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 Doing Better Than 5 Central Asian Peers

Kazakhstan’s wealth of natural resources provided a much stronger platform for growth compared to other former Soviet republics of Central Asia

May 22 — “Despite starting from similar points upon the collapse of the USSR, the economies of the five Central Asian former Soviet republics have taken divergent paths since independence. Their differing fortunes leave them in positions of varying strength as they try to balance the interests of traditional ally Russia with the emerging power, China, Nikkei reported.” READ MORE: https://financialtribune.com/articles/world-economy/86836/kazakhstan-doing-better-than-5-central-asian-peers

Kazakhstan: Local tycoon arrested on corruption charges

The tycoon’s arrest needs to be understood in the context of a broader set of probes by the Kazakh authorities into the country’s troubled banking sector

May 23 — “Security services in Kazakhstan said on May 23 that they have arrested one of the country’s richest men on charges of corruption. The Committee for National Security, or KNB, said in a statement that Yerkyn Amirkhanov was initially detained on May 5 on suspicion of paying a bribe to a government official. A court ordered that he remain in custody for at least two months pending investigation.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kazakhstan-local-tycoon-arrested-on-corruption-charges

Kazakhstan Appeals U.K. Court Ruling on $22 Billion of Assets

The frozen Kazakh assets make up about 40 percent of Kazakhstan’s total sovereign wealth fund

May 23 — “Kazakhstan’s government is asking an appeals court to throw out a decision that allowed BNY Mellon to freeze about $22 billion of assets in the country’s oil fund as part of a dispute over an unpaid arbitration award.” READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-23/kazakhstan-appeals-u-k-court-ruling-on-22-billion-of-assets

Kazakhstan’s neutrality irks Russia and strains bilateral ties

In recent years, it has become more difficult for Kazakhstan to maintain its allied relations with Russia while also pursuing a multi-vector policy of cooperation with the US and Europe

May 23 — “Recent developments in Armenia, where a former president–turned–prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan, hastily stepped down in the face of vigorous street protests on April 23, underscored the potential vulnerability of Russia’s regional alliances. The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) has been a pillar of Russia’s post-Soviet diplomacy since its formation in 2014, following two decades of various regionalist experiments with trade and economic integration.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19780-kazakhstan-s-neutrality-irks-russia-and-strains-bilateral-ties

India and Kazakhstan have excellent relations, says Indian ambassador

Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan says that Kazakhstan is India’s largest trade partner in Central Asia, with last year’s trade turnover between the countries reaching $1 billion

May 24 — “Relations between Kazakhstan and India have a long history. At the beginning of the first millennium, the Sakas went from Central Asia to India and Buddhism from India was introduced in Kazakhstan. The Great Silk and Spice Routes united India and Kazakhstan in the Middle Ages. There was a constant exchange of goods, ideas and thoughts between the countries.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/05/india-and-kazakhstan-have-excellent-relations-says-indian-ambassador/


Kyrgyzstan: labor migrants need social protection, investment incentives

To attract migrants’ money into Kyrgyzstan’s economic projects, the Government should create attractive investment conditions and incentives to open production in the country

May 19 — “There are about 100 thousand Kyrgyz labor migrants in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan’s State Migration Service says. Some of them work legally in the regions closer to Kyrgyzstan — the South-Kazakhstan, Karaganda and Almaty oblasts and Almaty city.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19763-kyrgyzstan-labor-migrants-need-social-protection-investment-incentives

Kyrgyzstan: power plant blame game threatens political showdown

The modernization of Bishkek’s heat and power plant by a Chinese company has led to a scandal and a corruption case in Kyrgyzstan, which has involved several high-ranking officials

May 20 — “What should a pair of pliers cost? Questions like these are at the heart of an ongoing parliamentary inquiry in Kyrgyzstan on the recent contentious modernization of a power plant in the capital. The hearings, which were occasioned by a cataclysmic breakdown at the plant in January, have revived a political scandal that is threatening to engulf a raft of top officials from a previous ruling administration and are raising questions about the nation’s relations with China.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19765-kyrgyzstan-power-plant-blame-game-threatens-political-showdown

Kyrgyzstan readies for third edition of World Nomad Games

Kyrgyz ambassador says Kyrgyzstan had initiated the World Nomad Games in 2012 as an analogue of Olympic and Asian Games, to show the history and traditions of the world’s nomad nations

May 21 — “Ambassador of Kyrgyzstan, Nuran Niyazaliev, has invited State of Qatar and Qatari citizens and sports organisations to take part in the third edition of the World Nomad Games to be held in Kyrgyzstan in September this year.” READ MORE: https://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/21/05/2018/Kyrgyzstan-readies-for-third-edition-of-World-Nomad-Games

Kyrgyzstan sends $150M worth fruits and berries to EEU

Along with garments, agricultural products have become Kyrgyzstan’s major export items to Eurasian Economic Union member countries, mainly Kazakhstan and Russia

May 21 — “Kyrgyzstan exported fruit and berry crops worth $157 million to the EEU countries in 2017, Minister of Agriculture, Food Industry and Land Reclamation Nurbek Murashev said at a meeting of the Republic-ATA Zhurt faction” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/business/economy/2906182.html


Tajikistan: State agency-linked company monopolizing public Wi-Fi

The ruling family in Tajikistan continues taking control of the most lucrative sectors of the country’s economy

May 19 — “Tajikistan’s telecommunications service is rapidly forcing through the monopolization of yet another area of the sector under its purview — this time the provision of wireless internet services.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-state-agency-linked-company-monopolizing-public-wi-fi

Making A Name For Himself: Top Tajik Diplomat Follows President’s Lead

Tajik President Rahmon has discouraged the use of Slavic names, having changed his own surname from Rakhmonov in 2007

May 23 — “Tajikistan’s foreign minister has changed his surname, the latest top government official to follow President Emomali Rahmon’s shift away from Slavic-derived names. Sirojiddin Aslov made no formal announcement of the shift, but the change appeared in the minister’s biography on the Foreign Ministry’s website, and an official confirmed the switch on May 23.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-foreign-minister-changes-name-aslov-muhriddin/29245653.html

Tajikistan: Was Iran protest a fake?

Dushanbe seems to be eager to demonstrate its anti-Iran attitude as Tajikistan seeks to get more money from Tehran’s arch-rival, Saudi Arabia

May 23 — “A protest rally that occurred in front of Iran’s embassy in Tajikistan this week was strange and unusual for a country where spontaneous public demonstrations can draw severe reprisals. So strange and unusual, in fact, that questions arise as to who precisely was behind it.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-was-iran-protest-a-fake

CASA-1000 project may bring Tajikistan over $150 million

The CASA-1000 project, if implemented, will turn energy-hungry Tajikistan into a major electricity exporter

May 24 — “The implementation of the regional CASA-1000 project can bring Tajikistan an annual income of more than $ 150 million. In addition, the republic will receive income from the transit of Kyrgyz electricity through its territory, Tajik media outlets reported.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/132476.html


Turkmenistan: After us, the flood will come

As Turkmenistan continues experiencing an economic downturn and even suffered from a flood, the country’s President continues to be the main star featured in local media and television reports

May 22 — “Advancing his apparent quest to be photographed at the helm of every form of transportation imaginable, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov last week took to the skies in a helicopter for a bird’s-eye tour of the capital he has recast in his image.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-after-us-the-flood-will-come

Turkmens warned over presidential toilet paper

In impoverished Turkmenistan, many people do not tend to spend their money on toilet paper and instead use newspapers, with abundant pictures of the country’s authoritarian President

May 24 — “Local police in Turkmenistan are inspecting toilets for evidence that locals have been using newspapers containing photographs of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to wipe themselves, it’s been reported.” READ MORE: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-44236375

U.S. bans imports of slave-picked cotton from Turkmenistan

The move may complicate the already difficult situation of Turkmenistan’s economy, which suffers from decreasing revenues from the country’s main export commodity — natural gas

May 25 — “The United States has banned cotton imported from Turkmenistan due to findings of state-enforced slave labor, a move celebrated by activists who said they hope other nations using enslaved workers will come under similar scrutiny.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trafficking-turkmenistan/u-s-bans-imports-of-slave-picked-cotton-from-turkmenistan-idUSKCN1IP3UB


Uzbekistan’s President Goes to Washington

Policymakers in Washington have begun to wake up to the changes taking place in Uzbekistan under the new President

May 23 — “In official Washington, which is routinely awash in foreign dignitaries, it’s all too easy to miss the comings and goings of world leaders. But even by the rather selective standards of the Beltway, last week’s state visit of Uzbekistan’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, was noteworthy because it provided policymakers with an authoritative glimpse into the momentous changes now taking place in Central Asia.” READ MORE: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/uzbekistans-president-goes-washington-25940

Uzbekistan must keep up reform after currency liberalisation -lenders

As Uzbekistan has embarked on economic reforms, international lenders have shown readiness to increase funding for the country’s liberalizing economy

May 23 — “After liberalising its foreign exchange system, Uzbekistan now needs to restructure its entire economy distorted by the decades of strict currency and price controls, officials from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund told Reuters.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/uzbekistan-economy/uzbekistan-must-keep-up-reform-after-currency-liberalisation-lenders-idUSL5N1SU3B6

Skype, Viber return in Uzbekistan

Over the past decade, Uzbekistan has unsuccessfully been trying to create its own domestic alternatives to well-established international messaging services and social media websites

May 23 — “Fans of low-cost communication in Uzbekistan celebrated on May 23 as Skype and Viber, two popular online chatting software programs, began to function normally once again.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/skype-viber-returns-in-uzbekistan

Uzbekistan: Hizb ut-Tahrir trial a testbed for religious boundaries

Although there has been a marked change in the government’s attitude toward believers, being devout Muslims still remains dangerous in Uzbekistan

May 24 — “The opening hearing of Guzal Tokhtakhadjayeva’s criminal trial last month began late because of the hubbub that day at Tashkent city court. On April 16, an unusually large crowd of rights activists, foreign reporters and well-wishers had gathered outside the court in Uzbekistan’s capital to hear another day of testimony in the state’s case against a well-known journalist accused of sedition. Few gave Guzal much heed.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19785-uzbekistan-hizb-ut-tahrir-trial-a-testbed-for-religious-boundaries



Report shows how the trade in minerals generates revenue for insurgent groups in Afghanistan

May 22 — “LUCRATIVE MINING SITES in Afghanistan are under the control of Taliban and Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISKP, militants, who are making millions from the export of minerals, according to a new report by the conflict monitoring organization Global Witness.” READ MORE: https://theintercept.com/2018/05/22/afghanistan-mining-talc-taliban-islamic-state/

New reports from Afghanistan give false hopes for peace

Analyst believes that the Taliban isn’t at all interested in making peace and sharing power with the Afghan government that it considers to be a puppet of Western powers

May 23 — “As US, European, and Afghan officials cling to the idea that the Taliban will negotiate a peace settlement to end the war in Afghanistan, a recent string of news articles would lead you to believe that the Taliban is actually willing to reach a compromise. However, these stories are highly misleading and give false hope that an end to this 17-year conflict is in sight.” READ MORE: https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/05/new-reports-from-afghanistan-give-false-hopes-for-peace.php

Trump’s Pick to Oversee Afghanistan Could Signal a New Approach

As insurgency in Afghanistan is on the rise, the selection of General Miller to command U.S.-led military forces in Afghanistan indicates the Trump administration may be rethinking its conventional approach to the long-lasting war

May 23 — “Army Lt. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller has been tapped to be the next commander of U.S.-led military forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said, as waves of attacks continue to rock the wartorn nation after nearly 17 years of conflict.” READ MORE: http://time.com/5287287/scott-miller-afghanistan-military/

U.S. effort to stabilize Afghanistan a $5 billion failure, says watchdog

The latest report finds that the U.S. government “greatly overestimated its ability to build and reform” Afghan government institutions and did not tailor the programs to Afghanistan

May 24 — “The watchdog responsible for monitoring the U.S. government’s effort to rebuild Afghanistan says the 15-year, $5 billion effort hasn’t worked, according to a report released Thursday.” READ MORE: http://www.euronews.com/2018/05/24/u-s-effort-stabilize-afghanistan-5-billion-failure-says-watchdog-n876846


How Muslim Migrants Are Reshaping Russia’s Dying Countryside, One Village At A Time

Russia is solving the problem of its shrinking rural population and the lack of labor force by attracting immigrants from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia

May 19 — “Nazim Soliev is confident that he’s good for Russia. Or more specifically, the 35-year-old native of Tajikistan, the most impoverished of Central Asia’s five former Soviet republics, says his presence here, 200 kilometers northwest of Moscow, is good for his adopted homeland.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/how-muslim-migrants-are-reshaping-russia-s-dying-countryside-one-village-at-a-time/29237540.html

India And China Want To Fuse Their Massive Economies. Here’s Why They Won’t

The economic rivalry between Asia’s, and the world’s, two largest-populated nations is set to increase in the years to come

May 22 — “Manufacturing in China comes to 40% of a more than $12 trillion GDP. That’s why some call it the world’s factory. South of the border in India, the business process management sector earned $30 billion in revenues in fiscal 2016-2017 and ranked as the largest industry of its type worldwide, news website BGR India says. It’s on track to reach at least $50 billion in revenues by 2025. No wonder India’s dubbed the world’s back office.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphjennings/2018/05/22/india-and-china-want-to-fuse-their-massive-economies-heres-why-its-hard/#639738533b48

‘Terrorists’ May Move from Afghanistan to Central Asia: Russia

Moscow uses the threat of Taliban and IS spillover from Afghanistan to former Soviet republics of Central Asia as a means to reinforce its position and leverage in the region

May 23 — “At a meeting with his Uzbek counterpart this week, Russia’s defense minister said it was extremely important to train the military to protect the state in case terrorists move from Afghanistan to Central Asian states.” READ MORE: https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/‘terrorists’-may-move-afghanistan-central-asia-russia

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.

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