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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

How Kazakhstan’s anti-extremism blacklist forces activists, bloggers and opposition politicians into the shadows

In Kazakhstan, persecution of citizens convicted for extremism does not end with a court sentence — being blacklisted also threatens an indefinite suspension of citizens’ financial rights

Aug 7 — “In Kazakhstan, it’s easy enough to find yourself charged with extremism and terrorism offences. Being affiliated to a “non-traditional” religious denomination or belonging to the political opposition can lead to prosecution. But people who face criminal prosecution on “extremism” and “terrorism” charges are subject to punishment even after release. A complex system of financial blacklisting means many find it difficult to return to their normal lives.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrey-grishin/kazakhstan-anti-extremism-blacklist

Kazakhstan’s Bet on the Future

The Astana International Financial Center is an ambitious initiative aimed to turn Kazakhstan into a regional financial hub of Central Asia and beyond

Aug 7 — “In the twenty-first century, countries that traditionally added value by extracting natural resources are doing their best to diversify their sources of income. Financial services are becoming one of the alternatives to oil and gas. Canada, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, even Morocco are developing their international financial sectors. Now, Kazakhstan is joining this club. It is a bold, long shot, but those who don’t risk, don’t win.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/kazakhstan’s-bet-future-28192

Kazakhstan offers Azerbaijan to introduce single tourist visa for Turkic countries

Multivisa between Kazakhstan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan is proposed to be introduced within the Modern Silk Road project to facilitate foreign tourists’ travel across the region

Aug 8 — “Kazakhstan has offered Azerbaijan, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan to join the introduction of the Silk Road visa intended for tourists, Kazinform reported. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have already come to such an agreement. This regime will make it easier for foreign tourists following the Silk Road tourism products to cross the Kazakh-Uzbek border.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/business/135960.html

Kazakhstan: will Astana’s financial gamble pay off?

The prospects of the recently inaugurated Astana International Financial Center may be uncertain, observers say, and it is yet to be seen whether this ambitious project will succeed in becoming Central Asia’s main financial hub

Aug 9 — “If the gamble behind the Astana International Financial Center pays off, Kazakhstan could be propelled into the international financial services premier league. The main champion of the AIFC, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, rung a confident note at its raucous official inauguration on July 5.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20106-kazakhstan-will-astana-s-financial-gamble-pay-off

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: growing poverty and poor state budget

Kyrgyzstan has extremely low living standards of the population — every fourth Kyrgyz citizen lives below the poverty line

Aug 4 — “The Kyrgyz Government has recently put forward several initiatives aimed at replenishing the state budget at the expense of ordinary citizens. The Government offered to raise the tariffs for cold water and fines for violation of traffic rules, as well as to introduce mandatory paid registration of mobile phones. These suggestions caused a negative reaction of the society. Earlier, the Government appealed to citizens asking them to help pay the country's foreign debt.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20086-kyrgyzstan-growing-poverty-and-poor-state-budget

Well-being of 'left behind' children in Kyrgyzstan focus of study

Understanding the economic, health, behavioral and educational effects of labor migration on children in Kyrgyzstan is one aspect of a three-year research project carried out by researchers in Penn State's Colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Liberal Arts, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Health and Human Development, and Education

Aug 6 — “Growing up can be hard no matter what a family's circumstances, but it is often more so for children living in the Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia, one of the poorest countries in the world, known for its dry environment, high mountains, nomadic culture and animal-husbandry heritage.” READ MORE: https://news.psu.edu/story/530435/2018/08/06/research/well-being-left-behind-children-kyrgyzstan-focus-study

President of Kyrgyzstan divides compatriots into robbers and creators

Kyrgyzstan’s economy remains strongly dependent on labor migrants working in Russia and sending billions of dollars a year back home

Aug 8 — “The President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbai Jeenbekov participated in Mekendeshter Forum today. The Information Policy Department of the Presidential Administration of Kyrgyzstan reported. According to him, «the time has come when everyone is forced to think about new prospects.» «Every country has to look for its own way of development. When determining the path of development of Kyrgyzstan, it is necessary to take into account the contribution of compatriots living abroad, their active participation in the building of the future of the country,» the President noted.” READ MORE: https://24.kg/english/93007_President_of_Kyrgyzstan_divides_compatriots_into_robbers_and_creators/

Kyrgyzstan’s north-south road to corruption

A new investigation revealed corruption schemes behind China-funded biggest motor road project in Kyrgyzstan

Aug 9 — “On 26 June 2018, the Fergana website published my investigation unveiling corruption schemes behind Kyrgyzstan’s biggest infrastructure project, an alternative 433km road linking the capital Bishkek in the North with the country’s main city in the South, Osh. The project has been funded with a 850 million USD loan from the Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China under the One Belt One Road Initiative, with the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) as the main implementing partner.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/satina-aidar/kyrgyzstans-north-south-road-to-corruption

TAJIKISTAN

Killings in Tajikistan send chill through tourism business

The killing of four foreign cyclist tourists in Tajikistan has been a blow on the country’s tourism and hospitality industry, despite the government’s efforts to boost incoming tourism in the Central Asian country

Aug 5 — “The murder of four foreign cyclists in Tajikistan this week has already had a palpable dampening effect on the country’s tourism industry – a cruel blow in a year the government had dedicated to drawing more visitors. Hostels, tourist agencies and one major airline contacted by Eurasianet have all reported cancellations and last-minute travel-plan changes after the Islamic State group claimed the hit-and-run killings.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/20088-killings-in-tajikistan-send-chill-through-tourism-business

A Dream Ended on a Mountain Road: The Cyclists and the ISIS Militants

A review of the biking journey around the world that ended tragically for a young American couple in Tajikistan

Aug 7 — “Asked why they had quit their office jobs and set off on a biking journey around the world, the young American couple offered a simple explanation: They had grown tired of the meetings and teleconferences, of the time sheets and password changes. “There’s magic out there, in this great big beautiful world,” wrote Jay Austin who, along with his partner, Lauren Geoghegan, gave his two weeks’ notice last year before shipping his bicycle to Africa.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/07/world/asia/islamic-state-tajikistan-bike-attack.html

After Deadly Cyclist Attack, Tajik Minister Turns To Drama To Warn About Islamic State

Tajikistan's interior minister has written a play, The Heart Of A Mother, the story of a Tajik woman who goes to Syria in a bid to bring her IS-fighter son back home

Aug 8 — “In official meetings and speeches in recent months, Tajikistan's interior minister has frequently warned about the dangers of the extremist Islamic State (IS) group. Now Ramazon Rahimzoda has turned to the stage in an attempt to use drama to tell the tale of how joining IS can destroy lives and tear families apart.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/after-deadly-cyclist-attack-tajik-minister-turns-to-drama-to-warn-about-islamic-state-/29420747.html

Why an attack by grassroots jihadists in Tajikistan matters

Tajikistan has experienced the first attack claimed by the Islamic State in the Central Asia region, and with its young and impoverished population, the country may see increasing radicalization, especially among the youth

Aug 8 — “For a group of seven international cyclists, the trip through breathtaking Tajikistan following a section of the ancient Silk Road was a dream come true. But that dream turned into a nightmare July 29, when, in a deliberate act, a dark sedan smashed through the group. The men inside got out and attacked the cyclists with knives.” READ MORE: https://timesca.com/index.php/news/26-opinion-head/20101-why-an-attack-by-grassroots-jihadists-in-tajikistan-matters

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Facts are stubborn things

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

Aug 7 — “A government get-together in Turkmenistan this week was a predictable smorgasbord of half-truths, untruths and self-reassuring fantasies. The ostensible agenda of the August 3 Cabinet meeting overseen by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was to discuss the "work of the economic branches [of government] over the past seven months.” There should have been much to talk about given the rampant inflation, food shortages and all manner of concomitant problems. Instead, it was the usual medley of dubious figures.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/turkmenistan-facts-are-stubborn-things

Inside Ashgabat, the flashy but empty 'city of the dead'

Film-maker and ‘dark tourist’ David Farrier on his visit to Turkmenistan’s capital and his impressions of the white-marble city

Aug 8 — “Wandering around Ashgabat, I had Land of Sunshine, the song by Faith No More, looping in my head. The capital city of Turkmenistan, is blisteringly dry and hot, dumped in the middle of the desert. It also holds the record for the highest density of buildings made from white marble, which bounce the sun right back in your face, blinding you.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/aug/08/inside-ashgabat-the-flashy-but-empty-city-of-the-dead-david-farrier-dark-tourist-netflix-turkmenistan

Turkmen universities charge bribes for enrollment in dollars

Bribes to secure enrollment to universities in Turkmenistan range between $20,000 and $80,000 (!) depending on the chosen profession

Aug 8 — “School graduates seeking to be admitted to higher and secondary vocational educational establishments in Turkmenistan are taking their entrance exams. Correspondents of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” report that since currency conversion was not permitted last year, parents of prospective students were charged bribes in manats whereas now only dollars are accepted.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2018/08/turkmen-universities-charge-bribes-for-enrollment-in-dollars/

UZBEKISTAN

Hokim Hubbub: Making Sense of Local Government Shuffles in Uzbekistan

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is shaking up local governance structure in the country’s regions — to make ‘government officials serve the people, not vice versa’

Aug 6 — “Accountability of government officials and economic sustainability have been two major goals put forward to local governments by Uzbekistan’s new leadership. Hokims (regional governors) are at the helm of the reform process at the regional level, but because many are ill-fitted to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s entrepreneurial spirit and ideals, this misalignment of management style has been reflected in the regular sacking, removing, and shuffling of hokims.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2018/08/hokim-hubbub-making-sense-of-local-government-shuffles-in-uzbekistan/

Why there's never been a better time to visit Uzbekistan, best of the 'Stans'

An account of a western traveler’s journey across Uzbekistan’s famous historical sites

Aug 6 — “From the air, Uzbekistan, with its towering serrated peaks that sweep down to dusty desert plains. looks like it's been designed by some malevolent cosmic hand to keep visitors at bay. How could such a forbidding terrain sustain life, let alone one of the greatest civilisations ever known? And how is this Central Asian country, once the plaything of European empires, faring since it stepped out of the Soviet shadow. That is what I have come here to discover.” READ MORE: http://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/destinations/asia/106036179/why-theres-never-been-a-better-time-to-visit-uzbekistan-best-of-the-stans

Uzbekistan proposes scrapping exit visas

The scrapping of the Soviet-style system of exit visas signals that Uzbekistan is committing to further political liberalization

Aug 8 — “The government in Uzbekistan has published draft rules online that will lead to the abolition of a Soviet-style system of exit visas that rights activists say violate the basic right to freedom of movement. The new rules, which were posted online on August 7 for public discussion, envision Uzbek citizens being issued foreign travel passports from January 1, 2019.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/s/uzbekistan-draft-rules-to-scrap-exit-visas-go-online

AFGHANISTAN

TWISTED ALLIANCE: Taliban begs America for support in defeating ISIS in Afghanistan after the group was crushed by the West

The Taliban has asked the US to stop bombing the province of Nangarhar where it plans to launch an attack on ISIS

Aug 8 — “THE Taliban has asked the US to help it destroy ISIS in Afghanistan as it prepares for a massive assault to drive the terror group out of the country. Militants have requested that America stops airstrikes on the eastern province of Nangarhar, an ISIS stronghold, to avoid hitting its troops during the battle.” READ MORE: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/6968051/taliban-begs-america-for-support-to-defeat-isis-in-afghanistan-just-years-after-being-crushed-by-the-west/

War Without End

The Pentagon’s failed campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan left a generation of soldiers with little to fight for but one another

Aug 8 — “Second Platoon did not hide its dark mood as its soldiers waded across the Korengal River in the bright light of afternoon. It was early in April 2009 and early in the Pentagon’s resumption in earnest of the Afghan war. The platoon’s mission was to ascend a mountain slope and try to ambush the Taliban at night.” READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/08/magazine/war-afghanistan-iraq-soldiers.html

The true costs of the Afghan war, America's longest and most invisible war

The war in Afghanistan has cost the United States 2,372 American military deaths, 1,720 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities, over 20,000 troops wounded and likely trillions of dollars spent

Aug 8 — “The War in Afghanistan began with the invasion of the country by U.S. forces on October 7th, 2001. It followed the shock of 9/11 and the decision by President George W. Bush to destroy the terrorist network al-Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden, which was blamed for the horrendous attack on American soil. Bin Laden was reportedly hiding in Afghanistan, protected by the Taliban, which then ruled the country.” READ MORE: https://bigthink.com/charles-koch-foundation/the-true-costs-of-the-afghan-war-americas-longest-and-most-invisible-war

Months of U.S. Strikes Have Failed to Curtail Taliban Opium Trade

Poppy production hit record highs in Afghanistan last year and valued at between $1.5 billion and $3 billion, fuelling insurgency in the country

Aug 8 — “American efforts to cripple the Taliban drug trade in Afghanistan have fallen short of expectations, U.S. officials say, creating new challenges for the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken the insurgency as the warring parties try to jump start peace talks.” READ MORE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-drug-trade-persists-despite-u-s-strikes-1533726120

WORLD

Central Asia and Afghanistan: Helping Your Neighbor

All of the post-Soviet Central Asian countries are interested in stability in Afghanistan, as they are afraid of a potential spillover of extremism and violence from their southern neighbor

Aug 7 — “The vast majority of literature since the 2001 US-led multinational military operation has focused on the role of the global powers in Afghanistan. However, it is important to also discuss what interests Central Asian states have in the country, since the view from Astana or Tashkent is not that of a far-away government, but a neighbor with which Afghanistan has strong cultural, geographic (it borders Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), and political ties.” READ MORE: https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/central-asia-and-afghanistan-helping-your-neighbor/

China's Belt and Road Initiative Finds Shaky Ground in Eastern Europe

As part of its Belt and Road Initiative, China is building economic and security ties with Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova

Aug 9 — “As China expands its influence around the world, Europe has become a prime destination for Chinese investment and infrastructure projects. Chinese companies have poured over $300 billion into the Continent over the past decade, lately under the Belt and Road Initiative, to acquire strategic assets in Western Europe, develop energy and port infrastructure in Southern Europe and increase transport connectivity to Eastern Europe.” READ MORE: https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/chinas-belt-and-road-initiative-finds-shaky-ground-eastern-europe-0?id=87179e919a&e=600669d279&uuid=c205ee71-c125-4c1c-96e6-9f60a90ce4a3&utm_source=Daily+Brief&utm_campaign=a60e6696ba-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_08_09_12_27&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_87179e919a-a60e6696ba-53490981&mc_cid=a60e6696ba&mc_eid=[UNIQID]

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