TASHKENT (TCA) — The President of Uzbekistan has approved the decision to create a free economic zone “Sport” in the Tashkent region. It will represent an industrial cluster with dozens of enterprises specializing in the production of sportswear and sports equipment, with the participation of the world’s leading manufacturers, the Jahon information agency reported.
ASTANA (TCA) — The Embassy of Kazakhstan together with Kazakh Invest national company for investment support and promotion organized a visit of Kazakh agrarian entrepreneurs to the Netherlands on March 11-15. During the visit, Kazakh businessmen visited large high-tech agricultural enterprises and research institutes, Kazakh Invest reported.
ASTANA (TCA) — The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is providing post-privatisation support to Mangistau Regional Distribution Company (MREK), a major power utility in western Kazakhstan, the Bank said on March 16.
TASHKENT (TCA) — A delegation from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s (EBRD) Board of Directors will visit Uzbekistan from 19 to 23 March. The visit, which is part of preparations for the Bank’s medium-term strategy for the country, will help the Directors to assess reforms taking place in Central Asia’s most populated country, the EBRD said.
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.
Social initiatives help Kazakhs share in country’s growing prosperity
Kazakhstan president recently stepped up with new social initiatives suggesting, among others, to cut taxes for low-paid employees and increase the affordability of mortgage lending for buying housing
Mar 13 — “The global economy’s return to healthy growth after the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 is a major reason for optimism. Every country, including many like Kazakhstan who were not to blame for the mistakes that caused the catastrophic crash, found themselves battered by its shockwaves and forced to take tough remedial action. It was a difficult time for nations and their citizens.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2018/03/social-initiatives-help-kazakhs-share-in-countrys-growing-prosperity/
In Kazakhstan, architectural heritage is a path into a forgotten future
In the former Kazakh capital city of Almaty, campaigning for the Soviet historical heritage has a lot to do with rethinking history and identity of Kazakhstan after gaining independence
Mar 14 — “There are certain cliches about the architecture and urbanism of Central Asia. Of course, there are the historic cities of the Silk Road, mostly in Uzbekistan – the minarets and domes of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, long explored by Travellers to the Orient. But when it comes to anything later, the image is of an empty desert or steppe where despotic rulers have imposed a turbo-capitalist dystopia, best suited for Instagram accounts and photo-heavy travelogues.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/owen-hatherley/in-kazakhstan-architectural-heritage
Economic diversification key to Kazakhstan’s future stability
As Kazakhstan remains heavily dependent on hydrocarbon production and export, and the country’s banking sector remains weak and dependent on state support, economic diversification is perhaps the main task facing the Kazakh government
Mar 14 — “In January, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of National Economy reported that oil production in the country had risen from 78 million to 86.2 million metric tons year-on-year, whereas only six months earlier, in July 2017, the annual forecast had stood at just 81 million. The giant Kashagan oilfield contributed 8 million metric tons to the 2017 total output and is expected to chip in another 10 million this year. Production from the deposit over time should exceed 13 million metric tons on an annual basis.”READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19477-economic-diversification-key-to-kazakhstan-s-future-stability
Former Kazakh Economy Minister Sentenced to 10 Years on Corruption Charges
Former economy minister has joined the club of Kazakhstan’s high-ranking government officials convicted for corruption, which also includes other former ministers and a prime minister
Mar 15 — “This week, a little more than a year after being dismissed from his post as economy minister, Kuandyk Bishimbayev was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of bribery and embezzlement. He joins a select group of high-level officials to fall before corruption charges in Kazakhstan.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/former-kazakh-economy-minister-sentenced-to-10-years-on-corruption-charges/
Astana hosts little-publicised Central Asia summit
The summit was initiated by Uzbek President Mirziyoyev, whose coming to power in Uzbekistan has opened a new page in cooperation between the former Societ republics of Central Asia
Mar 16 — “Only a couple of years ago, a summit of the five Central Asia countries would have been absolutely unthinkable. But the leaders came together on Thursday (15 March) and decided to hold such meetings annually, always at the same time of the year, which is a major holiday in the region.”READ MORE: https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-asia/news/fri-astana-hosts-little-publicised-central-asia-summit/
Stop Kyrgyzstan's descent into media repression
Members of IFEX, the global network of organisations working to promote and defend freedom of expression and information worldwide, have written to Kyrgyz Parliament to express their concern over recent developments regarding the climate for media freedom in Kyrgyzstan
Mar 13 — “While Kyrgyzstan has generally been a rare positive example in a region where autocracy has been the rule, recent developments threaten to send the country down a similarly repressive path.” READ MORE: https://www.ifex.org/kyrgyzstan/2018/03/13/kyrgyzstan-media-repression/
"Kurultai in support of Jeenbekov": it’s again getting uneasy in Bishkek
Representatives of all social and political forces, including former presidents Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, were invited to attend the kurultai, scheduled to take place on the anniversary of the bloody events of April 7, 2010
Mar 14 — “In Kyrgyzstan, they are going to hold a kurultai (a civil congress) "in support of the current president" Sooronbay Jeenbekov. Initiators of the kurultai are civil activists and national-patriotic forces, that formerly were in opposition to former president Almazbek Atambayev.” READ MORE: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2018/03/14/kurultai-in-support-of-jeenbekov-its-again-getting-uneasy-in-bishkek
Nepalese businessman and philanthropist Binod Chaudhary tells how Kyrgyzstan could unlock its tourism potential
The businessman says Kyrgyzstan can attract tourists with high incomes through its snow leopard conservation efforts, and should also improve its air communication with the world
Mar 16 — “Kyrgyzstan has a huge tourist potential, said Binod Chaudhary, a Nepalese businessman, industrialist, and philanthropist. Kyrgyzstan could develop its tourism and become a tourism hub in the entire Central Asia, he said at a press conference.” READ MORE: https://akipress.com/news:603692/
For Tajikistan's asylum seekers, Poland is a dead end
The ban of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and subsequent persecution of the opposition party activists by Tajik authorities has forced many of them to seek political asylum in the European Union, where they often get unwelcome reception
Mar 11 — “Kalandar Sadurdinov, a 70-year-old from Tajikistan, is one of thousands wanted back home for his opposition activism. He spends much of his time these days getting treatment for an array of ailments, ranging from liver trouble to brain damage. His wife and six children wait for him at the refugee facility in Biała Podlaska, on the far eastern edge of Poland, where the whole family now lives.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19461-for-tajikistan-s-asylum-seekers-poland-is-a-dead-end
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan Learn to Be Friends Again
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have been engaged in something of an undeclared cold war for almost two decades, but things have begun to change now
Mar 12 — “The president of Uzbekistan was due to fly out of Tajikistan around midday on March 10 at the end of a two-day state visit. That plan was changed at the last minute though. Shavkat Mirziyoyev remained at the Tajik presidential dacha in the winding Varzob Gorge well into the afternoon. Only once the presidential cortege made its way back to Dushanbe airport did police finally lift their lockdown on the city’s roads and allow traffic to resume its normal flow.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-and-uzbekistan-learn-to-be-friends-again
Think Tank Warns of Possible Unrest In Tajikistan's Pamir Region
New findings presented by the International Crisis Group show that Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan region is at the nexus of security problems of Tajikistan, Central Asia, China, Afghanistan, and Russia
Mar 14 — “An International Crisis Group briefing on Tajikistan is sounding the alarm on the government’s weak control over its eastern Gorno-Badakhshan region, warning that violence could erupt in the strategically sensitive area if central authorities fail to properly negotiate relations with local powerbrokers.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/think-tank-warns-of-possible-unrest-in-tajikistans-pamir-region
'Counting The Days': Tajiks, Uzbeks Have Great Expectations After Landmark Border Deals
With a sizable Uzbek minority living in Tajikistan and a large number of ethnic Tajiks living in Uzbekistan, the new visa-free travel agreement between the two countries is a big deal for ordinary people on both sides of the border
Mar 15 — “The political goings-on in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, usually don't attract attention in Ghafurov, a small, bustling town in northern Tajikistan. One notable exception, however, are the deals signed during the landmark visit to Dushanbe by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev last week.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-uzbekistan-border-deals-great-expectations/29102421.html
“Exchange rate correction and human capital accumulation”, — the results of the IMF visit to Turkmenistan
The IMF’s analysis of Turkmenistan’s economy is largely based on official figures provided by the Turkmen government, though these figures might well be doubtful
Mar 12 — “Since non-biased and up-to-date information on the state of the Turkmen economy is a non-existent phenomenon, it is all the more valuable for an outside observer to have access to IMF press releases, based on the results of experts’ visits even if they are sketchy, unstructured and incomplete.”READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/03/exchange-rate-correction-and-human-capital-accumulation-the-results-of-the-imf-visit-to-turkmenistan/
“Neitralny Turkmenistan” publishes the bio of Serdar Berdymukhammedov, candidate for member of the Mejlis
The President’s son now heads the Parliamentary Committee for Legislation and Regulations, and could be considered as future successor to his father
Mar 15 — “Turkmenistan is getting ready for the Parliamentary elections (VI Assembly of Turkmenistan’s Mejlis) which are scheduled to be held on 25 March. The newspaper “Neitralny Turkmenistan” has published short bios of all 284 candidates running for seats in Turkmenistan’s Parliament.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/03/neitralny-turkmenistan-publishes-the-bio-of-serdar-berdymukhammedov-candidate-for-member-of-the-mejlis/
Nazarbayev receives son of Turkmenistan president
Turkmen President Berdimuhamedov did not attend the first summit of heads of Central Asian states on March 15 in Astana due to his pre-planned visit to the UAE, and sent a delegation led by Parliament Speaker Akja Nurberdiyeva to Astana
Mar 16 — “President of Kazakhsyan Nursultan Nazarbayev met on March 15 with chairman of Parliament committee of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedov, the Kazakh leader's press office said.”READ MORE: https://akipress.com/news:603652/
Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan may unite Asia, Europe - envoy
With joint transport and energy projects, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan can bridge Europe and Asia across the Caspian Sea
Mar 16 — “Turkmenistan is open for negotiations on accession to the International North-South Transport Corridor project, Turkmen Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mekan Ishanguliyev said at a briefing in Baku. He said that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have the potential to unite Asia and Europe.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/nation/128889.html
Uzbekistan now allows tourists to take more pictures
Tourists have long been forbidden from capturing on camera the Uzbek capital Tashkent’s subway stations and some government buildings
Mar 10 — “Uzbekistan authorities are to ease strict rules that bar visitors from taking photos or videos in parts of the country’s picturesque capital, in a new bid to encourage tourism.”READ MORE: https://www.star2.com/travel/2018/03/10/uzbekistan-now-allows-tourists-take-pictures/#Ha0J98ClyIHsS4K7.99
The transformation of the Uzbek-Tajik relationship
Tajikistan was the last Central Asian country to which the new president of Uzbekistan paid an official visit, last week. The Uzbek leader had already paid fence-mending visits to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, in efforts to improve his country’s relations with the next-door neighbors
Mar 13 — “On March 9, Shavkat Mirziyaev landed at Dushanbe airport, the first president of Uzbekistan to conduct a state visit to Tajikistan since 2000. Embraced by his local counterpart, President Emomali Rahmon, he rode through Tajikistan’s capital city past thousands of flag-waving citizens (YouTube, March 10). After two days of official meetings, in which 27 agreements were signed worth $140 million in deals, the two presidents declared that “there are no unresolved issues” between the two countries (Gazeta.uz, March 9).” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/19470-the-transformation-of-the-uzbek-tajik-relationship
Uzbek Minister: Uzbekistan's accession to WTO may take years
Joining the WTO is one of the priorities of Uzbekistan's foreign economic policy and a key factor of improving the country's international image
Mar 14 — “Uzbekistan has seriously taken up the issue of accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In this regard, the country is implementing a number of measures, podrobno.uz reported. In particular, not only international experts and domestic ministries and agencies are involved in this process, but also working groups and interdepartmental commissions on risk assessment, readiness of economic sectors and adaptation of local legislation to join the organization have been set up.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/128726.html
COMMENT: The jury is out on Uzbekistan's lure as the next investors' darling
The key for success of economic reforms in Uzbekistan is attracting foreign investment to bring in new technologies, analyst says
Mar 15 — “Formerly one of the most closed economies in the world, Uzbekistan has seen sweeping changes over the past year. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who replaced his late predecessor Islam Karimov in December 2016, brought a wind of change.”READ MORE: http://www.intellinews.com/comment-the-jury-is-out-on-uzbekistan-s-lure-as-the-next-investors-darling-138345/
Time for a hard look at war in Afghanistan
A columnist says that for America, the war in Afghanistan reaches its 6,000th day and is more than four times longer than U.S. involvement in World War II (1,346 days)
Mar 12 — “‘The war is over.’ — Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Afghanistan (April 2002). ‘I believe victory is closer than ever before.’ — Vice President Mike Pence in Afghanistan (December 2017). With metronomic regularity, every thousand days or so, Americans should give some thought to the longest war in their nation’s history.”READ MORE: http://registerguard.com/rg/opinion/36532682-78/time-for-a-hard-look-at-war-in-afghanistan.html.csp
China to provide military assistance to Afghanistan's Badakhshan province
China’s interest in Afghanistan is shifting from the economic to the military sphere, but this interest is explained by Beijing’s efforts to secure its Xinjiang province from extremist and terrorist activities that may be based across the border in Afghanistan's Badakhshan region
Mar 12 — “In December 2017 during a meeting in Beijing between Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan and Afghan Defense Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami, China’s Central Military Commission vice chairman Xu Qiliang stated that China would build a military facility in Afghanistan’s northeastern Badakhshan province to “strengthen pragmatic cooperation in areas of military exchange and anti-terrorism and safeguard the security of the two countries and the region, making contributions to the development of China-Afghanistan strategic partnership of cooperation.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19465-china-to-provide-military-assistance-to-afghanistan-s-badakhshan-province
To generate jobs and security, Afghanistan must generate power
Sufficient power supply is what is needed by Afghan entrepreneurs to develop domestic production and improve people’s wellbeing, which, in turn, could help curb insurgency and end the war
Mar 14 — “Late last year, just after the Trump administration announced the new South Asia strategy, the government of Afghanistan teamed up with the global technology and engineering giant, Siemens, based out of Houston, and Bayat Power, an Afghan-owned power company, to launch a $250 million gas-to-power project that will provide more than 200 megawatts of electricity within Afghanistan.”READ MORE: http://thehill.com/opinion/international/378405-to-generate-jobs-and-security-afghanistan-must-first-generate-power
'Abdul Does Not Celebrate Norouz': Anti-Norouz Campaign Prompts Backlash In Afghanistan
Despite opposition from Islamic fundamentalists, the ancient spring festival of Norouz, which has pre-Islamic, Zoroastrian roots, is observed as a public holiday in Afghanistan and many people even extend their celebrations for up to two weeks
Mar 14 — “An online campaign in Afghanistan calling for the boycott of the ancient festival of Norouz has prompted a backlash among many Afghans, who have vented their exasperation at the growing influence of fundamentalist Islamic ideology in the war-torn country.”READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/afghanistan-anti-norouz-campaign-backlash-islamists/29100380.html
The odd couple: why Iran is backing the Taliban
As the Islamic State is gaining ground in Afghanistan, Iran backs the Taliban to prevent the IS from strengthening and moving closer to its eastern border. Russia, too, is engaged in a similar tactical alliance with the Taliban, to pursue its interests in Central Asia
Mar 10 — “In the conflict in Afghanistan, there are few stranger bedfellows than Iran and the Taliban. The former is the spiritual hub of Shiite Islam, while the latter is a vociferously anti-Shiite Sunni fundamentalist movement. Changing circumstances, however, have brought the onetime foes into a kind of partnership.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19460-the-odd-couple-why-iran-is-backing-the-taliban
Xi's Ambition Is a Gamble and a Challenge to the West
Xi has removed a constitutional term limit on his presidency, strengthening his grip on power in China
Mar 16 — “Opaque though China's system of government may be to outsiders, there's wide agreement that the initiatives announced in recent days are no ordinary course correction. President Xi Jinping has brought more levers of power under his control and is moving methodically to erase the distinction between the Communist Party and the state.”READ MORE: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-03-15/xi-jinping-s-ambition-for-china-is-a-gamble-and-a-challenge
Sino-Russian Cooperation, Exchange Increase Under Belt and Road Initiative
For China and Russia, Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative is an area of both cooperation and rivalry
Mar 16 — “Frozen grounds, cold winds and long nights - these can be a nightmare for any construction team. But this is what employees of the China Railway Major Bridge Engineering Group grappled with in past winters while building the China-Russia Tongjiang Rail Bridge crossing the border between China and Russia.” READ MORE: https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201803161062581637-china-russia-cooperation-increase-belt-and-road/
Astana rejects Russian FM statement on visa-free travel to Kazakhstan for Americans
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — The Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan has rejected a Russian proposal to revisit the Central Asian country’s visa-free regime for U.S. citizens, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported.
Kazakhstan: participants from 21 countries meet for KazGrain 2018 conference in Astana
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — Participants from 21 countries, including Austria, China, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, France, Switzerland, and many more, gathered in Astana on March 16 for the KazGrain 2018 conference to discuss trends in the world grain market and prospects for the grain and flour markets in Central Asia, the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia reported.
Uzbekistan: problems with freedom of expression, penitentiary system, women’s rights remain, EU says
Written by TCA
TASHKENT (TCA) — The European Union and Uzbekistan on March 15-16 held their 14th Subcommittee meeting on Justice and Home Affairs, Human Rights and related issues in Tashkent. The meeting covered a wide range of topics, including on further advancing bilateral and regional cooperation, the Delegation of the European Union to Uzbekistan reported.
Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus develop rail transportation between China and Europe
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — United Transport and Logistics Company (UTLC), a Eurasian rail alliance of Russian Railways, the National Union Belarusian Railway and national railways company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Austrian company Rail Cargo Austria AG. The parties intend to develop relations in the field of organization of cargo rail transportation in containers on the route China – Europe – China on the railroads of Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus.
EBRD provides loan to packaging producer in Kazakhstan
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is continuing to support domestic small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Kazakhstan. A new project will help INTELLPACK – a privately owned distributor of warehouse equipment and producer of stretch film and duct tape – expand its operations in the country, the Bank said on March 15.
Kazakhstan to host ‘Women empowerment in Afghanistan’ conference this autumn
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — Kazakhstan is planning to hold an international conference “Women empowerment in Afghanistan" in autumn 2018 in Astana, Kazakhstan’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Ambassador at Large Stanislav Vassilenko said at the UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan late last week, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said.
Kazakhstan’s machine-building industry attracts Czech technologies
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — A seminar of Kazakh-Czech Production Cooperation was held in Astana on March 14, organized by the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Kazakhstan together with the Union of Machine Builders of Kazakhstan with the support of the Kazakh Ministry for Investments and Development, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reported.
Uzbekistan: president renames security service, assigns new duties
Written by TCA
TASHKENT (TCA) — Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoev has changed the name of the country’s national security service, a move seen as another step aimed at shaking up the long-feared main successor of the KGB in the Central Asian country, RFE/RL reported.
Kazakhstan: house arrest for pregnant woman accused of funding Nazarbayev foe
Written by TCA
ALMATY (TCA) — A court in Kazakhstan has imposed house arrest on a woman who is suspected of giving financial backing to an opposition political movement established by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive critic of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.
First Central Asian summit since 2009 signals improving regional ties
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — Four Central Asian presidents met in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on March 15 for the first regional summit in almost a decade, a sign of improving regional ties following the death of divisive Uzbek leader Islam Karimov in 2016, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.
Kyrgyzstan: media watchdogs urge authorities to end restrictive media practices
Written by TCA
BISHKEK (TCA) — A coalition of 29 press freedom organizations from around the world has called on Kyrgyzstan authorities to drop defamation lawsuits and to end the practice of using "harsh penalties" to punish critical media outlets and reporters, RFE/RL reported.
Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan at nexus of security problems of Central Asia, China, Afghanistan and Russia
Written by TCA
BISHKEK (TCA) — The prevailing calm in Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan's remote east does not rule out the prospect of a clash between local powerbrokers and Dushanbe authorities. To mitigate the risks of a local flare-up and regional power rivalry, China and Russia should communicate with each other and nudge Tajik President Emomali Rahmon toward a smooth transition of power, according to new findings presented at International Crisis Group’s briefing, Rivals for Authority in Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan, on March 14.
Following a 10-day research trip, Crisis Group has found Tajikistan’s little known and remote eastern territory of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) to be at the nexus of significant security problems, including Uighur unrest in China’s Xinjiang region, Afghanistan’s war and opium trafficking, and jihadists’ potential return from Iraq and Syria to China, Central Asia or Russia.
Gorno-Badakhshan is one of the most strategically sensitive areas in Central Asia. Situated high in the Pamir mountains, this autonomous region (or oblast) of eastern Tajikistan is bordered to the south and west by Afghanistan and to the east by China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Beijing’s security presence in the region appears to be increasing, likely motivated by concerns about Uighur militants operating across the border in Afghanistan or returning from the Middle East. Since the 1990s, Gorno-Badakhshan has sought to strengthen its self-rule, including through armed struggle. For now, it is relatively quiet, but that could change without warning. At some point soon, perhaps as early as 2020, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon is expected to hand over power to a younger family member. A rocky transition could lead Gorno-Badakhshan powerbrokers to seek a more influential role in the new dispensation. Their track record suggests they may be willing to use force to achieve their ends.
Complicating matters is that the Tajik government’s control of Gorno-Badakhshan is tenuous at best. Irregulars loyal to local powerbrokers known as “the Authorities” have clashed with government forces in the past and may do so again if challenged, particularly in the event of a disorderly political transition in Dushanbe, Crisis Group says.
Meanwhile, Beijing appears to have established a security presence in GBAO. Local officials and residents say China has built an installation in a remote corner of the oblast, near both Xinjiang and the Afghan border. The location is not surprising, given China’s concern about Uighurs fighting in Iraq and Syria, some of whom could return through Afghanistan or Central Asia. Yet Beijing’s presence has provoked some local concern, and increasing Chinese influence in the region could needle Russia, which traditionally has stronger ties to Tajikistan.
Officials in GBAO and Dushanbe confirmed Beijing’s security presence in the oblast. “There are quite a lot of Chinese soldiers here”, one said, adding that they keep a low profile. Another spoke of some form of Chinese security installation in the settlement of Shaimak, near the border with Xinjiang and the Wakhan corridor, a high mountain valley in Afghanistan separating Tajikistan and Pakistan. He described the installation as “a joint counter-terrorism centre” housing Tajik forces as well. Neither the Tajik government nor the Chinese Embassy in Dushanbe responded to further inquiries by Crisis Group.
Crisis Group has found that Rahmon’s government resists outside advice, but Moscow and Beijing, which have some influence and fear upheaval in Tajikistan, could perhaps nudge the president toward a transition that minimizes risks of violence. China also should communicate more clearly its concerns and interests in the region, to both Russia and local inhabitants.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to boost economic cooperation, trade
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — On March 14 Astana hosted the 17th meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Bilateral Cooperation between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, co-chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Askar Mamin and First Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Ochilboy Ramatov, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reported.
The parties noted the high dynamics of mutual trade growth. The trade turnover between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in 2017 amounted to $2 billion, which is 31.2% higher compared to 2016. Exports from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan in 2017 grew by 35% to $1.3 billion. Imports to Kazakhstan from Uzbekistan increased by 25.1% to $735.2 million.
The parties agreed to take further coordinated measures to ensure the growth of trade turnover to $3 billion in 2018 and to $5 billion by 2020.
The interaction of business circles and investments plays an important role in bilateral cooperation. Over the past year alone, two large business forums have been held, and commercial agreements worth more than $1 billion have been signed. Joint ventures (four trading houses) operate in the areas of food supplies, petrochemicals and chemistry. The constituent documents on a trading house of the pharmaceutical industry have been approved.
Within the framework of the Agreement on long-term cooperation between Uzbek automobile producer Uzavtosanoat SC and Kazakh carmaker SaryarkaAvtoProm LLP, a joint project is being implemented to export products to foreign markets, including the EEU market.
The meeting paid particular attention to the Year of Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan. It is planned to hold more than 200 events in the sphere of economy, tourism, cultural and humanitarian area.
"The decision of the Heads of our States to hold the Year of Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan in 2018 and the Year of Kazakhstan in Uzbekistan in 2019 is a clear indication of the unprecedentedly high level of trust and partnership relations between our countries," First Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Askar Mamin emphasized.
The parties agreed to consider building an international Cross-Border Cooperation Center, a transport and logistics center (Dry Port) in the border areas of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Following the 2017 results, the growth of mutual volumes of rail transportation by 8% was recorded, amounting to more than 20.5 million tons. During the first two months of 2018, traffic volumes increased by 44% compared to the same period of 2017.
The parties also agreed that regular railway passenger trains along the Samarkand—Astana route will start operation in April this year.
Kyrgyzstan: agrifood exporters learn about entering European, Chinese markets
Written by TCA
BISHKEK (TCA) — Supporting the Kyrgyzstan government’s pursuit to unleash the country’s export potential, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) conducted a one-day workshop on March 14 in Bishkek to discuss with participants how to diversify agrifood exports and to enter the European and Chinese agricultural markets.
The broad range of participants could have a large positive effect on Kyrgyz exports. The workshop was attended by representatives of government authorities, such as the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Industry and Melioration, and various exporters and commercial and agricultural associations.
The workshop was aimed to facilitate the exchange of information among national and international experts, government agencies, and the private sector that might lead to joint action in the future.
Participants worked to identify further actions for the successful implementation of policies and programs to promote the export of agricultural products in Kyrgyzstan.
“Serving as a baseline for today’s workshop are guidelines that FAO developed for Kyrgyzstan in 2017 on its priority export products to the European market and an analytical overview from FAO of the specifics of accessing the Chinese agrifood market,” said Iryna Kobuta, FAO economist.
A number of products from Kyrgyzstan are attractive to consumers in the European Union, including dried fruits, honey, walnuts, and kidney beans. Requirements for the export of these products, along with information about the EU’s agrifood market structure, served as additional topics for discussion.
Participants also learned about the specifics of entering China’s market, especially for animal products, and recommendations will be provided on authorizing national production capacities as exporters of agricultural goods to China.
In 2015, Kyrgyzstan adopted its first plan to improve its competitiveness and realize the country’s export potential for a sustainable economic growth. Since then, FAO and other international partners have been supporting the government in this area. The main concerns are the competitiveness of agrifood products, export support measures, and food quality.
Cooperation between Uzbekistan and EU discussed in Tashkent
Written by TCA
TASHKENT (TCA) — A round table discussion on "Cooperation between Uzbekistan and the European Union: Vision to the Future" was held on March 14 in Tashkent. The event was organized by the Institute for Strategic and Regional Studies under the President of Uzbekistan, the European Union and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Uzbekistan with the support of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Delegation of the European Union to Uzbekistan said.
Kazakhstan: former economy minister sentenced to 10 years for corruption
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — A court in Astana on March 14 sentenced former Economy Minister of Kazakhstan, Kuandyk Bishimbaev, to 10 years in prison after convicting him on charges of bribery and embezzlement, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported.
Economic diversification key to Kazakhstan’s future stability
Written by George Voloshin
ASTANA (TCA) — As Kazakhstan remains heavily dependent on hydrocarbon production and export, and the country’s banking sector remains weak and dependent on state support, economic diversification is perhaps the main task facing the Kazakh government. We are republishing this article on the issue by George Voloshin, originally published byThe Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor:
In January, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of National Economy reported that oil production in the country had risen from 78 million to 86.2 million metric tons year-on-year, whereas only six months earlier, in July 2017, the annual forecast had stood at just 81 million. The giant Kashagan oilfield contributed 8 million metric tons to the 2017 total output and is expected to chip in another 10 million this year. Production from the deposit over time should exceed 13 million metric tons on an annual basis. The field was idle from mid-2013 to late 2016, after corrosion of the offshore pipelines had caused gas leaks and prompted the replacement of the entire pipe infrastructure. Kazakhstan’s government pins much hope on Kashagan and on increased production from two other key deposits located off the Caspian coast—Tengiz and Karachaganak—to shore up its finances and spur economic growth. Nonetheless, economic diversification remains an officially proclaimed priority and has been at the top of the domestic agenda for more than a decade (Rambler.ru, February 8; Eadaily.com, January 12; Tengrinews.kz, July 10, 2017).
In October 2017, the Minister of National Economy Timur Suleimenov acknowledged his country’s high dependence on hydrocarbon exports, albeit adding that the share of oil and natural gas had shrunk during the past eight years. He also said that insufficient investment in the non-energy infrastructure was the leading cause of Kazakhstan’s failure to diversify away from the extractive industries. In January, the Kazakhstani capital saw the inauguration of the brand-new Astana International Financial Center (AIFC), whose aim is to attract additional foreign direct investments (FDI) into Central Asia’s largest economy. AIFC Managing Director Kairat Kelimbetov, a former governor of the central bank, held a press conference earlier this year where he said that the AIFC should attract up to $5 billion in FDI by no later than 2023 and up to $40 billion in a decade or so. The government sees it among the top 20 financial centers of Asia by 2028 and among the global top 30 by 2033–2038 (Primeminister.kz, January 31; Bnews.kz, October 24, 2017).
The AIFC has its own stock exchange, which is currently co-owned by the government of Kazakhstan and two foreign partners—NASDAQ and the Shanghai Stock Exchange. It has concluded partnerships with Microsoft and IBM, among others, and has agreed to receive institutional support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). It nurtures the ambition to become a pole of attraction for Eurasian investment banking, green finance, Islamic finance and financial technology. The AIFC’s activities are governed by a special statutory law, which has carved out a unique place for it in the general legislative and regulatory landscape. For instance, AIFC residents are exempt from taxes and visa restrictions for the next 50–60 years. The financial center’s working language is English and court system is staffed with Western nationals. Two prominent British judges took the helm of the AIFC International Court and the Court of Appeals in December 2017 and February 2018, respectively (365info.kz, February 27; Kursiv.kz, December 11, 2017; Mir24.tv, December 6, 2017).
While Kazakhstan seeks to take a page from the books of Dubai and Singapore, both of which have well-developed financial services for non-residents, it is saddled with legacy problems of its own making. In a recent frank interview with the local media, Umut Shayakhmetova, the CEO of the country’s largest financial institution, Halyk Bank, admitted that close to 80 percent of all Kazakhstani banks depended on the state or state-owned companies for survival. She criticized most banks’ tendency to sit on a pile of cheap cash and to restrict lending to the real economy. Despite significant progress in cleaning up the post-2009 banking sector mess, Kazakhstan’s financial institutions still face multiples deficiencies and a fair amount of structural fragility. Last year, the central bank had to intervene to save RBK Bank, whose shareholders President Nursultan Nazarbayev publicly accused of deliberate fraud. The matter has yet to be investigated. Several months earlier, Halyk Bank swallowed up its closest rival, Kazkommertsbank, paying one Kazakh tenge (less than one cent) for its net assets (Forbes.kz, March 3; Inform.kz, November 3, 2017; Informburo.kz, July 11, 2017).
With the domestic financial sector in tatters, Kazakhstan must make a strong case for the orderly privatization of its flagship companies to implement a robust diversification program. The authorities view the AIFC as the primary platform for listing such strategic enterprises as KazMunayGas, Kazakh Railways, Air Astana, Kazatomprom (uranium mining), Samruk Energy (power generation and distribution) or Kazakh Telecom. However, the situation here is far from certain. On the one hand, foreign investors are familiar mostly with Kazakhstan’s energy riches and have little to no experience with venturing out into other sectors. Recent media reports suggest that Royal Dutch Shell, an oil major, is considering acquiring a minority stake in KazMunayGas, amid a total lack of interest from other multinational companies in the assets offered for sale. On the other hand, the present-day uncertainty surrounding the future of the Nazarbayev administration makes a direct bet on Kazakhstan’s continued stability and prosperity a relatively risky affair (Kursiv.kz, March 6; Total.kz, July 13, 2017). Presdient Nazarbayev is 77.
Kazakhstan’s economic diversification will undoubtedly remain a strategic priority for years to come. It is essential for the country’s future stability as the volatility of oil prices is unlikely to go away in the context of electric vehicles’ growing appeal and the ongoing disruption caused by the shale-oil production in the United States. But it is also a key to keeping the country as a safe and stable linchpin of regional security, at a time when Russia’s geopolitical standoff with the West has had a distinctly negative impact on its immediate neighbors and trade partners. The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) has yet to bear first fruit concerning economic integration, stretching beyond the near-term gains from lowered tariffs. Meanwhile, Russia itself is heavily handicapped by its own high level of dependence on oil exports and has mostly failed to make its economy more advanced technologically. The apparent failure of the Skolkovo innovation center—touted by former president Dmitry Medvedev (2008–2012) but then largely forgotten and ignored under Putin—is a good illustration of the strong correlation between growth and liberalization, both political and economic.
Kyrgyzstan: Kumtor gold output accounted for 9.7% of country’s GDP in 2017
Written by TCA
BISHKEK (TCA) — Gold production at the Kumtor mine in Kyrgyzstan in 2017 was 562,749 ounces or 17,503.46 kg. Gold sales in 2017 were 550,134 ounces or 17,111.09 kg with a revenue totaling $685.2 million. Contribution to the national budget in taxes and mandatory payments in 2017 was more than 8.7 billion soms, Kumtor Gold Company said on March 14.
Kazakhstan: economy shows steady growth in January-February
Written by TCA
ASTANA (TCA) — GDP growth in Kazakhstan in January-February 2018 was 4% against 2.5% in the same period last year. Such dynamics is due to the growth of the manufacturing industry and the services sector, Minister of National Economy, Timur Suleimenov, said at the meeting of the Government on March 13 while reporting on the results of the country’s socio-economic development for the first two months of the year, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan reported.
Still no request from Taliban to attend Tashkent conference on Afghanistan — Uzbek foreign ministry
Written by TCA
TASHKENT (TCA) — Regarding possible participation of the Taliban in the forthcoming Tashkent international conference on Afghanistan, “a request for participation in the conference has been received neither through the Foreign Ministry of Afghanistan nor directly” from the Taliban group, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan said, as reported by the Jahon information agency.