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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

A Year in Review: Nazarbayev Steps Down From Kazakhstani Presidency but Retains Control

The succession business in Kazakhstan will remain unfinished as long as Nazarbayev occupies the top of the power vertical he has spent such a long time building

Feb 3 — “Unlike previous periods, 2019 was a single-issue year for Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s largest economy and the second-biggest exporter of hydrocarbons in the former Soviet space behind Russia. The country is also a security linchpin in a landlocked region lying between the Caspian Sea to the west, China’s Xinjiang province to the east, Russia to the north, and the Afghan-Iranian pocket of instability to the south. The year began with the resignation of Bakhytzhan Sagintayev’s government in February, following recurring criticisms from President Nursultan Nazarbayev over the preceding 12 months.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/a-year-in-review-nazarbayev-steps-down-from-kazakhstani-presidency-but-retains-control/

Kazakhstan to step up petchems effort

The Central Asian oil, gas and coal producer is attracted by demand projections for petrochemical products, while it ultimately aims to decarbonise domestic power generation

Feb 5 — “Kazakhstan is planning a major push to move up the value chain to petrochemicals, away from producing and exporting hydrocarbons, first vice-minister of energy Murat Zhurebekov told the Baker Hughes annual meeting earlier this week. It is also planning to gradually shift from coal—despite being the fuel’s leading producer in the CIS—to renewables in its domestic power generation mix.” READ MORE: https://www.petroleum-economist.com/articles/midstream-downstream/refining-marketing/2020/kazakhstan-to-step-up-petchems-effort

Kusto Group’s Yerkin Tatishev and Daniel Kunin on Supporting Kazakhstan’s Agricultural Renewal

A strong agricultural sector could reduce Kazakhstan’s dependence on non-renewable resources and potentially could rival the oil and natural resources industries in exports, profits, and employment

Feb 5 — “Entrepreneur Yerkin Tatishev and his team at Kusto Group aim to adopt innovations in technology and develop global partnerships supporting Kazakhstan’s transition into a regional powerhouse with its eye on the global high-quality meat market. Daniel Kunin, a Managing Director of Kusto Group, asserts that a collaborative approach between policymakers and businessmen is crucial to making this happen, though it may take some time. The investment in agriculture will result in high-growth, high-skilled, and high-quality industries and will benefit the income in rural communities.” READ MORE: https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/24856/20200205/kusto-group-s-yerkin-tatishev-daniel-kunin-supporting-kazakhstan-agricultural.htm

Making a Fortune. How to Make Profits from Corruption in Kazakhstan

Like in other countries in Central Asia, corruption is commonplace in Kazakhstan’s government structures

Feb 5 — “His monthly minimum income is 35 million tenge (91.87 thousand dollars). He didn’t inherit anything, his parents used to be white collars, and he was an ordinary police officer. He asked not to be identified instead of an open talk about his career and growth in prosperity. After graduation from a law college, he applied to the extension department of a university. However, he didn’t have time to start studying because he joined the army. After he served in the army, he thought it was advantageous to work in the ministry of interior affairs when he was looking for a job with his dual education in law. Working there would give him the uniform, power, money.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/making-a-fortune-how-to-make-profits-from-corruption-in-kazakhstan/

KYRGYZSTAN

Will Moscow Intervene to Prevent Explosion on Kyrgyz-Tajik Border?

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have a common border of 976 kilometers, but only 504 kilometers of this shared frontier has so far been delimited and demarcated

Jan 28 — “Tensions along the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are increasing, but apparently neither country has the political will to address the issues involved in resolving their territorial disputes. In this situation, and to avoid an explosion, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO—headed mainly by China and Russia) or the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) should intervene, Irina Dzhorbenidze argues in an article for Rosbalt.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/will-moscow-intervene-to-prevent-explosion-on-kyrgyz-tajik-border/

Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan border crises complicated by mutual distrust

The accumulation of trucks at the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border has been occurring repeatedly since 2017, when Kazakhstan first instituted a bolstered inspection regime for heavy-duty vehicles coming from Kyrgyzstan

Feb 6 — “Rinse and repeat. Large numbers of trucks have for weeks been lining up at the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, further mocking discredited forecasts about the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union ushering in an era of frictionless regional trade. The heavy vehicles began to pile up at the Ak-Tilek checkpoint, around 35 kilometers from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, in late December. Some drivers have been there for days, some for weeks.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-kazakhstan-border-crises-complicated-by-mutual-distrust

“Unhealthy” Attention to NPOs in Kyrgyzstan

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan want again to bound non-profit organisations (NPOs) to account for their sources of income and expenditures

Feb 7 — “Deputies of the parliament have developed the relevant draft law and indicated in the background statement that although the majority of these organisations do not carry on business, they still have to submit reports regularly. It is explained by the fact that the state needs to see the operations of NPOs, purposes and outcomes thereof. One of the initiators of this amendment is Deputy Baktybek Raiymkulov, who said that one of the reasons of this amendment is that the people would know better about the good things done by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/unhealthy-attention-to-npos-in-kyrgyzstan/

TAJIKISTAN

What Lies Behind the Arrest of Tajik Journalist Daler Sharifov?

Journalist Daler Sharifov was detained by the State Committee for National Security in Tajikistan. He is accused of inciting ethnic and religious hatred, but Sharifov’s relatives and colleagues do not agree with the accusations

Feb 4 — “Journalist Daler Sharifov was detained on January 28, 2020. According to his relatives, that day, about 11 AM, he received a phone invitation to Dushanbe for a conversation. Daler Sharifov left his home in Vahdat (a city 10 kilometers east of Dushanbe) for the capital. He did not return home that day. Journalist’s relatives and colleagues only knew that Daler was in the building of the State Committee for National Security in Dushanbe. Only at the night of January 29, Daler’s father Abdumannon Sharifov was allowed a short meeting with his son in the detention center.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/what-lies-behind-the-arrest-of-tajik-journalist-daler-sharifov/

Tajikistan: National Bank pins terrorism on cash transfer companies

Banks linked to the ruling family are poised to make inroads into this lucrative business

Feb 5 — “The state financial regulator in Tajikistan has accused a popular money transfer company of facilitating terrorism, citing investigator findings about how the perpetrators of a mass killing of tourists in 2018 received cash through the service. Remarks made on February 5 by Jamoliddin Nuraliyev, first deputy head of the National Bank of Tajikistan, or NBT, appear to raise the stakes in a confrontation between the government and money wiring companies, which have in recent months come under strong pressure to store money inside Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-national-bank-pins-terrorism-on-cash-transfer-companies

Kh. Umarov: Lack of Suitable Business Environment in Tajikistan Leads to Migration

An interview sheds more light on Tajikistan’s economic problems and the business environment in the country

Feb 6 — “A significant part of the Tajik economy is monopolized. It is the monopolies that are to blame for the fact that Tajikistan has not yet created a competitive environment, said Khodzhimuhammad Umarov, professor of Tajik State University, doctor of economic sciences.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/kh-umarov-lack-of-suitable-business-environment-in-tajikistan-leads-to-migration/

TURKMENISTAN

Fighting For Scraps: Poverty-Stricken Turkmen Eating From Garbage Cans

In Turkmenistan, the lack of jobs, food price hikes and shortages, and increasingly low wages for those fortunate to be employed have left some people with no choice but to turn to scavenging

Feb 1 — “Some residents of Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat, say they have resorted to digging through refuse to look for food and other items as a devastating economic crisis tightens its grip on the hermetic Central Asian country. The situation has become so severe that "people even fight over the contents of garbage containers," RFE/RL's correspondents in Ashgabat report, citing residents in the stiff, white-marbled city.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-poverty-eating-garbage-fighting-for-scraps-/30411688.html

Turkmenistan: Plans for Senate direct thoughts to succession

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

Feb 4 — “Turkmenistan’s legislature is about to get bigger, if not necessarily better. On January 29, the Constitutional Commission met to outline its vision for an upper house of parliament – a Senate, in effect. The body will consist of 56 people. Each of the country’s five provinces and the capital city, Ashgabat, will elect eight deputies apiece. Only people’s representatives at those regional levels would be able to vote. The final eight Senators will be appointed by the president.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-plans-for-senate-direct-thoughts-to-succession

Turkmenistan’s Latest Boondoggle: A New $1.5 Billion City

Turkmenistan plans to to build a $1.5-billion city amid spending cuts

Feb 5 — “Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has reportedly allocated $1.5 billion to build a new city; meanwhile, the government has cut social spending and the country’s economy is weakened by low global energy prices. Berdymukhamedov said in a decree the money would go toward paying for “foreign-made equipment and materials needed for construction,” Turkmenistan’s state-run media reported Tuesday.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/02/turkmenistans-latest-boondoggle-a-new-1-5-billion-city/

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan Hopes to Solve the Football Crisis Through Bookmakers

Uzbekistan’s authorities again permitted the bookmaker activities banned 14 years ago. Thus, the authorities are going to liquidate illegal betting and develop Uzbek football

Jan 30 — “The legalization of bookmaker activity is one of the points in the new framework for the development of Uzbek football until 2030. The President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed the corresponding decree on December 4, 2019. However, the decree requires the relevant authorities, including the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to submit proposals before June 1, 2020 on combating possible violations, such as “holding and participating in the rigged games in order to impact the games or their results”. READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/uzbekistan-hopes-to-solve-the-football-crisis-through-bookmakers/

Reporters Notebook: Inside a Prison in Uzbekistan

With more than 3,000 prisoners pardoned under President Mirziyoyev, the Uzbek government maintains that the overall prison population is now low compared to other countries. It is, they claim, less than 40,000 in a nation of nearly 34 million people, a little more than 0.1% of the population

Feb 1 — ““You know where I suffered most? In freedom,” says Rustam, looking deeply into my eyes as I start my interview with this 24-year-old Uzbek prisoner. We are sitting in the medical ward of Colony Number 7 in Tavaksay, about 1½ hours from Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent. Recently, VOA won unprecedented access to this prison, one that has imprisoned inmates since 1936 when Joseph Stalin ran the Soviet Union. Tavaksay’s prison population peaked at between 4,000 and 5,000 under independent Uzbekistan’s late leader Islam Karimov, but has since been reduced to about 1,000.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/reporters-notebook-inside-prison-uzbekistan

Could energy trade be a win-win for Tajik-Uzbek ties?

Tashkent has formally dropped its opposition to Tajikistan’s giant Rogun Dam hydropower project, and Uzbekistan would also help build more hydropower dams in Tajikistan

Feb 3 — “Last week Uzbek officials hosted their Tajik counterparts to thrash out details on the two hydropower projects Tashkent hopes to build upstream from Samarkand, on Tajikistan’s Zarafshan River. The fact the two sides are even talking about the $550 million project underscores profound changes over the past three years. Before that, the neighbors hardly spoke – and hardly traded.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/could-energy-trade-be-a-win-win-for-tajik-uzbek-ties

AFGHANISTAN

In Afghanistan, climate change complicates future prospects for peace

Experts say warming will further fuel natural disasters, mass displacement, child marriage, and conflict in war-torn Afghanistan

Feb 3 — “As dry months turned to parched years, Fatemeh watched the crops in her northwestern Afghan province of Badghis wither and her cattle die of thirst. Hunger turned to desperation, and eighteen months ago, her farming family begged a wealthy man for a loan to get them through the worst drought Afghanistan had seen in decades. He obliged, with $1,250 worth of sheep, rice, and flour. When rains returned in spring, so did the man, this time demanding repayment.” READ MORE: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/02/afghan-struggles-to-rebuild-climate-change-complicates/

What does Soleimani's death mean for Afghanistan?

Iran has long struggled to bring Afghanistan into its orbit of influence by building deep and multifaceted relationships with the country’s political and armed groups

Feb 6 — “As Iran plans vengeance for the United States’ killing of the commander of its Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, the U.S. should not ignore Afghanistan as an important theater where Iran might flex its muscle. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently warned Iran and the Taliban about the effect their ties might have on talks between American negotiators and Taliban representatives. But the prospects of imminent U.S. withdrawal only increase the chances that Tehran will stage a patient anti-American covert campaign in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/opinion/international/481884-what-does-soleimanis-death-mean-for-afghanistan

Is Afghan Intelligence Building a Regime of Terror With the CIA’s Help?

As dissidents are attacked and murdered, critics liken the National Directorate of Security to the brutal intelligence service of the Afghan communists in the 1980s

Feb 6 — “When Nazar Mohammad Motmaeen talks about the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence service with close ties to the CIA, he becomes nervous. “They are dangerous, and they do not make any compromises,” he said in a recent interview. Motmaeen, a freelance political analyst from Kabul who often appears on TV, says he knows what he is talking about. A few months ago, he says, he was attacked by gunmen in the middle of Kabul. Though he escaped, he later claimed that they belonged to the NDS, which allegedly wanted to silence him because of his political dissent. Motmaeen is a regular critic of America’s military occupation of Afghanistan, and he supports a peace deal with the Taliban.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/02/06/nds-afghanistan-intelligence-dissident-murder-cia-help/

WORLD

The Paradoxes of Social and Economic Development in Central Asia

Central Asia is riddled with many paradoxes that pose serious challenges to the region’s socio-economic development

Feb 2 — “Central Asia is a region with very uneven social and economic dynamics. It is rapidly breaking down into areas with different quality of life, economic growth, environmental health, quality of social services and infrastructure access. This makes it hard to find common socio-economic problems that would be of equal concern to those living in big cities and small villages.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/02/02/the-paradoxes-of-social-and-economic-development-in-central-asia/

India and Central Asia: The Thorny Path of Cooperation

India did not claim to be one of the leading external actors in Central Asia. The region belongs to its so-called “extended neighborhood”, but the main problem is the lack of direct ground access

Feb 6 — “India is an emerging superpower and is in process of demonstrating its new position as an Asian center of power. India is also striving to establish itself as an important regional actor in Central Asia. India’s activities in the SCO show its own vision of regional processes and the country’s position in them. In this regard, it is of interest to analyze the politics of India in the region, the existing potential, and factors hindering its implementation.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/india-and-central-asia-the-thorny-path-of-cooperation/

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