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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

Kazakhstan: KazakhMan brings local flavor to well-worn superhero format

This latest addition to the rich constellation of animated superheroes marks a fresh attempt by Kazakh artists to offer heroic antics with a local twist

Sept 21 — “He is faster than a speeding bullet and can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but there is no certainty he will do any of it on time: KazakhMan! This latest addition to the rich constellation of animated superheroes marks a fresh attempt by comic book artists in Kazakhstan to offer heroic antics with a local twist. For KazakhMan to be a recognizably Kazakh superman, his creator, Beksultan Kazybek, explained to Eurasianet, he had to have a fighting spirit and a burning thirst for justice, but he could not be perfect. KazakhMan has a lazy streak and struggles to make appointments on time.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-kazakhman-brings-local-flavor-to-well-worn-superhero-format

The FinCEN Files Show Suspicious Activities of Kazakhstan’s Former Oligarchs

Hundreds of millions of dollars of suspicious origin have transited in and out of Kazakhstan with the help of U.S. banks, an investigation of thousands of leaked documents reveals

Sept 23 — “A wide range of “usual suspects” popped up on the news reels as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and BuzzFeed News unveiled the collated data of the so-called FinCEN Files, which showed how U.S. banks served as intermediaries for thousands of suspicious international transactions over an 18-year period. Inevitably, Kazakhstan’s former oligarchs were part of the scandal.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/the-fincen-files-show-suspicious-activities-of-kazakhstans-former-oligarchs/

Opinion: From my home in Kazakhstan to the US, protesters share similar fight for justice

Both U.S. and Kazakhstan protesters are fighting for their governments to outwardly show they care about their people

Sept 23 — “Protests in Chicago and across the U.S. for the Black Lives Matter movement have strangely made me feel homesick. I emigrated from Kazakhstan two and a half years ago, and despite being located on the other side of the world, Kazakhstan has similar issues surrounding police brutality, although there are key differences. Over the past few years, peaceful protests for fair elections, freedom of speech, parliament government and basic human rights in Kazakhstan have been met with police brutality and mass arrests.” READ MORE: https://columbiachronicle.com/opinion-from-my-home-in-kazakhstan-to-the-us-protesters-share-similar-fight-for-justice

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan: Election battle gets vicious for real

Both parties involved in the brawl are blaming unnamed provocateurs for causing the unrest

Sept 21 — “A huge brawl broke out over the weekend between supporters of two parties expected to grab large swathes of the vote in upcoming parliamentary elections. According to media reports, around 12 people had to be hospitalized following the September 20 skirmish in the Aravan district of the southern Osh region.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-election-battle-gets-vicious-for-real

Kyrgyzstan cannot paper over death of Azimjon Askarov

Askarov's death in jail should prompt serious questions about judicial and rule of law reforms in Kyrgyzstan funded by taxpayers through USAID and EU grants

Sept 22 — “The death of the award-winning journalist and human rights defender Azimjon Askarov on 25 July in a Kyrgyz jail was the culmination of a series of injustices and repeated flouting of accountability by the Kyrgyz government. His death – officially by pneumonia but probably of Covid-19 – is no reason to give up the fight for justice. On the contrary, it has become even more crucial that the EU, UN, and other multilateral institutions, governments and donors demand that the Kyrgyz government unconditionally complies with the nation's commitments to human rights and the rule of law.” READ MORE: https://euobserver.com/opinion/149491

Kyrgyzstan has No Place to Dispose of Electronic Waste

In 2019, the global amount of electronic waste was almost 54 million tonnes. This was found by the UN and it is a record number

Sept 24 — “This kind is the world’s fastest growing waste. Therefore, many countries have been urgently dealing with environmental issues in the past few years and taking relevant measures. However, the legislation of Kyrgyzstan has no definition of “electronic and electric waste”. The procedure of disposal of hazardous equipment is not outlined anywhere, so it is disposed of at a landfill site, where it pollutes air and people.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/kyrgyzstan-has-no-place-to-dispose-of-electronic-waste/

TAJIKISTAN

China’s gambit in Tajikistan: Partner or overlord?

Development funding, security presence and historical claims on territory raise questions about China’s objectives

Sept 21 — “Recently, a Chinese diplomat stated that the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan belonged to China and always have. The region borders the Uighur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang and the city of Kashgar, where up to 17 Uighur concentration camps are located. Both the treatment of Uighur Muslims by the Chinese and their increasingly outspoken historical claims to the Pamirs have alarmed those in the region as well as the governments of Tajikistan and its close ally, Russia.” READ MORE: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/china-s-gambit-tajikistan-partner-or-overlord

Presidential Elections in Tajikistan: No Intrigue or Surprise

Experts’ assumptions that the country’s leader Emomali Rahmon would nominate his son for this election are disproved

Sept 22 — “The main phase of the Presidential elections begun in Tajikistan. The Central Commission for Elections and Referenda of the Republic of Tajikistan announced that five people are running for the President of Tajikistan, including the incumbent President Emomali Rahmon. The only self-nominated candidate Faromuz Irgashev will not be able to participate in the elections, since he did not manage to collect the required for registration 260 thousand signatures. In this situation, many experts believe that the election results are already known, and the participation of candidates close to the authorities is required to imitate a resemblance of competition.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/presidential-elections-in-tajikistan-no-intrigue-or-surprise/

Tajikistan: Secret Chinese base becomes slightly less secret

Chinese personnel, whose presence Dushanbe denies, forbid reporters from filming

Sept 23 — “The presence of a Chinese military outpost in Tajikistan is a secret so open at this point that even Tajik officials are making little effort to hide it. In the meantime, however, Chinese officers at the facility are at liberty to prevent local journalists from approaching, asking questions or taking pictures of a base whose existence is officially denied.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-secret-chinese-base-becomes-slightly-less-secret

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan Increases Crackdown On Internet Access As Living Standards Continue Downward Spiral

With public resentment in Turkmenistan increasing, the government is attempting to remedy its precarious position by snuffing out access to news about the bad situation in the country

Sept 19 — “Connecting to the Internet has never been easy in Turkmenistan, but authorities in the isolationist Central Asian country are waging a new campaign aimed at preventing unsavory information from entering or exiting the country. Authorities are hunting for people who have virtual private networks -- popularly known as VPNs -- and have also taken measures to block them. As part of the crackdown, students are also being made to sign statements that they will not use the Internet to access banned sites.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-increases-crackdown-on-internet-access-as-living-standards-continue-downward-spiral/30846977.html

Turkmenistan: Everybody yurts, sometimes

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

Sept 22 — “It is a sobering day in Turkmenistan when the president starts urging his underlings to think about reality. But Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov did just that at the September 18 Cabinet meeting, when he called on Deputy Prime Minister Gadyrgeldy Mushshikov to prepare an economic forecast for the rest of this year and 2021. Although the president spoke only in generalities, it is evident from his remarks that more austerity is looming.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-everybody-yurts-sometimes

Turkmenistan: Denial, Inaction Worsen Food Crisis

Turkmenistan’s government denies the existence of poverty in the country and has failed to provide relief to economically vulnerable groups, even as unemployment has skyrocketed during the pandemic, rights groups say

Sept 23 — “Government inaction in response to the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically exacerbated Turkmenistan’s pre-existing food crisis, Human Rights Watch and the Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) said today. Shortages of subsidized food, accelerating since 2016, have worsened, with people waiting hours in line to try to buy more affordable food products, often being turned away empty-handed.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/23/turkmenistan-denial-inaction-worsen-food-crisis

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan pins economic fightback on gold sales

The country became the world's biggest seller of gold in July

Sept 22 — “Uzbekistan is turning to its massive gold reserves to help fight its way out of an economic impasse brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and has, in doing so, become a global leader in sales of the precious metal. The State Statistics Committee revealed on September 21 that the country had exported $5.8 billion of gold in the first eight months of this year. That accounted for half of exports-based revenue.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-pins-economic-fightback-on-gold-sales

Uzbekistan 2.0 reforms making good progress

Uzbekistan has one of the youngest populations in the former socialist bloc and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's top priority is to grow the economy simply to create enough jobs for all the young people

Sept 23 — “Uzbekistan has been in a rush to put through a comprehensive package of reforms ever since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took over in December 2016. And nearly four years on, the government is still working at top speed, but now it is starting to have something to show for all that effort. The largest and most populous country in Central Asia, Uzbekistan should have reclaimed its place as the most important country in the region that it held in the days of Emperor Tamerlane. But shut off from the world by the previous president, Islam Karimov, it failed to fulfil its potential. That all changed under Mirziyoyev, who has opened the doors to international investors and begun a system-wide overhaul of the economy.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/uzbekistan-2-0-reforms-making-good-progress-192576/?source=uzbekistan

Online Auction in Uzbekistan: A Long Path from Winner to Owner

New system launched three years ago undermines trust to bidding

Sept 23 — “Participation in an official online auction in Uzbekistan resembles a lottery. If you are lucky, everything will be fine and the buyer will become a legal owner of property. However, sometimes good luck can pass by. Then, despite the citizen's compliance with all procedures and conditions, former owners can contest the auction results and get revocation even of the court judgement. It happens because of officials' intervention at the local level.” READ MORE: http://longreads.cabar.asia/uz_auction

AFGHANISTAN

Iran’s balanced role in Afghanistan

Tehran’s goal is to prioritize maintaining Afghanistan as a republic, as well as limiting the influence of other countries, including Iran’s regional rivals Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

Sept 14 — “U.S. and Taliban Peace deal signing in Doha on February 8 has brought with it some uncertainty. Since the agreement many countries in the region have been working to maximize the benefits of possible US withdrawal, as well as power sharing deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. In this context, Iran a key neighbor of Afghanistan is likely to play a key role in determining stability and security in Afghanistan and the region in the near future. Iran will be able to reap the full benefits of a stable and secure Afghanistan, both commercially and culturally.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/09/14/irans-balanced-role-in-afghanistan/

The Taliban, at Least, Are Striking Gold in Afghanistan

The militant group mines almost half a billion dollars a year from Afghan soil—and wants more

Sept 22 — “For decades, Afghanistan’s untapped mineral wealth has been touted as the country’s trillion-dollar El Dorado. But while the Afghan government has never been able to monetize mountains of copper, iron ore, gold, and gemstones, the Taliban have—and are ramping up their mining operations as just-started peace talks aim to shape the future of a postwar Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/09/22/taliban-afghanistan-mining-peace-talks/

Geopolitical imperatives make it difficult for US to withdraw forces from Afghanistan

Unlike in Iraq and Syria, the US has no bases in Central Asia or South Asia. With China in Gwadar and a hostile Iran, a credible presence is needed to secure much more than the safety of the Embassy

Sept 24 — “In 1979, Afghanistan became a theatre of the Cold War. In later years, the land used for “jihad” against “godless” Soviets by the US-Saudi-Pakistan axis was converted into a hub for al Qaeda’s terror network. The al Qaeda trained future jihadis of Afghanistan-Pakistan and thousands of foreign fighters. Following the 9/11 attacks, the US targeted the Taliban, which receded into sanctuaries in Pakistan. Despite efforts by the international and Afghan communities, Afghanistan continues to bleed from attacks by the Taliban-al Qaeda network. The Intra-Afghan talks began on September 12. Many believe that the US will “exit” this time. However, closer scrutiny suggests that an exit is unlikely, irrespective of the results of the US presidential elections. The network will continue to pose serious threats to Indian and global security.” READ MORE: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/us-troops-in-afghanistan-donald-trump-security-forces-us-war-6608152/

WORLD

Xinjiang’s System of Militarized Vocational Training Comes to Tibet

In both Xinjiang and Tibet, state-mandated poverty alleviation consists of a top-down scheme that extends the government’s social control deep into family units

Sept 22 — “In 2019 and 2020, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) introduced new policies to promote the systematic, centralized, and large-scale training and transfer of “rural surplus laborers” to other parts of the TAR, as well as to other provinces of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In the first 7 months of 2020, the region had trained over half a million rural surplus laborers through this policy. This scheme encompasses Tibetans of all ages, covers the entire region, and is distinct from the coercive vocational training of secondary students and young adults reported by exile Tibetans (RFA, October 29, 2019).” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/jamestown-early-warning-brief-xinjiangs-system-of-militarized-vocational-training-comes-to-tibet/

Sino-Russian Economic Cooperation in Central Asia is Not What It Seems to Be

China and Russia are partners in Central Asia, but their cooperative efforts are not as robust as they often claim

Sept 23 — “When China-Central Asia relations were in their nascent stages, Russia and China planned for a cooperative and mutually beneficial partnership in the region. For many years, the two countries continued to perform their tacitly agreed roles, with China providing the funds for economic development and Russia maintaining a favorable political climate and keeping tabs on regional military affairs. In recent years, however, Beijing has expanded its economic influence in the region into other sectors. For Central Asia’s oldest partner, Russia, undue Chinese influence in the region could jeopardize its political clout.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/sino-russian-economic-cooperation-in-central-asia-is-not-what-it-seems-to-be/

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