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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 – Once More a Testing Ground?

Kazakhstan’s continued contribution to and benefitting from Moscow’s nuclear deterrent could help to undermine the Ban Treaty while still in its infancy

July 12 — “Being a staunch supporter of international nuclear disarmament efforts since many years, a very recent and little noticed decision by the Kazakh parliament to approve the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons could test the seriousness of nuclear disarmament supporters. Kazakhstan’s history is closely linked to Moscow’s nuclear weapons program. During the Cold War, Soviet leaders ordered excessive nuclear testing in the vast steppes of what later became the modern Kazakh state. Between 1949 and 1989, the Soviet military conducted no less than 456 air and underground nuclear weapons tests at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.” READ MORE: http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/kazakhstan-once-more-a-testing-ground/

Mass Political Unrest in the Streets Underscores Need for Kazakhstan’s Long-Overdue Police Reforms

Kazakhstan’s police forces have long been seen as extremely corrupt, and the Kazakh government has now been trying to shake up the police sector

July 15 — “Kazakhstan celebrated Police Day, on June 23, 2019, marking the 27th anniversary of establishing the country’s own law enforcement structures (24.kz, June 23). First declared in 2007 by then-president Nursultan Nazarbayev, the holiday continues to resemble similar professional/vocational celebrations that were prevalent in the Soviet era. And although Kazakhstani Police Day is meant to publicly honor those who, in principle, maintain stability and rule of law in the country, planned political changes in the Ministry of Internal Affairs visibly changed the tenor of this year’s event.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/mass-political-unrest-in-the-streets-underscores-need-for-kazakhstans-long-overdue-police-reforms/

Kazakhstan: Almaty blackout suggests power options limited

Kazakhstan’s densely populated south has long faced an energy deficit – in contrast to the north, which runs on a separate grid that has surplus generating capacity

July 16 — “A long, hot afternoon without electricity in Kazakhstan’s largest city cast a pall over the local power grid, adding urgency to a fraught nuclear debate. For over three hours after 2 p.m. on July 15, traffic police in Almaty directed motorists in the absence of working traffic lights and the metro system ground to a halt. The airport managed to work through the crisis thanks to its independence from the grid, but huge parts of the 1.7 million city were simply shut down.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-almaty-blackout-suggests-power-options-limited

Kazakhstan: Children in Institutions Isolated, Abused

The Kazakh government should adopt a plan to phase out the use of residential institutions for children with disabilities and prioritize accessible community-based services and support to families, Human Rights Watch says

July 17 — “Children with disabilities in state institutions in Kazakhstan are at risk of physical violence, forced sedation, and neglect, Human Rights Watch said today. Kazakhstan should make it a priority to move children with disabilities out of closed residential institutions and provide support for children with disabilities to live with their families, or in other family settings in the community. All forms of violence in closed institutions and the use of restraints as a form of punishment, control, or retaliation, or as a measure of convenience for staff, should be prohibited.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/17/kazakhstan-children-institutions-isolated-abused

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: Askarov case may return to court

Changes to the Kyrgyz law offer the slim hope of a mild reprieve for the rights activist serving a life sentence

July 16 — “A human rights group in Kyrgyzstan says that a court will later this month review the case of Azimjan Askarov, an activist who was handed a life sentence in 2010 in the wake of interethnic conflict that left hundreds of people dead. The hearing, which the Bir Duino advocacy group said will be heard on July 30 by Chui regional court, presents the slim possibility of release for the 68-year-old, whose plight has drawn support from international activists and the United Nations.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-askarov-case-may-return-to-court

Afghani Teenager in Kyrgyzstan Plunges into Learning

Ethnic Kyrgyz started moving into upper Pamir mountains in the 16th century, and later a second wave moved in the 1920-30s. After Vakhan valley was given to Afghanistan as a buffer zone between British India and Russian Central Asia, political borders divided Pamir Kyrgyz into two big groups — a bigger group of more than 65,000 people living in modern Tajikistan and a smaller group of 2,000 people living in Afghanistan. Some now return to their historical homeland

July 17 — “Turganbay Abdulbhakhidov is a 16-year-old teenager from Afghanistan who immigrated into Naryn region two years ago. His family used to make a living through cattle breeding in the Pamir mountains. Without electricity, proper medical services, educational institutions, and sustainable housing, these people live on the roof top of the world caught in a web of virtually no one’s land encompassing Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.” READ MORE: https://www.indepthnews.net/index.php/archive-search/central-asia/2835-afghani-teenager-in-kyrgyzstan-plunges-into-learning

‘How my husband was killed in racist attack in Kyrgyzstan’

The killing of a Nigerian teacher has exposed a problem that apparently exists in Kyrgyzstan

July 20 — ““My husband was a kind and caring person, humble and generous.” Those were the words of Amina Aliyu, wife of late Aliyu Tijanni Abubakar, before she broke down in tears. They celebrated their second wedding anniversary in February, with a daughter who a little over a year old. Abubakar, 38, an indigene of Kaduna State, was killed in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where he lived and worked in what appears to be a racist attack.” READ MORE: https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/how-my-husband-was-killed-in-racist-attack-in-kyrgyzstan.html

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan regime targeting families of political activists

From surveillance to outright threats, Tajik authorities are making life difficult for the families of political activists who have fled abroad. DW spoke with victims from a state that allows little room for dissent

July 13 — “The range of repression is broad — In 2015, after returning home from an internship at Deutsche Welle, journalist Humayro Bakhtiyar started running into trouble. She was told that her former employer, the Asia Plus media group, would have to let her go because of "pressure from above." In October of that same year, several anonymous individuals began tailing her.” READ MORE: https://www.dw.com/en/tajikistan-regime-targeting-families-of-political-activists/a-49541709-0

Tajik Prosecutor-General Denies Torture In Death Of 14 Inmates

Tajikistan is regularly cited for its poor human rights record

July 16 — “Tajikistan's Prosecutor-General Yusuf Rahmon has rejected claims by relatives of 14 inmates whose deaths were announced last week that the men had been tortured. Rahmon told reporters in Dushanbe on July 16 that the inmates died of food poisoning while being transferred from the northern Sughd region to prisons in Dushanbe on July 7.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-prosecutor-general-denies-torture-in-death-of-14-inmates/30058108.html

Turkey ranks second in direct investment in Tajikistan

Direct Turkish investment in the Tajik economy is $200 million

July 16 — “Turkey ranks second in direct investment in the economy of Tajikistan. Tajikistan is interested in attracting foreign investment, thanks to which the country's economy shows rapid growth in all sectors. Ambassador of Turkey in Tajikistan Ali Rifat Koksal noted that only China ahead of Turkey in terms of direct investment.” READ MORE: https://www.azernews.az/region/153612.html

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Motherland of prosperity, or famine?

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

July 16 — “Hot off the press – Turkmenistan’s president likes kittens. Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is on holiday, but this does not mean state media is letting up in its minute coverage of his activities. On his first day away from work, he researched the next issue of his multivolume work on the medicinal plants of Turkmenistan. As seen in the July 15 evening news bulletin, he took a quick break to watch a TV recording of himself playing music with his grandson, Kerimguly.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-motherland-of-prosperity-or-famine

Hyperinflation and hunger: Turkmenistan on 'edge of catastrophe'

Gas-rich Turkmenistan facing worst economic crisis in 30 years, coupled with rights concerns, UK think-tank reports

July 16 — “Foreign governments and investors must stop courting gas-rich Turkmenistan, "a country teetering on the edge of catastrophe", according to a new report by the London-based Foreign Policy Centre. Turkmenistan, second to North Korea in the scale of its isolation according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, has long attracted investment from foreign governments.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/07/hyperinflation-hunger-turkmenistan-edge-catastrophe-190715200641553.html

Who is Turkmenistan’s dictator and why is he always holding puppies?

Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader has been distracting the world from his country’s human rights violations with puppies, horses, and a viral rap video

July 16 — “Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has always been an authoritarian oddball, but recently his attempts to curry public favor have ventured into the bizarre. While Berdimuhamedow has governed the isolated country for the past 12 years, it seems 2019 is the year he’s determined to center himself on the global stage as a cult of personality figure to rival North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.” READ MORE: https://www.documentjournal.com/2019/07/turkmenistan-president-gurbanguly-berdimuhamedow-holding-puppies/

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan adds second plant to nuclear power goal

Uzbekistan has decided it now wants to build four nuclear power units and not just two as previously stated, the country's energy minister said in an interview

July 12 — “Uzbekistan’s ambition to include nuclear power in its energy mix was unveiled in October last year by Uzbek and Russian presidents, Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Vladimir Putin, and the two countries signed a cooperation agreement to build a nuclear power plant in the republic. Central Asia's most populous nation has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The World Bank is forecasting GDP growth of about 5% this year and next, and 5.5% in 2020. Current projections indicate that, to match these trends and consumer demand, it will need to roughly double its electricity output by 2030.” READ MORE: https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Uzbek-expands-nuclear-plans

Beware Of Extremists -- And Women! Uzbeks Get Islamic Sermons At Airport Before Flying To Russia

Regular sermons are being carried out as part of a state anti-extremism campaign

July 17 — “Airport passengers in the eastern Uzbek city of Namangan who are flying to Russia are being force-fed Islamic sermons about loyalty, the dangers of religious extremism -- and Russian women. The main aim of Uzbekistan's campaign of "airport preaching imams" appears to be to keep people from joining terrorist or extremist groups. A video on Uzbek social media on July 15 shows an imam addressing passengers at a departure gate before they board a Russia-bound plane.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbeks-get-islamic-sermons-at-airport-before-flying-to-russia/30061372.html

Uzbekistan: Former security service chief goes on trial

Speculation has it that Ikhtiyor Abdullayev was involved in machinations against the president

July 18 — “The ongoing purge among high-level security personnel in Uzbekistan is continuing apace this week with the start of the closed-door trial of a former intelligence services chief. Local media reported that hearings in the case of Ikhtiyor Abdullayev began at a military court in Tashkent on July 15. Abdullayev reportedly stands accused of abuse of office and bribery.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-former-security-service-chief-goes-on-trial

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s Forests Are Turning a Profit for the Islamic State

Wood smuggling is big business for the terrorist group

July 15 — “With his hands tight on his machine gun at a remote checkpoint in Afghanistan’s small eastern province of Kunar, the police officer Matiullah Safi kept watch. “Daesh is just over there,” the uniformed 22-year-old said, pointing to a tree-covered hill less than a mile away, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/15/afghanistans-forests-are-turning-a-profit-for-the-islamic-state/

Why Afghanistan peace talks between the Taliban and U.S. have promise — but more potential pitfalls

America's longest war may still begin to wind down on Trump's watch. But probably not just yet, the director of research in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution says

July 17 — “The Korean War is sometimes called America’s forgotten war — but that title really now belongs to the Afghanistan conflict, soon to be 18 years old. Several hundred thousand Americans have served there since October 2001; more than 2,000 have died. The war has cost the United States roughly $1 trillion, and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ costs for the injured will add several hundred billion dollars more in the decades to come.” READ MORE: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/why-afghanistan-talks-between-taliban-u-s-show-promise-withdrawal-ncna1030831

In Afghanistan, give peace a chance — and a lot of time

Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and former deputy assistant Secretary of State shares thoughts on Afghanistan peace process

July 18 — “The chances of peace in Afghanistan are better than they have been in years. We should work for a real peace, not just an excuse to withdraw. To do so, we need to understand three things: an agreement by itself is not peace; the cost of a bad agreement is high; and we need to face the possibility that peace may not succeed.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/453138-in-afghanistan-give-peace-a-chance-and-a-lot-of-time

WORLD

Central Asia’s Remittance Trap

As the Russian economy climbs out of its slump, the Central Asian countries stand to benefit, at least in the short run, due to their labor migrants working in Russia

July 15 — “Central Asian migrants in Russia sent home $10 billion in remittances last year as remittance flows continued to recover from a series of external shocks. Central Asian economies tend to march in lockstep with Russia’s. The Russian economy’s gradual recovery from the double whammy of falling oil prices and Western sanctions is, then, a welcome sign for the entire region. The level of remittances is a crucial economic indicator especially for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, where whole swathes of the population work abroad.” READ MORE: https://www.tol.org/client/article/28483-central-asias-remittance-trap.html

Expect a War Between Russia and China in the 2020s

Notwithstanding the seeming friendship between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin, and the growing congruence of both countries’ interests in undermining the US-led international order, relations between Russia and China remain at their core as brittle and prone to mutual suspicion and distrust as they have in the past

July 18 — “During his state visit to Russia earlier this month, President Xi Jinping of China effusively hailed President Vladimir Putin of Russia as his “best friend and colleague.” Putin, not to be outdone, replied by affirming his personal respect for Xi, and suggested that Sino-Russian relations have progressed not only to an “unprecedentedly high level” in recent years, but are now increasingly based on a “truly comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction.” READ MORE: https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/expect-war-russia-china/

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