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: A Falling Presidential Confidant And A Rising Presidential Daughter

Darigha Nazarbayeva, President Nazarbayev’s elder daughter, appears to be strengthening her position as her father is growing old and power succession is becoming a relevant issue in Kazakhstan

Sept 24 — “Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed an order recently relieving his longtime head of the presidential administration, Adilbek Jaksybekov, of his post and sending him into retirement. Jaksybekov is 64 years old, and pension age starts at 63. But Jaksybekov has been with Nazarbaev for decades, and just 14 months ago the president extended Jaksybekov’s term of state service by an additional five years.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/qishloq-ovozi-kazakhstan-falling-presidential-confidant-rising-presidential-daughter-darigha-jaksybekov/29507085.html

Kazakhstan allocates nearly $548 million for regions development programme

The main goal of the programme is to create conditions for developing the regions’ social and economic potential by forming the country’s rational territorial organisation and stimulating population flow into the country’s economic growth centres

Sept 26 — “Kazakhstan allocated 194.3 billion tenge (US$547.96 million) to its regions development programme in 2018, reported Minister of National Economy Timur Suleimenov at a Sept. 25 government meeting. The programme, which received national level status at the meeting, was first adopted in 2014 to centralise different programmes meant to develop each region’s potential.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/09/kazakhstan-allocates-nearly-548-million-for-regions-development-programme/

Is Kazakhstan Preparing for a Post-Nazarbayev Era?

In an interview, Paul Stronski, a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, discusses Kazakhstan’s political outlook

Sept 27 — “Since he turned 78 in July, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has appointed a number of new ministers to his Cabinet, fueling speculation about whether he will run for another term in elections scheduled for 2020. Such speculation is not new in Kazakhstan, but given Nazarbayev’s advanced age, observers fear that without a clearly defined succession plan, the country’s stability could deteriorate.” READ MORE: https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/trend-lines/26144/is-kazakhstan-preparing-for-a-post-nazarbayev-era

The AIFC: Kazakhstan’s Ambitious Step Forward

If the Astana International Financial Centre operates as expected, it would not only improve Kazakhstan’s global standing as a financial hub, but also bring additional foreign investment into the country

Sept 28 — “The government of Kazakhstan launched its ambitious new project, the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC), on 5 July. Ideally, the AIFC will turn the Central Asian nation into a Eurasian commercial and trade hub, bringing in clients from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. It is too early to predict the success or failure of this nascent organization, but we can view the AIFC through the prism of the Kazakh government’s grand diplomatic strategy.” READ MORE: https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/the-aifc-kazakhstans-ambitious-step-forward/


3rd biennial World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan: smoke-free

The introduction of the smoke-free initiative during the 3rd World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan provided a unique opportunity to leave a long-lasting and sustainable public health message for the host community and country

Sept 25 — “For the first time in its history, the World Nomad Games were declared a smoke-free event. The third edition of the games was hosted by Kyrgyzstan on 2–8 September 2018. In Kyrgyzstan, nearly half of the male population smoke and it is one of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke in the country.” READ MORE: http://www.euro.who.int/en/countries/kyrgyzstan/news/news/2018/9/3rd-biennial-world-nomad-games-in-kyrgyzstan-smoke-free

Kyrgyzstan’s Crackdown on Extremist Material: Further Reforms Needed

Instead of focusing on genuine threats, authorities in Kyrgyzstan often throw people in jail for the videos they watch or the books they read

Sept 26 — ““And what about the Amish?” a government security official in Kyrgyzstan asked, leaning forward intently. He was meeting in Bishkek with Human Rights Watch to discuss Kyrgyzstan’s crackdown on extremism. The official was noting similarities between the Amish, a traditionalist Christian group dedicated to the will of Jesus, and Yaqyn Inkar, an Islamic group dedicated to replicating the life of the Prophet Mohammed.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/kyrgyzstans-crackdown-on-extremist-material-further-reforms-needed/

Traditional Kyrgyz walnut-apple forests provide map for sustainable future

In the Kyrgyz mountain town of Kyzyl-Unkur, farmers grow mixed forests of walnut, apple, apricot, pear, almond and cherry trees in a traditional system of agroforestry that stretches back centuries

Sept 27 — “The mountain road leading to Kyzyl-Unkur winds through a gorge. Three hours later, on a broken road, one finds the village surrounded on all sides by unique relict walnut forests. Here, the local Kyrgyz population lives from generation to generation. Everyone knows each other and who does what.” READ MORE: https://news.mongabay.com/2018/09/traditional-kyrgyz-walnut-apple-forests-provide-map-for-sustainable-future/

Kyrgyzstan’s ombudsman pick: a sign of the times?

In a paradoxical choice in Kyrgyzstan, a former KGB officer would now defend citizens’ rights instead of violating them as his profession would suggest

Sept 28 — “A quick scan of Tokun Mamytov’s résumé has left many in Kyrgyzstan noting that while he may be well qualified for many top government posts, human rights ombudsman is probably not among them.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstans-ombudsman-pick-a-sign-of-the-times


Did Tajikistan Just Ditch a Rail Project With Turkmenistan?

Tajikistan once sought to circumvent Uzbekistan with a railway through Afghanistan to Turkmenistan, but Dushanbe’s plans have changed as Tajik-Uzbek relations have improved

Sept 25 — “The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan (TAT) railway line looks to be a casualty of warming Tajik-Uzbek relations as officials suggested recently that Tajikistan would postpone its work on the line. According to a brief Associated Press report, Tajikistan’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, Imom Sodiq Ashourboyzoda, said that Dushanbe had decided to indefinitely postpone building a railroad intended to connect Tajikistan with Turkmenistan via Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/did-tajikistan-just-ditch-a-rail-project-with-turkmenistan/

A Military Crackdown in Tajikistan Could Draw in Bigger Powers

Tajikistan’s security forces could soon launch a military operation in the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan region, raising the possibility of a wider conflict

Sept 26 — “Twenty years after a destructive civil war, Tajikistan is potentially facing renewed conflict. The country’s military is reportedly deploying troops to the eastern city of Khorugh in preparation for a special operation there, according to opposition sources in Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/military-crackdown-tajikistan-could-draw-russia-china

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan conduct first joint military exercises

Improved relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have translated into their military and security cooperation — given that both nations share their borders with war-torn Afghanistan

Sept 26 — “A notable aspect of the foreign policy of Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, was its increasing aloofness from engaging in joint military maneuvers with post-Soviet neighbors. Notably, Karimov’s Uzbekistan twice withdrew from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). But since his death, in September 2016, Karimov’s successor, President Shavkat Mirziyaev, has moved to repair ties with all neighboring states (see EDM, October 26, 2016; March 16, 2017; September 18, 2017; March 12, 2018). In one of the more striking illustrations of Tashkent’s desire for improved relations, on September 18, 600 Uzbekistani troops joined 17,000 Tajikistani soldiers and practiced anti-terrorism operations at the Chorukhdarron military training ground, in Tajikistan’s Sughd Region, 200 miles north of Dushanbe” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20298-uzbekistan-and-tajikistan-conduct-first-joint-military-exercises


Turkmenistan’s famer dies after his crops were destroyed by local officials

To generate extra income during a crisis, the farmer grew melons and watermelons instead of cotton and wheat ordered by the state

Sept 21 — “According to correspondents of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan”, in early August a daikhan (farmer) who had been leasing plots of land to grow cotton and grain died of a heart attack in a village of Yoleten etrap. The editorial board has the farmer’s name and other contact details.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/09/turkmenistans-famer-dies-after-his-crops-were-destroyed-by-local-officials/

Turkmenistan: No-show and don’t tell

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

Sept 25 — “Turkmenistan’s president did not chair the regular Friday Cabinet meeting last week and nobody seems to know why. As well as the September 21 meeting being called off, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov did not, as the exile-based Chronicles of Turkmenistan observed, turn up to any ceremonies for the opening of new government buildings – a favorite past-time. State media reported that Berdymukhamedov’s son and presumptive dauphin, Serdar, oversaw the ribbon-cutting at a new hospital in the town of Dushak, in Akhal province though.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-no-show-and-dont-tell

Turkmenistan Cuts Last Vestiges Of Program For Free Utilities

The state previously subsidized basic goods like flour, sugar, and cooking oil, but Turkmenistan is experiencing the hardest economic crisis in its 27 years of independence

Sept 26 — “Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, the president of crisis-hit Turkmenistan, has signed a decree that will eliminate the last vestiges of a program that has been providing free natural gas, electricity, and water to residents of Turkmenistan since the 1990s.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-cuts-last-vestiges-of-program-for-free-utilities/29511308.html


Uzbekistan-Tajikistan relations: The long way to strategic partnership

Relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have turned from the most problematic in the region into a promising strategic partnership between two neighbors

Sept 23 — “Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s state visit to Tajikistan on March 9-10, 2018, represented a “closure of the circle” in a series of trips since Mirziyoev was elected and proclaimed Central Asia as the new foreign policy priority for Uzbekistan. The visit marked the start of a thaw between these states. On August 17-18, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon made the first Tajik state visit to Uzbekistan in the entire period since independence. The two Presidents signed a long-awaited Treaty on Strategic Partnership, implying that Uzbekistan is now completely surrounded by strategic partners in Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20284-uzbekistan-tajikistan-relations-the-long-way-to-strategic-partnership

‘Beautiful Girl In Hijab’: Uzbek Rapper Who Supports Islamic Dress Forced Underground

Many people in Uzbekistan are against the hijab ban, which has been in place since the 1990s — since the rule of authoritarian President Islam Karimov to the present day

Sept 25 — “Unable to unveil his rap song at a suppressed flash-mob protest against Uzbekistan’s ban on women covering their heads in public places, singer Young Zapik released it on social media. The young underground rapper’s ode in support of a woman’s right to wear an Islamic head scarf, Beautiful Girl In Hijab, has made a big splash on social mediaand has led to stormy debates on the ban.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/beautiful-girl-in-hijab-uzbek-rapper-supports-islamic-dress-forced-underground/29509427.html

Forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry – a hard nut to crack

Uzbekistan has achieved a remarkable progress in the elimination of forced and child labor in its cotton industry, but Uzbek officials cannot guarantee that the practice will disappear overnight

Sept 28 — “There is a palpable buzz in the air in Uzbekistan these days, following a decision by the U.S. Department of Labor to remove the country from a blacklist of cotton producers that rely on child workers. Responding to the decision, as laid out in a Department of Labor report published last week, the Uzbek External Trade Ministry predicted exciting developments.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20307-forced-labor-in-uzbekistan-s-cotton-industry-a-hard-nut-to-crack

Will Intensifying Online Conflict Over Russian In Uzbekistan Spread To Streets? – OpEd

Online posts in Uzbekistan suggest a growing level of hostility among some Uzbeks and some ethnic Russians to the other side

Sept 28 — “Something disturbing is happening in Uzbekistan at a time when the new government is promoting a thaw after the death of Islam Karimov – some Uzbeks are taking to the Internet to denounce those who don’t speak the language of the titular nationality and posting anti-Russian comments in the Uzbek-language web.” READ MORE: https://www.eurasiareview.com/28092018-will-intensifying-online-conflict-over-russian-in-uzbekistan-spread-to-streets-oped/


In western Afghanistan, villagers are fleeing not just war but drought

Chronic drought, the result of a severe lack of rain and snowfall in many recent years, has now spread to 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, where nearly 15 million people depend on agriculture

Sept 25 — “Between a sandy cliff and cracked riverbed on the edge of this small provincial capital, 380 families are camped in a cluster of hand-sewn, sun-bleached tents, waiting for rain and peace to let them return to their ancestral villages. But across drought-stricken, war-torn Badghis province in far-western Afghanistan, the wait will not end soon.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/in-western-afghanistan-villagers-are-fleeing-not-just-war-but-drought/2018/09/24/0caa6b8a-bc39-11e8-8243-f3ae9c99658a_story.html?utm_term=.ffb7b5b2df2a

The Afghan government is failing to deliver on its promises

The Afghan National Unity Government is struggling with containing the Taliban and addressing internal divisions

Sept 25 — “During this year’s holy day of Ashoura, residents of Hazara-populated neighbourhoods of Kabul had to take security into their own hands. After a series of deadly bombings shook Afghanistan over the past month, the community set up its own checkpoints to secure the religious procession on that day.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/afghan-government-failing-deliver-promises-180910123013055.html

Airstrikes Are Killing More Civilians in Afghanistan, U.N. Warns

The Afghan government relies heavily on airstrikes to push back against Taliban gains, which takes a toll on civilians

Sept 26 — “The number of civilians killed by Afghan and American airstrikes is rising, the United Nations said Tuesday, as the Afghan government increasingly relies on airpower in its fight against a resurgent Taliban.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/world/asia/afghanistan-airstrikes-civilian-deaths.html

Erik Prince Thinks He Can Turn Around The War In Afghanistan With 6 Months And 3,600 Men

Prince has been shopping his privatization plan for the Afghanistan war for several months to US officials and in the media, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that privatizing the war is “probably not a wise idea”

Sept 27 — “The former founder and CEO of Blackwater says he needs just six months and roughly 3,600 men to make the Afghan War look far different from the shitshow it is now. In an interview with Afghanistan’s TOLO News, Erik Prince once again pitched his idea to privatize the nearly-17-year-old conflict, offering up a force of “contracted veteran mentors” from the United States and NATO countries to serve alongside Afghan security forces.” READ MORE: https://taskandpurpose.com/erik-prince-afghanistan-six-months/


A Vision Of Central Asia’s Energy Future

In Central Asia, the people in charge of the oil, gas, and coal industries, and power plants, tend to be people close to government officials, and any conversion to greener, more affordable sources of energy could threaten their personal fortunes

Sept 17 — “Enough power to light and heat not only Central Asia’s big cities and towns but also remote villages, and at less cost than current energy sources. That was the topic of discussion at the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation’s (CAREC) 3rd Energy Investment Forum (EIF) in Batumi, Georgia, on September 11-12.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/a-vision-of-central-asia-s-energy-future/29494951.html

To boost agricultural exports, Central Asia states should end child labor

Plans of Central Asia states to increase agricultural exports to Europe are hampered by the use of child labor in agriculture

Sept 24 — “Central Asian countries intend to increase their export of agricultural products to the partner countries in the Eurasian Economic Union, as well as to the European Union. The EU granted Kyrgyzstan the Generalized System of Preferences status (GSP+) in 2016, which gives the right to Kyrgyz producers to export about 6 thousand commodity items to Europe at zero tariff rates.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20289-to-boost-agricultural-exports-central-asia-countries-should-end-child-labor


Times of Central Asia