province now enter the lucrative and profitable markets in neighboring Central Asian countries

May 14 — “With a roar, the large turbines of a four-story-tall seed-drying machine swirl into life. Each minute, it processes more than a tonne of seeds.
This is one of China’s most productive seed-drying machines, owned by Join Hope Seeds Co. Ltd., based in Changji, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-05/14/c_137178240.htm

A decade of China-Europe trains

As China is reviving the new rail Silk Road for the transportation of its goods to Europe, Kazakhstan is well-situated to become a key transit hub along this route

May 14 — “Almost ten years ago, a historical moment in rail transport occurred when on October 6, 2008 a train arrived in Hamburg, Germany, 17 days after departing from Xiangtan in China’s Hunan province. While the service was at the time considered as too inconsistent and too slow to gain any real market appeal, China persisted with various train routes across Eurasia with regular service established in 2012.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19740-a-decade-of-china-europe-trains

PROCESSES AND MECHANISMS FOR MULTILATERAL INTERACTION IN CENTRAL ASIA AT THE PRESENT STAGE

Director of Alternativa Center for Current Research (Kazakhstan) analyzes the existing vectors of Central Asia’s multilateral cooperation with the world’s leading powers

May 17 — “The current year may mark an important step for Central Asian countries – constantly vacillating between rapprochement and disunity – toward the former. It is essential that they do so if there is to be a collective response to present-day global and regional challenges. There are also mutually beneficial economic, transport, logistical, cultural, humanitarian, and other projects to be implemented.” READ MORE: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/processes-and-mechanisms-for-Central-Asia/

Sergey Kwan

TCA