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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

What is Wrong with the Transport Policy of Nur-Sultan?

The transport policy of the capital of Kazakhstan should be implemented and improved comprehensively, taking into account the environmental factor, reducing traffic congestion with a focus on the flow from the outskirts and nearby villages to Nur-Sultan

Jan 16 — “The fast-growing city of Nur Sultan has achieved impressive success over the 22 years since the transfer of the capital from Almaty. According to a study by the International Strategy Partners Group, the capital of Kazakhstan took first place in the competitiveness rating among 40 cities in Central Asia and the Caucasus in 2018.[1] However, despite the fact that the young city is becoming more and more attractive to investors, for the capital’s residents themselves, the everyday situation, primarily related to movement within the city is complicated due to a busy transport system, as well as lagging behind the development of the city’s public transport system.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/what-is-wrong-with-the-transport-policy-of-nur-sultan/

The Kazakhs Left Behind In Xinjiang

The fate of China’s Kazakhs — many thousands of whom have been forcibly taken to the reeducation camps — is part of a much larger campaign in Xinjiang that targets Muslims, mainly Uyghurs but also Uzbeks and Kyrgyz

Jan 21 — “When word came from the capital, Nur-Sultan, that no Kazakhs were being held in "reeducation" centers in northwest China's Xinjiang region, many who didn't believe that claim sought help tracking down their loved ones. They found it in Atazhurt Eriktileri (Volunteers of the Fatherland), a human-rights group founded by ethnic Kazakhs who moved from Xinjiang as part of a repatriation program after Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakhs-china-muslims-xinjiang/30389193.html

Tracking Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth funds through the last oil slump

A steadier oil market has helped Kazakhstan’s National Oil Fund regain its footing, but Kazakhstan’s another fund, Samruk-Kazyna, has struggled in its privatization drive

Jan 22 — “Kazakhstan’s ample natural resources have carried the country from post-Soviet crisis into the ranks of upper-middle-income nations. Today it sits on two sovereign wealth funds, which are at the mercy of global market forces: the National Oil Fund (which stockpiles Kazakhstan’s oil income) and Samruk-Kazyna (a holding company for some of Kazakhstan’s largest state monopolies). After a painful few years brought on by crisis in Russia and a global oil slump, the funds appear to have stabilized.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tracking-kazakhstans-sovereign-wealth-funds-through-the-last-oil-slump

Investigation: The background of the infamous ‘Bek Air’ airline

The history of the Kazakhstan-based airline, whose aircraft’s crash caused 12 deaths, is full of contradictions

Jan 22 — “Kazakhstan has a few registered companies that have the same names – Bek Air, and the same scope of activity. The founder of the Joint-Stock Company ‘BEK AIR’, which was first registered in October 2015, is Saken Zharkimbaev, and the chief executive is Anvar Tuleubekov. Limited Liability Partnership ‘BEK AIR’ (in registration documents, the name is registered in Latin letters) has Damir Shulenbaev as the founder and Rustam Biyakhmetov as the chief executive. The partnership was registered in May 2011.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/investigation-the-background-of-the-infamous-bek-air-airline/

KYRGYZSTAN

Curbing Domestic Violence in Kyrgyzstan: Are Victims Protected?

Domestic violence, in the framework of the legislation change, has been criminalized in Kyrgyzstan. It was included in the Code of Misconduct, which is part of the criminal law. But the de facto prosecution of perpetrators has become more difficult

Jan 21 — “In a couple of weeks of 2020, several women in Kyrgyzstan were seriously affected by domestic violence; two women died as a result of beatings. The number of victims is growing. Media daily posts on the victims of the problem. The current situation causes heated debate in society. The issue is under consideration of the Government and the Jogorku Kenesh. It becomes clear that despite the adoption of the law “On defense and protection from domestic violence” and heavier penalties, the problem is not solved. Experts sound the alarm: the punishment prescribed by law does not achieve its goal, and in some cases even exacerbates the situation. The mechanisms that were supposed to provide victims of domestic violence with protection cannot do the provision.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/curbing-domestic-violence-in-kyrgyzstan-are-victims-protected/

Why Is Kyrgyzstan Being Considered for the New U.S. Travel Ban?

The Trump administration is reportedly considering expanding the controversial “travel ban” to seven more countries, including possibly Kyrgyzstan

Jan 22 — “The Trump administration is reportedly considering an expansion of its controversial travel ban, according to a report by Politico. According to Politico’s sources, the draft list of countries being considered for travel restrictions include Belarus, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. The report stressed that the list is not final so there may be more countries or different ones, but an expansion is being discussed. Of course, here at The Diplomat my eyes were drawn to Kyrgyzstan’s spot on that list.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/why-is-kyrgyzstan-being-considered-for-the-new-u-s-travel-ban/

Commentary: Chinese Scholar Mambetturdu, Suspected Internment Victim, Needs Support

Protection of rights of ethnic Kyrgyz in China’s Xinjiang is a sensitive issue for Kyrgyzstan, as official Bishkek says what is going on in the western Chinese province is Beijing’s internal affair

Jan 22 — “Many of us were concerned when a rights activist tweeted in October 2018 that a Chinese scholar and author of Kyrgyz descent, Mambetturdu Mambetakun, had been sent to a "concentration camp" earlier that year. "Whereabouts unknown," it concluded. I was particularly alarmed. I had met Mambetturdu, respected him greatly, and had been trying unsuccessfully to contact him by telephone in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) since the spring.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/commentary-chinese-scholar-mambetturdu-suspected-internment-victim-needs-support/30390983.html

TAJIKISTAN

No Shortage Of Students As Tajikistan Builds New Russian Schools

The demand among Tajiks for more educational facilities in which Russian is the language of instruction has risen both in cities and rural areas in recent years

Jan 18 — “Tajikistan's parliament has approved an agreement to build five new Russian schools in the next three years, with funds largely provided by the Russian government. The move shows the Tajik authorities' willingness to maintain close ties with Moscow and reflects a growing demand among Tajiks for Russian-language education.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-new-russian-schools/30384557.html

Tajikistan permits foreigners to buy into Roghun

Investment in the giant Roghun hydroelectric power plant, which is a rather problematic project, would be a risky business

Jan 21 — “Lawmakers in Tajikistan have voted to allow foreign investors to buy shares in the Roghun hydroelectric plant, an ongoing project upon which the government has pinned the nation’s future. Other facilities now also liable for privatization include the Talco aluminum company, the country’s most important industrial concern, and the Soviet-built Nurek hydropower plant, which provides for 70 percent of Tajikistan’s electricity.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-permits-foreigners-to-buy-into-roghun

Ajina-Tepa, Tajikistan – Abandoned Buddhist Cloister on the Famous Silk Road

Buddhist monasteries flourished in the region for hundreds of years and a distinctive form of Central Asian Buddhism emerged. Ajina-Tepa in Tajikistan was pivotal to the spread of Buddhism in Central Asia, although little is known about its history

Jan 22 — “Although Central Asia is no longer inundated by tourists, in the past it was a dynamic and diverse area, largely thanks to the Silk Road . One of the many remarkable sites in this region is the Buddhist cloister of Ajina-Tepa in Tajikistan. This ruin is a testament to the Buddhist past of the region and is regarded as the largest such site in all of Central Asia. The cloister has been added to a tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.” READ MORE: https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-asia/ajina-tepa-0013181

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: But where are the buyers?

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

Jan 21 — “Turkmenistan last June cut the ribbon on a $1.7 billion state-of-the-art facility that would enable it to convert natural gas into gasoline in the expectation this would help diversify its exports and bring in much-needed cash. The only problem is that they appear not to know how to use it. Last week, approval was requested from the president for state-owned Turkmengaz to conclude a plant management consultancy deal with Japan’s Kawasaki, which built the facility in the first place, together with Ankara-based Renaissance Construction.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-but-where-are-the-buyers

Russia might help Turkmenistan to launch the second satellite and train the first astronaut

Turkmenistan is taking steps to further develop its space industry

Jan 22 — “On 21J anuary, 2020, Yury Baturin, the former Russian cosmonaut, Vice President of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after Tsiolkovsky, who is paying a visit to Turkmenistan, held a meeting with the head of the Turkmenistan’s Airspace Department of “Turkmen communications” agency Ashir Garayev, RIA Novosti reports.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/01/russia-might-help-turkmenistan-to-launch-the-second-satellite-and-train-the-first-astronaut/

How Many People Live In Turkmenistan? The Official Figure Is Hard To Believe

Turkmenistan is an isolationist country, which is why it is easy for the government to claim huge successes without anyone being sure how much exaggeration there is in the reported achievements

Jan 23 — “Years before there was "fake news," there were official statistics from Turkmenistan. Figures released by the Turkmen government have continually stretched the boundaries of belief and all-to-often there was no reason to believe they were accurate. The government website Neutrality.gov.tm has just posted a new population figure for the country -- 6.2 million -- and once again the reaction is "what?" READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/how-many-people-live-in-turkmenistan-the-official-figure-is-hard-to-believe/30393686.html

UZBEKISTAN

Blogger Says She Was Beaten, Threatened By Police Before Fleeing Uzbekistan

Free speech and human rights protection is what Uzbekistan still lacks despite ongoing reforms

Jan 21 — “An Uzbek blogger says she was beaten, threatened, and sexually harassed by police officers after she refused to give false evidence against opposition figures while in custody. “They punched me, pulled my hair, and kicked me in the stomach,” Nafosat Olloshukurova told RFE/RL about incidents she said took place during an “administrative arrest” in her native Khorezm Province in northwestern Uzbekistan in September.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/blogger-says-she-was-beaten-threatened-by-police-before-fleeing-uzbekistan/30389762.html

Uzbekistan Prepares Crypto Tax Exemptions, Launches Licensed Exchange

Uzbekistan legalized cryptocurrency trading and introduced licensing for crypto exchanges with a decree signed by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2018

Jan 22 — “A new presidential decree in Uzbekistan envisages the introduction of tax exemptions for income obtained from operations involving crypto assets. The draft document published recently also incorporates proposals for the establishment of a blockchain valley and licensing regime for cryptocurrency miners. The country has just launched its first licensed crypto exchange.” READ MORE: https://news.bitcoin.com/uzbekistan-prepares-crypto-tax-exemptions-launches-licensed-exchange/

Uzbekistan to launch a new regional airline utilising a fleet of turboprop aircraft

State-run Humo Air is expected to offer affordable regional travel and exploit the country’s untapped tourism potential

Jan 23 — “Uzbekistan is considering the launch of a new state-run regional airline this year. Already christened Humo Air – named after a mystery bird from the region’s ethnic mythologies – the airline will provide cost-efficient and affordable domestic air travel thereby helping to unleash the country’s tourism potential. With a proposed turboprop fleet, the new airline will not challenge the monopoly position of the state-owned Uzbekistan Airways but will, instead, provide relief on short routes where the larger airline’s narrow-body fleet is inefficient.” READ MORE: http://www.rusaviainsider.com/uzbekistan-to-launch-a-new-regional-airline-utilising-a-fleet-of-turboprop-aircraft/

AFGHANISTAN

Who Gets to Tell the Story of the Afghanistan War?

The Washington Post’s ‘Afghanistan Papers’ is the latest contribution to a growing argument over whether the conflict — or any of the ‘forever wars’ — was worth the cost

Jan 21 — “Is it angry veterans and war-weary journalists? Is it Pentagon public relations pros, putting the spin on the best story they can for Washington politics and the public? Is it the ground troops and their families who led their men and women through combat, took terrain, won hearts and minds, killed the enemy, and then came home to heroically save each other once again, yet this time from their demons? Is it the Hollywood movies that don’t get the story quite right? Is it the 4-star generals who still methodically and earnestly warn politicians and the public that this war, like all of the United States’ contemporary missions against worldwide violent extremism, will be messy, complicated, and take much longer than 18 years to win? Is it American voters?” READ MORE: https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/01/who-gets-tell-story-afghanistan-war/162554/

Afghanistan’s Borderlands: Unruly, Unruled, and Central to Peace

Residents of Afghanistan’s borderlands tend to have stronger economic and cultural ties with people across the border than with Kabul

Jan 22 — “In Games without Rules, author and former Asia Foundation colleague Tamim Ansary argues that bringing rural Afghanistan under centralized rule has been the defining challenge of the Afghan state since the reign of Ahmad Shah Durrani in the 18th century. He debunks the colonial myth of an “unconquerable” Afghanistan: it was invaded many times, by Persians, Greeks, Turks, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union. For invading powers and national rulers alike, the real stumbling block was not conquering Afghanistan, but governing it.” READ MORE: https://asiafoundation.org/2020/01/22/afghanistans-borderlands-unruly-unruled-and-central-to-peace/

Beijing-backed Pakistan port opens as hub for Afghanistan trade

Experts believe transporting goods through Gwadar is a way for China to engage Afghanistan in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor

Jan 23 — “Gwadar port in southern Pakistan recently began handling cargo bound for Afghanistan. While undoubtedly a positive development for the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, experts say the economic sustainability of the Chinese-managed port remains far from certain. The CPEC comprises a number of Pakistani infrastructure projects and is a major part of China's Belt and Road Initiative.” READ MORE: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Belt-and-Road/Beijing-backed-Pakistan-port-opens-as-hub-for-Afghanistan-trade

WORLD

Is Central Asia the New Safe Haven for Crypto Mining Amid Iran-US Crisis?

Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan attract crypto miners with extremely low electricity tariffs, which makes them direct competitors to neighboring Iran

Jan 18 — “Recently, the cryptocurrency mining community has been shaken with rumors of Chinese miners leaving Iran — where crypto mining is authorized as an industrial activity — for Central Asia. The move has ostensibly been taken in an attempt to find a new safe haven amid the tensions between the United States and Iran, as well as rising oil and energy prices.” READ MORE: https://cointelegraph.com/news/is-central-asia-the-new-safe-haven-for-crypto-mining-amid-iran-us-crisis

Russia’s Strategy in Central Asia: Inviting India to Balance China

Russia’s invitation for India to link up with Eurasian Economic Union recalls the SCO expansion saga

Jan 23 — “At the end of last year, Russian envoy Nikolai Kudashev said that Moscow is hopeful about reaching a free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and India by 2020. Currently, the EAEU, an exclusive international organization for regional economic integration in the post-Soviet Union area, encompasses Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. Undoubtedly, Russia plays a prevailing role in the union that dwarfs other members.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/russias-strategy-in-central-asia-inviting-india-to-balance-china/

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