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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 in 2020: A Collective Effort to Fight COVID-19

The Kazakh government has been juggling between introducing restrictive measures to prevent the spread of the virus and sustaining the Kazakh economy from collapsing

Dec 30 — “At the end of 2020, Kazakhstan’s epidemiological situation has become less stable along with many countries similarly affected worldwide in the run up to the New Year holidays. Yet the common effort of the government, citizens, and international cooperation helped to hold the situation under control. As of Dec. 28, Kazakhstan confirmed 152,460 cases of coronavirus infection and 2,259 deaths, and 45,442 cases of coronavirus pneumonia with 490 deaths. Despite the high level of uncertainty of what awaits the globe in 2021, the Eurasian Development Bank predicted Kazakhstan to be among the first to recover its economy in 2021. Kazakhstan also ranked 53rd in the healthcare index ranking and led among post-soviet countries according to mid-year results.” READ MORE: https://astanatimes.com/2020/12/kazakhstan-in-2020-a-collective-effort-to-fight-covid-19/

The Rhetoric and Reality of the “Hearing State” in the Pre-election Period

Kazakhstan’s ruling regime’s “decorative democracy” and pressure on civil society might lead to a range of consequences in the long-run

Dec 30 — “Elections in modern autocracies alongside other democratic institutions are usually used by the authorities to imitate the free and fair electoral process. Such “Potemkin elections” are designed to deceive the international audience into believing that the democratic procedures are observed.[1] Recent events in the post-Soviet space, including those in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, revealed that electoral manipulations and falsifications might pave the way to significant political crises. In the country long-sought-after as the isle of stability in Central Asia, few expect to-be-held elections to bring radical changes to the substance of the country’s rubber-stamp legislature and its lower chamber – Mazhilis.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/the-rhetoric-and-reality-of-the-hearing-state-in-the-pre-election-peroid

Business and investment opportunities in Kazakhstan

Today Kazakhstan is an upper-middle-income country with a conducive business environment

Dec 31 — “Over the last two decades, Kazakhstan has been one of the fastest-growing transition economies. It has taken steps towards institutional integration in the global economy, joining the World Trade Organization and signing an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the European Union in 2015. The nation has been working to adapt best practices and standards recommended by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.” READ MORE: https://www.helsinkitimes.fi/world-int/18487-business-and-investment-opportunities-in-kazakhstan.html

KYRGYZSTAN

In Kyrgyzstan, social media hate goes unchecked

In the wake of a contested election, Kyrgyzstan’s civil society activists, opponent politicians, and independent journalists are being heavily targeted online - with help from the country’s post-crisis leader

Dec 21 — “Oljobai Shakir is a popular blogger and political activist in Kyrgyzstan. But his popularity has come at a cost. Since the country’s contested election in October, Shakir, an LGBTQ activist, has started receiving threatening comments, including those directly against him. Oljobai is not alone in receiving politically-motivated threats. Civic activist Ulan Usoiun reports that he sometimes receives up to 40 or 50 threats a day. Unidentified people have also attempted to assault Usoiun in person several times.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/kyrgyzstan-social-media-hate-goes-unchecked/

Public Opinion Survey Polls Kyrgyz on Upcoming Election Questions

When asked in early December which politicians they trusted, 48 percent of surveyed Kyrgyz said Sadyr Japarov — 31 percent said they trusted no politicians

Dec 29 — “A recent public opinion poll in Kyrgyzstan indicated that Sadyr Japarov is at the front of the pack racing for the Kyrgyz presidency with 64 percent of those surveyed responding that they would vote for him if the election were held today. Furthermore, a large majority of those polled (80 percent) support changing Kyrgyzstan’s government back into a presidential republic. Kyrgyz citizens will head to the polls on January 10 to cast their votes on both questions: Who the next president should be and what kind of government Kyrgyzstan ought to have.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/public-opinion-survey-polls-kyrgyz-on-upcoming-election-questions/

Qatar Charity opens multi-service centre in Kyrgyzstan

The Qatar ambassador says this project comes within the framework of strengthening relations between the two friendly countries

Dec 29 — “Qatar Charity (QC), with the support of the benefactors in Qatar, inaugurated a multi-service centre in the Chuy Region of Kyrgyzstan, in the presence of the Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Ravshan Sabirov and Qatari ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Abdullah bin Ahmed al-Sulaiti, in addition to other officials and local dignitaries. Sabirov thanked Qatar, its people, and QC for extending assistance to the needy and contributing to improving social services in the Kyrgyz Republic.” READ MORE: https://m.gulf-times.com/story/681336/Qatar-Charity-opens-multi-service-centre-in-Kyrgyzstan

TAJIKISTAN

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Authoritarian Regimes in Central Asia– The Case of Tajikistan

The pandemic has exposed the downsides of crisis management in Tajikistan. On the other hand, it also has brought various opportunities to improve country’s image and increase control over the flows of information

Dec 28 — “Emergency situations tend to help authoritarian nations to become more authoritarian, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.[1] When democratic institutions are weak or non-existent, executives may use the emergency situation to tighten one of the main principles of the democratic process: freedom of speech and access to information. In the absence of checks and balances, office holders have an incentive to tighten control over independent sources of information[2] that may contradict official data.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/the-covid-19-pandemic-and-authoritarian-regimes-in-central-asia-the-case-of-tajikistan

Dushanbe increases the number of flights to Dubai and Istanbul

Tajikistan closed all its airports late in March due to the coronavirus concerns

Dec 28 — “The Tajik civil aviation authorities have given permission to airlines to increase the number of regular flights from Dushanbe to Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and Istanbul (Turkey) from one to four per week. Tajikistan’s privately owned air carrier Somon Air and Turkish Airlines will now operate four regular flights from Dushanbe to Istanbul (each company carries out two flights) per week and Somon Air and flydubai will now operate four regular flights from Dushanbe to Dubai (each company carries out two flights) per week.” READ MORE: https://asiaplustj.info/en/news/tajikistan/economic/20201228/dushanbe-increases-the-number-of-flights-to-dubai-and-istanbul

The map of historical and cultural relics of Tajikistan to be made

There are more than 3,000 historical and cultural sites in Tajikistan

Dec 29 — “The Ministry of Culture is planning to make a map of historical and cultural relics of Tajikistan. The map will be made to preserve historical and cultural monuments. The boundaries and location of historical and cultural relics will be clearly marked on the map. A statement released by the Ministry of Culture, in particular, says this will allow taking these relics into consideration while allotting lands and not allotting these areas for agricultural fields and household plots.” READ MORE: https://asiaplustj.info/en/news/tajikistan/society/20201229/the-map-of-historical-and-cultural-relics-of-tajikistan-to-be-made

TURKMENISTAN

Grim Choice: Turkmen Warned Of Food Cutoffs Over Unpaid Utility Bills

Many people in Turkmenistan have faced food price hikes and a shortage of foodstuffs for much of the past four years, although the authoritarian government in Ashgabat doesn't acknowledge the existence of such hardship

Dec 25 — “As daily temperatures creep below freezing with the onset of winter, authorities in eastern Turkmenistan have warned families that they risk losing access to subsidized food if they don't catch up on their utilities payments. The verbal warnings were issued to households in Lebap province in early December as the government launched a campaign to help state-run utilities collect unpaid bills, according to dozens of local residents who spoke to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmen-food-subsidies-cut-unpaid-utility-bills/31019079.html

Turkmenistan: How the Grinch stole New Year

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

Dec 29 — “New Year’s holidays have been put on hold for most people in Turkmenistan, because of the COVID-19 outbreak that the government denies is happening, but that does not mean the president can’t have some fun. On December 27, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov took a day off to head out with his grandson Kerim to the foothills of the Kopetdag mountains, which has been sprinkled with especially heavy snowfall this year. The sharp winter might seem like a worrying omen for a nation unused to cold, but state media is celebrating the moisture that they predict will ensure bountiful harvests in spring.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-how-the-grinch-stole-new-year

Turkmen President Suggests Licorice Might Hold The Answer To Curing COVID-19

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov ordered Turkmenistan's Academy of Sciences to "carefully study" the herb's "antiviral effects"

Dec 31 — “Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, the eccentric president of Turkmenistan, has claimed on television that the herb licorice might hold the answer to the cure for COVID-19 and has ordered scientists to work on a medicine. "Scientists from across the world have been searching for an efficient means to fight against this dangerous infection. The licorice root could be one of them," Berdymukhammedov said during a televised government meeting on December 25.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmen-president-suggests-licorice-might-hold-the-answer-to-curing-covid-19/31028095.html

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan Hedging Vaccine Bets with Russian Purchase

Uzbekistan launches trials of a Chinese vaccine, but purchases Russian vaccine

Dec 21 — “On December 10, Uzbekistan launched phase three clinical trials for the Chinese recombinant coronavirus vaccine produced by Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical. Clinical trials are conducted, in three phases, with the purpose of testing the safety and efficiency of a product. Only a month ago, Uzbekistan officials reasoned that it would be able to acquire the vaccine as a priority country at a reduced price in exchange for hosting clinical trials.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/12/uzbekistan-hedging-vaccine-bets-with-russian-purchase/

Jailed Ex-Diplomat's Uzbek Family Turns To UN Over His Treason Conviction

Yusupov’s family and rights groups have repeatedly called for him to be freed on compassionate grounds, since the coronavirus is reportedly spreading within Uzbekistan’s prison system

Dec 26 — “Last week, Kadyr Yusupov marked his third straight birthday in jail. A 69-year-old career diplomat for Uzbekistan, Yusupov was detained shortly after a reported suicide attempt in December 2018, interrogated by security officials while hospitalized, and convicted of treason and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison in January on the basis of a confession he purportedly made from his hospital bed.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-diplomat-kadyr-yusupov/31020124.html

Exclusive: Chabahar can be fulcrum of transit between India and Central Asia: Indian envoy to Uzbekistan Manish Prabhat

India built the Shahid Behesti Port at Chabahar as part of the India, Iran, Afghanistan 2016 agreement to increase its connectivity with Afghanistan

Dec 31 — “India's envoy to Uzbekistan Manish Prabhat has said that Chabahar can become a ‘fulcrum of transit’ between India and Central Asia. The comments of the envoy come even as India, Uzbekistan and Iran held the first tri-lateral talks on the use of the Chabahar project in Iran. Speaking to WION, the envoy said, "While transit through railways and trucks already takes place from Iran’s Bandar Abbas port to Central Asian countries, the need is to develop the infrastructure to connect Central Asia to the Chabahar port." READ MORE: https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-chabahar-can-be-fulcrum-of-transit-between-india-and-central-asia-says-indian-envoy-to-uzbekistan-manish-prabhat-2865191

AFGHANISTAN

Kabul Under Siege: Op-Ed

Professor William Maley says the Afghan "peace process" is flawed and needs to be reframed

Dec 28 — “Kabul is a city under siege. It may not be besieged in the way that Berlin was in April 1945, but the daily lives of its residents are overshadowed by a pervasive sense of fear as car bombs and magnetic mines are detonated on what seems a daily basis, some indiscriminate in their impact, others directly targeting proponents of pluralism, human rights and democracy. The ‘new Afghanistan’ that has developed over the last two decades is facing an unprecedented attack.” READ MORE: https://tolonews.com/opinion-168815

How life under Taliban rule in Afghanistan has changed — and how it hasn’t

The Taliban is stronger now than it has been since it was forced from power in 2001. Over the years, it has captured territory across the country and today exercises control or influence over at least half of Afghanistan

Dec 29 — “Over two decades of conflict and politicking, Taliban control in Afghanistan has become a patchwork of edicts and codes, with some areas seeing modest reform. But overall, fear and intimidation remain at the heart of the militant group’s command. In one district, elders successfully lobbied Taliban fighters to open a high school for girls. In other provinces, clinics funded by international aid groups are now allowed to function. But in those same places, harsh, often public punishments remain common. Torture and imprisonment are widely used for infringements as minor as possessing the wrong SIM card.” READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-rule-territory/

Drones become Taliban’s latest weapon in Afghan war

The Taliban have used drones since last year, with improvised explosives in a number of attacks in different parts of Afghanistan

Dec 30 — “On a quiet autumn day last month, bodyguards for the governor of the northern Afghani Kunduz province, Abdul Sattar Mirzakawl, played a volleyball match in the yard of the governor’s guest house adjacent to his residence. Suddenly, a blast went off, killing four of the players. Although Kunduz has long remained the most restive area in northern Afghanistan because of Taliban’s heavy presence and routine violence, officials investigating the attack were bewildered by its cause as they could not immediately determine how it had happened.” READ MORE: https://www.arabnews.com/node/1784741/world

WORLD

The overlooked heartland — Recognising the strategic relevance of Central Asia in the US-China rivalry

The US proclaims its main goal in the region is to expand security cooperation with Central Asian states and improve their ability to respond to the challenges affecting regional stability, while Russia views this strategy as a plan to divert the region from the Russian and Chinese influence

Dec 28 — “The considerable shift in the role of Central Asia from “largely ignored” to “strategically relevant” in international affairs in less than a decade has drawn the attention of leading global powers in the region, turning it into a zone of competition of leading powers. Political instability, economic slowdown, corruption, manipulated elections and many other issues posed challenges for the smooth transition of these states into independent democratic nations. Internal political instability and the failure of its authorities to balance the influence of major powers complicated its effort to diversify its economic ties.” READ MORE: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/overlooked-heartland-recognising-strategic-relevance-central-asia-us-china-rivalry/

'A Postimperial Transformation': With Its Neighborhood In Turmoil, Russia Reassesses The Costs Of Hegemony

"Russia’s understanding of influence is about to change," says one foreign policy analyst who advises the Kremlin

Dec 29 — “A season of upheaval in the post-Soviet space may have the Kremlin hoping for a calmer 2021 – and rethinking ways to maintain its clout with limited resources. In August, a fraud-marred presidential election brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets of Minsk, ushering in weeks of unrest and forcing Belarus’s strongman to solicit Moscow’s grudging support. In September, the simmering conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh erupted into all-out war, pulling Turkey into a confrontation in which Russia has long been the leading arbiter.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-reassesses-costs-hegemony-2020-putin/31024630.html

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