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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

Kazakhstan Changes Its Alphabet. Again!

Kazakhstan is moving ahead with the costly, and laborious, project of replacing Cyrillic with a Latin-based script

Feb 19 — “Kazakhstan has barely had time to start getting used to its new alphabet before the president decided to put out a new one. In this version, the much-mocked apostrophes have been dropped in favor of accents above certain key letters. “ READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kazakhstan-changes-its-alphabet-again

Kazakhstan's frozen billions sound alarm for sovereign funds

Kazakhstan is still haunted by arbitration lawsuits filed against the Central Asian country by foreign investors

Feb 20 — “When a Belgian court ordered a bank to freeze $22.6 billion of assets held in trust for a Kazakhstan sovereign wealth fund (SWF), it set a worrying precedent for other SWFs.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-swf-kazakhstan-analysis/kazakhstans-frozen-billions-sound-alarm-for-sovereign-funds-idUSKCN1G40MI

What “Meaningful Progress” in Kazakhstan?

Rights watchdog says the board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) has chosen to gloss over the chilling effects of Kazakhstan’s heavy restrictions over civil society

Feb 20 — “Shuttering media outlets. Allowing attacks on journalists. Severely limiting peaceful assembly. When it comes to ensuring an “enabling environment” for civil society, Kazakhstan is far from the ideal.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/20/what-meaningful-progress-kazakhstan

Telia's Exit Consolidates State Ownership in Kazakhstan Telecoms Sector

The expected deal would strengthen state-owned Kazakhtelecom’s position in Kazakhstan’s telecoms market, as the company will control approximately two-thirds of the lucrative sector

Feb 20 — “In late January, state-owned telecoms operator Kazakhtelecom placed a bid to buy a controlling stake in Kcell, owned by Telia, a scandal-ridden Nordic company, in a move that will further concentrate the telecoms market into the hands of the government.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/telias-exit-consolidates-state-ownership-in-kazakhstan-telecoms-sector/

Finance Ministry Employees Caught Mining Cryptos in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s National Bank is working on proposals to regulate the crypto sector in the country by imposing restrictions on operations with cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin

Feb 24 — “The Ministry of Finance in Kazakhstan has announced measures to improve security and oversight in its IT department after catching four employees mining cryptocurrencies on its servers. Joking that the miners have taken over the central bank’s main duty – money emission, a deputy called for crypto regulations.” READ MORE: https://news.bitcoin.com/finance-ministry-employees-caught-mining-cryptos-kazakhstan/

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan to reduce regional imbalances

For years there has been an imbalance in the economic development of Kyrgyzstan’s regions, which has caused unemployment in remote areas and internal migration to the capital Bishkek

Feb 17 — “The UN supports the initiative of Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to declare 2018 the Year of Regional Development, Ozonnia Ojiello, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Kyrgyz Republic said at the meeting with the Kyrgyz President on February 16.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19366-kyrgyzstan-to-reduce-regional-imbalances

Off-roading in Kyrgyzstan: where the streets have no name

Kyrgyzstan still remains an off-grid travel destination for many foreign visitors

Feb 21 — “Choice of travel destinations, especially off-grid locations, always reminds me of the last stanza of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken — “I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”. So here I was, looking through the window of my aircraft and thinking about the poetic masterpiece, when the pilot announced that we would soon be landing at Bishkek Manas Airport.” READ MORE: http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/off-roading-in-kyrgyzstan-where-the-streets-have-no-name/article22815626.ece

Papa John's International Celebrates First Restaurant In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The world's third-largest pizza delivery company plans to open six restaurants in Kyrgyzstan

Feb 21 — “Papa John's International, Inc. (NASDAQ: PZZA), continues its expansion into Central Asia with the announcement of the first Papa John's restaurant in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyzstan Papa John's is located in Bishkek and opened its doors on February 8, 2018. Papa John's is now in 45 countries and territories around the globe.” READ MORE: https://www.franchising.com/news/20180221_papa_johns_international_celebrates_first_restaura.html

Kyrgyzstan: Arrested MP Found to Have Kazakh Citizenship

Kyrgyzstan’s laws ban people with multiple citizenship to hold elected office, serve in law enforcement, and work in the civil service or as judges

Feb 22 — “The scandal involving a Kyrgyz lawmaker arrested in Kazakhstan last week on suspicion of involvement in a smuggling racket has taken a surprising turn with the revelation that he holds Kazakh citizenship.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/kyrgyzstan-arrested-mp-found-to-have-kazakh-citizenship

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan Debt Crosses a Red Line

China is Tajikistan’s main creditor, holding half the country’s external debt

Feb 16 — “Tajikistan’s external debt reached $2.9 billion at the start of 2018, crossing the psychologically important 40 percent debt-to-gross domestic product ratio mark. While liabilities have increased by $600 million year-on-year, the much smaller amount of $147 million has been set aside this year for paying off outstanding debts.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/tajikistan-debt-crosses-a-red-line

TAJIKISTAN: Amendments impose even tighter state control

Tajikistan's latest amendments adding more restrictions to the already restrictive Religion Law came into force in January, with authorities justifying the restrictions by the need to combat religious extremism

Feb 19 — “Religion Law amendments allow the state to restrict freedom of religion or belief on illegitimate grounds, increase religious communities' reporting obligations, require state approval for all imams, and increase state control on religious education. "We do not need to be afraid of control," said parliamentary deputy Muradullo Davlatov.” READ MORE: http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2354

Tajikistan: Activist Forcibly Returned From Turkey

The Tajik government has carried out a severe human rights crackdown over the last three years, with hundreds of political activists, including several human rights lawyers, jailed and opposition parties banned

Feb 20 — “Tajik officials, with the apparent acquiescence of Turkish authorities, have forcibly and extra-judicially returned a political activist from Istanbul to Tajikistan, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said today. The activist, Namunjon Sharipov, faces a real risk of torture and other ill-treatment in Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/20/tajikistan-activist-forcibly-returned-turkey

Improving Irrigation and Water Supply Helps Tajikistan’s Poorest Communities

With the World Bank support, Water Users Associations in Tajikistan unite groups of water users who pool their financial and technical resources to manage and operate on-farm irrigation

Feb 22 — “Agriculture plays a vital role in economic growth and poverty reduction in Tajikistan, employing more than half the population and accounting for about a quarter of the country’s GDP. Income from agricultural production is the largest source of income for the poorest rural households.” READ MORE: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2018/02/22/improving-irrigation-and-water-supply-helps-tajikistans-poorest-communities

TURKMENISTAN

The executive office of Turkmenistan’s President sells out armored Mercedes luxury cars

The reason for the sale is unknown — the Turkmen president may simply want to renew his car fleet or the state may no longer afford the maintetance of the existing one

Feb 19 — “On 19 February the website of Turkmenistan’s State Exchange published stock-exchange quotations with 25 armored Mercedes-Maybach S600L vehicles being sold by the executive office of Turkmenistan’s President.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/02/the-executive-office-of-turkmenistans-president-sells-out-armored-mercedes-luxury-cars/

TAPI Board Committee discusses key objectives of project realization

The Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan – India gas pipeline project is entering a milestone phase — laying the pipeline in the Afghan territory

Feb 22 — “Regular 25th session of the Board Committee of Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan – India gas line project with the participation of high-rank officials and representative of profile ministers and departments of participating countries as well as Asian Development Bank took place in Administration centre of Mary Velayat.” READ MORE: http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm/_eng/?id=10015

Leaders launch start of Afghan section of TAPI gas pipeline

The new gas pipeline, when completed, will diversify Turkmenistan’s natural-gas exports. Today, China remains the only buyer of Turkmen gas

Feb 23 — “Regional leaders launched construction work on the Afghan section of an $8 billion natural gas pipeline that will link the energy-rich Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.” READ MORE: https://www.reuters.com/article/turkmenistan-afghanistan-gas-pipeline/update-2-leaders-launch-start-of-afghan-section-of-tapi-gas-pipeline-idUSL8N1QD0M0

UZBEKISTAN

President Says Time's Up For 'Mad Dog' Uzbek Security Service

The Uzbek president is cleansing the country’s powerful security services, further consolidating his grip on power

Feb 19 — “Uzbekistan's National Security Service (SNB) has wielded immense power for decades but its "time is up," according to the new sheriff in town. President Shavkat Mirziyoev in his second year in office has made no bones about criticizing one of the pillars of his long-serving predecessor's strong-armed rule, accusing the SNB of committing atrocities, targeting innocent people, and "exceeding its authority." READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-president-takes-on-mad-dog-security-service/29048969.html

Uzbekistan: ancient architecture, friendly locals and plenty of plov

That is why a foreigner should visit the ancient land of Uzbekistan at least one time

Feb 21 — “Colour is my first impression of Bukhara. The buildings in this Uzbek city are a warm ochre, the raven-haired women sweeping the road dressed in clashing man-made fabrics made more garish still by high-visibility vests – worn to warn off who knows what traffic, since the roads are devoid of cars. A cobalt blue sky accentuates the geometric blue tiles of the Ulugh Beg madrassa” READ MORE: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/travel/article/2133961/uzbekistan-ancient-architecture-friendly-locals-and

No Room For 'Rats' In Uzbek Finance Ministry

The Uzbek president continues changing the “old guard” in the highest echelons of power with new, loyal officials

Feb 21 — “Secretly recorded audio obtained by RFE/RL appears to show the Uzbek finance minister's eagerness to deliver on President Shavkat Mirziyoev's demands that his ministry be purged of "incompetent" old-guard "rats." The ministry has reportedly dismissed some 1,000 employees since Mirziyoev used the insulting language during a December 22 speech to parliament.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-finance-minister-recorded-going-to-purge-rats-in-ministry/29055200.html

Uzbekistan intends to legalize cryptocurrencies this year

The Uzbek government seems to prefer establishing control of the e-currencies market in the country, as this risky sphere may cause social discontent if a possible financial bubble bursts out

Feb 21 — “By September 1, 2018, Uzbekistan intends to draft a bill on using e-currencies in the republic. A decree on it was signed by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The Central Bank, Information Technologies and Communications Ministry, Finance Ministry, Economy Ministry and other governmental agencies are charged to prepare their proposals regarding the bill.” READ MORE: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2018/02/21/uzbekistan-intends-to-legalize-cryptocurrencies-this-year

AFGHANISTAN

Russia Claims US Coalition "Mystery Helicopters" Supplying Arms To ISIS In Afghanistan

In this case, the burden of proof rather falls on the US government to refute the claims rather than for Moscow to substantiate them in any way

Feb 20 — “The Russian government is continuing to demand the United States answer its questions regarding unsubstantiated rumors of unmarked helicopters delivering weapons or other aid to terrorist groups, including ISIS, in Northern Afghanistan.” READ MORE: http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/18647/russia-claims-us-coalition-mystery-helicopters-supplying-arms-to-isis-in-afghanistan

Afghanistan's identity crisis erupts on social media

The use of the word 'Afghan' on ID cards has sparked online debate about an ethnic divide in Afghanistan as the country is home to many ethnicities such as Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and Pushtuns

Feb 21 — “It is a single word that outsiders commonly use to refer to nationals of Afghanistan. Its formal placement on the country's long-planned electronic identity card, however, has inspired a hashtag and arguments that reflect a national divide: #IAmNotAfghan.” READ MORE: https://www.thenational.ae/world/asia/afghanistan-s-identity-crisis-erupts-on-social-media-1.706857

Trump’s Aimless War in Afghanistan Expands, Again

Analyst says the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan has gone off the rails very far, and it is now almost entirely disconnected from vital U.S. interests and continues at a cost of $45 billion annually

Feb 21 — “Last week, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Air Force is now bombing Chinese Islamist separatists in a remote corner of Northeast Afghanistan. You’ve likely never heard of the group, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), nor should you have. These ethnic Uyghurs want to secede from China and form their own state in western Xinjiang province.” READ MORE: http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/02/trumps-aimless-war-afghanistan-expands-again/146126/

A 3-Step Exit Strategy for Afghanistan

It is probably the right time to recognize that the US military cannot solve Kabul’s political problem, and to develop a strong new policy that has a chance to succeed

Feb 22 — “This month, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its 38th Quarterly Report to Congress. The news was bad. Without immediate and major changes in the administration’s Afghan strategy, Trump will merely be the third consecutive president to preside over a failed war policy.” READ MORE: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/3-step-exit-strategy-afghanistan-24607

WORLD

Central Asian terrorist groups join jihad against U.S. after declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital

The Jerusalem problem is very sensitive to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike, and governments in the Middle East and the United States need to avoid steps that may escalate the problem and lead to a new wave of terrorism

Feb 19 — “Terrorist groups from Central Asia reacted strongly to the statement by U.S. President Donald Trump on the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Uzbek, Uighur, Kyrgyz, Tajik and Kazakh jihadists, who are fighting in the Middle East and Afghanistan, issued several statements with threats against the U.S. Their statements appeared almost in unison with the pronouncements of the international terrorist groups al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Taliban, who are their ideological inspiration and direct patrons.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/19372-central-asian-terrorist-groups-join-jihad-against-u-s-after-declaration-of-jerusalem-as-israel-s-capital

Will more countries join Indo-Japanese ‘Asia Africa Growth Corridor’?

Japan and India are pushing the proposed Asia Africa Growth Corridor to be a counter balance to the ambitious Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) project

Feb 21 — “US policymakers have also revived the New Silk Road (NSR) proposal to link South Asian countries with Central Asia and beyond. Both former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton were keen on the project, but the volatile situation in much of Western Asia from Afghanistan to Turkey stalled the progress of the project.” READ MORE: https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/foreign-affairs/2018/02/21/will-countries-join-indo-japanese-asia-africa-growth-corridor/

Why India's 'Act East' Needs China -- And China's 'Go West' Needs India

While India could benefit from Chinese investment, China is looking to India as a huge sales market

Feb 21 — “India's Prime Minster Narendra Modi has lately been talking up foreign investment in India's impoverished northeast. As part of his Act East strategy for regional development, he has lobbied nearby Southeast Asian countries to invest more in India. It may seem strange for India to be lobbying other developing countries for investment, but India is a vast country harboring massive regional disparities.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/salvatorebabones/2018/02/21/why-indias-act-east-needs-china-and-chinas-go-west-needs-india/#3d84fb182d87

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