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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: IT system at China border increases corruption and lines

Some appear to be using bribes to circumvent the technology

Nov 16 — “An IT system intended to modernize cross-border travel and trade between Kazakhstan and China has, according to lawmakers in Nur-Sultan, only generated corruption and delays. At times, trucks are forced to stand idle for months before being allowed to get to the other side of Nur Zholy-Khorgos, the largest border checkpoint in Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-it-system-at-china-border-increases-corruption-and-lines

Kazakhstan: Near half ventilators bought for COVID-19 defective

Numbers of coronavirus cases has seen a sharp surge recently in Kazakhstan

Nov 19 — “Of the 1,500 ventilators that Kazakhstan bought to cope with the healthcare crisis caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, only around half of them work properly, a member of the upper house of parliament has claimed. Nurlan Kylyshbayev said during a session of the Senate on November 19 that an investigation of hospitals where coronavirus patients are being treated revealed that around 700 of the machines either lacked components or were unfit for use, according to a report on news website Vlast.kz.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-near-half-ventilators-bought-for-covid-19-defective

Kazakh Court Upholds Decision To Place Blogger In Psychiatric Clinic

Human rights groups have criticized the Kazakh government for years for persecuting independent and opposition journalists

Nov 19 — “A Kazakh court has upheld a decision to place a journalist and blogger accused of being involved in the activities of a banned organization in a psychiatric clinic. The Nur-Sultan court of appeals announced its decision on November 19, meaning that Aigul Otepova will now be transferred from house arrest to a psychiatric clinic as ruled by a court last week. The initial ruling said Otepova must be placed in a psychiatric clinic for one month to check her mental sanity.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakh-court-upholds-decision-to-place-blogger-in-psychiatric-clinic/30958453.html

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan's China debt: Between crowdfunding and austerity

Beijing does not appear disposed to give too much leeway

Nov 17 — “Whoever is in power after Kyrgyzstan’s presidential elections in January may have to look beyond the budget to service swelling state debt – a big chunk of which is owed to China. The Export-Import Bank of China, which holds around $1.8 billion of the $4.8 billion total, is not among the creditors that have granted Bishkek fresh grace periods.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstans-china-debt-between-crowdfunding-and-austerity

Why Kyrgyzstan Won’t Gain from the Protracted Border Dispute with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan?

Since the 1990s, following the collapse of the Union, about 143,000 hectares of Tajikistan’s land were left on Kyrgyzstan’s territory, wherein 2,600 hectares of Kyrgyzstan’s remained respectively in Tajikistan’s territory. A similar situation is observed on the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border

Nov 17 — “One of the most sensitive and complex issues on Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy agenda is the unresolved fate of state boundaries that has two dimensions: first, the relationship among local communities in the border areas and cooperation between neighboring states. Border conflicts arise due to incomplete processes of demarcation and delimitation of state boundaries in areas where they are of significant economic importance. Amidst the unfolding events in the country, yet another incident on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border on October 25 appears especially disturbing[1]. Pending is also the question of borders with Uzbekistan.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/why-kyrgyzstan-won-t-gain-from-the-protracted-border-dispute-with-tajikistan-and-uzbekistan

What’s in Kyrgyzstan’s Proposed ‘Khanstitution’?

On social media, the draft constitution has been dubbed a “Khanstitution” given the immense powers it shifts into the hands of the president

Nov 20 — “It’s been another busy week in Kyrgyz politics. The system is in flux from top to bottom, and it’s not clear what legitimacy means anymore. On Monday, Sadyr Japarov who has been serving as both prime minister and acting president since October, resigned his posts in order to run for president. On Tuesday, Kyrgyzstan’s expired parliament published for public review a draft constitution that has kicked up a new tempest within Kyrgyzstan’s already boiling political sea, now dotted with at least 60 presidential hopefuls eyeing the January 10 early presidential election.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/11/whats-in-kyrgyzstans-proposed-khanstitution/

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan Lifts Ban On Prison Visits By Inmates' Relatives

Visitors to Tajik prisons will need negative coronavirus tests

Nov 16 — “Tajik authorities say families of inmates are now allowed to visit their relatives in the Central Asian country’s penitentiaries, seven months after a ban on such visits was imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The deputy chief of the Justice Ministry’s Main Penitentiary Directorate, Ilhom Mahmudov, told RFE/RL over the weekend that relatives are now allowed to visit prisoners if they can show negative coronavirus test results obtained 24 hours prior to the visit.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-lifts-ban-on-prison-visits-by-inmates-relatives/30952729.html

Tajikistan: Lights out as dams falter

Electricity rationing has returned after a few years of reprieve

Nov 17 — “First prices for food started spiking in Tajikistan. Now the power is going out. Life has become harder since the election in October that saw Emomali Rahmon secure another term as president with 92 percent of ballots cast. While the government tried to keep the public mood on an even keel before the vote, that urgency appears to have faded. Since the start of November, citizens in the regions have reported that they are only receiving electricity for a handful of hours daily.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-lights-out-as-dams-falter

Tajikistan: Protecting Children’s Health During COVID-19

Through the Tajikistan Emergency COVID-19 Project, the World Bank is financing cash transfers, which have proven to be an effective tool to support the poor worldwide

Nov 20 — “Tajikistan, as one of the most remittance-reliant economies in the world, was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like in any economic crisis, the brunt of the impact is being borne by lower-income households and especially by children, who are already affected by higher poverty rates compared to other population groups. More than 80 percent of households in Tajikistan that receive remittances spend them primarily on food and other basic necessities. Remittances to Tajikistan are projected to decline by 15 percent in 2020.” READ MORE: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2020/11/20/tajikistan-protecting-childrens-health-during-covid-19

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmen Villagers Prefer 'Home Treatment' To Ill-Prepared Hospitals

In many of Turkmenistan's hospitals, patients are expected to bring their own medicine, blankets, food, and even firewood to heat their rooms

Nov 16 — “In provinces of Turkmenistan, like Lebap and Dashoguz, many villagers say they avoid hospitals when they become ill because public health facilities have almost nothing to offer. In the Darganta district of Lebap Province, hospital patients are even expected to bring their own firewood and blankets to stay warm. Residents say they also must provide their own food three times a day because local hospitals don't offer anything to eat.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmen-villagers-ill-prepared-hospitals-home-treatment-coronavirus/30952962.html

Turkmenistan: A dog’s tale

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

Nov 17 — “It hasn’t been since the president was rumored to be dead that Turkmenistan has earned this much international attention. And all it took was unveiling a gold-leafed statue to an Alabai shepherd dog. Not everyone was amused by the derisive tone of much of the coverage, however. Tatjana Rosen, a technical advisor to the United Nations Environment Program, instead dwelled in a Twitter thread on what she deems to be the positive steps taken by Turkmenistan to preserve its ecological balance. And the Alabai deserves praise for contributing to this, she argues.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-a-dogs-tale

At a closed session officials from Turkmenistan’s Healthcare Ministry acknowledge COVID-19 pandemic and initiate inspections of infectious diseases hospitals

It is still forbidden to indicate COVID-19 as a diagnosis in Turkmenistan. Instead, various types of “pneumonia” are indicated as a diagnosis and death certificates indicate pneumonia, chronic diseases and underlying medical conditions

Nov 18 — “On 13 November, 2020 President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov opened a new infectious diseases hospital in the village of Yizgant, Geokdepe etrap. The event brought together executives and assistant heads of velayat healthcare departments as well as chief physicians of regional infectious diseases hospitals.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/11/at-a-closed-session-officials-from-turkmenistans-healthcare-ministry-acknowledge-covid-19-pandemic-and-initiate-inspections-of-infectious-diseases-hospitals/

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan Nudges SCO in Economic Direction

Economic matters have been rising on the agenda of the predominantly security-focused regional organization

Nov 16 — “On November 10, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev participated in the virtually held Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of State meeting. The appearance was his fourth since coming to power and his address this year was notably different from his previous statements. It also contrasted sharply with statements made by his predecessor, Islam Karimov, in the same format. Mirziyoyev’s emphasis at the SCO has been increasingly economic over the years while his predecessor staunchly stuck to a security agenda.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/11/uzbekistan-nudges-sco-in-economic-direction/

Uzbekistan: Officials may be tested on knowledge of native language

Getting a proficiency certificate could be required from 2023

Nov 16 — “In its latest bid to promote the cause of its state language, Uzbekistan is planning to require anybody aspiring to high-ranking state positions to produce a certificate of proficiency. Under the terms of draft legislation that is open for public review until November 28 the requirement would come into force from 2023. The bill drafted by the State Testing Center, the government’s exams-setting body, envisions creating tests designed to assess people’s familiarity with Uzbek literature, as well as a command of the Uzbek language.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-officials-may-be-tested-on-knowledge-of-native-language

Uzbek Archaeological Sites Being Destroyed By Modern Construction

As cities, towns, and villages expand, development is increasingly encroaching on areas known or suspected of being the sites of historic settlements

Nov 19 — “The land of Uzbekistan’s modern-day Yakkabagh district has been home to people for many hundreds of years. This is known because of archaeological work done in the area. Now it is the latest example of a dilemma for many areas of Central Asia where the needs of the living conflict with the goal of preserving the past. People have lived in Central Asia for millennia, but the population at the turn of the 20th century was about 8 million people.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-archaeological-sites-destroyed-by-modern-construction/30958186.html

AFGHANISTAN

As America pulls out of Afghanistan the Taliban fight on

Negotiations are not making much headway, but the insurgency is

Nov 18 — “To reach the front line in Afghanistan’s civil war, you do not need to go far from the capital, Kabul. At a police outpost in Wardak province, about 20km outside the city on the main highway leading south, the Taliban’s encroachment is evident. The outpost is little more than a ring of concrete blast walls perched on a hill overlooking the road. Around a dozen men, mostly dressed not in fatigues but in shalwar kameez and trainers, stand around. Some hold guns; most do not. A few look like teenagers. The 25-year-old in charge, Omedullah Khanjar, who commands six outposts along the highway, explains that, by day, things are mostly quiet. But at night, he says, the local Taliban shoot at the post from a nearby ridge. Unlike the cops, they have night-vision goggles and laser sights.” READ MORE: https://www.economist.com/asia/2020/11/18/as-america-pulls-out-of-afghanistan-the-taliban-fight-on

A Horse Breeder Helps Preserve An Ancient Sport In Afghanistan

Buzkashi is played in many Central Asian nations and is part of the nomadic heritage of many nations in the region. Its rules, however, vary from country to country and even among regions within one country

Nov 18 — “Abdul Rauf Amini, a horseman and breeder in northern Afghanistan, is the keeper of an ancient tradition. He grooms horses to ride and compete in buzkashi, Afghanistan’s national sport that involves teams of horse riders fighting over a decapitated and disemboweled goat carcass. They jostle to grab the goat then maneuver around a large field while aiming to land it in a marked circle and win the game.” READ MORE: https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/a-horse-breeder-helps-preserve-an-ancient-sport-in-afghanistan/30956966.html

Emboldening The Taliban? Accelerated U.S. Troop Pullout Risks Increased Violence In Afghanistan

Analysts say the quickened U.S. troop reduction will give the Taliban less incentive to keep its pledges and choose negotiation over continued war

Nov 19 — “The accelerated U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan announced by Washington this week could plunge the war-wracked country deeper into violence and undercut fragile peace talks aimed at ending the war, analysts say. Under a February deal between the United States and the Taliban, the remaining U.S. forces were to leave Afghanistan by May if the militants met certain conditions.” READ MORE: https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/emboldening-the-taliban-accelerated-u-s-troop-pullout-risks-increased-violence-in-afghanistan/30959021.html

WORLD

Central Asian NGOs raise concerns about BRI projects

Experts are calling on their governments to strengthen oversight of Belt and Road Initiative projects as anger rises over their environmental and social impacts

Nov 19 — “Since the announcement of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, China has overtaken Russia to become the largest investor in Central Asian economies, attracted by the region’s mineral deposits and hydrocarbons, economic opportunities for Chinese products and the desire to ensure stability and security in its western Xinjiang region. Reflecting these motivations, Chinese investment has mainly been in infrastructure and extractive industries, which has brought an array of negative environmental impacts and social tensions to the region.” READ MORE: https://www.eco-business.com/news/central-asian-ngos-raise-concerns-about-bri-projects/

Central Asia’s Specter of Insecurity: The View from Badakhshan to Fergana

In the near future, northern Afghanistan will remain susceptible to militants from multiple countries as well as the Taliban and Islamic State and potentially al-Qaeda. Therefore, northern Afghanistan will be perceived as a region capable of contributing to the destabilization of Central Asia, including Fergana Valley

Nov 20 — “Amid ongoing negotiations between the United States and the Afghan Taliban, the period between late September and November was marked by increasing violence in Afghanistan, which resulted in hundreds of casualties among the Afghan military and police as well as civilians (Stanradar.com, October 5). On September 27, the Taliban launched a massive offensive in more than ten provinces (Southasiamonitor.org, September 28). Badakhshan was especially targeted. The province is a strategically important part of Afghanistan, sharing a 450-kilometer border with Pakistan, 90-kilometer border with China, and an 800-kilometer border with Tajikistan. Among others, the police chief of Kohistan district in Badakhshan, Abdul Zahir, was killed (Tolonews.com, September 30).” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/central-asias-specter-of-insecurity-the-view-from-badakhshan-to-fergana/

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