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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

Every Tenth Kazakhstani Has No Access to Clean Water

About two million people in Kazakhstan still need quality drinking water

Jan 24 — “For years of independence, more than 540 billion tenge (1.43 billion dollars) have been spent, according to the deputy of Mazhilis Nurtai Sabilianov, to supply drinking water to the regions of Kazakhstan. However, the residents of remote villages and suburbs of towns still have no access to clean drinking water and take water from wells, surface water bodies, or underground wells in their yards.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/every-tenth-kazakhstani-has-no-access-to-clean-water/

How Much, Where and How Do Women Earn in Kazakhstan?

Despite the significant presence of women in the labor market, a gender gap in labor remuneration remains in Kazakhstan

Jan 28 — “Women in Kazakhstan make up slightly more than half of the country’s total population, but their contribution to indicators of economic activity, growth, and well-being is significantly lower than their potential capacity. In the ranking of gender gap by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which determines the gender differences in access to resources and opportunities of the countries of the world, the position of Kazakhstan worsens every year. Since 2014, Kazakhstan has lost 17 positions, and by the end of 2018 it took 60th place among 149 countries of the world. Moreover, how much women can benefit from the economic development of any country depends on their position in the labor market. The labor market in Kazakhstan remains quite segmented, and this, in turn, affects the level of the gender gap and hinders the country’s inclusive growth.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/how-much-where-and-how-do-women-earn-in-kazakhstan/

#Abai and #Kazakhstan in the 21st century

Abai Kunanbaiuly was Kazakhstan’s outstanding scientist, thinker, poet, enlightener, founder of new national literature, translator and composer

Jan 29 — “This year marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of Abai Kunanbaiuly. To mark the anniversary of the great son of our people, a special commission has been created. It is planned to organise large-scale events both domestically and internationally. But all this should not be a celebration, but rather a spiritual enlightenment, writes Republic of Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.” READ MORE: https://www.eureporter.co/politics/2020/01/29/abai-and-kazakhstan-in-the-21st-century/

AIFC, OneWeb to bring next generation satellite technology to Kazakhstan

OneWeb plans to engage local telecom operators among its distribution partners to provide universal, high-speed, fibre-like broadband connectivity across the private and public sector, including businesses, schools, hospitals and civil services in Kazakhstan

Jan 31 — “The Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) has announced plans to cooperate with London-based global communications company OneWeb to accelerate broadband connectivity in Kazakhstan, reported the AIFC press service Jan. 27. The agreement, signed by AIFC Governor Kairat Kelimbetov and OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, aims to enhance implementing the Digital Kazakhstan programme and other initiatives.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2020/01/aifc-oneweb-to-bring-next-generation-satellite-technology-to-kazakhstan/

KYRGYZSTAN

China and Russia: Competition in Kyrgyzstan

Beijing’s efforts to gain influence in Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries directly compete with Moscow’s own efforts, hence increasing Sino-Russian competition

Jan 30 — “The geostrategic importance of Central Asia has prompted both China and Russia to seek greater influence over the region. Their efforts mark Central Asia as grounds for competition between both major powers. The competing nature of their respective plans is evident. Russia wishes to reclaim its international influence in part by regaining control over the former Soviet states and its buffer of Central Asia; in China’s view, its economic rise depends on the degree of influence that it can wield over the region that bridges Asia and Europe. Russia requires the co-operation of Central Asian countries for its various regional institutions; China requires that for its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. In addition, both China and Russia have attempted to expand their respective regional influence by investing in the Central Asian energy sector.” READ MORE: http://www.futuredirections.org.au/publication/china-and-russia-competition-in-kyrgyzstan/

Free Economic Zone Experiment in Kyrgyzstan Fails

In Kyrgyzstan, only one of five free economic zones is operating. However, its contribution to the national economy is minimum

Jan 30 — “Special zones first appeared in Kyrgyzstan in 1991 to 2011. A successful global experience has been taken as the model: special economic zone in Jebel Ali that has improved the economy of Dubai and FEZ in China that turned poorest coastal areas of the country into booming areas. Free economic zones (FEZ) operate in special tax regime. Preferences are set depending on their objectives and tasks. In Kyrgyzstan, they were created to improve the competitive ability of the country in global markets. FEZ entities were supposed to work for export dominantly, so their operations were exempt from all kinds of taxes under applicable laws.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/free-economic-zone-experiment-in-kyrgyzstan-fails/

Rangers Without Borders: protecting nature in divided lands

Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve is a vast protected area along Kyrgyzstan’s eastern border with China and a site thought to be significant for priority species such as the snow leopard

Jan 31 — “In the snowy wilds of Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan, one of the world’s most mountainous regions and an area of significant interest for snow leopard (Panthera uncia) conservation, solitary wildlife rangers patrol vast areas on horseback. While public perception of the role of wildlife rangers is dominated by the ‘Ivory Wars’ discourse, rangers actually work all around the world, in a variety of challenging environments. They are involved in some of the most critical tasks for preserving biodiversity, from attempts to tackle the globally prevalent illegal wildlife trade (far more diverse than ivory alone), to management of the world’s protected areas, which serve as the cornerstones of conservation.” READ MORE: http://geographical.co.uk/people/explorers/item/3578-rangers

TAJIKISTAN

Can Tolerance Policy Be an Effective Tool For Conflict Prevention in Tajikistan?

A well-developed and applicable tolerance policy can mitigate potential ethnic-religious and regional conflicts and be a factor in economic development in Tajikistan

Jan 23 — “Some experts believe that in Tajik society there are no obvious conflicts between social groups and communities, there are no interethnic and inter-religious or inter-regional clashes, as the most dangerous and destructive. Alternatively, these conflicts may not be visible. This opinion is shared by the Tajik religious expert Rustam Azizi, speaking about inter-confessional conflicts.[1] However, other experts and representatives of religious minorities themselves say they are increasingly experiencing intolerance.[2] Violation of rights and freedoms, discrimination of people on any grounds occurs frequently and is mainly of a domestic nature, occurring at the level of horizontal relations between people.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/can-tolerance-policy-be-an-effective-tool-for-conflict-prevention-in-tajikistan/

Tajikistan sees mass arrests ahead of elections

The government may be putting religious authorities perceived as diverging from the official line of Islamic practice on notice as Tajikistan gears up for parliamentary and presidential elections

Jan 27 — “Authorities in Tajikistan have since the start of this year been waging a campaign of arrests targeting Islamic clerics and teachers as part of an operation seemingly intended to neutralize perceived dissident voices ahead of important political dates. Among those reportedly singled out for detention are extended members of the Turajonzoda family, the country’s most prominent Sufi authorities, and teachers who have received educations in mainly Muslim nations.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-sees-mass-arrests-ahead-of-elections

Tajikistan: Independent reporter charged with inciting hatred

Journalist Sharipov has been smeared by online trolls in what looks like a state-directed campaign

Jan 31 — “A court in Tajikistan’s capital has ruled that a journalist reportedly suspected of ties to a banned Islamic group should remain in pre-trial custody for at least two months. The Ismoil Somoni district court formally made its ruling on the basis of State Committee for National Security claims that Daler Sharipov, who has over the past decade reported widely on the violation of religious freedoms in Tajikistan, incited ethnic or religious hatred. It is unclear on what alleged act that accusation is based.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-independent-reporter-charged-with-inciting-hatred

TURKMENISTAN

Strong growth in mobile broadband predicted for Turkmenistan but investment is needed

With the exit of Russia’s Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) Turkmenistan is left with only one public mobile operator

Jan 28 — “Just released, the 25th edition of Paul Budde Communication’s annual report on Turkmenistan outlines the major developments and key aspects in the mobile, broadband and fixed line telecoms markets. Comprehensive data is provided on regulatory developments, spectrum assignments and licensing, subscriber statistics, penetration rates and the key market players.” READ MORE: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/01/27/1975405/0/en/Strong-growth-in-mobile-broadband-predicted-for-Turkmenistan-but-investment-is-needed.html

Turkmenistan: Security chiefs feeling insecure

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

Jan 28 — “One of Turkmenistan’s most enduring mysteries is just how many people actually live in the country. The last time the government conducted a national census was in 2012, but the results were never published. RFE/RL reporting last year suggested this might have been because of the awkward fact that, as some anonymous sources in the Turkmen government have claimed, the findings showed almost 2 million people had left the country in a 10-year period.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-security-chiefs-feeling-insecure

Tajik Claim Of Pipeline Progress Is Welcome News In Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan badly needs the construction of the Tajik section of the natural gas pipeline to China be completed as soon as possible

Jan 31 — “When it comes to energy pipelines in Central Asia, the news is usually bad -- delays or disruptions but rarely anything positive. That's why the reports this week that Tajikistan was constructing its part of the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline was very welcome news on a project that had often been moribund.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-claim-of-pipeline-progress-is-welcome-news-in-turkmenistan/30410670.html

UZBEKISTAN

'Reforming' Uzbekistan Makes Big Additions To List Of Banned Material, Websites

The majority of the blacklisted material focuses on interpretations of Islam, political Islam, jihad or holy war, and criticism of how Islam is being regulated by the Uzbek government

Jan 26 — “Authorities in Muslim-majority Uzbekistan have extensively updated their list of banned religious literature, websites, and other material that officials believe contain extremist content and present a security risk to the nation. A copy of the draft document obtained by RFE/RL shows that dozens of books, websites, videos, as well as the social-media accounts of religious figures, preachers, and outlawed organizations have been added to the new list.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/reforming-uzbekistan-makes-big-additions-to-list-of-banned-material-websites/30397567.html

Uzbekistan Will ‘Cooperate’ with Eurasian Economic Union

In his address to parliament, the Uzbek President said the country would engage in ‘cooperation’ with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union

Jan 27 — “During his state of the union address on January 24, Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev spoke about the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), among other matters. Without delving into specifics, he stated “the government is studying avenues to cooperate with the Eurasian Economic Union.” Mirziyoyev rationalized this cooperation with the argument that economic integration is an evolution of economic development.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/uzbekistan-will-cooperate-with-eurasian-economic-union/

Uzbekistan transitions wheat industry to market rules from 2021

The Uzbek government will annually decrease the volume of grain it buys through state orders

Jan 30 — “The government in Uzbekistan has said it will from 2021 begin reducing the volumes of wheat it purchases through its state order system as it embarks on a gradual transition to market rules in its agricultural sector. Wide-ranging reform plans outlined in a decree signed on January 28 by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev do, however, envision retaining a degree of state control to ensure grain prices remain stable and that staple food supplies are not interrupted. As of October 1, the government will enact a grain procurement system, to buy excess volumes of the crop and protect farmers from ruin, according to the document.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-transitions-wheat-industry-to-market-rules-from-2021

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s Turbulent Decade

From 2010 to 2020, the Taliban insurgency picked up steam while Afghanistan’s institutional dysfunction deepened

Jan 28 — “In November 2010, Afghan and U.S. officials were increasingly hopeful about ending the insurgency in Afghanistan through negotiations with the second-in-command of the Taliban group: Mullah Akhtar Mansour. NATO forces escorted Mansour to the Afghan presidential palace and even paid him for his participation. That effort was part of a larger policy change to end the insurgency through a peace settlement.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/afghanistans-turbulent-decade/

To End America’s War in Afghanistan, US Troops Can’t Leave Yet

Even as we acknowledge our blind spots and mistakes, the United States should remain engaged in Afghanistan to see the peace process through, says a former deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul

Jan 29 — “America’s endless war in Afghanistan is ending as peace talks inch forward and our Afghan allies take on their own fight. As a diplomat, I know that the way we exit is key to the right ending — and never having to return. When I first served as a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, from 2009 to 2010, our force levels were on the rise and we were indisputably at war. International troops were dying almost every day. We pushed large amounts of well-intentioned funding to a population still under the thumb of powerful warlords.” READ MORE: https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/01/end-americas-war-afghanistan-us-troops-cant-leave-yet/162754/

Study finds economic assistance in Afghanistan largely failed to reduce support for the Taliban

The Dartmouth-led research team assessed how vulnerable youth's political attitudes towards the Afghan government and Taliban was affected by two economic interventions: job training and cash

Jan 29 — “A Dartmouth-led study finds that two common economic interventions in Afghanistan designed to improve economic livelihoods and win the "hearts of minds" of civilians was ineffective in reducing support for the Taliban in the long run. When civilians support the insurgency, they are more apt to provide assistance to combatants, such as by providing food or tips on the government's whereabouts, or even by joining the insurgent effort. The study is the first to examine how cash transfers and vocational training administered by a humanitarian organization affect combatant support in an active conflict zone. The findings are published in the February 2020 issue of American Political Science Review.” READ MORE: https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-01/dc-sfe012920.php

WORLD

The Future of Chinese Foreign Economic Policy Will Challenge U.S. Interests, Part 1: The Belt-and-Road Initiative and the Middle Income Trap

Many of China’s planned foreign economic initiatives—the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), global value chain advancement, and renminbi (RMB) internationalization—will come at U.S. expense

Jan 29 — “Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping and other senior CCP leaders have prudently planned for the slowing economic growth that China now faces. CCP officials plan to transition China from its current export-led growth model to one driven by indigenous innovation, and one in which China’s rising global prominence confers to it many of the same advantages traditionally enjoyed by the United States (such as low borrowing costs and influence within international institutions). Although U.S.-China relations have become further fraught amid the trade war, many prominent China hands nevertheless assert that Beijing’s long-term economic plans do not run counter to U.S. strategic interests.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/the-future-of-chinese-foreign-economic-policy-will-challenge-u-s-interests-part-1-the-belt-and-road-initiative-and-the-middle-income-trap/

Prospects for the Fight against Extremism and Terrorism in the Central Asian Region

Central Asian countries have recently stepped up the fight against terrorism and extremism, as can be seen from the lack of overt terrorist activities in the last three years

Feb 1 — “Central Asian countries experience diverse intersecting influences: they feel changes in the situation in the Caucasus, in the Xinjiang autonomous territory of China, in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Militants from various terrorist groups in the region cooperate, many of them fighting in Syria and Iraq. But the biggest threat to Central Asia’s security is the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban provide organisational and logistics support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Despite sustaining a significant blow, with its main groups squeezed out of the region, it still maintains a presence in the form of underground groups that could become active at any time, joining forces with the radical Tajik opposition and Uyghur separatists. Cells of the Islamic State (ISIS) (a terrorist organisation banned in Russia) also operate in the region.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/02/01/prospects-for-the-fight-against-extremism-and-terrorism-in-the-central-asian-region/

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