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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

Investment Attractiveness & Economic Accomplishments of Kazakhstan

The collapse of the USSR introduced unimaginable perspectives to Kazakhstan

Aug 5 — “Kazakhstan represents the largest economy in Central Asia. Even in the 1990s, against a background of mass poverty and the collapse of the former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan remained outstanding in the post-soviet space by the living standards of its citizens, its political calm and operating enterprises. At the beginning of the 2000s, a system of governmental capitalism with elements of socialism was established in Kazakhstan.” READ MORE: http://georgiatoday.ge/news/16793/Investment-Attractiveness--Economic-Accomplishments-of-Kazakhstan

Some Freed, Some Not by Kazakhstan's Justice System

In July, Kazakhstan’s courts kept several “uncomfortable” people behind bars while releasing a handful of others

Aug 5 — “Mukhtar Dzhakishev’s passionate speech about the flaws of Kazakhstan’s justice system echoed beyond the courtroom in Semey where he awaited a decision on his plea for parole. “The truth is not a disease: there is no vaccine against it and it is not infectious. The truth lies within each of us,” Dzhakishev said, concluding with the hope that “the judge would make his decision based on the truth and the law.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/some-freed-some-not-by-kazakhstans-justice-system/

Star-Crossed Lovers? Kazakhs Unearth Iron-Age Couple Tete-A-Tete

Regional authorities in Qaraghandy, one of a several archaeological hot spots in central Kazakhstan, recently shared the discoveries from excavations in Shet, including photos of the would-be lovers in their shallow grave

Aug 6 — “How deep was their love? Less than a meter, in literal terms, after a few meters of a burial mound was shoveled away. But the question of the fate of a young pair buried in a face-to-face embrace more than 3,000 years ago has captured the imagination of archaeologists and the public since they emerged recently from a bountiful excavation site in central Kazakhstan.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhs-unearth-iron-age-lovers/30096345.html

'Crime Against Almaty': Kazakh Park Could Lose 9,000 Trees To Build Arena

Residents of Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, fear losing their parks

Aug 7 — “Residents of Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, are raising alarms over a development project which would see the densely populated metropolis lose more than half of a popular park. The Atakent Exhibition Complex, a park with pavilions and restaurants, would be set to lose some 30 of its 54 hectares to make space for a new auditorium if the project is approved by city authorities.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/crime-against-almaty-kazakh-park-could-lose-9-000-trees-to-build-arena/30097377.html

KYRGYZSTAN

China fires back over mining ruckus in Kyrgyzstan

Chinese mining companies have been involved in a number of clashes with local communities in Kyrgyzstan in recent times, but few have drawn a diplomatic response

Aug 7 — “A clash at a gold mine that left more than two dozen Chinese workers needing medical treatment has earned Kyrgyzstan a rare slap on the wrist from economic overlord Beijing. The Chinese Embassy in Bishkek issued a statement on August 6 characterizing a confrontation at the Solton-Sary field in Naryn province the night before as an attack by Kyrgyz villagers on the state-owned Zhong Ji company operating a mine there.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/china-fires-back-over-mining-ruckus-in-kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan forces capture of former leader signals a bloody problem in post-Soviet democracies

With post-Soviet justice systems largely unreformed and law enforcement agencies serving each master individually rather than the state, a ruler who gives up power is in grave danger in Kyrgyzstan

Aug 9 — “Events in Kyrgyzstan, a poor nation of 6 million on China’s western border, show why post-Soviet leaders are so reluctant to part with power peacefully: It’s hard for any of them to get any kind of credible guarantee that his successor won’t try to lock him up, or worse. On Wednesday night, Kyrgyz special forces tried to arrest the country’s former president, Almazbek Atambayev, at his residence near the capital, Bishkek. Atambayev, wanted on corruption charges, wasn’t easy to take, though.” READ MORE: https://nationalpost.com/news/world/kyrgyzstan-forces-capture-of-former-leader-signals-a-bloody-problem-in-post-soviet-democracies

Kyrgyzstan: With tensions still simmering, exiled big-hitter makes homecoming

Returning to Kyrgyzstan, former presidential candidate Babanov may have next year’s parliamentary elections in his sight

Aug 9 — “Self-exiled political big-hitter Omurbek Babanov has returned to Kyrgyzstan, injecting a further dose of uncertainty into a season of turbulence. The multimillionaire businessman, former presidential candidate and former prime minister, who is wanted by the authorities, was met at Bishkek airport on August 9 by a large crowd of jubilant supporters. His return may pose another puzzle for President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who this week grievously fumbled neutralizing another major rival, his mentor and predecessor-turned-foe, Almazbek Atambayev.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-with-tensions-still-simmering-exiled-big-hitter-makes-homecoming

TAJIKISTAN

The Biased Scales Of Justice In Tajikistan

Not all officials are treated equally for corruption in tightly-controlled Tajkistan

Aug 3 — “The dozens of imprisoned opposition figures and hundreds of perceived government opponents who have fled Tajikistan would certainly dispute any suggestion that everyone is equal under the law in the Central Asian country controlled by hard-line President Emomali Rahmon. The injustice extends not only to those who run afoul of Tajik law -- but also to those who escape its grasp.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/the-biased-scales-of-justice-in-tajikistan/30090403.html

Tajikistan embarks on new search for Roghun funds

A couple of years ago, Uzbekistan was the Roghun dam project’s main impediment. Now it’s money

Aug 4 — “Tajikistan is hoisting the white flag over its do-or-die giant hydropower project and admitting it will not be able to finish the job without foreign aid. Finance Minister Faiziddin Kahhorzoda told Asia-Plus newspaper on August 2 that the government has now created a special commission dedicated to sourcing funds for the construction of the 335-meter-high Roghun dam.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-embarks-on-new-search-for-roghun-funds

Tajikistan eyes accessing open waters through Iran

Road and transport sectors are important areas for cooperation between Iran and Tajikistan

Aug 6 — “Tajikistan's ambassador to Iran, Nizamuddin Zahedi, has called for using Iranian ports to access open waters in a meeting with Iranian Transport Minister Mohammad Eslami on Monday, the Iranian ministry’s portal announced. As reported, following the Tajik ambassador remarks, Eslami voiced Iran’s readiness to take necessary measures to make this possible, saying that Iran is fully determined to complete the Iran-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway project.” READ MORE: https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/439000/Tajikistan-eyes-accessing-open-waters-through-Iran

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: A People’s Council of despair

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

Aug 6 — “August is back-to-work month in Turkmenistan. Done with his summer frolicking, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov reverted to a more conventional apparel, a graphite gray pinstripe suit, for his video conference with regional governors on August 5. A chunk of this meeting was devoted to plans for the upcoming Khalk Maslahaty, or People’s Council, due to take place on September 25, a couple of days before Independence Day.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-a-peoples-council-of-despair

VIDEO SHOWS TURKMENISTAN'S LEADER DEFY DEATH RUMORS WITH WILD SUMMER VACATION

A weeks-long disappearance of the Turkmen leader from the public eye prompted speculation as to his health

Aug 7 — “The leader of Turkmenistan has defied rumors of his death by appearing in a colorful montage appearing to suggest his recent absence was merely a particularly active summer vacation. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is back⁠ — and he's showing the world he's more than capable of running his secretive Central Asian state, and doing plenty of other things as well. In a nearly 25-minute montage released Sunday by state-run media, the 62-year-old former dentist can be seen riding bicycles and horses, singing and playing various instruments, working out, bowling and firing an assault rifle among other activities.” READ MORE: https://www.newsweek.com/video-turkmenistan-leader-summer-vacation-1453075

Due to unemployment females agree to work in the fields for extremely low remuneration and meals

Turkmenistan is experiencing a severe economic crisis, with unemployment rising in the gas-rich country

Aug 8 — “High unemployment is one of the burning problems for Turkmenistan’s residents. A large number of Turkmenistan’s nationals are trying to head to Turkey and other countries in search of jobs, but not everybody succeeds. Turkmenistan’s Migration Office includes many residents on the black lists of those barred from traveling overseas. Young women are especially affected by this policy. They are prevented from leaving the country by the authorities who fear that they might engage in prostitution.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2019/08/due-to-unemployment-females-agree-to-work-in-the-fields-for-extremely-low-remuneration-and-meals/

UZBEKISTAN

Why is a Turkic languages scholar imprisoned in Uzbekistan?

Andrey Kubatin was charged of spying for Turkey in 2017 but, along with civil society groups, rejects the accusations

Aug 4 — “On March 25, 2017, Andrey Kubatin, a 35-year old Uzbek scholar of Turkic languages and history, and associate professor at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, was about to finish work. He took his belongings, including a hard drive with meticulously catalogued academic literature he had collected over the years, and left the building.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/turkic-languages-scholar-imprisoned-uzbekistan-190801120104671.html

Uzbekistan says it’s on the road to reform, but some economists aren’t convinced

Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC that “a transition to a market-oriented economy remains a distant prospect, given a systemic reliance on the state to drive economic growth”

Aug 5 — “Resource-rich Uzbekistan is on a push to attract foreign investment, hoping a raft of government reforms will help revolutionize its economic model. The former Soviet state gained independence from Moscow in 1991, and in recent years the Central Asian nation has been claiming it wants to move away from its state-led economy to that of a market-oriented set up. The Uzbek government’s case has focused particularly on the diversification of agricultural production as well as the development of mineral and petroleum exports, capacity and manufacturing.” READ MORE: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/05/uzbekistan-on-the-road-to-reform-but-some-economists-arent-convinced.html

Uzbekistan: Reforms Underway, but Democracy Still Out of Reach

With parliamentary elections slated for late 2019 or early 2020, will Uzbekistan remain in essence a one-party state?

Aug 7 — “When Uzbekistan’s strongman Islam Karimov died in 2016, few believed that good things were in store for the country he had headed since the fall of the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan’s post-Soviet transition had stalled; its democratic potential cut off by authoritarianism, corruption, repression, and a stagnant economy based on rent-seeking and cash crops. Observers predicted a power vacuum, possibly violence, conceivably even the rise of fundamentalist extremism.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/uzbekistan-reforms-underway-but-democracy-still-out-of-reach/

AFGHANISTAN

Indonesia's Growing Engagement With The Afghan Taliban

For more than a year, Indonesia, which is the largest Islamic country, has sought an international role, notably through mediation efforts involving the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban organization that ruled Kabul from 1996 to 2001. This paper examines the recent trajectory of the relationship between Indonesia and the Afghan Taliban, not between Indonesia and Afghanistan

Aug 5 — “On July 26, 2019, Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman of the Islamic Emirate, announced that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund, the deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban, was leading an eight-member delegation from their Qatar-based Political Office for a meeting with Indonesian leaders.[1] The spokesman said that the trip's focus was "on building good political relations" between Afghanistan and Indonesia and to achieve "peace and cooperation for future Afghanistan." READ MORE: https://www.memri.org/reports/indonesias-growing-engagement-afghan-taliban

How the CIA Aims to Keep a Footprint in Afghanistan

Even as talks with the Taliban point to a cease-fire, a CIA-trained force will likely continue its shadow war, often at the expense of civilians

Aug 8 — “The muezzin had just called for the morning prayer when soldiers brandishing guns jumped off their Toyota Hiluxes, surrounded Noor Walli Khan’s house, knocked down the door, and entered the dark rooms where his family slept. Minutes later, they had tied everyone’s hands and feet and started pouring gasoline over the family’s only car. Khan, 42, watched as the vehicle went up in flames. His children hid in the rooms left devastated by the raiders.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/08/08/how-the-cia-aims-to-keep-a-footprint-in-afghanistan-taliban-talks/

ISIS recruitment is growing in Afghanistan as US and Taliban work for peace

Officials estimate up to 10% of Taliban’s ranks could defect if deal to end war is reached

Aug 8 — “In the shade of a riverside open-air restaurant in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad, Bilal sits cross legged on a pillow, with his eyes scanning the sky and the surrounding area ceaselessly. He jumps up nervously as the shadow of a bird crosses over his face. Bilal 28, is a fighter with IS Khorasan – the ISIS branch in Afghanistan – and says that over the past year, they have gained a few thousand fighters in the country, with their funding coming from interests abroad and criminal activity, such as kidnapping.” READ MORE: https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/isis-recruitment-is-growing-in-afghanistan-as-us-and-taliban-work-for-peace-1.895798

WORLD

Smart Cities or Surveillance? Huawei in Central Asia

Chinese surveillance technologies are popular among Central Asia’s governments

Aug 7 — “Since 2014, about 500 cities in China have launched transformative efforts toward becoming cyber-connected “smart” cities, and now Chinese tech giant Huawei is moving to export its systems to Central Asia. In April 2019, Huawei closed a $1 billion dealwith the Uzbek government to further its surveillance operations in the country.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/smart-cities-or-surveillance-huawei-in-central-asia/

India-Central Asia: Emerging Dialogues and Deals

India is entering a new “great game” in Central Asia

Aug 8 — “A key question must be: has India left it’s new “great game” bid across Central Asia too late? Russia maintains a significant military presence in the region, and China has substantial trading links within it. China has growing politico-economic ties and a defence presence that together may defeat India’s late bid to draw Central Asian countries into its “extended neighbourhood”, pushing west the boundaries of its encirclement of India.” READ MORE: http://www.futuredirections.org.au/publication/india-central-asia-emerging-dialogues-and-deals/

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