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 and the Xinjiang Problem

Ethnic Kazakhs in China have opened the ‘window for the world’ to hear what is happening in Xinjiang, but official Kazakhstan remains quiet on this sensitive issue

Sept 11 — “Ethnic Kazakhs have served as a critical window for the world into the political re-education camps, into which Human Rights Watch claimed in a recent report an estimated 1 million people have been sent by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang. At the same time, Kazakhstan — like much of the international community — has hesitated to take a public stand against Chinese policies.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/kazakhstan-and-the-xinjiang-problem/

Feature: Kazakhstan’s green energy future

Progress may be slow, but Kazakhstan is on the right track in its pursuit of renewable energy

Sept 12 — “As of this year, Kazakhstan has moved to a system of procuring electricity from renewable energy sources at international auctions. The initiative is aimed at bringing down the cost of electricity from renewable sources throughout the country. It is hoped that this shift from fixed rate purchase to auctions will reduce costs as well as attracting foreign investment, forming the latest step in Kazakhstan’s gradual, but ambitious, direction toward meeting 50% of its energy needs by 2050 from renewable sources.” READ MORE: https://www.energydigital.com/renewable-energy/feature-kazakhstans-green-energy-future

Kazakhstan’s National Fund resources intended for long-term economic growth, says economist

The National Fund was created in 2000 to serve as a cushion to ensure that Kazakhstan’s economy remains stable in the face of price swings in oil, gas and metals

Sept 12 — “Kassymkhan Kapparov, a graduate of Al-Farabi Kazakh and Yokohama national universities, studies macroeconomic trends as director and founder of the private institution Bureau for Economic Research in Kazakhstan. As a 2016 research fellow at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs’ Central Asia Programme, he examined his country’s public debt. In an interview with The Astana Times, he identifies opportunities and risks for Kazakhstan in the current economic climate.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/09/kazakhstans-national-fund-resources-intended-for-long-term-economic-growth-says-economist/

Kazakhstan plans to buy $1.2 bln of Tsesnabank loans

The government of Kazakhstan continues to inject public money into the country’s troubled, private banking sector

Sept 14 — “Kazakh authorities said on Friday they would buy 450 billion tenge ($1.2 billion) of agricultural sector loans from Tsesnabank in order to boost its financial strength, while the country’s No.2 lender reshuffled its management.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/tsesnabank-loans/update-3-kazakhstan-plans-to-buy-12-bln-of-tsesnabank-loans-idUSL5N1W00KZ


Exclusive: Kyrgyzstan wants transparency to curb corruption

The Kyrgyz government hopes that secure online services will help reduce corruption in the country, and a “Digital Kyrgyzstan” will “minimize corruption”, according to the Taza Koom strategy

Sept 11 — “In a nationwide poll of Kyrgyzstan in February, an overwhelming 95% said that corruption is a big problem for the central Asia country. Despite this, the Kyrgyz people are optimistic. 66% in the same survey believed that the country is headed in the right direction. The country last year launched a national vision called Taza Koom, meaning ‘transparent society’, to use technology to transform the economy into a “digital silk road” hub and build trust with citizens.” READ MORE: https://govinsider.asia/connected-gov/exclusive-kyrgyzstan-wants-transparency-to-curb-corruption/

From Kyrgyzstan to the Stars: The Kyrgyz Space Program

A group of teenage girls want to make Kyrgyzstan the next country to launch a microsatellite

Sept 11 — “In July, Bhutan launched its first satellite from the International Space Station, joining a growing list of small countries that have successfully sent CubeSats – microsatellites only 10x10x10 centimeters large – into orbit. Bhutan follows Ghana, Mongolia, Estonia, Bangladesh, and Latvia in having sent such a satellite into space — and it won’t be the last country to do so.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/from-kyrgyzstan-to-the-stars-the-kyrgyz-space-program/

Are Kyrgyzstan’s glaciers under threat? This ecologist think so

Kyrgyz ecologist Kaliya Moldogaziyeva tells about the environmental threat to the area from the mining operations at Kumtor gold mine, the new amendments to Kyrgyzstan’s Water Code, and the future of the region’s water resources

Sept 12 — “Kumtor is an open-cast gold mining site in Kyrgyzstan’s Central Tian Shan mountain system, situated in the mountains’ central permafrost massif which reaches heights of 3800-4400 metres above sea level. Commercial exploitation at Kumtor began in 1997. The site is 100% owned by the Canadian gold-mining company Centerra Gold, which manages it through its subsidiaries, the Kumtor Gold Company (KGK) and the Kumtor Operating Company (KOK). Kyrgyzstan, in its turn holds roughly 33% of shares in the company through its OJSC Kyrgyzaltyn Joint Stock Company.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/are-kyrgyzstans-glaciers-under-threat

Kyrgyzstan and Turkey: There’s no getting past Gulen

In the issue relating to a network of Turkish schools in Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek has found itself between a rock and a hard place with regard to its relations with Ankara

Sept 12 — “A disagreement over a network of Kyrgyzstani schools that Turkey views as havens for state sabotage and even terrorism is fast turning into a game of chicken. Judging by Bishkek’s latest salvo, the smaller country is reluctant to roll over, even in the face of increasingly strident demands from Ankara. On September 11 Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry summoned Turkey’s ambassador and told him to “only reflect objective information” in his public speeches, after the diplomat had referenced the schools in a press conference the previous day.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20243-kyrgyzstan-and-turkey-there-s-no-getting-past-gulen


Tajik mosques repair Lenin statue

Some in Tajikistan believe that if it had not been for Lenin, all Central Asians would be illiterate like in Afghanistan, and that it is better to acknowledge the country’s Soviet past and its achievements

Sept 7 — “The media in Central Asia has been intrigued by the story that a group of Muslim clerics in southern Tajikistan have spent their congregations’ weekly donations on fixing a statue of Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution that imposed 70 years of atheism on their country.” READ MORE: https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-45446494

Tajikistan’s Islamist shadow

Tajikistan recently witnessed the first-ever terrorist attack claimed by the Islamic State in the country and entire Central Asia region. And it remains to be seen whether such incidents will ever occur in the future

Sept 10 — “A sedan struck seven foreign cyclists riding through Tajikistan’s Danghara district on July 29. Despite initial confused reports that it was nothing more than a car accident, grainy footage quickly emerged of the vehicle’s driver deliberately swerving to hit the bikers. A group of men then “exited the car and stabbed the cyclists with knives,” according to the United States Embassy in Dushanbe. Within minutes, four cyclists—two American, one Dutch and one Swiss—were dead, with several more injured.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20234-tajikistan-s-islamist-shadow

Tajikistan: Is rumored amnesty for real or a bluff?

Some sources say that dozens of political prisoners are set to be released in Tajikistan

Sept 11 — “It is a deeply confusing time for anybody trying to understand what Tajikistan’s official line on the opposition is these days. One moment, there is talk of mass amnesties of political prisoners. The next, state officials are assaulting exiled activists in European capitals.” READ MORE: https://www.eurasianet.org/tajikistan-is-rumored-amnesty-for-real-or-a-bluff


Turkmenistan fires starting pistol on desert auto rally

Turkmenistan has taken one more step in the promotion of the country as potential stage for international sports events

Sept 11 — “Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader on Tuesday launched the isolated country’s first international auto rally running through the Karakum desert and tracing a spur of the Old Silk Road. The five-stage race involving more than 80 teams representing 20 countries is set to wind up on Saturday and will serve as a qualifying tournament for a longer, two-week rally through three African countries next year.” READ MORE: https://www.france24.com/en/20180911-turkmenistan-fires-starting-pistol-desert-auto-rally

Turkmenistan: Undernourished and overpowered

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

Sept 11 — “Loyalist Ashgabat-based outlet Arzuw News this week uploaded an interview with UNICEF’s Turkmenistan representative Shaheen Nilofer that was anodyne but for the unwitting insights it offered into the deep-lying problems affecting the country. As Nilofer explained, UNICEF has been involved in supporting government-financed flour-fortification efforts to combat anemia among adolescents and young people. And that is not all.” READ MORE: https://www.eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-undernourished-and-overpowered

Caspian Convention signing and the implications for Trans-Caspian gas pipeline

Even after the signing of the Caspian Sea’s Legal Status Convention, prospects of Turkmenistan being someday able to export its natural gas via the proposed Trans-Caspian gas pipeline remain vague and problematic

Sept 13 — “The governments of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Iran and Turkmenistan gathered in the Kazakhstani port city of Aktau, on August 12, and signed the Convention on the Caspian Sea’s Legal Status. Among other important points, Article 14 of the Convention recognizes the parties’ right to lay underwater pipelines or cables in the Caspian, subject only to the agreement of the countries through whose maritime sector the pipeline or cable traverses (Kremlin.ru, August 12).” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20248-caspian-convention-signing-and-the-implications-for-trans-caspian-gas-pipeline


Uzbekistan: A Gangsta’s Paradise?

The names of infamous figures linked to criminal activities are appearing more frequently in Uzbekistan since Mirziyoev became president than they did under late President Karimov

Sept. 8 — “Many things have changed in Uzbekistan in the two years since longtime President Islam Karimov died and Shavkat Mirziyoev came to power. Many of those changes appear to have been positive. But there have also been some arguably negative developments, including the attitude of Uzbek authorities toward suspected or known underworld figures.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-a-gangsta-s-paradise-/29478612.html

Uzbek Imam Fired After ‘Deviating From The Script’

Religion in Uzbekistan remains strictly regulated by authorities, and the government continues to bar the wearing of the Islamic hijab in schools and offices

Sept 10 — “An Uzbek imam is out of a job after he posted a video appeal to President Shavkat Mirziyoev asking him to allow more religious freedoms, including lifting the state’s ban on women’s Islamic head scarves and on men’s beards. Fazliddin Parpiev was serving as imam of Tashkent’s Omina mosque when he was relieved of his duties on September 8, just a day after he shared the 20-minute video on Facebook after having delivered Friday Prayers.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-imam-parpiev-fired-deviating-from-the-script-/29482370.html

New chapter in Uzbekistan opens opportunities for region

Central Asian experts on the implications of Uzbekistan’s ongoing reforms for the region

Sept 12 — “Since Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016 after the death of Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan, the most populous country in Central Asia, has been witnessing significant changes both in domestic and foreign policy. The former Soviet republic has progressed significantly in the last two years following the 27 years of Karimov’s rule, affecting almost every sphere in the country of 34 million people.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/09/new-chapter-in-uzbekistan-opens-opportunities-for-region/

Uzbekistan’s forward-looking policies secure a bright future

Analyst believes that the proactive policies being taken on fintech and globalization today will position Uzbekistan light-years ahead on the world stage tomorrow

Sept 13 — “Uzbekistan is arguably best known for its dazzling ancient cities that are dotted along the Silk Road, the legendary trade route between China and the Mediterranean, and its great mountains and deserts.” READ MORE: http://www.atimes.com/uzbekistans-forward-looking-policies-secure-a-bright-future/


Afghanistan: Trade Offers A Glimmer Of Hope For Economic Growth – OpEd

Afghanistan has taken measures to revolutionize its trade turnover and doing business environment, with the first and foremost goal being to increase exports to 1 billion USD by the end of 2020

Sept 11 — “Afghanistan has suffered negative economic growth after the withdrawal of large portion of international coalition forces. Also, a new report from World Bank indicates more than 50 percent of the Afghan population is living under the poverty line. Moreover, based on statistics of Ministry of Economy population growth is faster than economic growth, which conveys an excessive poverty with its all outcomes for the future.” READ MORE: https://www.eurasiareview.com/11092018-afghanistan-trade-offers-a-glimmer-of-hope-for-economic-growth-oped/

Privatizing the U.S. effort in Afghanistan seemed a bad idea. Now it’s even worse.

Privatizing the U.S. effort in Afghanistan also seems likely to complicate what is already a fraught relationship with the Afghan government, a US analyst says

Sept 11 — “It’s been 17 years since 9/11, the pivotal event that precipitated the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In recent weeks, there has been new talk of privatizing that war. As I and many others have written before, this was not a good idea when Erik Prince introduced it in May 2017, or when he and Stephen A. Feinberg (owner of DynCorp International) reportedly met with President Trump and his top advisers in July of that year.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/09/11/privatizing-the-u-s-effort-in-afghanistan-seemed-a-bad-idea-now-its-even-worse/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1c6ed8c41bf9

Playing Fields, Sports Clubs, Gyms Becoming Afghanistan’s Bloody New Battlegrounds

The recent Taliban attacks on sports facilities are part of a larger assault on civilian targets including schools, media outlets, and mosques

Sept 12 — “Sayed Ali Rezwan was lifting dumbbells when an explosion ripped through Kabul’s Maiwand sports club, where scores of young wrestlers were in the middle of a training session. The blast threw 23-year-old Rezwan against a wall. Wounded and covered in dust, he stumbled through the debris to help pull the bodies of the dead and wounded out of the burning gym. The floor was splattered with blood, and the wrestling ring was strewn with body parts.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/playing-fields-sports-clubs-gyms-becoming-afghanistan-s-bloody-new-battlegrounds/29485880.html

Afghanistan: Peace Prospects at the Abyss

Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University believes that after 17 years, the war in Afghanistan presents a credible threat of disaster for all parties involved—or a settlement that could end the fighting on terms ‘we can accept’

Sept 14 — “America’s war in Afghanistan will soon enter its 17th year. Most Americans tired of the war long ago, but its odd invisibility in American domestic politics has allowed it to carry on, mostly out of sight, with little real political pressure to change a stalemated status quo.” READ MORE: https://www.the-american-interest.com/2018/09/13/afghanistan-peace-prospects-at-the-abyss/


Pakistan Pushes China to Realign Goals in Its Belt-and-Road Initiative

Pakistan has been the showcase for China’s Belt and Road Initiative to build and finance transport and other infrastructure across the globe, as Beijing experiences rising criticism and pushback on its program across a range of countries

Sept 12 — “Pakistan’s new government is pushing China to establish factories and poverty-alleviation initiatives in Pakistan instead of solely the big infrastructure programs that so far have dominated Beijing’s high-profile overseas investment program, Pakistani officials said after talks with Chinese officials.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/pakistan-pushes-china-to-realign-goals-in-its-belt-and-road-initiative-1536773665

It’s Not Too Late to Prevent a Russia-China Axis

Russia is deepening military cooperation with China as Moscow’s relations with the West have deteriorated

Sept 14 — “Chinese tanks splashed through the mud, while a few dozen helicopters flew in formation overhead in eastern Russia, and a young Chinese military recruit explained, “I have never experienced an overseas deployment of this scale.” The scene neatly summed up the much-written-about, enormous Russian military exercises that took place this week. Participants included 300,000 Russian and 3,200 Chinese soldiers. They deeply rattled the West.” READ MORE: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/09/china-russia-alliance-military-exercises/570202/

Sergey Kwan