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.


Under Threat Of Chinese ‘Reeducation,’ Ethnic Kazakh Forced To Abort Baby

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ethnic Kazakhs were able to travel freely between China and Kazakhstan, but that all began changing in 2017 with reports of harassment, arrests, and imprisonment by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang

Oct 8 — “While being forced to study communist ideology and sing fanciful songs about Chairman Mao and Xi Jinping can be trying for the hundreds of thousands of members of ethnic minorities thought to be held in China’s archipelago of “reeducation” camps, Gulzira Mogdin says she and other minority women suffer far worse at the hands of Chinese officials.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/under-threat-of-chinese-reeducation-ethnic-kazakh-forced-to-abort-baby/29532546.html

Shell said to drop plan to buy stake in Kazakh state oil company

An investigation conducted on Shell’s behalf discussed the informal control one of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s sons-in-law exercises over the state oil and gas company

Oct 9 — “Royal Dutch Shell Plc dropped plans to purchase a stake in KazMunayGas National Co. after a due diligence process that included discussions about the risk of corruption at the Kazakh state oil company, people with knowledge of the matter said.” READ MORE: https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/shell-said-to-drop-plan-to-buy-stake-in-kazakh-state-oil-company-1.1149348

Kazakhstan earns more, people get poorer

Booming state revenues caused by growing oil and gas prices have not yet translated into better living conditions for the majority of Kazakhstan citizens

Oct 9 — “This has been a good year for Kazakhstan’s National Fund, in large part due to the resurgence in the price of oil. Over the first nine months of 2018, payments to the government’s rainy-day piggy bank rose by 52 percent year-on-year in local currency terms, the Kazakhstan Finance Association reported on October 4, citing Finance Ministry data. Without accounting for returns on investments, more than 2 trillion tenge ($5.8 billion) had been deposited on the National Fund.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20350-kazakhstan-earns-more-people-get-poorer

Western sanctions against Russia leave Kazakhstan exposed

It is now becoming more difficult for Kazakhstan to balance its multi-vector foreign policy when it comes to Astana’s relations with Moscow and Washington

Oct 11 — “Relations between the United States and Russia have continued to deteriorate in 2017 and 2018. In August 2017, US President Donald Trump signed into law a new bill called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which extended the post-2014 Ukraine sanctions and enlarged their extraterritoriality. Among other points found in the law, it enables the administration to sanction foreign buyers of Russian military equipment.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20359-western-sanctions-against-russia-leave-kazakhstan-exposed


Kyrgyzstan: The airline industry badly needs change

In terms of air transport, Kyrgyzstan remains the worst connected country with the world among its Central Asian neighbors

Oct 7 — “Kyrgyz MPs offered to sell the national airline Air Kyrgyzstan to Chinese investors. Earlier, Chinese companies expressed interest in purchasing Air Kyrgyzstan. If purchased, the investor promised to bring 12 aircraft to the company within five years, the MPs said. Minister of Transport and Roads of Kyrgyzstan Jamshitbek Kalilov confirmed the interest of Chinese investors in the purchase of Air Kyrgyzstan, although there were no official applications to the State Property Management Fund.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20341-kyrgyzstan-the-airline-industry-badly-needs-change

Can Kyrgyzstan’s president take a joke?

A Facebook post with a meme featuring the Kyrgyz president sparked a public conversation about inter-ethnic relations and the limits of free speech in the country

Oct 10 — “The president of Kyrgyzstan has a sense of humor. For now. When the presidential administration press service published a series of photos on Facebook showing Sooronbai Jeenbekov ambling alone around a government-run summer resort on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, Bishkek graphic designer Nikita Tarasenko sensed a meme in the making.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/can-kyrgyzstans-president-take-a-joke

Kyrgyzstan: Talk of visa waiver for Chinese tourists sparks ire

Many in Kyrgyzstan are afraid of China’s growing influence over the country in various spheres, especially in the economy

Oct 13 — “Talk in Kyrgyzstan of allowing tourists from China to visit without obtaining a visa has ignited heated public debate. On one side are those eager to capitalize on the fast-growing Chinese appetite for seeing the world. On the other are those afraid of Beijing’s creeping influence over the country. The proposal under discussion was made by member of parliament Makhabat Mavlyanova, who suggested that Chinese tourist who book tours through travel agencies should be allowed to enter Kyrgyzstan without a visa.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20366-kyrgyzstan-talk-of-visa-waiver-for-chinese-tourists-sparks-ire

Final phase of massive CSTO military drills held in Kyrgyzstan

CSTO member states military prepare for possible attacks of terrorists from neighboring Afghanistan

Oct 13 — “The final phase of “Cooperation 2018” military drills among CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) member states has started at the Edelweiss training range in Kyrgyzstan, the press service of Russia’s Central Military District reported on Saturday.” READ MORE: http://tass.com/defense/1025827


Tajikistan’s Unconquerable Gorno-Badakhshan Region

Since the Tajik civil war of the 1990s, the government in Dushanbe has never had complete control over Tajikistan’s remote Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province

Oct 9 — “Yodgor Fayzov has just been named head of Tajikistan’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region in what appears to be the government’s latest attempt to increase control over an area that arguably has little in common with the rest of the country.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-unconquerable-gorno-badakhshan-region/29534057.html

India renews interest in running its first foreign military base in Tajikistan

India is making inroads to Central Asia, and Tajikistan, in different spheres, including the military sphere, to increase its leverage over rival Pakistan

Oct 11 — “India has signalled a renewed interest in developing and sustaining a military base in Ayni in Tajikistan. President Ram Nath Kovind met an Indian Air Force contingent during his visit to the country this week (7-9 October), before returning to India Tuesday evening. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Ayni in 2015, but it was not publicised. A.K. Antony, the former defence minister, had also visited the base. India has so far sought to keep its military presence discreet.” READ MORE: https://theprint.in/security/india-renews-interest-in-running-its-first-foreign-military-base-in-tajikistan/132454/

Feature: Chinese language craze catches on in Tajikistan

China, the largest creditor of Tajikistan, is also increasing its cultural and humanitarian influence over the poor Central Asian country

Oct 12 — “”I have always wanted to learn Chinese. I plan to study in China after graduation,” said Qodirova Sayora, a senior university student.
Two years after learning the Chinese language at the Confucius Institute of the Tajik National University for Nationalities, Sayora is now a die-hard Chinese culture fan. She is currently learning to play the Chinese zither, a 2,500-year-old plucked string instrument.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-10/12/c_137528152.htm


Turkmenistan calling: Is anybody out there? Anybody?

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

Oct 9 — “President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov wrapped up his stay in New York last week with a pitch to U.S. companies to invest in the ambitious-but-fraught Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India, or TAPI, natural gas pipeline. Turkmenistan is touting the project as an era-defining undertaking that will help maintain vigor in the economies of fuel-hungry nations like India and Pakistan.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-calling-is-anybody-out-there-anybody

Turkmenistan: Russia Plans to Resume Its Imports of Turkmen Natural Gas

Russia would increase its involvement in the Central Asia region and a Russian deal to resume natural gas imports from Turkmenistan fits within this trend, Stratfor believes

Oct 10 — “Russia will resume importing natural gas from Turkmenistan when the new year begins, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said during an Oct. 9 visit to Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital. “We are talking about the resumption of purchases of Turkmen gas by Gazprom in the very near future — from Jan. 1, 2019,” Miller said, adding that details over volumes and pricing were still being worked out.” READ MORE: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/turkmenistan-russia-plans-resume-its-imports-turkmen-natural-gas

The struggle of Turkmenistan’s agriculture

In the past two years Turkmenistan has been experiencing a shortfall in wheat crops volume which caused the deficit of flour and bread

Oct 12 — “Since Turkmenistan obtained independence, the situation in Turkmenistan’s agricultural sector has been gradually deteriorating. Media outlets triumphantly announce the launch of the wheat harvesting campaign but keep silent whether the crop harvesting plan set forth by PresidentGurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has been fulfilled.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/10/the-struggle-of-turkmenistans-agriculture/


Under New Uzbek Leadership, Even Predecessor’s Widow, Family Are In The Crosshairs

The purge of business leaders and government officials, including from late President Karimov’s family, under new President Mirziyoev demonstrates how fragile and undeveloped political institutions are in Uzbekistan

Oct 8 — “Uzbek President Shavkhat Mirziyoev has pulled no punches going after those who served under his autocratic predecessor, Islam Karimov. The list of those who have fallen is long — including hundreds of old guard “rats” in the Finance Ministry, top government officials, and law enforcement agents. But while some immediate relatives of Karimov — who ruled the country for 27 years until his death in 2016 — were caught up in the purge, his widow had escaped being targeted.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/brides-of-ferghana-under-new-uzbek-leadership-even-predecessor-s-widow-family-are-in-the-crosshairs/29531301.html

How Worried Is Uzbekistan About Afghan Instability?

For Uzbekistan, Afghanistan is a next-door neighbor and important economic partner

Oct 9 — “When Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power, his posture toward Afghanistan was significantly different than that of his predecessor. Instead of shielding Uzbekistan from Afghanistan and viewing the country primarily as a center of instability, Mirziyoyev enthusiastically embraced Afghanistan as an economic and security partner.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/10/how-worried-is-uzbekistan-about-afghan-instability/

The democratic future of Uzbekistan doesn’t depend on the politicians, but whether workers can mobilise

Uzbekistan’s workers now have a new chance to create trade unions and collectively make changes, not only in their working conditions but in a reassessment of the entire system of labour relations

Oct 9 — “Uzbekistan’s sharp swing towards democratic values in the post-Karimov era is unprecedented. After the death of Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov, who had ruled the country since 1989, the prison system’s doors have been flung open. International human rights organisations and monitoring missions are now visiting the country. The openness and diplomatic vigour of new president Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s administration has led to many people to believe that the changes are genuine and long term.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kirill-buketov/the-democratic-future-of-uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, France ink over $5.7B worth of agreements

France is the first EU country Uzbek President Mirziyoyev has visited after his election

Oct 9 — “Uzbekistan and France signed investment agreements on projects totaling about 5 billion euros ($5.75 billion), the press service of the president of Uzbekistan announced, referring to the results of the meeting of Shavkat Mirziyoyev with management of the largest French companies during an official visit to France.” READ MORE: https://en.trend.az/business/economy/2962407.html


How Afghanistan became our continuing war

Looking at American foreign policy can help explain the US failure in Afghanistan

Oct 8 — “Seventeen years, 2,351 Americans dead, 20,094 wounded. These grim numbers scarcely begin tell the story of the Afghanistan war, which marked its 17th anniversary on Sunday. It’s been a tragic failure, but for reasons few people understand. A lot went wrong, but the common explanations fall short. Was the Afghanistan war a failure of the military? That’s false and unjust.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/410011-how-afghanistan-became-our-continuing-war

America’s Disastrous Occupation of Afghanistan Turns 17

Despite the many-year US-led military efforts, the Taliban are in their strongest position in that many years

Oct 11 — “America has now passed the 17-year mark in Afghanistan. U.S. troops have been fighting there for longer than the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined. Yet Washington is further away than ever from anything that might pass for victory.” READ MORE: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/americas-disastrous-occupation-of-afghanistan-turns-17/

International arbitration ‘can help grow the Afghan economy’

International arbitration is an attractive alternative to Afghan court proceedings for resolving disputes, particularly between foreign and Afghan companies

Oct 11 — “As the Afghan economy grows and there is greater domestic and foreign investment in the country, the need for an effective dispute resolution mechanism becomes increasingly important. International arbitration can offer a more acceptable method for the resolution of disputes for stakeholders. Although the World Bank forecasts that the Afghan economy would grow modestly in 2018 and beyond, it is clear that the country has far greater potential and may offer ample opportunities for foreign and domestic investors in a broad range of nascent and undeveloped sectors: particularly mining, energy, infrastructure, telecommunications and agriculture.” READ MORE: https://www.out-law.com/en/articles/2018/october/international-arbitration-can-help-grow-the-afghan-economy/

The Kremlin’s comeback

For Russia, Afghanistan remains an important geo-political spot in the Central Asia region, as Afghan instability threatens Moscow’s allies and positions in the region

Oct 12 — “Russia has been cultivating ties with the Taliban to increase its influence in Afghanistan three decades after Moscow’s humiliating defeat there helped hasten the Soviet Union’s collapse. Russian engagement with the militants drew attention, and some flak, when the Kremlin invited Taliban representatives to Moscow for a meeting in September. That invitation was rescinded — at least temporarily — after the Afghan government objected, saying it must take the lead in any talks.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/world/wp/2018/10/12/feature/behind-the-scenes-russia-regains-a-complicated-status-afghanistan-power-broker/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.2c60275ab3ac


Is the Islamic State group seeking a new stronghold in central Asia?

The Islamic State group is currently recruiting, training and reactivating armed cells in Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and Russia

Oct 12 — “Experts are divided over claims that the Islamic State group is trying to create a new stronghold in central Asia and activate sleeper cells in the region.
Andrey Novikov, the head of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Anti-Terrorism Center, maintains IS is establishing a new foothold in the region to form a new “caliphate” while planting new sleeper cells and invigorating existing ones.” READ MORE: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2018/10/12/islamic-state-seeking-new-stronghold-in-central-asia


China has traditionally viewed India-Russia engagement positively, since it would theoretically slow India’s drift towards the US

Oct 12 — “The summit meeting last week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin was an effort by New Delhi to allay Moscow’s growing apprehension that its long-standing strategic partner and largest arms buyer has been lost forever to the United States.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/2168298/india-and-russia-may-be-allies-can-they-find-common-ground

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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