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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: Economy In Transition

Kazakhstan’s evolution to a market economy hinges on diversifying away from oil and gas, with a lift from FDI

Oct 9 — “Kazakhstan occupies a position halfway between two systems, says Yerlik Karazhan, an independent economic analyst in Nur-Sultan, the nation’s capital. No longer a Soviet-style command economy, “We’re definitely going to a market economy,” he says. “We are working hard on that.” Each of Central Asia’s “-stans” evolved differently after the collapse of the Soviet Union. “We’re very much tied to the [Russian] economy,” says Karazhan, noting that Russian doctors helped in Kazakhstan during the pandemic.” READ MORE: https://www.gfmag.com/magazine/october-2020/kazakhstan-economy-transition

Kazakhstan: Emergency Triggered Witch-Hunting

Instead of the criminal article “Slander” transferred to the Code of Administrative Offenses in Kazakhstan, the journalists, bloggers and civil activists are now accused on alternative charges

Oct 13 — “On July 20, Danaya Kalieva and Marat Turymbetov were detained in Almaty. The soldiers of the special police forces and officers from department combating extremism brought a single mother of many children and a disabled person to the police department. All office equipment and mobile devices were seized from their apartments including children’s phones. This ‘masquerade’ was organized by the request of the heads of Housing Construction Saving Bank of Kazakhstan, filed back in April 2020. They were offended by social networks publications about inflated expenses on personal needs and, as the authors considered, non-core spending. The bank was initially created with the budgetary funds attraction and its activities are officially aimed at helping poor residents who cannot afford mortgage housing at regular interest rates.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/kazakhstan-emergency-triggered-witch-hunting

The Story That Captivated Almaty: Kazakh Transgender Inmate Wins Prison Assault Case, But Fears Reprisals

Berikqozhaeva's case has attracted extensive media attention in conservative Kazakhstan, including spotlighting the plight of female inmates

Oct 13 — “The ordeal is not over for a transgender convict in Kazakhstan whose attacker has been sentenced to prison and stripped of his rank after he was convicted of sexually assaulting her in an Almaty prison. Thirty-year-old Viktoria Berikqozhaeva now fears retaliation by her attacker's sympathizers and former colleagues while she completes her own prison sentence.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakh-transgender-inmate-wins-prison-assault-case-fears-reprisals-almaty/30891357.html

KYRGYZSTAN

Witnessing the limits of Chinese power in Kyrgyzstan

Beijing has yet to learn how to navigate messy politics, even when ignoring them hurts its image and interests

Oct 14 — “The ongoing political crisis in Kyrgyzstan, triggered by tainted parliamentary elections this month, has attracted all the usual suspects from the world stage. Yet one global power is palpably absent. The European Union explicitly backed President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, highlighting his “key role” in a solution out of the crisis. Washington followed with a message blasting the “attempt by organized crime groups to exert influence over politics and elections.” The Kremlin described the situation as “chaotic,” promised to engage all sides, and Vladimir Putin sent his personal representative to Bishkek to negotiate a deal. Even the UN is expected to send a delegation to discuss the situation with President Jeenbekov, tacitly acknowledging his legitimacy.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/perspectives-witnessing-the-limits-of-chinese-power-in-kyrgyzstan

How Kyrgyz social media backed an imprisoned politician’s meteoric rise to power

Amid post-election chaos, Kyrgyz-language social media was increasingly flooded with support for nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov – and that can help explain his unlikely rise to prime minister

Oct 15 — “Kyrgyzstan’s recent parliamentary elections were marked by massive vote-buying and fraud, creating mass-scale contention and protests. Amid the resulting violence, chaos and power vacuum, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov went into hiding, only to re-appear a few days later. Since then, multiple coalitions have sought to claim power.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/how-kyrgyz-social-media-backed-an-imprisoned-politicians-meteoric-rise-to-power/

Jeenbekov Failed To Tackle Kyrgyzstan's Problems. Now He's Gone

It remains to be seen whether the lessons of Jeenbekov's inaction will serve as an example to the leadership of Kyrgyzstan in the future

Oct 16 — “Sooronbai Jeenbekov officially resigned as Kyrgyzstan's president on October 15. He had little to show for his nearly three years in power. In the end, arguably, the problems he knew about but failed to adequately confront are what led to his downfall. Kyrgyzstan's October 4 parliamentary elections were the beginning of the end for Jeenbekov.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-jeenbekov-resignation-analysis-qishloq-ovozi/30896794.html

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan's eternal ruler Emomali Rakhmon

Emomali Rakhmon, who has ruled Tajikistan for 28 years, has secured the country's presidency for the fifth time

Oct 12 — “Emomali Rakhmon marked his birthday on October 5 — but his biggest gift would come several days later, when the 68-year-old was re-elected president of Tajikistan. Although four other candidates were officially running in the October 11 election, there is no independent opposition nor free media in his country — the poorest in Central Asia. It was considered a sure win for Rakhmon in his fifth presidential poll, tallying over 90% of votes, the election commission said Monday.” READ MORE: https://www.dw.com/en/tajikistans-eternal-ruler-emomali-rakhmon/a-55234401

Tajikistan’s energy sector reforms: Is energy export the only way out of the revenue dilemma?

Low revenues and underdeveloped infrastructure are among various problems inscribed in Tajikistan’s energy sector. The authorities are seeking to invest in hydroenergy, which would pave the way towards reaching the status of regional energy exporter

Oct 12 — “Tajikistan’s energy sector faces a dilemma today: The country’s state-owned electricity monopoly, Barqi Tojik, is in desperate need of raising its electricity tariffs to collect the revenue necessary to reform the energy sector, but the population cannot afford paying higher tariffs, in many ways because unreliable electricity supply results in economic loss and low incomes. The roots of Barqi Tojik’s revenue problem lie in low electricity tariffs, poor collection rates, and significant transmission losses. The Tajik government is reluctant to act on infrastructural and institutional reforms of the energy sector it has committed itself to on paper. Instead, the government has been heavily investing in turning the country into an energy exporter to raise desperately needed revenue.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/tajikistan-s-energy-sector-reforms-is-energy-export-the-only-way-out-of-the-revenue-dilemma

Emomali Rahmon: The Accidental Leader Who Has Stayed In Power For Decades

By ruling with an iron fist and stamping out any opposition, it looks like Emomali Rahmon will carry his authoritarian reign in Tajikistan to at least 35 years

Oct 13 — “One of those Central Asian leaders some refer to as a "strongman" who "rules with an iron fist," Tajik President Emomali Rahmon just won his fifth term in office in the tightly controlled presidential election on October 11. If he serves to the end of his new seven-year term he will have been in power for nearly 35 years, in a reign that began shortly after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/emomali-rahmon-the-accidental-leader-who-has-stayed-in-power-for-decades/30890337.html

TURKMENISTAN

An investigation is underway into the dismissal of the Chairperson of Turkmenistan’s Migration Office

Dismissed officials in Turkmenistan often end up in prison on corruption charges

Oct 12 — “On 7 October, 2020 the Turkmen President dismissed the Chairperson of Turkmenistan’s Migration Office Mergen Gurdov. A source of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” reports that the NSM is carrying out an investigation into the case of Gurdov, who has been charged with corruption.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/10/an-investigation-is-underway-into-the-dismissal-of-the-chairperson-of-turkmenistans-migration-office/

Turkmenistan: Reprimands galore

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

Oct 13 — “Top officials in Turkmenistan are again quaking these days as the president scans the field for people to blame for the country’s woes. At a Cabinet meeting on October 9, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov fired off reprimands for three deputy prime ministers, with the portfolios for the oil and gas sector, for transport, communications and industry, and for trade, respectively. The president’s fury has only served to expose once more the implausibility of official data.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-reprimands-galore

Police officers extort money from detainees or force them to work in their household plots

Corruption is widespread in Turkmen law enforcement agencies

Oct 15 — “Those Turkmen residents who have been subjected to administrative detention in are used as free labour. Pursuant to article 49 of Turkmenistan’s Code of Administrative Offences, the administrative detention for up to 15 days might be imposed by the court. At the same time, according to correspondents of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan”, detainees might be sent to perform works in government agencies.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/10/police-officers-extort-money-from-detainees-or-force-them-to-work-in-their-household-plots/

UZBEKISTAN

British Museum to repatriate ancient tiles smuggled into UK in a suitcase

Ancient artefacts from Samarkand will go on display in London before being returned

Oct 11 — “The British Museum is to help repatriate six glazed tiles from a medieval memorial complex on the edge of Samarkand, which were brought into Heathrow in a suitcase. The man who smuggled them in on a flight from Dubai in January even forged paperwork declaring them as replicas that were “made to look old”. He produced a receipt that claimed they had been bought in Sharjah the previous day for 315 dirham, about £70.” READ MORE: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/oct/11/british-museum-to-repatriate-ancient-tiles-smuggled-into-uk-in-a-suitcase

Impressive progress made by Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan and the European Union are currently negotiating the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA), which will replace the partnership and cooperation agreement that has been in force since 1999

Oct 13 — “The EU and Uzbekistan are edging ever closer to a landmark partnership deal, according to a letter exclusively seen by this website, writes Martin Banks. This comes by way of a reply to a parliamentary question from French MEP Thierry Mariani, a member of the parliament’s Uzbekistan delegation. The question was sent to the EU’s High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell.” READ MORE: https://www.eureporter.co/frontpage/2020/10/13/impressive-progress-made-by-uzbekistan/

Uzbekistan Teams Up With China on Poverty Reduction

Tashkent’s quick move to partner with China on poverty reduction indicates that Beijing is now the model for such efforts

Oct 13 — “On October 2, the Institute for Tourism Development of Uzbekistan announced the implementation of a joint Uzbek-Chinese intergovernmental research project funded by China aimed at exploring the ways tourism could reduce poverty in Uzbekistan. Although partnering with China is not new, framing the efforts within the concept of poverty reduction is new. Tashkent’s announcement of a poverty reduction campaign at the beginning of this year and recently requesting China’s assistance in the effort could mean that from now on most of Uzbekistan’s China cooperation would be framed within poverty reduction programs.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/uzbekistan-teams-up-with-china-on-poverty-reduction/

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan and Iran: From water treaty to water dispute

A dam near completion on the Helmand River in Afghanistan is at the centre of a disagreement over water rights

Oct 14 — “With an estimated 75 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water annually, Afghanistan is, on paper, a self-sufficient water country. However, the country also “has one of the lowest levels of water storage capacity in the world”. Most of the water from its major river basins such as the Amu, Helmand, Harirud-Murghab and Kabul flows to neighbouring countries – Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Lack of water infrastructure as well as the effects of climate change on agricultural output have had a role in forcing many farmers to move to urban centres to secure their livelihoods. At the same time, Afghanistan imports electricity from some of its neighbouring countries, including Iran.” READ MORE: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/afghanistan-and-iran-water-treaty-water-dispute

Growing Sectarianism Can Challenge Lasting Peace in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s insistence on the supremacy of Sunni Hanafism has alarmed Afghan Shias who have long been marginalized

Oct 15 — “As the peace talks continue between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban have resorted to sectarian positioning that has the potential to derail lasting peace in the country. Last February, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal, two main elements of which are the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the beginning of the intra-Afghan peace talks, which finally started a month ago.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/growing-sectarianism-can-challenge-lasting-peace-in-afghanistan/

Challenges in Afghanistan

Recent changes indicate the emergence of a new hardline Taliban leadership

Oct 15 — “Global attention on developments in Afghanistan is now focused on the uncertainties and confusion surrounding the ongoing American withdrawal. But the suffering inflicted on the people of Afghanistan by the ambitions of its neighbours, like Pakistan, and by the rivalries between external powers, notably the Soviet Union and the US, should not be forgotten. About 4.3 million Afghan refugees fled to Pakistan and Iran during the Soviet intervention. Soviet casualties included 13,310 killed. The Soviets departed from Afghanistan in 1992. What followed was a brutal civil war, pitting the Soviet-backed Najibullah government against the ISI trained, radicalised Afghan mujahideen, who were joined by 28,000-30,000 radicalised Pakistani Pashtuns. These were the developments which led to the emergence of the Taliban. The present American intervention in Afghanistan has lasted 19 years.” READ MORE: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/challenges-in-afghanistan-155896

WORLD

Central Asia Can Help The Next U.S. President Balance Both Russia And China

The next U.S. president must place Central Asia as a core component of its global geopolitical strategy to manage an increasingly multipolar world, which is big enough for all powers to trade and thrive

Oct 14 — “We are once again at that moment when the likelihood of a change in the U.S. administration is significant. Yet, regardless of the outcome of the November 3 election, this year is unique for two different reasons: first, the global coronavirus pandemic, and second, the United States is currently reassessing its global leadership role.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/central-asia-can-help-next-us-president-balance-both-russia-and-china-170674

How China can tighten its Belt and Road Initiative in Central Asia

China should veer away from large-scale, top-down investments and seek to work with local companies to build sustainable projects that benefit Central Asians and minimise government corruption

Oct 14 — “This February, hundreds of residents of At-Bashy, a mountain town in Kyrgyzstan, gathered to protest against the construction of a new Chinese-funded logistics centre in the area. Holding signs reading “No Kyrgyz Land To China!”, the protesters argued that locals would see few benefits from the US$275 million project, designed to handle trade coming from the Chinese border some 140 kilometres away. Tension over the new centre had been brewing for months, with at least three previous protests. Bowing to popular pressure, the Kyrgyz government cancelled the project.” READ MORE: https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3105286/how-china-can-tighten-its-belt-and-road-initiative-central-asia

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