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.


Revival of pan-Turkism in Kazakhstan threatens pillars of Eurasian Union

Kazakhstan is still searching for its place and identity in the post-Soviet world — between the Turkic World and Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union

July 22 — “The term “pan-Turkism,” which carried a similarly ominous meaning as “enemy of the people” under Joseph Stalin and his Soviet successors, has become a strong component of Kazakhs’ search for national identity ever since their country achieved independence more than a quarter of a century ago. Indeed, modern Kazakhs have developed a strong sense of pride of belonging to the Turkic World.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20030-revival-of-pan-turkism-in-kazakhstan-threatens-pillars-of-eurasian-union

China’s DongFeng Auto Company Plans To Launch Plant In Kazakhstan

Along with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan is a leading automobile manufacturer in Central Asia

July 23 — “Kazakhstan is stepping up economic cooperation with China through a $3 billion deal with the state-owned Dongfeng Motor Corporation, considered one of China’s biggest automobile manufacturers. As one China’s ‘big three’ automobile makers, Dongfeng is planning to construct factories in the North Kazakhstan region in 2019, where heavy duty cars, municipal equipment and eventually small aircraft will be produced, according to Yerzhan Artykbekov, a representative from the North Kazakhstan’s Transport and Logistics Complex.” READ MORE: https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/chinas-dongfeng-auto-company-plans-to-launch-plant-in-kazakhstan-2018-7-22-14/

Kazakhs increasingly hostile to both Russians and Chinese

Kazakhstan remains an important sphere of interest for both Russia and China, and it is difficult for Astana to keep the balance in the relationship with Moscow and Beijing

July 26 — “Kazakhstanis are increasingly skeptical of close ties with both Russians and Chinese, profoundly limiting the ability of the former to recover the influence Moscow once had there and making it far more difficult for Beijing to move in and supplant it. Further complicating this situation is the fact that many ethnic-Kazakhs are convinced Russia is behind the rise in anti-Chinese attitudes in Kazakhstan and that China is behind anti-Russian ones—a view that is likely to negatively impact interethnic relations in this Central Asian country.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20050-kazakhs-increasingly-hostile-to-both-russians-and-chinese

Kazakhstan steps into the sun

Kazakhstan, and the other Central Asian states, is showing signs it will step out of its giant neighbours’ shadows

July 27 — “Central Asia rarely appears in Western media. So many observers have missed Kazakhstan’s steady consolidation of a leading and independent regional role. Kazakhstan is deploying its convening, economic, cultural, and diplomatic power to forge a leading role in Central Asia. The country’s step forward comes at Russia’s expense, and Moscow has been slow to recognise that Kazakhstan is eluding its grasp.” READ MORE: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/kazakhstan-steps-sun


Kyrgyzstan: Issyk-Kul forum attracts investments

Kyrgyzstan is striving to attract foreign investments in its economy — but investment safety and investors’ relationship with local communities remain a relevant issue in the country

July 24 — “Kyrgyzstan’s resort city Cholpon-Ata on July 21 hosted the fifth International Investment Forum “Issyk-Kul 2018”. President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbai Jeenbekov declared 2018 the Year for the Regions’ Development, therefore the forum was devoted to the support of small and medium businesses, infrastructure development of the regions and ways to attract investments there.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20040-kyrgyzstan-issyk-kul-forum-attracts-investments

Kyrgyzstan: Is notorious customs boss back in business?

The reinstatement of former deputy customs service chief Raiymbek Matraimov has sparked the latest flare-up in a public feud between Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and his predecessor Almazbek Atambayev

July 26 — “A decision taken this week by a court in Kyrgyzstan to reinstate a disgraced deputy customs chief is being read as a signal that the government’s anti-corruption drive is not all it’s cracked up to be. For many observers of Kyrgyz politics, Rayimbek Matraimov — AKA Rayim Million — who appears fabulously wealthy despite a career consisting entirely of service to the state, is a paragon of malpractice.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kyrgyzstan-is-notorious-customs-boss-back-in-business

Kyrgyzstan included in top 10 poorest countries in the world

High poverty rates have haunted Kyrgyzstan since the country gained independence in 1991

July 27 — “Kyrgyzstan is among ten the poorest countries in the world. Focus Group compiled the ranking of 127 countries based on GDP for 2018. Kyrgyzstan took the tenth place. According to analysts’ estimates, in 2018 the per capita GDP in Kyrgyzstan is $ 1,222. By 2020, this figure will grow to $ 1,446.” READ MORE: https://24.kg/english/92015_Kyrgyzstan_included_in_top_10_poorest_countries_in_the_world/

Kyrgyzstan: different sides of labor migration

Last year, Kyrgyz migrant workers — mainly in Russia — transferred $2.48 billion to Kyrgyzstan, or 34.3% of the country’s GDP

July 28 — “Labor migrants gradually turn into real investors of Kyrgyzstan’s new economy, President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbai Jeenbekov said at his meeting with compatriots who work outside the country earlier this month.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20057-kyrgyzstan-different-sides-of-labor-migration


Russia, Tajikistan conduct joint exercise in Badakhshan, near border with Afghanistan

Russian and Tajikistan military held joint exercises in the remote Tajik region, aimed at countering possible security threats coming from neighboring Afghanistan

July 25 — “Tajikistan’s Armed Forces began a four-day joint training exercise, on July 17, with forces from Russia’s 201st military base, located on the territory of this Central Asian republic. Notably, the exercise, for the first time, took place along the Afghan border in Tajikistan’s mountainous eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. Specifically, the drills were held at the Jilondi training range, 75 miles east of Khorugh.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20045-russia-tajikistan-conduct-joint-exercise-in-badakhshan-near-border-with-afghanistan

Tajikistan: Former students of Islam return to nothing

In recent years, authorities in Tajikistan have tightened the control of Islam and any Muslim activities in the country, under the pretext of combating Islamic extremism

July 25 — “In the past eight years, around 3,400 young people have been brought back to Tajikistan before they could complete their Islamic studies at colleges abroad, the head of the religious committee told reporters at a press conference on July 25. Sulaimon Davlatzoda, head of the state’s religion committee, said around 400 Tajiks are still studying at religious institutions overseas.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-former-students-of-islam-return-to-nothing

Tajikistan eyes growth in remittances

Last year, Tajik labor migrants — mainly in Russia — sent about $ 2.6 billion to their home country

July 25 — “The amount of money transfers to Tajikistan recovered in July 2018 after a three-month decline, ASIA-Plus reported. “The growth in the amount of remittances to date is 7 percent compared to the same period last year. That is, it went up by about $ 90 million compared to the same period last year,” said the chairman of the Tajik National Bank Jamshed Nurmahmadzoda on July 25 at a press conference in Dushanbe.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/135342.html


Turkmenistan: Lots of sinking, not much swimming

In its ‘Akhal-Teke: A Turkmenistan Bulletin’, Eurasianet reviews the main news and events in the Central Asian country for the previous week

July 24 — “In keeping with the summer holiday season, news out of Turkmenistan has persisted with its leisure-dominated theme. This week saw the inauguration of an all-singing, all-dancing sanatorium and waterpark at the Awaza resort town on the Caspian Sea. The sprawling complex includes a shopping center, dozens of shops and cafes and an amphitheater that can seat 1,640. Describing the scene at the opening,” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-lots-of-sinking-not-much-swimming

Another Hungry Winter In Turkmenistan

This year, Turkmenistan faced extreme weather conditions and a drought which damaged wheat harvests in the country

July 26 — “It appears the people of Turkmenistan are headed for another hungry winter, the third such winter in as many years. And like the two previous years, it seems this time the government is not even prepared to admit there is a problem. The harvest is gathered. But so far there is no word as to whether croplands yielded the 1.6 million tons of grain the government targeted for this year, although that seems unlikely.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-turkmenistan-drought-crops-hungry-winter/29392663.html

Offshore business and cottages in Choganly. How Turkmen entrepreneurs try to save their capital

A Chronicles of Turkmenistan author tells how the Turkmen business community finds ways to export their savings abroad

July 26 — “The process of capital transfer from Turkmenistan was initiated in the early 90-s after the country had gained independence. The export of capital was considerably boosted in 2008 when the official dollar exchange rate came up to the “black market” rate, the local currency manat was denominated and currency conversion was allowed.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/07/offshore-business-and-cottages-in-choganly-how-turkmen-entrepreneurs-try-to-save-their-capital/


Uzbekistan to develop Islamic finance in bid to tap foreign markets

Islamic finance is a new but promising area for Uzbekistan’s banking sector, and it could help the country to lure more investments

July 23 — “Uzbekistan plans to introduce Islamic finance regulations and set up an Islamic finance institution to expand its banking sector and tap foreign markets as part of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s efforts to revamp the economy.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/uzbekistan-islamic-finance/uzbekistan-to-develop-islamic-finance-in-bid-to-tap-foreign-markets-idUSL8N1UE098

Uzbekistan opening up

External observers welcome the opening of Uzbekistan under its new leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev, but they are also aware that further reforms could be stalled, analysts say

July 24 — “Uzbekistan has begun to take steps towards openness and economic and political reform. Since the death of President Islam Karimov in September 2016 and the parliamentary appointment of Shavkat Mirziyoyev as the new President of the Republic, Uzbekistan has improved relations with its neighbours and started a process of internal reform. Despite these positive signs, it is still too early to estimate the extent of Uzbekistan’s political transformation over the coming years.” READ MORE: https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-asia/opinion/uzbekistan-opening-up/

The World’s Next Religious Freedom Success Story: Uzbekistan?

In the 30 million strong Uzbekistan, the majority of citizens practice Sufism, a branch of Sunni Islam. About 10 percent of Uzbekistanis are Eastern Orthodox Christians. Ethnically, about 20 percent of the nation is of Russian, Tajik, Kazakh, Karakalpak, Tatar, or Korean descent

July 26 — “Uzbekistan is an unlikely poster child for religious freedom. Open Doors currently ranks the Central Asian nation as No. 16 on its 2018 list of the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian. The US State Department named Uzbekistan again this year as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC)—a notorious list of religious freedom violators that the former Soviet republic has been included on since 2006.” READ MORE: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/july/uzbekistan-reforms-religious-freedom-ministerial-cpc-list-i.html

Uzbekistan’s top export products, directions named

Russia, China and Kazakhstan are the main trading partners of Uzbekistan today

July 27 — “Natural gas, fruit and vegetable products and cotton yarns were included in the top three exported products of Uzbekistan in the first half of 2018. Uzbekistan exported about $ 1.14 billion of natural gas in January-June 2018, according to the Ministry of Foreign Trade.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/135467.html


To achieve peace in Afghanistan, turn to lessons from North Korea

In Afghanistan, the US should apply measures similar to those it used in the North Korea, analysts believe

July 23 — “The willingness of the Trump administration to take unorthodox risks has created perhaps the best opportunity in decades for peace on the Korean Peninsula, notwithstanding the recent contentious rhetoric from both sides that illustrates the enormous obstacles still ahead. This raises the question of where else this diplomatic style might be effective.” READ MORE: http://thehill.com/opinion/international/398446-to-achieve-peace-in-afghanistan-turn-to-lessons-from-north-korea

Make perfume, not war: Afghan farmers switching from poppies to roses enjoy sweet smell of success

The Roses for Nangarhar project is a joint Afghan-German initiative set up in 2007 to encourage poppy growers to switch to a legal lucrative flower

July 25 — “Standing in a field of roses in eastern Afghanistan, former poppy grower Mohammad Din Sapai quickly but carefully plucked delicate petals that will be turned into rose water and oils for sale around the world. The sweet-smelling crop is providing farmers in Nangarhar province with a viable alternative to growing opium poppies, whose sale has fueled the conflict raging across the country.” READ MORE: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/07/25/world/make-perfume-not-war-afghan-farmers-switching-poppies-roses-enjoy-sweet-smell-success/#.W1xBHRi3qKI

Can Trump Get America Out of Afghanistan?

It seems that President Trump is now looking for a way out of Afghanistan

July 26 — “Last week the White House ordered its top diplomats to seek direct negotiations with the Taliban, the latest foreign relations about-face from an administration that seems to be specializing in them.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/middle-east-watch/can-trump-get-america-out-afghanistan-26886

Afghanistan’s Untapped Water Potential

Afghanistan is the upstream riparian to river basins which flow into Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

July 27 — “Afghanistan is at the cross roads of Asia. Dubbed as the “Gateway to South Asia”, historically, Afghanistan provided land access to invaders from distant lands during their onward march towards the Indian sub-continent. A land of gardens and orchards, deserts and mountains, and highlands and plains, Afghanistan is at the heart of important trade routes connecting Europe and West Asia to South and East Asia.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2018/07/27/afghanistans-untapped-water-potential/


China Adds Security Component To Belt And Road Initiative

China’s security focus is driven by concerns about Islamic extremism and Uyghur separatism in Xinjiang province

July 24 — “China appears to be shifting gears in its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road initiative. Long projected as driven by economics and the benefit of infrastructure linkages, China appears to be increasingly adding a security component to the initiative against the backdrop of President Xi Jinping positioning of his country as a superpower rather than a developing nation.” READ MORE: https://lobelog.com/china-adds-security-component-to-belt-and-road-initiative/

Returning Uighur Fighters and China’s National Security Dilemma

A large number of Chinese Uighurs have travelled to Syria to fight, and many of them will now be returning to China

July 25 — “In early 2017, CCP Secretary General President Xi Jinping announced his desire to build a “Great Wall of Iron” to apparently promote security and peace in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinhua, March 10, 2017). This is likely a continuation Beijing’s focus on implementing strict security measures in the region since deadly 2009 riots in the region’s capital city of Urumqi.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/returning-uighur-fighters-and-chinas-national-security-dilemma/

Sergey Kwan