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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's new online safety tool raises eyebrows

Kazakhstan's drive to obtain government access to everyone's internet activity has raised concerns among privacy advocates

July 22 — “Last week, telecoms operators in the former Soviet republic started informing users of the "need" to install a new security certificate. Doing so opens up the risk that supposedly secure web traffic could be decrypted and analysed. Some users say the move has significant privacy and security problems.” READ MORE: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-49071222

For Kazakhstan, Almost Everything Riding On Promise Of New Finance Center

For Kazakhstan to modernize and become an integral business and financial partner for companies doing business along China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the AIFC has to be in demand and serve a purpose

July 23 — “Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is the new president of Kazakhstan, and the country’s signature financial event, Astana Finance Days (AFD), is supposed to highlight this man’s vision of making this place a freer market than it was even a year ago. Last year, the four-day AFD brought in 4,500 attendees for the Astana International Financial Center’s (AIFC) opening salvo into the financial events market place. It was their first year running one and the last year in power for Soviet-era leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2019/07/23/for-kazakhstan-almost-everything-riding-on-promise-of-new-finance-center/#42ab2361669c

Rumors Targeting Kazakhstani Politicians Point to Overregulated Media Landscape

The rumor mill is all that is left of Kazakhstan’s once-vibrant media landscape, currently dominated by the state and powerful business groups closely affiliated with elite political circles

July 24 — “Kazakhstan’s political life has entered a somnolent mood after both chambers of parliament wrapped up their legislative work on July 5 until September and President Kassym-ZhomartTokayev subsequently took his first vacation—albeit only for four days (July 22–26) and without going any farther than the Caspian coast. The unprecedented protest wave that met Tokayev’selevation to the presidency as Nursultan Nazarbayev’s permanent successor—first in March and then in June—has by now subsided.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/rumors-targeting-kazakhstani-politicians-point-to-overregulated-media-landscape/

Is Kazakhstan snooping agenda that serious?

Kazakhstan authorities’ efforts to control Internet user traffic is not new

July 25 — “A digital security certificate devised by authorities in Kazakhstan to generate detailed logs of what people are doing online is the talk of the internet. But it may never get off the ground. This past week, tech websites and media watchdogs have been sounding the alarm over Qaznet, an initiative that the government says is intended to protect personal data and limit access to banned content.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/is-kazakhstan-snooping-agenda-that-serious

KYRGYZSTAN

Scandals in Kyrgyzstan highlight dubious Chinese business practices

Emerging corruption scandals in the Belt and Road Initiative are becoming a cause of concern for EU member states, but also for Beijing

July 23 — “Kyrgyzstan was shaken by a major corruption scandal involving a Chinese company while the country’s capital Bishkek was hosting a ministerial meeting of the five Central Asian countries earlier this month. EU officials told EURACTIV this experience should serve as a lesson. The foreign affairs chiefs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as EU High-Representative Federica Mogherini, met in Bishkek on 7 July for the 15th EU-Central Asia Ministerial Meeting.” READ MORE: https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-asia/news/scandals-in-kyrgyzstan-highlight-dubious-chinese-business-practices/

Kyrgyzstan: Ex-president returns triumphant with Putin's support

Moscow has again shown that Kyrgyzstan remains in its zone of political influence

July 25 — “As promised, Kyrgyzstan’s embattled former president has returned to his home country – where he has for weeks been facing down potential arrest – after meeting with and receiving moral support from his old friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Almazbek Atambayev on July 25 flew into Russian-controlled Kant military airbase, where he was met in the evening by a crowd of his supporters. He left from the same airport one day earlier on a Sukhoi Superjet 100.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-ex-president-returns-triumphant-with-putins-support

What’s holding back the Kyrgyz Republic private sector?

Without rapid growth in the private sector, Kyrgyzstan will remain a lower-middle-income economy

July 25 — “The Kyrgyz Republic could be Central Asia’s Switzerland. It neighbors important global economies, it has maintained democracy since 1991, it has improved its business environment, and it has beautiful mountains. So, why hasn’t the economy taken off? Why hasn’t an $8 billion economy with 6.3 million smart people been able to create dynamic medium- and large-sized companies?” READ MORE: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2019/07/25/whats-holding-back-the-kyrgyz-republic-private-sector/

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan panhandles for money, resists reforms

Donors doubt the seriousness of Tajik government pledges to reform the economy and improve conditions for business

July 22 — “In the second half of June, officials in Tajikistan summoned a meeting of international development agencies to make a bold request. The government needs $400 million, explained Zavqi Zavqizoda, first deputy minister of economic development and trade. Zavqizoda said that these funds – equivalent to around 5 percent of national gross domestic product in 2018 – would enable the government to implement its vision to overhaul the economy and ward off trouble in future.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-panhandles-for-money-resists-reforms

Tackling Human Trafficking in Tajikistan

Many Tajik victims of human trafficking were rescued from sexual and labour exploitation in the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

July 23 — “So far this year the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Tajikistan has provided direct assistance to 17 victims of trafficking and prevented eight other cases of potential trafficking, most of whom were male. This is a big increase from 2018, when over the course of an entire year IOM Tajikistan assisted 20 adult Tajik nationals, 19 of them women, to return home and access reintegration assistance.” READ MORE: https://www.iom.int/news/tackling-human-trafficking-tajikistan

Tajik Official Embezzled US$16,000 from Energy Network

Embezzlement in Barki Tojik, the Tajik national energy company, is nothing new

July 24 — “The Tajik anti-corruption agency announced that corruption charges were filed against Saidjamol Mirakov, the deputy head of the Rudaki District’s Energy Network, after he supposedly misappropriated over US$16,000. According to a press release from the anti-corruption agency of Tajikistan, the limited company Mavlono Rumi paid 152,000 somoni (US$16,000) for electricity twice - once in October 2018 and again in December 2018.” READ MORE: https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/10301-tajik-official-embezzled-us-16-000-from-energy-network

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Shortness of death

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

July 23 — “Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, like punk, is not dead. Probably. Over the weekend, Turkmenistan’s president joined that exclusive club of regional leaders who have at some stage been object of feverish sudden death rumors. The mere speculation has arguably generated more attention for the country than any sports event or international conference ever did.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-shortness-of-death

False Report of Leader’s Death Shows Turkmenistan Now a Serious Problem for Moscow

The isolated and reclusive nature of Turkmenistan’s regime caused the situation in which false reports appeared over the past weekend of the Turkmen president’s death. This happened as Turkmenistan has experienced a severe economic crisis and has found itself in the center of geopolitical rivalry between the West, China, and Russia

July 23 — “The case of a well-connected Moscow researcher who said last week (July 20) that Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the president of Turkmenistan, had died—only to apologize when it became obvious that he was actually still alive—highlights something far more important than a mere academic mistake. Turkmenistan, perhaps the second-most hermetically sealed country in the world after North Korea, is a place about which even Moscow lacks good information.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/false-report-of-leaders-death-shows-turkmenistan-now-a-serious-problem-for-moscow/

Turkmenistan’s all-powerful leader quells death rumours with return to TV

Rumour of the president’s death appeared to begin with a small foreign-based media outlet run by the Turkmen regime’s opponents

July 25 — “Turkmenistan’s all-powerful leader returned to state television on Wednesday, dispelling an online rumour that he had died. Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, 62, was shown on television instructing the mayor of the country’s capital Ashgabat on forthcoming municipal projects in his usual domineering style, indicating drawings of bus shelters with a pointer.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/news/world/russia-central-asia/article/3020029/turkmenistans-all-powerful-leader-quells-death

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan Leans on Russia for New Military Equipment

Closer-than-usual military cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan was kick-started by President Shavkat Mirziyaev’s maiden trip to Moscow in April 2017 and the reciprocal visit by President Vladimir Putin to Tashkent in October 2018

July 22 — “In recent weeks, Russian media has been actively reporting on Uzbekistan’s various contracts to purchase Russian military equipment—some of it apparently state of the art (see below). The multiple deals indicate Tashkent’s determination to elevate arms-sale negotiations with Moscow to a higher level. In 2017, Uzbekistan committed to modernizing its armed forces as part of a five-year development strategy. Another factor that may have spurred Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Defense recently was the intra-Afghan conference in Qatar that resulted in the adoption of a nascent peace resolution.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/uzbekistan-leans-on-russia-for-new-military-equipment/

Uzbekistan eyes closer ties with Turkey via magazines

Uzbek-Turkish relations are growing, developing and progressing in all areas

July 23 — “Uzbekistan's embassy in Turkey introduced magazines on July 22 in a bid to boost bilateral ties between the two countries. The embassy presented "New Uzbekistan" magazine in Turkish and "New Turkey" magazinein the Uzbek language, aiming for them to become a "guide" for businesspeople for "illuminating" their activities in both countries, Uzbek Ambassador to Turkey Alisher Agzamhadjaev said in a speech at a hotel in them capital, Ankara.” READ MORE: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/uzbekistan-eyes-closer-ties-with-turkey-via-magazines-145172

Where Wall Street Meets Tashkent: Amid Reforms At Home, Uzbek Officials Make Their Pitch To Investors In New York

Uzbekistan could be an attractive investment destination for U.S. investors and companies because it has a large, young, and growing population, substantial natural resources such as gas and gold, and straddles the so-called Silk Road between China and Europe

July 24 — “After a quarter-century under Islam Karimov, whose repressive rule brought a strong measure of economic isolation, Uzbekistan is taking steps to open its economy to foreign investment. The latest step took senior officials of the Central Asian country to New York City, where they outlined their economic reform agenda to some of the biggest names on Wall Street at a private Manhattan club.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-wall-street-investors-reforms/30073584.html

AFGHANISTAN

The 3 keys to peace in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s objective at the moment does not seem to be state collapse but monopolizing power, allowing them to reconfigure the state within the framework of a Sharia-based Islamic Emirate

July 21 — “As U.S. negotiators finalize the terms of a settlement deal with the Taliban, several profound disagreements and contradictions are set to make winning Afghan peace as difficult as winning the war. Unfortunately, the unvarnished reality in Afghanistan is that the Taliban is winning. The group’s current “fight and talk” strategy is meant not only to kill but also to shape the political environment in its favor.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/453917-the-3-keys-to-peace-in-afghanistan

Peace for Afghanistan: How to Reintegrate Taliban Fighters?

The lack of employment opportunities makes Afghans particularly prone to recruitment by extremist organizations

July 23 — “Amid the possibility of a deal between the Taliban, the United States, and the government of Afghanistan, experts warn that if fighters are not reintegrated back into Afghan society properly they could pose a significant risk to lasting peace in the region. Although Taliban fighters only make up two percent of the 3.2 million displaced people in Afghanistan needing to be reintegrated, they have the potential to be peace enablers or spoilers, according to a report by Dean Piedmont for Creative Associates International, which was released on Tuesday.” READ MORE: https://theglobepost.com/2019/07/23/afghanistan-taliban-reintegration/

Afghanistan peace talks: U.S. pushes toward “face-saving way out"

The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the 9/11 attacks and it seeks what it has always sought: to fully control Afghanistan as a one-party state, CIA’s former deputy director says

July 26 — “The ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban are a “charade” designed simply to provide the U.S. a “face-saving way out of Afghanistan,” former CIA deputy director Michael Morell tells Axios. Why it matters: The Trump administration wants to move quickly toward a deal to end the war in Afghanistan. But Morell, who now hosts the Intelligence Matters podcast, is one of several experts and former officials warning that such a deal won’t secure peace.” READ MORE: https://www.axios.com/afghanistan-peace-talks-trump-deal-taliban-01795001-d2c7-4538-9509-50a59099c9f1.html

WORLD

Climate Change: An Omitted Security Threat in Central Asia

The people of Central Asia countries are among those suffering directly from the effects of climate change

July 22 — “Central Asian countries have a long list of potential security challenges: economic recession, the return of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq, ethnic and political violence, and the spillover of the conflict in Afghanistan. This list is not exhaustive, and over the years it has only increased in length. Most recently, scholars and policymakers have also emphasized the increased Chinese presence in the region, the crisis in Xinjiang, and imminent transitions of power in countries of the region as potential causes of instability. Frustratingly, discussions on Eurasian security often omit another growing threat: climate change.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/climate-change-an-omitted-security-threat-in-central-asia/

Russia's Strategic Economic Projects in the Caspian: Reality and Perspectives

Russia is not fully utilizing the economic potential of its Caspian regions, given the importance of the Caspian Sea in Eurasian trade flows

July 22 — “Russia’s minister of North Caucasus Affairs Sergey Chebotarev recently stated that Russia’s ports in the Caspian and Black Seas will become hubs in a new transport corridor, providing an alternative to the current transport corridor through the South Caucasus. In April, presidential adviser Igor Levitin underlined the necessity of transport projects in the Caspian Sea, aiming to connect Russia’s North and the South transportation links. The Russian government has recently announced several ambitious projects in the Caspian, designed to improve Russia’s strategic and economic presence in the region.” READ MORE: http://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13581-russias-strategic-economic-projects-in-the-caspian-reality-and-perspectives.html

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