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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

Why Did Kazakhstan Fail The International PISA Assessment?

Kazakhstan had participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for the fourth time. The test results fell below the performance of previous years. Research suggests the relationship between funding and quality of education

May 21 — “At the end of 2019, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the initial results of the PISA-2018 worldwide study. Kazakhstan had its worst performance in the history of the country’s participation. Students from 79 countries and economies have participated in the study. 15-year-olds from Kazakhstan placed 69th. PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) is a study intended to measure school pupils’ scholastic performance. The program was launched in 2000. The research cycle takes place every three years; the assessment focuses on one of the subjects – reading (2000, 2009, 2018), mathematics (2003, 2012), and science (2006, 2015).” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/why-did-kazakhstan-fail-the-international-pisa-assessment/

How Will the Economy of Kazakhstan Recover From the Coronavirus?

Economists predict global economic collapse amid the coronavirus pandemic. Kazakhstan, an oil-producing country with a non-diversified economy will be adversely affected

May 25 — “According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as a result of the pandemic, the global economy is projected to contract sharply by 3% in 2020, much worse than during the 2008–2009 financial crisis. Oil exporting countries could not decide on prices and adjust production volumes, which caused a sharp drop in commodity prices. From mid-January to end-March, natural gas prices declined by 38% and crude oil prices dropped by about 65%. In addition, the ‘freezing’ of tourism around the world has led to an unprecedented contraction of oil demand.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/how-will-the-economy-of-kazakhstan-recover-from-the-coronavirus/

Kazakhstan: President signs off on contentious rally law

The government reserves to right to ban assemblies, prohibit impromptu gatherings and give preferential treatment to pro-government events

May 26 — “The presidential administration in Kazakhstan has called a freshly adopted law regulating how and where demonstrations may take place as a “paradigm shift” that will transform the nation’s political culture, but the legislation has been greeted frostily by rights activists. The law arrived on President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s table last week following some light legislative ping-pong in the parliament and became statute after it was signed on May 25.”  READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-president-signs-off-on-contentious-rally-law

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: Distance-learning exposes weaknesses of education system

Interest is waning in the state’s distance-education offerings, which have struggled to reach poor, rural students

May 22 — “Bolsunai Turgunbayeva’s three school-age daughters take turns using her battered old smartphone. The device has become their main means for getting an education since the authorities in mid-March began a system of long-distance teaching as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19. “I have an old Samsung phone, it doesn’t work well, everything takes a long time to load, and the sound is bad,” said Turgunbayeva, 34, who lives in the village of Terek-Suu in the southern and rural Jalal-Abad region.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-distance-learning-exposes-weaknesses-of-education-system

At Gunpoint: How They Hunt for Red List Animals in Kyrgyzstan?

Every year, Kyrgyzstan grants nearly 80 game licenses to kill red list argali. 32 cases of illegal hunt were registered in three months of 2020

May 26 — “In early 2019, the resident of Dzheti-Oguz district of Issyk Kul region, Talyp Beishebaev, illegally killed a Marco Polo sheep. When the poacher was caught in the act – with a carcass of the killed animal – he threatened the gamekeepers with a gun. Then he called a friend for help, captured the gamekeepers and coerced them for more than three hours.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/at-gunpoint-how-they-hunt-for-red-list-animals-in-kyrgyzstan/

Coronavirus: The strangers reaching out to Kyrgyzstan's lonely teenagers

Around 100 young adults are taking part in a project to reach out via phone to teenagers who have been stuck at home for weeks during the coronavirus lockdown in Kyrgyzstan

May 26 — “Like teenagers around the world, Maksat hasn't been to school in weeks. As Kyrgyzstan imposed quarantine restrictions, the 15-year-old feels isolated like never before. He has been trapped at home with a sister he doesn't get on with, a father he struggles to communicate with and a mother working abroad.” READ MORE: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52587000

The Biggest Party In Kyrgyzstan Continues To Splinter Amid Infighting

The SDPK has long been one of the most prominent parties in Kyrgyzstan and its practical implosion will leave many questions for the political future of the country

May 29 — “It is barely four months until Kyrgyzstan holds parliamentary elections and the party that currently has the most seats in parliament -- the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) -- has suffered another split. It is the sort of sideshow the party does not need so close to the elections, as it now has three different versions of itself.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/the-biggest-party-in-kyrgyzstan-continues-to-splinter-amid-infighting/30641640.html

TAJIKISTAN

The Battle of Narratives During Coronavirus Crisis and it’s Impact on China – Tajikistan Relations

Although Tajikistan tries to balance the influence of great powers on its policies through its multisectoral foreign policy, China has several strategic advantages in its sleeve that can get Tajikistan involved

May 26 — “The coronavirus outbreak is having a devastating impact on a global scale and extensive human toll, leading to a near-standstill in international trade, travel, and political interactions.[1] It could be considered as a rare, unexpected event with severe consequences, otherwise termed as a “black swan event,” which is raising speculations amongst the experts and politicians in how it will change the world and reshape the politics as we know it.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/the-battle-of-narratives-during-coronavirus-crisis-and-it-s-impact-on-china-tajikistan-relations/

Migrant Stranded In Tajikistan Missed The Birth Of His Son. And Then Watched His Wife's Funeral On Video

The lives of many Tajik migrant laborers in Russia were turned upside down by the pandemic

May 26 — “When Dilshod Nurmatov left his home in Russia to pay a “brief visit” to his elderly parents in Tajikistan in March, the Tajik migrant worker had no idea it was the beginning of tragedy and turmoil for him and his family. “My wife was due to give birth in May, so I wanted to be back home in Russia in two weeks to help her in the last months of the pregnancy,” Nurmatov told RFE/RL.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-migrant-returns-to-russia-amid-coronavirus-lockdown-after-wife-dies-children-stranded/30634908.html

Tajikistan: Arrests spark fresh unrest in Pamirs

Government troops are rumored to have been dispatched to quell the trouble

May 27 — “While the government in Tajikistan continues to battle its coronavirus outbreak, it is being forced to contend with grumblings of public discontent in its sometimes-restive Pamirs. Hundreds of residents in Rushan, a mountain town about 10 hours’ worth of arduous driving east of the capital, Dushanbe, emerged onto the streets and gathered before the local security service headquarters on May 25 in an unusual show of defiance. Government forces reportedly fired shots in the air, but the crowd refused to be cowed.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-arrests-spark-fresh-unrest-in-pamirs

TURKMENISTAN

Impoverished Turkmen Selling Jewelry, Cars To Buy Food

Turkmenistan faces nearly five years of a severe economic crisis that has resulted in shortages of basic goods, massive unemployment, and spiraling inflation

May 21 — “Desperate to buy food and medicine, some residents of eastern Turkmenistan have resorted to selling their cars, jewelry, livestock, and household items to survive. "We have no money left to feed our children or buy medicine for our elderly parents," a resident of the city of Bayramaly told RFE/RL on May 20 on condition of anonymity.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/impoverished-turkmen-selling-jewelry-cars-to-buy-food-and-pay-bills/30626235.html

Turkmenistan: Situation normal all trucked up

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

May 26 — “The taboo about the economic headwinds buffeting Turkmenistan has been lifted. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov still seems wanting, however, of anything that could be described as fresh ideas. Salvation from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left prices for energy commodities in bad shape, is being pinned on a “steady pace of development in all areas of the economy.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-situation-normal-all-trucked-up

Berdymukhammedov promises to build two COVID-19 testing centres in Afghanistan

Turkmenistan is prepared to build disinfecting terminals for rail transport and cargo at the border area stations and checkpoints on the territory of Afghanistan and provide these facilities with necessary equipment

May 29 — “On 27 May, 2020 a telephone conversation was held between President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. According to the state information agency TDH, the leaders of the two countries discussed the construction of TAPI gas pipeline and the electric power line Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan. Berdymukhammedov also supported the proposal put forward by Ghani to hold a trilateral video conference between the Presidents of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan to discuss the “efficiency of the transport corridor Lyapis-Lazuli”. READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/05/berdymukhammedov-promises-to-build-two-covid-19-testing-centres-in-afghanistan/

UZBEKISTAN

COMMENT: Waking Sleeping Beauty: shaking up Uzbekistan’s banking sector

Uzbekistan has a quite underdeveloped financial intermediation system, hence the banks remain the main providers of funding, even for projects with equity risks, i.e. start up companies

May 26 — “Whilst, the world was in a lockdown, the government of Uzbekistan has been busy reforming the banking sector. The government announced a banking sector reform strategy for 2020-2025, where it described the pain points of the sector without mincing words. It has set specific steps to reform the sector with set target dates for concrete banks and given staff clear responsibilities to implement the policies. This strategy was based on the World Bank’s recommendations.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/comment-waking-sleeping-beauty-shaking-up-uzbekistan-s-banking-sector-184052/

Uzbekistan: Critics of state TV’s disaster coverage fired

Critics of the station's Sardoba dam coverage say it is too upbeat and intent on covering up problems

May 27 — “Two journalists at a popular sports television channel in Uzbekistan have been fired after speaking critically on air about how a state-run news channel covered the recent disastrous collapse of a dam near the town of Sardoba. Bobur Akmalov and Jamoliddin Babajanov, a former editor and producer at Sport, respectively, made their remarks during a radio program broadcast on May 18.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-critics-of-state-tvs-disaster-coverage-fired

Uzbekistan keeps up heat on marginal Islamic groups

Police say they have embarked on a nationwide sweep for Hizb ut-Tahrir members

May 29 — “Law enforcement authorities in Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley have detained a group of people they say belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group that the government has historically equated to violent militant groups like al-Qaeda. The Interior Ministry said in a statement on May 28 that other supporters of the group are being sought in the Ferghana Valley cities of Andijan and Namangan, as well as in Tashkent and the Surkhandarya region.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-keeps-up-heat-on-marginal-islamic-groups

AFGHANISTAN

The Effect of Coronavirus on the Afghan Economy

The virus cannot only cause a health crisis in Afghanistan, but also an economic crisis

May 23 — “After the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, and then spreading to many parts of the country and more than one hundred locations around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a pandemic. According to statistics released by the end of this date, the virus has spread to almost every corner of the world and infected almost 5,000,000 people, of which over 300,000 have died and around 1,800,000 have recovered. It has been speculated by many medical professionals that the actual total death rate is much higher due to people dying at home, the inability to test everyone, and deaths attributed to other illnesses not linked to the disease.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/middle-east-watch/effect-coronavirus-afghan-economy-157441

Peace in Afghanistan? Watch the militias

Blamed for targeted killings and civilian deaths, the future of paramilitary ‘death squads’ cannot be left out of the conversation

May 26 — “The prospects of direct talks between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban have raised cautious hopes after decades of conflict. But if there is to be a durable peace, then Afghanistan’s CIA-supported paramilitary forces must also be disbanded. In February, the United States and the Taliban inked an agreement calling for US forces to withdraw, and for the Taliban not to support international terrorism. This treaty paves the way for the Taliban and the Afghan government to negotiate a comprehensive peace settlement, though this process has stalled for weeks.” READ MORE: https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/opinion/2020/05/26/Afghanistan-Taliban-militias-conflict-peace

Afghanistan's Mass Release Of Taliban Prisoners Revives Peace Process, But Seen As 'Big Gamble'

There are concerns that the government’s unprecedented release of Taliban prisoners is a gamble that could weaken its future leverage in negotiations and give the Taliban an advantage on the battlefield

May 27 — “Afghanistan’s flagging peace process was on the verge of collapse following weeks of devastating militant attacks, mounting public anger, and the halt of a major prisoner swap. But a brief cease-fire between the government and the Taliban has breathed new life into efforts to negotiate an end to the nearly 19-year war. The May 24-26 truce, which coincided with the Eid al-Fitr Islamic holiday, largely held across the country.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/pursuing-peace-afghanistan-s-mass-release-of-taliban-fighters-a-big-gamble-/30637940.html

WORLD

Central Asia’s Diverse COVID-19 Responses

Having recognized the COVID-19 threat early on, some of Central Asia’s governments were slow to prepare for the coronavirus’s eventual arrival. And with the pandemic’s biggest, mainly economic challenges still to come to the region, the real problems may lie ahead

May 27 — “COVID-19’s impact on my country, Kyrgyzstan, first hit home for me on March 19, when my son arrived at Bishkek’s international airport from a “highly infected” European country. I was unable to see him because, along with several dozen others who arrived on the flight with him, he was immediately subjected to a 14-day quarantine at a former American military base that the United States donated to the country in 2014.” READ MORE: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/kyrgyzstan-central-asia-botched-covid19-response-by-djoomart-otorbaev-2020-05

China Seen As Rising Military Power In Central Asia, Foreshadowing Future Friction With Russia

Beijing increasingly seeks to safeguard its infrastructure investments in Central Asia by expanding its security footprint

May 28 — “China is steadily increasing its security footprint in Central Asia and closing the gap with Russia, a trend that could see Moscow’s influence “undermined in the coming decade,” according to a new report. Beijing is muscling in on the former Soviet republics in its neighborhood -- traditionally part of Moscow's "near abroad" -- through increased arms sales, training programs, and new military outposts, says a report released on May 27 by the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, a Washington-based think tank.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/china-seen-as-rising-military-power-in-central-asia-foreshadowing-future-friction-with-russia/30639964.html

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