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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: President wades into tree-felling controversy

Tokayev's attention to this relatively trivial issue shows he wishes to be seen as a "listening president"

Nov 24 — “The felling of a row of trees in Kazakhstan’s business capital has provoked a row that has even prompted the intervention of the president. A hubbub broke out on social media over the weekend, when Almaty residents awoke to find that tall elms and oaks that provided shade during the sultry summer along a central thoroughfare had been cut down. Meanwhile, a branch of the Sulpak electronics chain, which was previously obscured by the trees, can now be seen clearly.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-president-wades-into-tree-felling-controversy

Kazakhstan to borrow $1.8Bln for COVID fight

The government is eager to stress that the loan is all but interest free

Nov 24 — “Kazakhstan is borrowing $1.8 billion from development banks to help cope with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lower house of parliament, the Majilis, on November 24 approved agreements to borrow more than $1 billion from the Philippines-based Asian Development Bank and another $800 million from the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Senate will now consider the same agreements.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-to-borrow-18bln-for-covid-fight

Banking Consolidation Continues in Kazakhstan

A bank close to Nazarbayev buys a competitor, while smaller lenders continue to fall

Nov 25 — “Once again, Kazakhstan’s banking sector shrank and consolidated, as a bank linked to former President Nursultan Nazarbayev bought a similar-sized competitor and another bank lost its license. Jusan Bank agreed to acquire competitor ATF Bank with Galymzhan Yessenov, its sole shareholder, at the beginning of November. Jusan Bank (also spelled Jýsan) is the rebranded version of Tsesnabank, once a financial powerhouse that had to be first bailed out in 2018 and was then acquired in early 2019 by First Heartland, a company effectively owned by Nazarbayev.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/11/banking-consolidation-continues-in-kazakhstan/

KYRGYZSTAN

Covid-19 Gathers Pace Again. Kyrgyzstanis Can Rely On Themselves Only

Nothing has changed in health care system since summer, old problems remained

Nov 25 — “Daily registration of new cases and lethal outcomes from coronavirus in recent weeks both in Kyrgyzstan and in the world proves that SARS-CoV-2 gathers pace again. If people do not follow the advices of medical workers, the critical situation that took place in summer in the country can repeat. Kyrgyzstanis can again have problems they used to have – lack of beds in hospitals, shortage of medications and medical equipment, lethal outcomes.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/covid-19-gathers-pace-again-kyrgyzstanis-can-rely-on-themselves-only

In remote, offline Kyrgyzstan, the best of the internet comes in a box

An interview with the Internet Society Kyrgyzstan chapter’s co-founder about bringing internet to the most rural schools

Nov 25 — “The internet has never had a year like 2020. With the pandemic forcing people everywhere to retreat into their homes, our lives are virtual like never before. But what if you don’t have internet access? For schoolchildren in remote parts of Kyrgyzstan, that’s not a hypothetical question. For the Internet Society, it’s a challenge.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/in-remote-offline-kyrgyzstan-the-best-of-the-internet-comes-in-a-box

Kyrgyzstan’s Post-Revolutionary Crossroads

After three revolutions in two decades, the Kyrgyz people have proven to be highly effective at toppling corrupt regimes. But if they cannot learn to build as well as they destroy, they will remain perpetually in the dangerous zone between political chaos and state failure

Nov 27 — “After staging three revolutions in two decades, one could argue that the people of Kyrgyzstan have accumulated unique knowledge of how it’s done. Then again, because new problems have emerged each time, there are clearly limits to what experience can offer. Kyrgyzstan’s latest revolution began in a typical fashion. Following a parliamentary election on October 4, protesters and rioters took to the streets seeking to annul the result, triggering a full-scale political crisis.” READ MORE: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/kyrgyzstan-third-revolution-what-happens-next-by-djoomart-otorbaev-2020-11

TAJIKISTAN

Why Are Tajik TV Channels Silent About Events in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan?

Tajik media are reluctant to report the events in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan for fear of being accused of destabilization of the situation in Tajikistan

Nov 20 — “For several months now, the protests continue in Belarus; at the same time in Kyrgyzstan, the President resigned and the new elections are being prepared. In Tajikistan, media publish only brief reports on these events, and some journalists even claim facing censorship. Jaloliddin, resident of a remote village in Jomi district of Khatlon region, says that he heard about the protests in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan from the Russian TV channels. He expected Tajik media to cover this topic as well.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/why-are-tajik-tv-channels-silent-about-events-in-belarus-and-kyrgyzstan

Alif Bank forges ahead with digitalisation programme

Alif Bank's co-founder and chairman discuss the challenges and opportunities of building a digital banking ecosystem in Tajikistan and Central Asia

Nov 24 — “What are the biggest hurdles to greater financial stability, efficiency and financial inclusion in Tajikistan and the wider central Asia region? Khofiz Shakhidi: Achieving greater digitalisation in all aspects of the lives of people in Central Asia will eventually bring about a more stable and efficient financial system that will work for everyone. Thankfully, the cliche hurdles of internet access and financial literacy of some Central Asian states are being effectively addressed by governments and international organisations. Hence, Alif Bank in Tajikistan and its sister companies in Uzbekistan are increasingly benefiting from those developments.” READ MORE: https://www.thebanker.com/World/Alif-Bank-forges-ahead-with-digitalisation-programme

Tajikistan: Emomali’s Russia visit signals his emerging role

To date, Emomali’s public appearances have most been limited to trivial affairs, such as shadowing his father at events like one to mark National Melon Day or Nowruz spring equinox festivities

Nov 26 — “Rustam Emomali, the son and widely presumed successor to Tajikistan’s incumbent president, this week made his maiden official visit to Russia in his capacity as speaker of the Senate. The trip on November 24 comes as Russia continues to enforce rigid coronavirus-related restrictions for people traveling from Tajikistan, despite easing entry rules for those arriving from elsewhere in Central Asia. The problem is of acute concern for Tajikistan, whose economy relies heavily on remittances, and signals Emomali’s emergent role as a national figurehead.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-emomalis-russia-visit-signals-his-emerging-role

TURKMENISTAN

Ready for (no) change: Pitfalls of Staying in Power in Turkmenistan

Expert analyzes tactics and possible scenarios for the transit of power in Turkmenistan

Nov 23 — “On September 25, a year after president Berdymuhamedov announced his plans for constitutional reform, Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council) heartily approved all necessary amendments, paving the way for the possible hereditary power transition in the country. The reform happens amidst a full-fledged economic and healthcare crisis, nearly-total dependence on Chinese loans, as well as growing frustration and protest within and outside Turkmen borders. What tactics does the Turkmen leadership employ to stay in power and what do these arrangements entail for regime survival, regional players, local elites, state structures and, more importantly, the country’s population?” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/mechanisms-for-strengthening-power-in-turkmenistan-preparing-for-transit

Turkmenistan: The dammed united

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

Nov 24 — “The coronavirus fiction is slipping just a little bit more. Authorities in Turkmenistan on November 23 imposed a ban on anybody aged over 50 traveling between regions and cities in order to prevent the spread of “acute infectious diseases.” No mention is made of what specific disease this measure is meant to stem, but this is only because it is president-sanctioned policy to deny that any COVID-19 cases have been detected in the country.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-the-dammed-united

Coming soon: Turkmenistan’s government-backed email and messaging app

The launch could tighten the government’s grip on digital spaces in a country where popular social media platforms are already banned

Nov 25 — “Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most isolated dictatorships, is planning to launch its own messaging app and email. A state-owned communications company Turkmentelekom has developed software for national e-mail, according to a November 12 report by the government’s news agency TDH. The report added that President Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov was informed during a cabinet meeting that the email service was being tested ahead of its rollout.” READ MORE: https://www.codastory.com/authoritarian-tech/turkmenistan-messaging-app/

UZBEKISTAN

Interview: Uzbek region keen to partner with Chinese businesses -- official

The Andijan region holds a strategic geographical location as it occupies a key place in the China-Central Asia-Europe transport route, which runs through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan

Nov 24 — “Uzbekistan's Andijan region, one of the country's largest industrial and agricultural regions, is keen to implement Uzbek-Chinese joint projects with the Chinese business community, Governor Shuhrat Abdurahmanov told Xinhua Tuesday. Andijan region, dubbed the pearl of the Fergana Valley, is in eastern Uzbekistan and borders Kyrgyzstan in the north. "The natural and investment climate of the region with over 3 million industrious people, creates a favorable environment for foreign investors to do business here, especially in the agricultural sector," said Abdurahmanov.” READ MORE: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-11/24/c_139539996.htm

US-Uzbekistan Relations Right on Track

The U.S. and Uzbekistan aim to transition toward a “Strategic Partnership Dialogue” in 2021

Nov 25 — “Last week, while Washington remained locked in a strange political vortex generated by President Donald Trump’s denial of his defeat in the November 4 election by former Vice President Joe Biden, the mundane operations of diplomacy continued below the noise. With an unlucky timeslot in an unusual year, last week a delegation from Uzbekistan led by Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov popped around Washington for the country’s Annual Bilateral Consultations.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/11/us-uzbekistan-relations-right-on-track/

Uzbek domestic abuse victims feel judged, trapped despite new law

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev promised to take women's rights seriously after coming to power four years ago in the former Soviet republic, where domestic violence has long been treated as a private, family matter

Nov 27 — “A week after they exchanged vows, Nigora's husband started beating her. Three years after leaving him, she still gets blamed for the break-up - even the Uzbek justice system thinks she should give the marriage another try. A law passed last year criminalised domestic violence in Uzbekistan, but women's campaigners say protecting victims could take time in a country where abused women are often urged to stick it out or find a solution within the family.” READ MORE: https://news.trust.org/item/20201127020456-mbxe0/

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan History Repeats Itself; This Time Jeopardizes US Interests

A shortsighted deal with the Taliban could jeopardize the hard-won gains of the last decades

Nov 22 — “If we look back to the past, we find that this is not the first time a foreign country has attempted to end the war in Afghanistan through negotiation with insurgents. In early 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, he decided to negotiate with the Mujahidin (freedom fighters against the Soviet Union occupation) to facilitate an orderly withdrawal and ensure the stability of its supported government in Kabul, and ultimately end the war which he called “the bleeding wound.” READ MORE: https://tolonews.com/opinion-167945

Withdrawal from Afghanistan is Trump’s Gift to Joe Biden

Is the “Rubik’s Cube” of conflicts finally ending?

Nov 26 — “You’d have to be a fool not to listen to Bob Gates. The former head of the CIA, retired defense secretary and tough, outspoken, nose-to-the-grindstone amateur historian, is viewed as a sage observer of all-things-Washington. His judgments are regularly quoted, celebrated, admired and repeated. That’s important just now, as President-elect Joe Biden mounts his transition to the Oval Office, a room he’s regularly frequented, but never inhabited. Is Biden prepared? Bob Gates doesn’t think so: Biden, Gates told us in Duty, his memoir of his years in government service, “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” READ MORE: https://nationalinterest.org/feature/withdrawal-afghanistan-trump’s-gift-joe-biden-173202

Afghanistan braced for second wave of COVID-19

Afghan health workers predict a second wave of COVID-19 infections, but is the health system ready?

Nov 27 — “Mohammad Gasim lies in bed taking oxygen at the Afghan–Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. The 63-year-old man arrived at the hospital a few days ago with body pain, fever, and weakness. He is lying in bed at the high dependency unit—one stage before the intensive care unit (ICU)—of the communicable disease hospital that has been transformed into a COVID-19 hospital with 120 beds. Patients travel from all over Afghanistan to this hospital in Kabul, knowing that their chance of recovery is best in the capital city.” READ MORE: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32529-0/fulltext

WORLD

China diversifies in Central Asia

Beijing has adopted a new economic model for the region, investing less in major infrastructure and spreading its risk

Nov 23 — “Roads, pipelines, coal-fired power plants: not so much anymore. Beijing has changed course. It now rarely funds major infrastructure projects in Central Asia. Instead the People’s Republic has shifted to manufacturing: a bus factory here, a cement plant there. When Beijing does lend, it is still from its policy banks (China Development Bank and China Eximbank), but preferably after securing joint funding from local partners or other countries.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/china-diversifies-in-central-asia

Return of Great Game in Post-Soviet Central Asia

China was careful to balance its accumulating presence in Central Asia with its improving relations with Russia through the 1990s, while also retaining its strategic relationship with Pakistan

Nov 23 — “The recent Issue Brief by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission entitled The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: A Testbed for Chinese Power Projection takes a close look at the Chinese security footprint in Central Asia and its political dimensions. A perception has grown over the most recent years amongst great game watchers generally, especially the US analysts, that China is gobbling up Central Asia. On the contrary, this report takes a contrarian view.” READ MORE: https://www.newsclick.in/Return-Great-Game-Post-Soviet-Central-Asia

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