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Weekly Digest of Central Asia

  • Written by TCA

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

What is Wrong with the Transport Policy of Nur-Sultan?

The transport policy of the capital of Kazakhstan should be implemented and improved comprehensively, taking into account the environmental factor, reducing traffic congestion with a focus on the flow from the outskirts and nearby villages to Nur-Sultan

Jan 16 — “The fast-growing city of Nur Sultan has achieved impressive success over the 22 years since the transfer of the capital from Almaty. According to a study by the International Strategy Partners Group, the capital of Kazakhstan took first place in the competitiveness rating among 40 cities in Central Asia and the Caucasus in 2018.[1] However, despite the fact that the young city is becoming more and more attractive to investors, for the capital’s residents themselves, the everyday situation, primarily related to movement within the city is complicated due to a busy transport system, as well as lagging behind the development of the city’s public transport system.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/what-is-wrong-with-the-transport-policy-of-nur-sultan/

The Kazakhs Left Behind In Xinjiang

The fate of China’s Kazakhs — many thousands of whom have been forcibly taken to the reeducation camps — is part of a much larger campaign in Xinjiang that targets Muslims, mainly Uyghurs but also Uzbeks and Kyrgyz

Jan 21 — “When word came from the capital, Nur-Sultan, that no Kazakhs were being held in "reeducation" centers in northwest China's Xinjiang region, many who didn't believe that claim sought help tracking down their loved ones. They found it in Atazhurt Eriktileri (Volunteers of the Fatherland), a human-rights group founded by ethnic Kazakhs who moved from Xinjiang as part of a repatriation program after Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhs-china-muslims-xinjiang/30389193.html

Tracking Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth funds through the last oil slump

A steadier oil market has helped Kazakhstan’s National Oil Fund regain its footing, but Kazakhstan’s another fund, Samruk-Kazyna, has struggled in its privatization drive

Jan 22 — “Kazakhstan’s ample natural resources have carried the country from post-Soviet crisis into the ranks of upper-middle-income nations. Today it sits on two sovereign wealth funds, which are at the mercy of global market forces: the National Oil Fund (which stockpiles Kazakhstan’s oil income) and Samruk-Kazyna (a holding company for some of Kazakhstan’s largest state monopolies). After a painful few years brought on by crisis in Russia and a global oil slump, the funds appear to have stabilized.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tracking-kazakhstans-sovereign-wealth-funds-through-the-last-oil-slump

Investigation: The background of the infamous ‘Bek Air’ airline

The history of the Kazakhstan-based airline, whose aircraft’s crash caused 12 deaths, is full of contradictions

Jan 22 — “Kazakhstan has a few registered companies that have the same names – Bek Air, and the same scope of activity. The founder of the Joint-Stock Company ‘BEK AIR’, which was first registered in October 2015, is Saken Zharkimbaev, and the chief executive is Anvar Tuleubekov. Limited Liability Partnership ‘BEK AIR’ (in registration documents, the name is registered in Latin letters) has Damir Shulenbaev as the founder and Rustam Biyakhmetov as the chief executive. The partnership was registered in May 2011.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/investigation-the-background-of-the-infamous-bek-air-airline/

KYRGYZSTAN

Curbing Domestic Violence in Kyrgyzstan: Are Victims Protected?

Domestic violence, in the framework of the legislation change, has been criminalized in Kyrgyzstan. It was included in the Code of Misconduct, which is part of the criminal law. But the de facto prosecution of perpetrators has become more difficult

Jan 21 — “In a couple of weeks of 2020, several women in Kyrgyzstan were seriously affected by domestic violence; two women died as a result of beatings. The number of victims is growing. Media daily posts on the victims of the problem. The current situation causes heated debate in society. The issue is under consideration of the Government and the Jogorku Kenesh. It becomes clear that despite the adoption of the law “On defense and protection from domestic violence” and heavier penalties, the problem is not solved. Experts sound the alarm: the punishment prescribed by law does not achieve its goal, and in some cases even exacerbates the situation. The mechanisms that were supposed to provide victims of domestic violence with protection cannot do the provision.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/curbing-domestic-violence-in-kyrgyzstan-are-victims-protected/

Why Is Kyrgyzstan Being Considered for the New U.S. Travel Ban?

The Trump administration is reportedly considering expanding the controversial “travel ban” to seven more countries, including possibly Kyrgyzstan

Jan 22 — “The Trump administration is reportedly considering an expansion of its controversial travel ban, according to a report by Politico. According to Politico’s sources, the draft list of countries being considered for travel restrictions include Belarus, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. The report stressed that the list is not final so there may be more countries or different ones, but an expansion is being discussed. Of course, here at The Diplomat my eyes were drawn to Kyrgyzstan’s spot on that list.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/why-is-kyrgyzstan-being-considered-for-the-new-u-s-travel-ban/

Commentary: Chinese Scholar Mambetturdu, Suspected Internment Victim, Needs Support

Protection of rights of ethnic Kyrgyz in China’s Xinjiang is a sensitive issue for Kyrgyzstan, as official Bishkek says what is going on in the western Chinese province is Beijing’s internal affair

Jan 22 — “Many of us were concerned when a rights activist tweeted in October 2018 that a Chinese scholar and author of Kyrgyz descent, Mambetturdu Mambetakun, had been sent to a "concentration camp" earlier that year. "Whereabouts unknown," it concluded. I was particularly alarmed. I had met Mambetturdu, respected him greatly, and had been trying unsuccessfully to contact him by telephone in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) since the spring.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/commentary-chinese-scholar-mambetturdu-suspected-internment-victim-needs-support/30390983.html

TAJIKISTAN

No Shortage Of Students As Tajikistan Builds New Russian Schools

The demand among Tajiks for more educational facilities in which Russian is the language of instruction has risen both in cities and rural areas in recent years

Jan 18 — “Tajikistan's parliament has approved an agreement to build five new Russian schools in the next three years, with funds largely provided by the Russian government. The move shows the Tajik authorities' willingness to maintain close ties with Moscow and reflects a growing demand among Tajiks for Russian-language education.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-new-russian-schools/30384557.html

Tajikistan permits foreigners to buy into Roghun

Investment in the giant Roghun hydroelectric power plant, which is a rather problematic project, would be a risky business

Jan 21 — “Lawmakers in Tajikistan have voted to allow foreign investors to buy shares in the Roghun hydroelectric plant, an ongoing project upon which the government has pinned the nation’s future. Other facilities now also liable for privatization include the Talco aluminum company, the country’s most important industrial concern, and the Soviet-built Nurek hydropower plant, which provides for 70 percent of Tajikistan’s electricity.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-permits-foreigners-to-buy-into-roghun

Ajina-Tepa, Tajikistan – Abandoned Buddhist Cloister on the Famous Silk Road

Buddhist monasteries flourished in the region for hundreds of years and a distinctive form of Central Asian Buddhism emerged. Ajina-Tepa in Tajikistan was pivotal to the spread of Buddhism in Central Asia, although little is known about its history

Jan 22 — “Although Central Asia is no longer inundated by tourists, in the past it was a dynamic and diverse area, largely thanks to the Silk Road . One of the many remarkable sites in this region is the Buddhist cloister of Ajina-Tepa in Tajikistan. This ruin is a testament to the Buddhist past of the region and is regarded as the largest such site in all of Central Asia. The cloister has been added to a tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.” READ MORE: https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-asia/ajina-tepa-0013181

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: But where are the buyers?

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

Jan 21 — “Turkmenistan last June cut the ribbon on a $1.7 billion state-of-the-art facility that would enable it to convert natural gas into gasoline in the expectation this would help diversify its exports and bring in much-needed cash. The only problem is that they appear not to know how to use it. Last week, approval was requested from the president for state-owned Turkmengaz to conclude a plant management consultancy deal with Japan’s Kawasaki, which built the facility in the first place, together with Ankara-based Renaissance Construction.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-but-where-are-the-buyers

Russia might help Turkmenistan to launch the second satellite and train the first astronaut

Turkmenistan is taking steps to further develop its space industry

Jan 22 — “On 21J anuary, 2020, Yury Baturin, the former Russian cosmonaut, Vice President of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after Tsiolkovsky, who is paying a visit to Turkmenistan, held a meeting with the head of the Turkmenistan’s Airspace Department of “Turkmen communications” agency Ashir Garayev, RIA Novosti reports.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/01/russia-might-help-turkmenistan-to-launch-the-second-satellite-and-train-the-first-astronaut/

How Many People Live In Turkmenistan? The Official Figure Is Hard To Believe

Turkmenistan is an isolationist country, which is why it is easy for the government to claim huge successes without anyone being sure how much exaggeration there is in the reported achievements

Jan 23 — “Years before there was "fake news," there were official statistics from Turkmenistan. Figures released by the Turkmen government have continually stretched the boundaries of belief and all-to-often there was no reason to believe they were accurate. The government website Neutrality.gov.tm has just posted a new population figure for the country -- 6.2 million -- and once again the reaction is "what?" READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/how-many-people-live-in-turkmenistan-the-official-figure-is-hard-to-believe/30393686.html

UZBEKISTAN

Blogger Says She Was Beaten, Threatened By Police Before Fleeing Uzbekistan

Free speech and human rights protection is what Uzbekistan still lacks despite ongoing reforms

Jan 21 — “An Uzbek blogger says she was beaten, threatened, and sexually harassed by police officers after she refused to give false evidence against opposition figures while in custody. “They punched me, pulled my hair, and kicked me in the stomach,” Nafosat Olloshukurova told RFE/RL about incidents she said took place during an “administrative arrest” in her native Khorezm Province in northwestern Uzbekistan in September.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/blogger-says-she-was-beaten-threatened-by-police-before-fleeing-uzbekistan/30389762.html

Uzbekistan Prepares Crypto Tax Exemptions, Launches Licensed Exchange

Uzbekistan legalized cryptocurrency trading and introduced licensing for crypto exchanges with a decree signed by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2018

Jan 22 — “A new presidential decree in Uzbekistan envisages the introduction of tax exemptions for income obtained from operations involving crypto assets. The draft document published recently also incorporates proposals for the establishment of a blockchain valley and licensing regime for cryptocurrency miners. The country has just launched its first licensed crypto exchange.” READ MORE: https://news.bitcoin.com/uzbekistan-prepares-crypto-tax-exemptions-launches-licensed-exchange/

Uzbekistan to launch a new regional airline utilising a fleet of turboprop aircraft

State-run Humo Air is expected to offer affordable regional travel and exploit the country’s untapped tourism potential

Jan 23 — “Uzbekistan is considering the launch of a new state-run regional airline this year. Already christened Humo Air – named after a mystery bird from the region’s ethnic mythologies – the airline will provide cost-efficient and affordable domestic air travel thereby helping to unleash the country’s tourism potential. With a proposed turboprop fleet, the new airline will not challenge the monopoly position of the state-owned Uzbekistan Airways but will, instead, provide relief on short routes where the larger airline’s narrow-body fleet is inefficient.” READ MORE: http://www.rusaviainsider.com/uzbekistan-to-launch-a-new-regional-airline-utilising-a-fleet-of-turboprop-aircraft/

AFGHANISTAN

Who Gets to Tell the Story of the Afghanistan War?

The Washington Post’s ‘Afghanistan Papers’ is the latest contribution to a growing argument over whether the conflict — or any of the ‘forever wars’ — was worth the cost

Jan 21 — “Is it angry veterans and war-weary journalists? Is it Pentagon public relations pros, putting the spin on the best story they can for Washington politics and the public? Is it the ground troops and their families who led their men and women through combat, took terrain, won hearts and minds, killed the enemy, and then came home to heroically save each other once again, yet this time from their demons? Is it the Hollywood movies that don’t get the story quite right? Is it the 4-star generals who still methodically and earnestly warn politicians and the public that this war, like all of the United States’ contemporary missions against worldwide violent extremism, will be messy, complicated, and take much longer than 18 years to win? Is it American voters?” READ MORE: https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/01/who-gets-tell-story-afghanistan-war/162554/

Afghanistan’s Borderlands: Unruly, Unruled, and Central to Peace

Residents of Afghanistan’s borderlands tend to have stronger economic and cultural ties with people across the border than with Kabul

Jan 22 — “In Games without Rules, author and former Asia Foundation colleague Tamim Ansary argues that bringing rural Afghanistan under centralized rule has been the defining challenge of the Afghan state since the reign of Ahmad Shah Durrani in the 18th century. He debunks the colonial myth of an “unconquerable” Afghanistan: it was invaded many times, by Persians, Greeks, Turks, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union. For invading powers and national rulers alike, the real stumbling block was not conquering Afghanistan, but governing it.” READ MORE: https://asiafoundation.org/2020/01/22/afghanistans-borderlands-unruly-unruled-and-central-to-peace/

Beijing-backed Pakistan port opens as hub for Afghanistan trade

Experts believe transporting goods through Gwadar is a way for China to engage Afghanistan in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor

Jan 23 — “Gwadar port in southern Pakistan recently began handling cargo bound for Afghanistan. While undoubtedly a positive development for the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, experts say the economic sustainability of the Chinese-managed port remains far from certain. The CPEC comprises a number of Pakistani infrastructure projects and is a major part of China's Belt and Road Initiative.” READ MORE: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Belt-and-Road/Beijing-backed-Pakistan-port-opens-as-hub-for-Afghanistan-trade

WORLD

Is Central Asia the New Safe Haven for Crypto Mining Amid Iran-US Crisis?

Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan attract crypto miners with extremely low electricity tariffs, which makes them direct competitors to neighboring Iran

Jan 18 — “Recently, the cryptocurrency mining community has been shaken with rumors of Chinese miners leaving Iran — where crypto mining is authorized as an industrial activity — for Central Asia. The move has ostensibly been taken in an attempt to find a new safe haven amid the tensions between the United States and Iran, as well as rising oil and energy prices.” READ MORE: https://cointelegraph.com/news/is-central-asia-the-new-safe-haven-for-crypto-mining-amid-iran-us-crisis

Russia’s Strategy in Central Asia: Inviting India to Balance China

Russia’s invitation for India to link up with Eurasian Economic Union recalls the SCO expansion saga

Jan 23 — “At the end of last year, Russian envoy Nikolai Kudashev said that Moscow is hopeful about reaching a free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and India by 2020. Currently, the EAEU, an exclusive international organization for regional economic integration in the post-Soviet Union area, encompasses Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. Undoubtedly, Russia plays a prevailing role in the union that dwarfs other members.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/russias-strategy-in-central-asia-inviting-india-to-balance-china/

US state secretary to visit Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to London, U.K.; Kyiv, Ukraine; Minsk, Belarus; Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan from January 29 to February 4, the U.S. State Department said on January 24.

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UCA boosts quality of education in Central Asia

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BISHKEK (TCA) — The University of Central Asia’s (UCA) Education Improvement Programme (EIP) conducted face-to-face professional development workshops for 171 teachers of English, math, chemistry and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Dushanbe (Tajikistan), Naryn (Kyrgyzstan), and Taldykorgan (Kazakhstan) in January. The workshops focused on enhancing teachers’ knowledge of specific subject content, as well as creating innovative activities, strategies, and skills to develop students’ curricula and competencies. The workshops also provided a platform for teachers to collaborate and share learning.

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South Korean company to build a new plant in Almaty, Kazakhstan

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NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — Kazakh Invest national investment promotion company and South Korean company Star Boiler have signed a memorandum on the implementation of an investment project. The project involves construction of a plant for production of water heaters and industrial equipment in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty. The total investment is estimated at $20 million, Kazakh Invest said on January 24.

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Uzbekistan: President speaks about 2020 tasks, EEU integration

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TASHKENT (TCA) — In his address to parliament on January 24, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev analyzed the country’s achievements in 2019 in social, economic and political spheres and set new tasks for the years to come, the president’s press service reported.

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Kazakhstan: Government sums up results of 2019, sets goals for 2020

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NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — At the extended Government session on January 24 chaired by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Askar Mamin reported on the results of the country's socio-economic development in 2019 and the tasks for the current year, the prime minister’s press service reported.

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Afghanistan again among world’s most corrupt countries, report says

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KABUL (TCA) — Afghanistan is ranked among the world’s 10 most corrupt countries, according to the latest annual report released by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.

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Kyrgyzstan: FM says possible US travel ban inclusion may be linked to biometric passport delay

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BISHKEK (TCA) — Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Minister Chyngyz Aidarbekov on January 23 said his country's possible addition to the U.S. travel ban list might be linked to the Central Asian nation's delay in fully switching to a biometric passport system, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported.

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Central Asia countries still low on Corruption Perceptions Index

  • Written by TCA

BISHKEK (TCA) — Countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia continue to experience "limited separation of powers, abuse of state resources for electoral purposes, opaque political party financing, and conflicts of interest," anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International says in its latest annual report.

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Partners from Central Asia, Afghanistan discuss transboundary water resource management

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NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — The United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Smart Waters project on January 22 convened water sector national partners from five Central Asian countries and Afghanistan for the eighth Regional Steering Committee for water coordination in Burabay, Kazakhstan. The meeting facilitated the exchange of information and ideas among participating countries and the sharing of national best practices at a regional level, the US Embassy in Kazakhstan said.

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Kazakhstan discusses special investment conditions for German businesses

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NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — A delegation from Kazakhstan headed by the Deputy Prime Minister Roman Sklyar made a working visit to Germany earlier this week to conduct negotiations with the heads of large German enterprises interested in establishing trade, economic and investment cooperation with Kazakhstan, Kazakh Invest national investment promotion company reported.

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RFE/RL says government 'impeding' it from functioning in Tajikistan

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DUSHANBE (TCA) — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) President Jamie Fly has told the Tajik government it failed to honor its commitments to allow the organization's Tajik Service, known locally as Radio Ozodi, to function without obstruction, RFE/RL reports.

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Afghanistan improves its growth despite uncertainty, World Bank says

  • Written by TCA

KABUL (TCA) — Afghanistan’s economy grew by an estimated 2.9 percent in 2019, driven mainly by strong agricultural growth following recovery from drought, but lingering political uncertainty dampens private confidence and investment, the World Bank says.

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Uzbekistan invites Belarusian producers to its food market

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TASHKENT (TCA) — Uzbekistan is interested to see more Belarusian companies on its food market, Uzbekistan's Ambassador to Belarus Nasirjan Yusupov said on January 21 in Minsk, Belarus’ BelTA news agency reported.

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Uzbekistan: President sets tasks for the Government

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TASHKENT (TCA) — Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on January 21 outlined key objectives for the Uzbek Government, after a joint session of the Legislative Chamber and Senate of the Oliy Majlis (Uzbek parliament) approved Abdulla Aripov as the country’s Prime Minister. The session also considered an action plan of the Cabinet of Ministers for the near- and long-term perspectives, the president’s official website reported.

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Kazakhstan: Court rules that 2 ethnic Kazakhs will not be deported to China

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NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — A court in Kazakhstan has ruled that two ethnic-Kazakh men from China's northwestern region of Xinjiang who are on trial for illegally crossing the border in October will not be deported to China, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported.

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Kazakhstan, Slovakia discuss investment cooperation

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NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — Kazakh and Slovak businesspeople discussed development of bilateral investment, trade and economic cooperation during a forum in Nur-Sultan, Kazakh Invest national investment promotion company reported on January 21.

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EU, Kazakhstan hold Cooperation Council meeting

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NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — The Cooperation Council between the European Union (EU) and Kazakhstan held its seventeenth meeting on January 20 in Brussels, the Council of the European Union said.

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Afghanistan Infrastructure Trust Fund holds annual Steering Committee meeting

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KABUL (TCA) — The Steering Committee of the multi-donor Afghanistan Infrastructure Trust Fund (AITF), administered by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), held its Annual Meeting on January 19 to review overall progress and provide strategic direction for efforts to support the Afghan government’s infrastructure priorities, ADB’s Country Office in Afghanistan said.

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Uzbekistan: Blogger flees country after spending weeks in involuntary psychiatric care

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TASHKENT (TCA) — An Uzbek blogger who spent weeks in involuntary psychiatric care after extensively covering alleged corruption and abuse among politicians has fled the country, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported.

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Turkmenistan launches website dedicated to 25th anniversary of neutrality

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ASHGABAT (TCA) — The website of International Conference “Policy of Neutrality and its role in provision of global peace, security and sustainable development” has been launched in Turkmenistan. Developed at the request of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, the official resource of the upcoming high-level forum in Ashgabat to be held on December 11–12, 2020 was developed by the Foreign Ministry in Turkmen, English and Russian languages, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan reports.

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Uzbekistan enters next phase of reforms with renewed World Bank support

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TASHKENT (TCA) — World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia, Cyril Muller, welcomed the Government of Uzbekistan’s progress in transforming the economy and pledged the institution’s continued support for further reforms. Visiting Tashkent on January 16-17, he met with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and senior government and parliamentary officials, the World Bank said.

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Iran’s Chabahar port needs rail connection to Afghanistan, Central Asia, Iran FM says

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KABUL (TCA) — Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on January 17 said that India and Iran should work to expedite rail connectivity to Afghanistan and develop Chabahar Port, a seaport in Iran, Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews reported.

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Weekly Digest of Central Asia

  • Written by TCA

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

They shot to kill: the massacre of Kazakhstan’s striking oil workers, eight years on

Eight years after the infamous massacre of striking oil workers and their supporters at Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan, human rights defenders in the oil-rich republic are still seeking answers

Jan 13 — “On 16 December 2011, police opened fire on unarmed citizens of Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan. The victims included oil workers who were on strike, and innocent passers-by. The authorities of Mangistau region said the police had begun shooting “in self defence” – until videos appeared on the internet showing how people ran from armed men in uniform, who were shooting to kill.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/they-shot-to-kill-the-massacre-of-kazakhstans-striking-oil-workers-eight-years-on/

Will Kazakhstan Take a New Approach to Fighting Extremists?

With new president Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, Kazakhstan has seen minimum progress regarding people persecuted for their political and religious beliefs

Jan 13 — “For the first time the Supreme Court reversed the sentence regarding a person charged under two articles of the Criminal Code, namely crimes “against peace and human security” and “against public security and public order.” In fact, this case stands out of hundreds of other cases, where persons involved serve their term in prison.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/will-kazakhstan-take-a-new-approach-to-fighting-extremists/

This Canadian won millions in a legal fight with Kazakhstan. Was it worth it?

A Canadian mining exec’s decades-long tussle with Kazakhstan is finally over, but even though he won, Paul Carroll doesn’t see much to celebrate

Jan 14 — “The town of Stepnogorsk, a remote speck of civilization in the northern steppe of Kazakhstan, is straight out of a Cold War thriller. For decades, it was a secret—nowhere to be found on a map. It was a company town, and its business was, in part, producing weaponized anthrax. After the Soviet Union dissolved, Stepnogorsk moved away from biological warfare, turning to exploiting vast uranium deposits in the region. But its residents soon found themselves at the centre of a dispute between their national government and a Canadian company that had set up shop there.” READ MORE: https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/this-canadian-won-millions-in-a-legal-fight-with-kazakhstan-was-it-worth-it/

Kazakhstan seeks labor market corrections to quell grumbling

Foreign workers in Kazakhstan may face lower salaries. That doesn't mean Kazakhs will be paid better though

Jan 15 — “Pay inequality between local and foreign workers has long been a hot-button issue in Kazakhstan, so the government is trying to tackle the question, although with less than overwhelming success so far. Following a government review of investment projects, 361 foreign workers have had their wages docked to match those of local hires in equivalent positions. In a parallel move, the Labor and Social Protection Ministry said on January 14 that the quota for foreigners eligible for work permits has been slashed by 40 percent for this year, down to less than 30,000.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-seeks-labor-market-corrections-to-quell-grumbling

KYRGYZSTAN

OUTLOOK 2020 Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan’s economy remains heavily dependent on gold production at Kumtor mine

Jan 13 — “Kyrgyzstan can expect 2019 growth to come in at 4.2% (beating 2018’s 3.5%) and its 2020 economic expansion to register 4.0%, according to the January 2020 edition of the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report released at the end of last week. These forecasts are almost identical to what the international financial institution was anticipating in the June 2019 edition of the report.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/outlook-2020-kyrgyzstan-174483/

Kyrgyzstan ex-president’s trial to close one chapter of political turbulence

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry has wrapped up its investigation into the bloody unrest at the former president’s compound last summer

Jan 16 — “Kyrgyzstan’s former president Almazbek Atambayev is finished, that much is certain. The only question is how many people he takes down with him. On January 10, the Interior Ministry gave notice that it had wrapped up its investigation into the bloody unrest that ensued last summer, when Atambayev forcefully resisted being taken away from his country residence for police questioning.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-ex-presidents-trial-to-close-one-chapter-of-political-turbulence

Absurdity Reigns Supreme in Kyrgyzstan’s Neverending Atambayev Fiasco

Kyrgyzstan’s legal system and former president Almazbek Atambayev are still locked in stalemate

Jan 17 — “It might be a new year, but Kyrgyzstan’s legal system and former President Almazbek Atambayev are still locked in stalemate. Back in August, The Diplomat’s managing editor Catherine Putz took stock of high-profile arrests and investigations in Kyrgyzstan. At the time, Kyrgyz authorities and society were still catching their breath after Atambayev was taken into custody on August 8 following a disastrous attempt to detain him the day before.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/absurdity-reigns-supreme-in-kyrgyzstans-neverending-atambayev-fiasco/

TAJIKISTAN

What is the danger of Tajikistan’s debt pit?

The growth of Tajikistan’s external debt creates the risks of default and repayment of natural resources

Jan 14 — “The external debt of Tajikistan as of January 1, 2019 amounted to 2.9 billion US dollars, i.e. 38.9% of GDP. The volume of the country’s external debt in 2018 increased by 45.2 million US dollars in comparison with 2017. According to the “Government Debt Management Strategy for 2015-2017,” Tajikistan’s external debt should not exceed 40% of its GDP. It means that at present, the country is as close as possible to this indicator and only 1.1% separate it from the permissible value.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/what-is-the-danger-of-tajikistan-s-debt-pit/

Tajikistan: Arrows fired across ex-mayor's bow as associates face prison time

Former Dushanbe Mayor Ubaidulloev, a veteran politician who has occupied leading positions in Tajik politics since the early 1990s and who is believed to enjoy the Kremlin’s patronage, was removed from his job as mayor in January 2017

Jan 15 — “Officials tied to a one-time close confidante of Tajikistan’s president face lengthy prison sentences on charges of fraud as the authorities seek to ward off political rivals in a year of elections that could set the nation’s course for years to come. A state prosecutor earlier this month asked Dushanbe city court to sentence three people who had served in the mayoral administration of Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev to terms of between 10 and 22 years over their involvement in an abortive affordable housing program.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-arrows-fired-across-ex-mayors-bow-as-associates-face-prison-time

Tajikistan’s exiled opposition adrift as strongman rule hardens at home

The Tajik government has given itself little room for compromise by grouping the Islamic State and ordinary opposition parties

Jan 15 — “Almost five years have passed since the watershed moment that saw Tajikistan’s weightiest political opposition group crushed and thousands of its supporters sent fleeing abroad. In their state of forced exile, critics of President Emomali Rahmon’s regime have struggled to remain relevant – a challenge that has been compounded by suspicion and relentless infighting.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistans-exiled-opposition-adrift-as-strongman-rule-hardens-at-home

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: More cotton, less water, little sense

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

Jan 14 — “Turkmenistan may have found a benefactor willing to serve as Pequod in the quest for President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s white whale: the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India, or TAPI, pipeline. Berdymukhamedov has spent years promoting the project, to no avail, while misleadingly claiming progress on the pace of construction.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-more-cotton-less-water-little-sense

The position of an agriculturalist responsible for grain crops abolished in Turkmenistan

In 2019 Turkmenistan harvested only 50% of the cotton harvest plan whereas in 2018 – only one third of the projected volume

Jan 14 — “Correspondents of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” report that pursuant to a decision made by the Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Environment Protection the position of an agriculturalist responsible for grain crops has been abolished in all agricultural associations across the country since November 2019.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/01/the-position-of-an-agriculturalist-responsible-for-crops-abolished-in-turkmenistan/

Swiss return seized funds to Turkmenistan

The restitution of the funds will benefit the population of Turkmenistan and builds on the principles of transparency and accountability

Jan 15 — “Switzerland says it is repatriating $1.3 million (CHF1.26 million) in seized assets to Turkmenistan, money which will be used for the purchase of medicine. The move is in line with its policy of repatriating illicitly acquired assets that were confiscated in Switzerland, according to a foreign ministry statement. An agreement signed on Wednesday foresees that the funds will be paid towards a health project run by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and will be used to purchase anti-tuberculosis drugs.” READ MORE: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/illicit-assets_swiss-return-seized-funds-to-turkmenistan/45495348

UZBEKISTAN

Why is it Difficult to Open an NGO in Uzbekistan?

Excessive bureaucratic hurdles, a lengthy registration process, language barriers, low legal literacy and absence of legal support combined with unwritten rules of “expertise” complicate the formation of a genuine civil society in Uzbekistan

Jan 14 — “It has been over a year and a half since the decree of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev “On measures to radically increase the role of civil society institutions in the process of democratic renewal of the country” was adopted in May 2018.[1] The document listed a number of systemic issues and shortcomings that impede the effective operation of non-governmental non-profit organizations (Non-profit NGOs, in other countries such organizations are shortly called NGOs – ed. note) in Uzbekistan. One of the problems mentioned in the decree is excessive bureaucratic requirements and red tape for the registration of NGOs due to outdated legal norms that do not meet current requirements.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/why-is-it-difficult-to-open-an-ngo-in-uzbekistan/

Uzbekistan sustains poverty by blocking internal migration

Uzbeks are far less likely than people from similarly sized countries to move to a city. That hurts the economy and, indirectly, tears families apart

Jan 15 — “Economists generally agree that migration drives growth. Internal migration, from rural (and usually poorer regions) to cities, has historically underwritten economic development and poverty reduction. Think of the Industrial Revolution, which saw migrants surge into burgeoning urban centers. In its independent history Uzbekistan has urbanized at far lower rates than similarly sized countries, says a new working paper from the World Bank.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-sustains-poverty-by-blocking-internal-migration

Will Mirziyoyev’s Plodding Reforms Be Enough for Uzbekistan?

Mirziyoyev’s goal is not to build liberal democracy, but to create a slightly more prosperous, reputable and globally integrated Uzbekistan

Jan 15 — “Last month, The Economist boldly labeled Uzbekistan its “country of the year,” declaring that “no other country travelled so far in 2019.” It is a remarkable achievement for a state that perennially finds itself at the bottom of international rankings on corruption, governance and human rights issues. But while Uzbekistan certainly is changing, the government’s quest for economic stability, not democracy, is driving the process.” READ MORE: https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/28471/will-mirziyoyev-s-plodding-reforms-be-enough-for-uzbekistan

AFGHANISTAN

China-Built Pakistani Port Begins Handling Afghan Transit Trade

China and Pakistan say they also plan to link the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan once the security situation improves in the war-torn neighbor

Jan 14 — “Pakistan’s newly opened southwestern Gwadar seaport has begun handling transit cargo headed to and from landlocked Afghanistan, marking a significant outcome of Islamabad’s multi-billion-dollar collaboration with China. Officials said the first ship full of Afghan cargo containers reached Gwadar on Tuesday. The containers will be loaded onto trucks for transport to Afghanistan through the Pakistani border town of Chaman.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/china-built-pakistani-port-begins-handling-afghan-transit-trade

Iran's New Quds Force Leader Has A Long, Shadowy History With Afghanistan

Soon after Ismail Qaani's appointment, photos of the media-shy Iranian general appeared in the Afghan media from a mysterious trip he took to Afghanistan in 2018

Jan 15 — “It was in the late 1980s when Ismail Qaani -- then a local commander in Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- first became active in Afghanistan. It was to be the start of Qaani's decades-long involvement in Iran’s eastern neighbor, where Tehran has carved up influence by arming and offering political and economic backing mostly to the Shi'ite and Persian-speaking communities.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-s-new-quds-force-leader-has-a-long-history-with-afghanistan/30379354.html

Jonathan P. Baird: The Afghanistan Papers expose a history of lies

During the 18 years of the Afghanistan war, U.S. government officials, both civilian and military, have argued the war is going well, no matter the real battlefield situation

Jan 16 — “During this primary season, foreign policy has been superficially discussed. With so many pressing domestic concerns, it is understandable. Still, foreign policy matters and the newly exposed Afghanistan Papers show why. The American people have been systematically lied to for 18 years by our civilian and military leaders. We have been sold a false narrative of progress in Afghanistan. Even worse, our leaders have known that narrative was false but they have persisted with the lies.” READ MORE: https://www.concordmonitor.com/The-Afghanistan-papers-31701659

WORLD

Branding the Belt and Road: Beijing embarks on damage control in Central Asia

What do these three things have in common: a Kyrgyz gold mine, a Malaysian Ponzi scheme, and canned camel milk? If you said the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing wants a word with you

Jan 16 — “Last summer, Zijin Mining Group, a Chinese state-owned minerals giant, erected a billboard on the highway from Bishkek to Lake Issyk-Kul, one of the most heavily travelled roads in Kyrgyzstan. The sign promoted Zijin’s Taldybulak Levoberezhny gold mine, claiming it was part of Beijing’s continent-spanning, era-defining Belt and Road Initiative. Except neither Zijin nor its gold mines are part of the BRI as far as China is concerned. A few months later, the billboard was gone and Zijin’s website had been scrubbed of BRI keywords.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/branding-the-belt-and-road-beijing-embarks-on-damage-control-in-central-asia

Battle of the Ages to stop Eurasian integration

Coming decade could see the US take on Russia, China and Iran over the New Silk Road connection

Jan 16 — “The Raging Twenties started with a bang with the targeted assassination of Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani. Yet a bigger bang awaits us throughout the decade: the myriad declinations of the New Great Game in Eurasia, which pits the US against Russia, China and Iran, the three major nodes of Eurasia integration. Every game-changing act in geopolitics and geoeconomics in the coming decade will have to be analyzed in connection to this epic clash.” READ MORE: https://www.asiatimes.com/2020/01/article/battle-of-the-ages-to-stop-eurasian-integration/

Tajikistan: Economic growth to moderate to 4% over medium term, IMF says

  • Written by TCA

DUSHANBE (TCA) — The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has concluded the Article IV consultation with the Republic of Tajikistan, the IMF said on January 17.

The IMF said that reported economic activity in Tajikistan has been strong in 2018-19. Inflation has picked up in the past year due to base effects and food price inflation in partner countries but remained within the National Bank of Tajikistan’s (NBT) target range. Weak remittances and exports and strong imports have contributed to a deterioration of the external current account. The real effective exchange rate has appreciated, and foreign exchange shortages have emerged. Fiscal policy has been expansionary with the overall 2019 deficit projected to reach 3.8 percent of GDP. Public and publicly guaranteed debt has been stable as the deficit has been financed from the proceeds of the 2017 Eurobond. Reforms to place the loss-making energy sector on a sound financial footing are underway. Nonetheless, debt vulnerabilities are rising on account of non-guaranteed borrowing by state-owned enterprises (SOE). The financial sector is recovering from the 2015-16 crisis, with a decline in nonperforming loans and improved profitability. The authorities have taken steps to strengthen bank supervision and regulation. However, two formerly-systemic banks remain insolvent and further reforms are needed to restore public confidence in banks.

The fiscal deficit is expected to remain high over the medium-term owing to the large Roghun hydro-power construction project, putting debt on an unsustainable path, the IMF said. Together with limited exchange rate flexibility, the fiscal deficit is expected to contribute to a weak external position, with the current account deficit over 5 percent of GDP. In a weak global environment, these factors are expected to weigh on confidence and growth is projected to moderate to 4 percent over the medium term.

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