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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: The Biggest Surprise In 2020 Frontier Financial Markets

Kazakh bonds are now priced more expensive than Russia and China bonds of similar yield and maturity dates

Dec 20 — “Who would have thought that a bank only Russians and Kazakhs really know about, would launch this fintech app, being first to market, leapfrogging everyone in Central Asia, and list its shares on the London Stock Exchange and Astana International Financial Center? And then went on to become one of the four biggest IPOs of the year at the time.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2020/12/20/kazakhstan-the-biggest-surprise-in-2020-frontier-financial-markets/?sh=65fd0cab74b0

Kazakhstan: the new EU Green Gateway to East Asia

Kazakhstan, becoming the main transport hub in the middle of the Eurasian continent, has also turned into the new EU Green Gateway to East Asia

Dec 21 — “A new geography of transcontinental transport and trade is in the making across Eurasia as the “EU-China Express” freight trains have reached in 2020 a landmark transit of half million TEU containers equivalent, an increase of 65% over 2019. The Trans-Eurasian Rail Corridor has established itself as a new important channel for EU trade with Eurasia and East Asia The EU stands much to gain in adapting its transport network to this new reality. The establishment of rapid trans-Eurasian rail routes has brought closer together the two edges of the Eurasian continent while giving a chance to Central Asia partners to become land-linked and have access to global markets.” READ MORE: https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-asia/opinion/kazakhstan-the-new-eu-green-gateway-to-east-asia/

Universities Registered in Apartments and Holding No Classes: How Higher Education Reform is Implemented in Kazakhstan

In Kazakhstan, licenses of 25 universities were revoked and over 60 universities were left without the government contract

Dec 24 — “Madina received a degree in psychology at the university of Taldykorgan. However, it can hardly be called the study – all examinations were passed by bribes. «I was absent for six months, I just sent money to the monitor, she solved all issues. After I graduated, I found a job, I receive salary, my employment is official. I don’t perform surgeries, so I don’t feel ashamed for that. Every person survives in this life. My cousin gave a cow to her acquaintances to get a job of a mathematics teacher,» the girl said. The quality of higher education and its optimisation are long-lasting issues in Kazakhstan.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/universities-registered-in-apartments-and-holding-no-classes-how-higher-education-reform-is-implemented-in-kazakhstan

KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan’s Silent Hill: How smog is killing a city

It is a particularly sad legacy for Bishkek, once celebrated for its many tree-lined streets

Dec 21 — “The capital of Kyrgyzstan has been trapped under a dome of dark, gray fumes for about two months. Even when forecasters promise good weather, Bishkek residents rarely get to see the sun’s rays. The gloom of winter and smog is accompanied by a constant lingering smell of burning, as households not attached to the gas grid fall back on dirty stoves to keep warm. Locals have jokingly taken to referring to the city as Silent Hill, a reference to the video game and horror movie franchise from the 2000s about a town enveloped in a mysterious fog.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstans-silent-hill-how-smog-is-killing-a-city

How Does the Secrecy of Information About the Kyrgyz Police Affect Corruption Within the Institution?

The Kyrgyz police needs to declassify information about themselves in order to fight corruption within the institution

Dec 22 — “The data on the planned budget, expenditures, financing and staffing of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic are classified. Such a “secret” is a relic of the past, which limits the possibilities of civil control and does not correspond to the principles of openness and transparency of public administration. However, the key issue that needs to be addressed is the systemic corruption within the institution, which is exacerbated by the excessive secrecy of information.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/how-does-the-secrecy-of-information-about-the-kyrgyz-police-affect-corruption-within-the-institution

Kyrgyzstan: Increased Interference in Trade Union Activities

The harassment of trade union leaders takes place against the backdrop of parliament’s efforts to push through a restrictive draft trade union law

Dec 22 — “Kyrgyz authorities have increased scrutiny of trade union leaders, including through criminal investigations, and are unduly interfering in legitimate trade union activities in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. On November 21, 2020, the Office of the Prime Minister barred the country’s main trade union body, the Federation of Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan, from holding its December 4 congress, when elections for the position of chairperson were planned.” READ MORE: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/12/23/kyrgyzstan-increased-interference-trade-union-activities

TAJIKISTAN

In time of hunger, Tajik president pictured with plenty

Many Tajik families routinely forgo basic provisions

Dec 18 — “Tajikistan is in the throes of a food crisis. In a regular year, the United Nations estimates, almost a third of the country is malnourished. Now it’s surely worse. The corrupt, ineffectual government was not prepared for a shock like coronavirus. It’s unclear if President Emomali Rahmon is aware. The strongman’s image consultants think he looks great standing next to stacks of bread, piles of fresh fruit, and refrigerators full of sausages. He crisscrosses Tajikistan, always finding plenty.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/in-time-of-hunger-tajik-president-pictured-with-plenty

Construction of Rogun hydroelectric power plant in Tajikistan: workers have not been paid since summer

At the moment, hundreds of employees of the Rogun hydroelectric power plant cannot get their salary, and the power plant for the first two years of operation of two units has already owed the budget millions of somoni

Dec 18 — “According to 40-year old Akram, one of the builders of the Rogun hydroelectric power plant, they were promised a salary before the presidential elections, which were held on November, 11. “Then they said they would pay us after the president’s arrival. The president came to the power plant after the election, but we were not paid again. We asked the company for a loan, but they say they also did not get paid, so they also need money”, said Akram. Alongside Akram, other workers at the Rogun hydroelectric power plant complained that they were not being paid. They point out that the employees of the Italian Salini Impregilo which is the general contractor for the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power plant are getting paid on time, only the workers of the Tajik companies are not getting paid since summer. Many companies are involved in the construction of the site, the majority are local.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/construction-of-rogun-hydroelectric-power-plant-in-tajikistan-workers-have-not-been-paid-since-summer

Tajikistan: Ex-banking executive gets 8.5-year prison sentence

Ziyoyev ruined his own lender by issuing dubious loans to relatives and cronies

Dec 19 — “A senior business executive in Tajikistan who oversaw the collapse of a major bank has been sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison on charges including embezzlement, fraud and forging documents. Although the ruling against Jamshed Ziyoyev, ex-chairman of Tojprombank, was handed down at the start of the month, it was only reported by local outlets on December 18. Ziyoyev and his deputy, Mahmadullo Mirzoyev, were arrested in April 2018 on suspicion of various illicit financial machinations, such as granting bogus loans and misspending bank funds.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-ex-banking-executive-gets-85-year-prison-sentence

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: The deadly price of lies

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

Dec 22 — “A key plank in Turkmenistan’s strategy to be seen as a constructive player on the international stage is to engage as much as possible with Afghanistan. It has in that spirit committed over time to establishing or increasing reliable deliveries of natural gas, fuel and electricity to its strife-stricken neighbor. Ashgabat in January even developed a three-year humanitarian assistance program running through 2022 that it is implementing in coordination with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Saudi government-backed Islamic Development Bank.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-the-deadly-price-of-lies

WHILE INSISTING IT’S COVID-19 FREE, TURKMENISTAN RENEWS EFFORTS TO CLAMP DOWN ON DISSENT

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) have prepared an update covering developments relating to the freedoms of expression, association and assembly in Turkmenistan from August to November 2020

Dec 23 — “During the period covered by this update, Turkmenistan’s government continued its policy of COVID-19 denial, claiming that the global pandemic had not reached the country, although independent Turkmenistan-covering outlets reported about a growing number of coronavirus infections. Thus, the authorities continued to sacrifice the health, well-being and lives of residents for the questionable honour of maintaining Turkmenistan’s status as a COVID-19 free country, along with North Korea and a few island nations in the South Pacific.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/12/while-insisting-its-covid-19-free-turkmenistan-renews-efforts-to-clamp-down-on-dissent/

Turkmenistan’s Neutrality: Silver Jubilee and Counting

Presence of two giants, China and Russia, in its close proximity and deepening interests of the US did not limit Turkmenistan’s desire of peace and neutrality

Dec 24 — “Permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan is in place since December 12, 1995 when United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) unanimously passed a resolution on it.185 permanent members of the Assembly voted in its favor. Although, Turkmenistan was promoter of neutrality since its independence from Soviet Union in 1991, the UNGA resolution stamped it. Later on, 12 December is declared as world neutrality day to enhance peace in the world. It was initiated by Turkmen President in the UNGA. The permanent neutrality was once again endorsed by another resolution of the UNGA on June 3, 2015. This year, 2020, is marking the 25th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s neutrality.” READ MORE: https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/12/24/turkmenistans-neutrality-silver-jubilee-and-counting/

UZBEKISTAN

Checking in on Uzbekistan’s Political Progress in 2020: An Interview With Farkhod Tolipov

The founder of the Uzbek non-government research institution Caravan of Knowledge assesses the country’s political progress

Dec 15 — “In December 2019, Uzbekistan held parliamentary elections which were cast, by the government, as another step on President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s reform push. In what ways did the unique stresses of 2020 – the pandemic and resulting economic pressure – impact the overall reform process?
On one hand, pandemic did negatively affect the national economy and social life, just like everywhere. At the same time, some drivers of reforms were not always and not directly exposed to the pandemic and could work quite efficiently. The year 2020 was called “Year of Development of Science, Education and the Digital Economy” by the Uzbek government. In this context, on October 5, 2020, President Mirziyoyev signed a decree “On Strategy ‘Digital Uzbekistan’ and measures on its effective realization.” The decree stipulates that modern information-communication technologies are being introduced in all branches of the economy and the social sphere as well as in state management, health care, and agriculture.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/checking-in-on-uzbekistans-political-progress-in-2020-an-interview-with-farkhod-tolipov/

There Won’t be Political Reform in Uzbekistan. Here’s Why

Like his predecessor Islam Karimov, President Mirziyoyev continues to block the emergence of NGOs, and filling the civil-society vacuum with government-sponsored NGOs that parrot official narratives

Dec 22 — “On December 10, International Human Rights Day, a group of human rights defenders, activists, researchers, artists and filmmakers gathered in Tashkent’s 139 Documentary Center. They were there for the premier of a documentary film about former political prisoners who were released from the notorious Jaslyk prison, a facility synonymous with torture, and where they had been condemned to sentences of up to 24 years after falling foul of the Karimov regime.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/there-wont-be-political-reform-in-uzbekistan-heres-why/

Late Uzbek President Karimov's Aide Arrested On Unspecified Charges

The 52-year old former official was one of the closest associates of the authoritarian Karimov, the country's first president, and worked for many years as his aide right up to Karimov's death in 2016

Dec 23 — “An aide to late Uzbek President Islam Karimov has been arrested on unspecified charges. An official of the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL on December 22 on condition of anonymity that Ulugbek Mirzamuhamedov was arrested in late November. He declined to give any details other than saying that Mirzamuhamedov is currently being held in the detention center of the State Security Service in Tashkent.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/late-uzbek-president-karimov-s-aide-arrested-on-unspecified-charges/31015356.html

AFGHANISTAN

A quiet crisis: As the economy fractures, violence soars for Afghan women

Almost 90 percent of Afghan women have experienced at least one form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence in their lifetime

Dec 16 — “Fatima lay in bed at the internal medicine ward at the bustling Mirwais Hospital in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar – a black scarf draped over her head and body hiding the drip going into her arm. Early that morning, Fatima had ingested rat poison in an attempt to end her life. “She drank some water with the rat killer,” said Amina*, her mother-in-law, seated at the bedside holding Fatima’s hand. “She suddenly fell down and we were all crying. I begged her, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Doctors say this scene has become all too common – especially during the coronavirus pandemic.” READ MORE: https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/12/16/Afghanistan-women-economy-gender-based-violence

Kabul Residents, Visitors Recall Capital's Golden Era Before Conflict

As Afghanistan developed from the 1930s through the 1970s, Kabul showcased the nation’s progress and earned the nickname “the Paris of Central Asia”

Dec 21 — “Nineteenth-century Lahori poet Mohammed Iqbal once wrote in a poem that “Kabul’s splendor cannot fall into the grasp of words,” praising its climate “resembling paradise” and its water “so glittering and earth radiant.” He was writing of Kabul’s glory in the 1930s, when the 3,500-year-old city was famous for its mosques, gardens, and temperate year-round weather. Once a role model for the rest of the world, the Afghan capital was a hub of innovation, modernity, progressive ideas, and urban living, representing tolerant times for both the country and Southwest Asia in the 1960s and ’70s.” READ MORE: https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/kabul-glory-days-kabulis-history-afghanistan/31011399.html

U.S. Sanctions Put Spotlight On Iran's Network Of Religious Seminaries In Afghanistan

Iran shares deep historical, cultural, and linguistic ties with Afghanistan, and it has expanded its sway in the country through the funding of seminaries, media outlets, cultural centers, and infrastructure projects

Dec 24 — “Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran's clerical establishment has used religious organizations to expand its clout abroad. Key among them is the Al-Mustafa International University, a network of religious seminaries based in the Shi'ite holy city of Qom that has branches in some 50 countries. The university claims to teach Shi'ite Muslim theology, Islamic science, and Iran's national language, Persian, to tens of thousands of foreign students across Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America.” READ MORE: https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/iran-u-s-sanctions-religious-seminaries-network-al-mustafa/31016838.html

WORLD

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Limited Role In Easing Tensions Between China and India

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a unique organization that maintains a strong security portfolio despite being rife with interstate rivalries

Dec 23 — “Recent clashes between India and China over the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have created a potential existential crisis for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The dispute flared up in May of this year, escalating in June and resulting in the first deaths of Indian soldiers at the hands of Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers since 1967. Both China and India are members of the SCO cooperative security framework, which faces pressure to resolve the stand-off. Such pressure is increased by the potential for the border dispute to expand into a greater conflict between the two nuclear-armed powers.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/the-shanghai-cooperation-organizations-limited-role-in-easing-tensions-between-china-and-india/

Is the RCEP China’s Gain and India’s Loss?

Although it has been widely argued that the RCEP is dominated by China, many of the deal’s advocates have emphasized that its formulation and future operation were and shall be consensus-based

Dec 23 — “On November 15, fifteen nations in the Indo-Pacific region — including China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the ten ASEAN members Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines — signed the world’s largest trade agreement. Known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the new trading bloc will cover 2.2 billion people and its member states’ combined GDP of $26.2 trillion accounts for around 30 percent of total global GDP. The deal’s finalization comes about a year after India announced its decision to not join the grouping, based on its perception that the terms of the agreement were skewed in China’s favor.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/is-the-rcep-chinas-gain-and-indias-loss/

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