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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 Still on the Long Road to a Latin Alphabet

Kazakh has been written in a Cyrillic script since 1940, but government officials have long pushed for a gradual shift to a Latin alphabet

Nov 11 — “This week, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev met with officials responsible for shepherding the Kazakh language from its present Cyrillic script into a Latin alphabet. As reported by RFE/RL, Tokayev asked “Culture Minister Aqtoty Raiymqulova and Education Minister Askhat Aimaghambetov to work with experts on the alphabet and present their work to a national commission working on the issue.” READ MORE:

With Kazakh Schools Going Online, Parents And Teachers Face Unexpected Challenges, Worries

In the era of COVID-19, Kazakhstan is trying to strike a balance between providing quality education and upholding health and sanitary norms to keep people from getting infected

Nov 11 — “Tatiana Kaimashnikova was surprised when her 12-year-old son Roman suddenly began getting high marks on his homework and tests after his school in the northwestern Kazakh city of Oral switched to online classes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Kaimashnikova says she then discovered that Roman merely searches online for ready-made homework and test answers and copies everything instead of actually doing the work himself or studying properly for exams.” READ MORE:

24K Pupils in Kazakhstan Have No Access to Education

According to experts, the problem of ungraded schools can be solved with developed infrastructure and high-speed internet access

Nov 11 — “According to official data of the Ministry of Education of Kazakhstan, the total number of schools in the country in 2019 was 7,398. This number is approximately 900 less schools than 19 years ago. However, 1 school had 391 pupils in average in 2000, and 451 in 2019. However, according to Zhaslan Nurbayev, lecturer of the regional studies department of L.Gumilyov Eurasian National University (ENU), the number of school is declining only in rural areas and northern regions of the country. Often, it happens because of liquidation of an unpromising village.” READ MORE:


Kyrgyzstan: the year of 2020 showed clearly dependence of the budget from external sources

Due to political situation, some foreign partners of Bishkek authorities suspended financial assistance

Nov 6 — “The budget deficit of Kyrgyzstan in 2020 is predicted in the amount of 35.6 billion som (432 million dollars) or 6.1 per cent of GDP. Initially, the deficit was predicted as 7.9 billion som or 1.4 per cent of GDP when the budget for 2020 was set. However, the coronavirus pandemic has done its part. The lockdown that artificially suspended the economic activity in the country, as well as closure of borders, have increased the deficit by almost 4.5 times.” READ MORE:

New Kyrgyzstan leader vilifying free press

Sadyr Japarov has not liked articles about his alleged ties to organized crime

Nov 10 — “Journalists and civic groups in Kyrgyzstan are demanding that acting leader Sadyr Japarov publicly endorse press freedoms while his supporters echo his barbs against a leading news service. Over a dozen media outlets and non-profits signed a November 10 statement characterizing as “dangerous and irresponsible” Japarov’s complaints about the Kyrgyz arm of U.S.-funded broadcaster RFE/RL. Japarov, who became both prime minister and acting president during a political crisis last month, accused the service, known as Azattyk, of “blackening” him in a recent interview with the privately-owned Region TV channel.” READ MORE:

Kyrgyzstan's Latest Anti-Corruption Campaign: Is It Real Or Just For Show?

Anti-corruption campaigns are often a way to redistribute the wealth and this is quite often the case when there is a leadership change

Nov 12 — “Kyrgyzstan has a new leader who has already embarked on his own anti-corruption campaign. All of the leaders in Central Asia have declared such campaigns, some of them several times, but it seems like an absolute necessity to do so after there is a change in leadership and someone new is in power. Kyrgyzstan got just such a change in early October after the results of the flawed October 4 parliamentary elections were announced, leading to protests in the capital that brought the government down and saw Sadyr Japarov -- who was in prison during the elections -- unexpectedly be elevated to prime minister and, later, acting president.” READ MORE:


Tajikistan looks to take a cut from online commerce

The online market is so small that any returns will be minute, however

Nov 5 — “Authorities in Tajikistan are taking another run at taxing internet companies as a way of boosting flagging budget revenues. Asia-Plus newspaper on November 2 cited Finance Minister Fayziddin Kakhhorzoda as saying that the lower house of parliament had adopted changes to the tax code that will extend liability to international online transactions.” READ MORE:

Tajikistan and South Asia: How does the multi-vector foreign policy work?

Countries such as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are important partners for Tajikistan. However, with Russia and China present in Central Asia, not much attention has been paid to the South Asia region lately

Nov 10 — “The constitution of Tajikistan declares the multivectoral foreign policy as the only policy that can accommodate country’s national interests. Some commentators question Tajikistan’s ability to actually dictate its own external agenda. It is believed that Dushanbe is in a constant condition to coordinate its every move with Moscow when it comes to big international endeavours, involving Tajikistan. In that respect, Russia is able to use labour migrants as a leverage for political influence. Due to that russian expert Oleg Panfilov proposes that for Tajikistan dependence on Russia comes with a permanent cost of inability to exercise self-sufficient foreign policy.” READ MORE:

Coronavirus adds to reasons to escape Tajikistan

The terminal state of the economy remains paramount in the minds of those wishing to leave

Nov 13 — “People in Tajikistan are routinely informed by state media that they are living in a garden of plenty, heaven on earth. Just to drive the point home as literally as possible, President Emomali Rahmon is frequently pictured standing next to piles of fruit and vegetables, or maybe standing in a field. All the same, the large number of people applying for U.S. visas through the green card lottery, Russian citizenship or, in more extreme cases, trying to obtain political asylum in Europe shows no sign of abating.” READ MORE:


Turkmenistan's president gets his golden dog

The Alabai is the eccentric president’s favorite breed. He’s even penned a book on them

Nov 11 — “First there was the man on his horse. Then came the man’s best friend. Turkmenistan leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has finally followed through on a promise to honor the nationally revered Alabai dog with a statue. A state television report that aired on the evening of November 10 showed Berdymukhamedov gazing happily at a gold-leaf canine – the centerpiece of a residential area designed for civil servants in Ashgabat.” READ MORE:

Factors contributing to effectiveness of neutral foreign policy of Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan has regularly updated its foreign policy concept where the commitment to permanent neutrality remains unchanged

Nov 12 — “After entering the Peace of Westphalia era, which paved the way for modern inter-state politics and created the framework for modern international relations, the world order has faced challenges of various characters and scale. Today's international system is politically, economically, and technologically more complex than when the institutional pillars of the current order were established back in the XX century. Modern states have responded to this complexity by creating foreign policies based on their national interests and visions of world order. Among them, Turkmenistan is considered an exemplary state in terms of building an effective foreign policy that harmoniously combines national interests with the common interests of the global community.” READ MORE:

Turkmenistan fails to create vast lake in Karakum desert

Turkmen authorities prefer to pour money into huge vanity projects than invest in local water solutions to help long-suffering farmers

Nov 12 — “In post-Soviet Turkmenistan, a passion for large scale and ‘great socialist construction projects’ has persisted. The largest of these, in both labour and financial terms, is the Golden Age Lake in the middle of the Karakum desert. In 1999, President Saparmurat Niyazov announced the decision to build the lake at a cost of USD 4.5 billion – which later grew to USD 6 billion. The project aims to pump water along a network of canals into the Karashor depression, in the northern Karakum desert.” READ MORE:


Uzbekistan to begin Chinese vaccine trial

5,000 volunteers have been mobilized for the phase-three trial

Nov 9 — “Uzbekistan is set to begin trials of a Chinese-manufactured coronavirus vaccine, authorities have said, with several alternatives under consideration as Tashkent plots a path out of the pandemic. Innovation Minister Ibrokhim Abdurakhmonov told private media on November 9 that Chinese specialists had flown in with doses of the vaccine produced by Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical last week.” READ MORE:

Afghanistan may serve as land-bridge to Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf for Uzbekistan

The two neighbors have already established extensive economic relations

Nov 11 — “Afghanistan is not only a market for Uzbek products, but it can also serve as a land-bridge between Central Asia and South Asia, namely connecting with India and Pakistan, a researcher at Center on International Cooperation-NYU, Said Sabir Ibrahimi told Trend in an interview. "Under President Ashraf Ghani and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the two countries are adamant about regional economic connectivity. As landlocked countries, they both need it," said Ibrahimi.” READ MORE:

Enhanced Partnership and Co-operation Agreements (EPCAs) with Uzbekistan

In an exclusive interview, Simon Hewitt, a researcher at the EIAS and Alberto Turkstra, the think tank’s Programme Director, outlined their views on a whole raft of issues concerning EU-Uzbek relations

Nov 12 — “The new Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (EPCAs) with Uzbekistan will be the “cornerstone” of its future relations with the EU, according to a think tank. The Brussels-based European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) also hailed the “bold” economic reform and liberalization programme carried out by the country’s President Mirziyoyev since he came to power in 2016. But it also cautions that the “amiable relations” between the EU-Uzbekistan “will depend on the success of ECPA”. READ MORE:


Rising Barriers to Indian Soft Power in Afghanistan

India has found itself somehow sidelined in a process where actors like Pakistan, China, and Turkey are playing a major role

Nov 6 — “Over the course of last two decades, India has presented itself as a major player in Afghanistan in the realm of soft power. Through strategically investing in multi-sectorial social-economic activities, India has not just presented an alternative to the hard power tactics that Afghanistan has witnessed from Pakistan, it has also won the ‘hearts and minds’ with the ideas of nation building and cultural influence through art, culture, music, education opportunities and economic investments. This should conclude in the verdict that India holds a key position in any engagement that focuses on Afghanistan’s future and that India can affect the course of developments keeping in view its own national interests.” READ MORE:

Biden Presidency Expected To Hone, Not Radically Alter, Washington’s Approach To Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Biden administration is expected to adopt a nuanced approach to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by prioritizing an economically and politically stable Afghanistan

Nov 9 — “As a former chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and vice president, Joe Biden has been closely involved in Washington’s war in Afghanistan and its complex relations with neighboring Pakistan for decades. As Washington seeks to end the longest war in its history, Biden’s presidency is poised to tweak but not completely change the U.S. course in Afghanistan while also adjusting relations with neighboring Pakistan.” READ MORE:

Will Biden stay on the course set by Trump in Afghanistan?

In an interview with CBS in July, Biden had said the US bears “zero responsibility’’ if the Taliban came back to power after the withdrawal of US troops

Nov 11 — “How will Joe Biden’s election as US president affect the Afghan peace process, which was pushed by his predecessor, current President Donald Trump? Analysts say Biden will largely stay on the course set by the outgoing president but will hold the Taliban accountable for violence. They say the real difference will be in implementation, with some Afghans expressing hope Biden will give fewer concessions to the Taliban, which has been engaged in peace talks with the Afghan leadership in the Qatari capital Doha.” READ MORE:


5+1: The Math of Geopolitics in Central Asia

Central Asia remains a geostrategically vital region for the US, Russia, and China

Nov 7 — “On October 15, 2020, foreign ministers of 5 Central Asian countries met with the Russian foreign minister and adopted a joint statement on strategic cooperation areas[1]. It marks the third meeting in such a composition, hence reflecting the development of a diplomatic format analogous to the American “C5 + 1”, which has been set up few years before that. It should be mentioned that China, too, bolsters the same “5+1” approach to the region.” READ MORE:

China’s Vaccine Diplomacy Revamps the Health Silk Road Amid COVID-19

China’s vaccine diplomacy stands to benefit the country economically and politically, underscoring the development of a global health system in which Chinese influence dominates

Nov 12 — “As global COVID-19 cases exceed 51 million, a top health official from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has predicted that China is “very likely” to avoid a winter coronavirus outbreak, adding that the coronavirus situation in China was “very safe overall” (Caixin, November 11). The head of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) expressed similar optimism in September when he noted that widespread vaccinations likely would not be necessary in China due to the country’s effective control of the outbreak (SCMP, September 13).” READ MORE:


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