Weekly Digest of Central Asia

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BISHKEK (TCA) — The Publisher’s note: Central Asia is an important geopolitical area between Europe, Russia and China. It is in Central Asia that world powers have confronted each other for centuries; it is here that China needs to succeed with its new Silk Road Belt for direct access to the Western markets; and it is here that a large wealth of raw materials has its origin. Every week thousands of news appears all over the world in printed and online media and it is quite understandable that 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 the region, and for this reason we are presenting this Weekly Digest of Central Asia which compiles what other media have reported during the past week.

KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan sets aside $6.2 bln to buy out banks’ bad loans

The International Monetary Fund said this month that resolving the issue of bad loans is the main challenge facing Kazakhstan’s banking sector

Feb 13 — “Kazakhstan plans to inject 2 trillion tenge ($6.2 billion) into its state-owned ‘bad bank’, the Problem Loans Fund, in order to buy distressed assets from local banks, central bank deputy chairman Oleg Smolyakov said on Monday. The capital injection will come from the state budget and will be partly financed by an increased transfer from the state oil fund, said Economy Minister TimurSuleimenov, who spoke to parliament alongside Smolyakov.” READ MORE: http://www.reuters.com/article/kazakhstan-banks-idUSL8N1FY355

Uranium prices glow with decision by main producer Kazakhstan to trim output

Kazakhstan, the world’s largest uranium producer, said in January its state-owned Kazatomprom company will cut uranium production 10 percent to maintain the world’s uranium prices

Feb 13 — “A resurgence in interest for nuclear energy and a sharp reduction in supply is putting a glow on the uranium market, with prices surging 30 percent this-year-to-date.” READ MORE: http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/13/uranium-prices-glow-with-decision-by-main-producer-kazakhstan-to-trim-output.html

Kazakhstan: Former Economic Minister Accused of Embezzling Millions Out of Construction Project

Corruption remains rampant in Kazakhstan’s high echelons of state power, with a former prime minister and former ministers and governors having been convicted on corruption charges

Feb 13 — “Kazakhstan’s anti-corruption bureau accused on Monday a former economic minister of stealing millions through the construction of a factory, the agency announced in a release. Former Economic Minister Kuandyk Bishimbayev allegedly embezzled approximately 1 billion tenge (US$ 3.1 million) out of a project to construct a state-of-the-art US$ 130.6 million sheet glass production plant in Kazakhstan’s southern city of Kyzylorda. Of the stolen funds, Bishimbayev personally received approximately US$ 2 million, according to investigators.” READ MORE: https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/6065-kazakhstan-former-economic-minister-accused-of-embezzling-millions-out-of-construction-project

Kazakhstan expanding markets for its soybeans

Kazakhstan is diversifying and increasing its agricultural exports, with China to start importing Kazakh soybeans, meat, and honey soon

Feb 15 — “Kazakhstan is planning to begin soybean supplies to China. A protocol on phytosanitary requirements for Kazakh soybean exports to China has been signed to date, informs UkrAgroConsult.” READ MORE: http://www.blackseagrain.net/novosti/kazakhstan-expanding-markets-for-its-soybeans

Kazakhstan: Security Services Set to Boost Corruption-Busting Role

Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee may get more powers for “fighting corruption” as the country has been shaken by high-profile corruption cases in recent months

Feb 16 — “Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee, or KNB, is set to receive more powers. Under a government-initiated draft bill now under consideration, the KNB could be authorized to investigate suspected cases of corruption by certain government departments, including the anti-corruption services and the military. First deputy Prosecutor General Johann Merkel on February 15 described this provision as laying the ground for greater balance among investigative organs, although the KNB appear to be gaining the upper hand in this arrangement.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82431

KAZAKHSTAN: Atheist writer faces more criminal charges

Rights organizations say that Kazakhstan continues to target people who exercise their freedom of religion

Feb 17 — “Atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov faces new criminal charges for a 2014 book. Police searched his home, confiscated books, and brought charges after he sought closure of the 2013 case. ‘They decided to protect themselves and take new action against me,’ he told Forum 18.” READ MORE: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2258

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: Local Oligarch Joins Presidential Race

The presidential race has started in Kyrgyzstan this week, with already three candidates announcing they will run for the top post in the election scheduled for November 19

Feb 14 — “A third heavyweight has entered the running in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, setting the stage for what could become Central Asia’s most eagerly ever contested democratic battle. The parliamentary faction of the Respublika-Ata Jurt party tandem on February 14 unanimously nominated wealthy businessman and former prime minister Omurbek Bababov to stand in October’s vote.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82401

Kyrgyzstan wants every citizen to own at least 100 grams of gold

Kyrgyzstan’s National Bank has suggested Kyrgyz citizens keep their savings in gold bars, not only in US dollars as they prefer to do now

Feb 16 — “A landlocked nation perched between China and Kazakhstan is embarking on an experiment with little parallel worldwide: shifting savings from cattle to gold. One of the first post-Soviet republics to adopt a new currency and let it trade freely, Kyrgyzstan’s central bank wants every citizen to diversify into gold. Governor Tolkunbek Abdygulov says his “dream” is for every one of the 6 million citizens to own at least 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of the precious metal, the Central Asian country’s biggest export.” READ MORE: http://www.livemint.com/Money/3lNSNCxrUdfGc5G74YPkkL/Kyrgyzstan-wants-every-citizen-to-own-at-least-100-grams-of.html

Kyrgyzstan improves position in Index of Economic Freedom

According to the Heritage Foundation, despite implementation of some reforms, overall improvement in the entrepreneurial environment has been slow and uneven in Kyrgyzstan, and political turmoil has contributed to policy volatility and uncertainty, hampering economic development

Feb 17 — “Kyrgyzstan has improved its position in the Index of Economic Freedom 2017, rising from the 96th to 89th place. Heritage Foundation report says. As noted, as a result, experts have included Kyrgyzstan in the list of «moderately free» states.” READ MORE: http://24.kg/english/45339_Kyrgyzstan_improves_position_inIndex_ofEconomic_Freedom/

TAJIKISTAN

In rural Tajikistan, thousands of women face abandonment

Labor migration, mainly to Russia, remains high in Tajikistan. Although Tajik men working in Russia send money they earn to their families back in Tajikistan, many of them never return to their families

Feb 13 — “Thousands of Tajik wives are being left behind as their husbands go to neighboring Russia to look for work.” READ MORE: http://www.reuters.com/video/2017/02/13/in-rural-tajikistan-thousands-of-women-f?videoId=371113618

Tajikistan: Purge of Ex-Mayor’s Allies Picks Up Steam

After Tajik President Emomali Rahmon receintly appointed his son Rustam Emomali as the new mayor of the country’s capital, Dushanbe, the latter is now taking efforts to rid the municipality of ex-mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev’s cronies

Feb 15 — “In the wake of the mayor of Tajikistan’s capital getting sidelined, his allies are now systematically being cleared out of jobs in and near the government. On February 13, the executive committee of President Emomali Rahmon’s People’s Democratic Party assembled and decided to remove six leading party apparatchiks. The changes were effected at Rahmon’s behest.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82406

Tajikistan sees fall in trade turnover

Tajikistan’s foreign trade is on the decline, with the country’s main export items being aluminum, cotton and fruits, and the main trading partners Russia, China, and Kazakhstan

Feb 17 — “Tajikistan’s trade turnover decreased significantly over the year, as January 2017 saw the country’s foreign trade turnover at the level of about $252.3 million. The figure is 17 percent or $51.6 million less than the rate in the same period of 2016, Avesta reported referring to the official statistics.” READ MORE: http://www.azernews.az/region/109020.html

TURKMENISTAN

Struggle against poaching on the Caspian sea discussed in Ashgabat

Caspian littoral states confirmed their committment to the preservation and reproduction of fish resources of the sea, with sturgeons being the most valuable fish species in the Caspian

Feb 14 — “The representatives of the Caspian states, including the heads and key specialists of the sectoral ministries and departments of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russian and Turkmenistan held a regular session in Ashgabat. The agenda of meeting organized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the State Committee for Fishing Industry and the State Enterprise on the Caspian Sea under the President of Turkmenistan focused on the approval of the draft Protocol of cooperation to struggle against the illegal production of biological resources (poaching) on the Caspian sea.” READ MORE: http://turkmenistan.gov.tm/_eng/?id=7679

The president of Turkmenistan wins re-election with 98% of the vote

Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov has easily won reelection in a vote with no real opponents in the tightly-controlled country

Feb 16 — “THERE are no dark horses in elections in Turkmenistan, only stalking horses. The country was a one-party state until 2012 and the presidential election held on February 12th was the first to feature candidates from rival parties. But a multiplicity of parties, alas, is not the same as a meaningful opposition. In a nine-way race, the incumbent, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (pictured), took 98% of the vote. That was an improvement on 2012, when he pulled in a mere 97%.” READ MORE: http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21716898-there-were-eight-other-candidates-president-turkmenistan-wins-re-election-98

Turkmen President Pardons More Than 800 Prisoners

Turkmen President Berdymukhammedov continues his predecessor Niyazov’s tradition of amnestying prisoners on the occasion of the country’s main holidays. Such amnesties, however, have never been applied to political prisoners

Feb 16 — “State media in Turkmenistan are reporting that 828 prisoners have been pardoned by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. Media outlets quote Berdymukhammedov as saying the amnesty was linked to the Central Asian country’s Flag Day holiday marked on February 19.” READ MORE: http://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-presidential-pardon/28313143.html

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan: Renowned Banker Released After 19 Years in Jail

The release from prison of an outstanding Uzbek banker may signal that a reform to liberalize Uzbekistan’s currency market, proposed by President Mirziyoyev, will really take place

Feb 16 — “The founder of Uzbekistan’s first privately run bank has been released from jail after 19 years of a sentence that was, rights advocates say, arbitrarily extended. RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, cited a relative of Rustam Usmanov as saying he was released on February 13. ‘We met him at Zhaslyk prison and brought him to Tashkent. His state of health is poor and he is now receiving treatment. But he is in good spirit and he thanks [President Shavkat] Mirziyoyev,’ the family member told Ozodlik.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82426

Life after an autocrat: What’s new in post-Karimov Uzbekistan?

Report says that state power transfer has taken place smoothly in Uzbekistan after the death of Islam Karimov

Feb 17 — “The nation could’ve fallen into disarray – but it didn’t. And superpowers want stability in the energy-rich hotspot.” READ MORE: http://www.trtworld.com/asia/life-after-a-dictators-death-what-is-new-in-post-karimov-uzbekistan-298696

Guarantee Fund to appear in Uzbekistan in support of small business

The government of Uzbekistan has taken another step to improve the business climate and accelerate the development of entrepreneurship in the country

Feb 17 — “Guarantee Fund will be established in Uzbekistan for small business development. President Shavkat Mirzizyoyev signed the relevant decree on February 10, 2017.” READ MORE: http://www.azernews.az/region/109036.html

AFGHANISTAN

The New Battle for Afghanistan

The US may send more troops to Afghanistan and increase its military operations in the war-torn country

Feb 14 — “Despite questions about the ongoing war in Afghanistan, President Trump has so far chosen silence over substance. But perhaps it doesn’t matter, as an illuminating exchange that took place before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week all but guaranteed what his policy will be.” READ MORE: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-new-battle-for-afghanistan/

Russia Bars U.S. From Afghanistan Peace Conference, Supports Taliban Terrorists

Analyst says Russia’s support of the Taliban will weaken the current elected government of Afghanistan and its U.S. supporters

Feb 17 — “Russia barred the U.S. from the Afghanistan peace conference held in Moscow on Wednesday, much to the consternation of Afghanistan. The peace conference was surrounded with public recriminations. Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran are on one side, and Afghanistan and India are on the other.” READ MORE: http://www.forbes.com/sites/anderscorr/2017/02/17/russia-bars-u-s-from-afghanistan-peace-conference-supports-an-alliance-with-taliban-terrorists/#428f44434ff7

Peace Is Possible In Afghanistan, But At What Cost? – OpEd

The recent lifting of international sanctions on a notorious Afghan warlord may help establish peace in Afghanistan, but the decision has faced criticism

Feb 18 — “As peace remains elusive in Afghanistan, the lifting of international sanctions on Gulbuddin Hekmatyar which has paved the way for his return to the political ‘mainstream’ of the country has evoked varying responses.” READ MORE: http://www.eurasiareview.com/18022017-peace-is-possible-in-afghanistan-but-at-what-cost-oped/

WORLD

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor : An insight

During the recent visit of the Kyrgyz economy minister to Pakistan, Islamabad proposed Kyrgyzstan, as well as other landlocked Central Asian countries, take the advantage of transport routes through Pakistan to its seaports

Feb 16 — “The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is currently under construction at a cost of $46 billion which is intended to rapidly expand and upgrade Pakistani infrastructure, as well as deepen and broaden economic links between Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China.” READ MORE: http://dailytimes.com.pk/features/16-Feb-17/china-pakistan-economic-corridor-an-insight

No Breakthroughs At Second Round Of Syrian Peace Talks In Astana

Russia, Iran, and Turkey agreed to set up a joint monitoring group to try to ensure enforcement of a fragile truce between the government and opposition in Syria

Feb 17 — “Syrian peace negotiators have failed to make any breakthroughs at talks in Kazakhstan, but power brokers Russia, Turkey, and Iran said they would move to shore up a shaky cease-fire. The talks on February 16 marked a second attempt in Astana at bridging the deep divide between the warring sides and came ahead of a new round of United Nations talks on Syria in Geneva on February 23.” READ MORE: http://www.rferl.org/a/no-breakthroughs-second-round-syrian-peace-talks-astana/28314754.html

Turkey steps up scrutiny on Muslim migrants from Russia

Turkey and Russia have increased cooperation in the fight against Islamic terrorism

Feb 17 — “Turkey has increased scrutiny of Russian-speaking Muslim communities in the past few months following a series of attacks blamed on Islamic State, a concrete example of the renewed relationship between the two countries.” READ MORE: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-turkey-islamists-idUSKBN15V258?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews

Sergey Kwan

TCA