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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: With elections chore out of the way, it is time for politics

No real opposition parties were permitted to run

Jan 11 — “Kazakhstan does elections by rote. The vote to pick members of a new parliament this weekend was no exception. But that might be missing the point. Elections are but an incremental stage in a slow and ongoing political transition. Preliminary results published on January 11 showed that the ruling Nur Otan party had got 71 percent of the vote.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-with-elections-chore-out-of-the-way-it-is-time-for-politics

Police Reform in Kazakhstan: Serving the Authoritarian Regime

The reform of the law enforcement system is discussed in Kazakhstan for a long time, but the process is not moving ahead. Experts say the changes should start not with the Interior Ministry, but with the political system as a whole

Jan 12 — “The facts of violation of laws by the law enforcement agencies of Kazakhstan are quite common. Especially when it comes to peaceful meetings and protests, which all citizens have the right to according to the country’s constitution. Many people believe that the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ system has long needed to be reformed. However, changing the system is not easy. In 2018, a famous Kazakh figure skater Denis Ten died from a knife wound in Almaty. He tried to stop two men from stealing his car’s mirrors at the daytime. The Kazakhs were grieving and angry, «A crime in the city center in the middle of the day? Where was the police?» READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/police-reform-in-kazakhstan-serving-the-authoritarian-regime

Should Kazakhstan fear a Crimea-style Russian invasion?

Observers are worried that Russian lawmakers’ recent statements are paving the way for an actual annexation of Kazakhstan

Jan 14 — “Kazakhstan’s vast territory is no “gift” from Russia, and its statehood dates back to Atilla the Hun and Genghis-Khan, its president said in early January. Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev responded to provocative statements by Russian lawmakers that could alienate Moscow’s oldest and most loyal ally at a time when the Kremlin could become an international pariah. The spat began in December when an outspoken Russian lawmaker with the ruling United Russia party, doubted the very existence of Kazakh statehood before its Turkic-speaking nomadic tribes became part of czarist Russia and then the USSR.” READ MORE: https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/should-kazakhstan-fear-a-crimea-style-russian-invasion-43218

KYRGYZSTAN

Experts: Poverty Level in Kyrgyzstan Will Continue to Grow in 2021

Economists make downside forecasts regarding the economic situation in the country for the year to come

Jan 13 — “Due to the coronavirus pandemic announced in early 2020, the economy of Kyrgyzstan became stagnant and suffered bad losses. Actually, such situation developed almost in all countries of the world. Since March, the country introduced strict lockdown measures that were lifted a few months later. Almost all sectors of economy, but food producers, were in stagnation at this period.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/experts-poverty-level-in-kyrgyzstan-will-continue-to-grow-in-2021

China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway remains uncertain

Two and a half decades in negotiations, the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway remains stalled on basic issues, with no clear way forward

Jan 13 — “The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway (CKU) has been under discussion for almost 25 years, but construction may never begin. Despite numerous high level meetings the three countries have failed to reach a consensus on the route, railway tracks and sources of funding, as well as to address ecological, geopolitical and national security concerns. In his resignation speech on 16 October 2020, the then Kyrgyz President, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, shared his dream for the railway. “One of my dreams was the realisation of the CKU railway. High-level negotiations took place, and a political decision was taken regarding the start of the work. Kyrgyzstan needs this like it needs air and water, and I hope that my countrymen who have come to power will continue with it and make it a reality”. READ MORE: https://www.thethirdpole.net/2021/01/13/china-kyrgyzstan-uzbekistan-railway-remains-uncertain/

Sadyr Zhaparov’s Dreams are Coming True. Will Zhaparov Make Dreams of Kyrgyzstanis Come True?

Analysts say the election of Zhaparov as president does not mean the settlement of the political crisis which Kyrgyzstan has faced since last autumn

Jan 14 — “The victory of Sadyr Zhaparov who had been in prison just three and a half months ago serving his 10-year term, has not been a surprise. The figures published by the Central Election Commission, 82 per cent, were a surprise. This is the number of voters, according to preliminary data, who voted for this contradictory politician. This record was demonstrated by Kyrgyzstan back in 2005 – when Kurmanbek Bakiev came to power after popular unrest and won 88 per cent of votes. But five years later, he had to flee the country just like the first president Askar Akayev because of the widespread corruption, poverty and persecution of his critics.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/sadyr-zhaparov-s-dreams-are-coming-true-will-zhaparov-make-dreams-of-kyrgyzstanis-come-true-2

TAJIKISTAN

A Critical Lesson for Tajikistan: The State of Migrant Workers in 2020

2020 was not the first time Tajikistan experienced the sharp costs of being a remittance-dependent country, but the lesson is important to heed

Jan 6 — “The coronavirus pandemic, beyond causing a dramatic loss of life around the world, triggered lockdowns and border closures that dealt serious damage to the global economy, leaving millions without work. Developing and emerging economies, like Tajikistan, tend to be poorer and unable to meet the needs of their populations and the pandemic exacerbated existing weaknesses. As such, 2020 was perhaps the most challenging year for Tajikistan since the country’s civil war in 1992-1997. In Tajikistan, it’s important to look to the plight of migrant workers in 2020 if any lessons are to be learned from the devastating year 2020.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2021/01/a-critical-lesson-for-tajikistan-the-plight-of-migrant-workers-in-2020/

OUTLOOK 2021 Tajikistan

The blow dealt by the pandemic to remittances sent home by Tajik migrants working abroad – which account for around one-third of Tajikistan’s economy – is considerable

Jan 11 — “There was of course no surprise in the outcome of Tajikistan’s October 2020 wholly undemocratic election as the country’s authoritarian President Emomali Rahmon officially won 90.92% of the vote, securing him a fifth consecutive presidential term. The largely ceremonial day at the ballot box granted 68-year-old Rahmon, “Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation”, another seven years in all at the reins of the country, Central Asia’s poorest.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/outlook-2021-tajikistan-199335/

The great discrepancy of Tajikistan: the rhetoric of poverty and the practice of state festivities

The Tajik authorities have long pursued a policy of regulating citizens’ spendings on weddings, birthdays and other events. At the same time, the government spends huge amounts of money on lavish celebrations and festivals

Jan 13 — “For more than a decade, the Tajik authorities have continued to fight poverty by limiting the population in their personal spendings. However, the obsessive “asceticism” does not apply to the official policy of Dushanbe, which traditionally spends hundreds of millions of dollars on festive events, the erection of pompous architectural structures and the president’s official trips to the regions. The Committee on Religious Affairs, Ordering Traditions and Rituals from the beginning of December began to conduct a survey among the population, covering more than ten thousand people. The main subject of the survey was the question of how much the Tajik society supports the law “On streamlining the traditions, celebrations and ceremonies in the Republic of Tajikistan.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/the-great-discrepancy-of-tajikistan-the-rhetoric-of-poverty-and-the-practice-of-state-festivities

TURKMENISTAN

OUTLOOK 2021 Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is in fact experiencing a debilitating outbreak that has severely exacerbated the economic crisis that has bedevilled it for so many years

Jan 8 — “Was 2020 the year that “hermit nation” Turkmenistan slipped into a state of Dickensian misery? Some accounts have it so. Just as it can refuse to acknowledge the country’s embarrassing food queues but can’t cover up their existence, the wretched government – dominated by the ‘action man’ personality cult of dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov – can persist in denying the reality of the nation’s coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, but the patently absurd contention that the Turkmen have experienced zero infections can by now be exposed by heaps of evidence to the contrary.” READ MORE: https://intellinews.com/outlook-2021-turkmenistan-199381/?source=turkmenistan

Turkmenistan To Sign Historic Deal With Airbus

The initiative is a part of the national strategy aimed at developing civil aviation of Turkmenistan and covering the period of 2012-2030

Jan 11 — “Turkmenistan is planning to purchase the Airbus A330-200 Passenger-to-Freighter (P2F) converted aircraft as part of plans to modernize existing air infrastructure and expand the country’s presence abroad. Last week, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow ordered state-owned air carrier Türkmenhowaýollary to sign its first agreement with Leiden-headquartered multinational aerospace corporation Airbus SE, under which Turkmenistan will purchase two Airbus A330-200P2F cargo jets.” READ MORE: https://caspiannews.com/news-detail/turkmenistan-to-sign-historic-deal-with-airbus-2021-1-11-12/

Turkmenistan: The Afghan connection

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

Jan 12 — “Nerves in Western capitals are ever on edge about the prospect of Afghanistan sinking back into a morass of conflict and decay. In Central Asia, they see Turkmenistan as a useful partner in helping prevent that from happening. For this reason, Afghanistan is going to be a recurrent theme for Ashgabat in 2021. Sure enough, during a government meeting held on January 4 via video conference, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov asked ministers to debrief him on efforts to aid Afghanistan’s revival.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-the-afghan-connection

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan: 185 newborns sold over four-year period

Uzbek Senate Speaker Tanzil Narbayeva concedes more needs to be done to monitor expectant mothers

Jan 12 — “Authorities in Uzbekistan have revealed that they recorded 185 cases of babies being bought and sold between 2017 and 2020. Interior Ministry representative Nargiza Khojiboyeva said in a briefing on January 12 that in the majority of such cases, mothers had resorted to this extreme act because of financial and social insecurity. Across the board, figures on human trafficking point to a positive trend. If 574 cases of human trafficking were recorded in 2012, that had dropped to 74 by 2020, according to the Interior Ministry.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-185-newborns-sold-over-four-year-period

Uzbekistan is making healthy diets a cornerstone of national policy with the help of WHO

Uzbekistan’s new regulations will make food healthier for all people in the country

Jan 12 — “Uzbekistan is taking important steps towards the prevention of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) with technical guidance and support from WHO. Recently, the country adopted a series of important measures that can significantly improve food safety and the quality of nutrition, reducing many health risk factors for the population.” READ MORE: https://www.euro.who.int/en/countries/uzbekistan/news/news/2021/01/uzbekistan-is-making-healthy-diets-a-cornerstone-of-national-policy-with-the-help-of-who

Uzbekistan Displays New Military Vehicles

Under President Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan has worked to re-arm its military with modern equipment, some of which is being supplied locally as a result of partnerships with international firms

Jan 14 — “Uzbekistan’s defense industry recently showed off new military vehicles entering production. During President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to the Academy of the Armed Forces of Uzbekistan on January 12, the president was shown several products produced by the Uzbek defense industry, including an armored vehicle named Qalqon (“Shield”), manufactured by Krantas Group. Three tactical vehicles were on display as well.” READ MORE: https://dsm.forecastinternational.com/wordpress/2021/01/14/uzbekistan-displays-new-military-vehicles/

AFGHANISTAN

The way forward in Afghanistan: How Biden can achieve sustainable peace and US security

With patience and determination, the Biden team should push both sides to a sustainable agreement that ends this long war. Done well, this approach will bolster US security interests in Afghanistan and the wider region

Jan 13 — “Among the most pressing issues on the US president-elect’s to-do list on foreign policy is the war in Afghanistan, which offers only hard choices. But despite the blunders of President Donald Trump, Afghanistan may actually now have a chance to achieve some form of political settlement and significantly reduced violence. To pursue a path toward sustainable peace in Afghanistan, Joe Biden’s team must walk a fine line. On the one hand, they must make it clear that peace does not mean simply handing the country to the Taliban. It instead requires foreclosing a Taliban military victory.” READ MORE: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/the-way-forward-in-afghanistan-how-biden-can-achieve-sustainable-peace-and-us-security/

Would An Afghan Interim Government Help Or Hinder Peace Efforts?

Calls for an interim government have grown since Afghan and Taliban negotiators reconvened for talks in the Gulf state of Qatar on January 5, following a 20-day hiatus

Jan 14 — “Peace talks between Afghan government representatives and the Taliban have been painstakingly slow, bogged down for months by disagreements over minor issues. The warring sides have agreed on the rules and procedures for the negotiations. But they have yet to settle on an agenda for the talks. Negotiations over the substantial issues -- including a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing formula -- are far off.” READ MORE: https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/afghan-peace-talks-settlement-taliban-government/31046739.html

Iran’s Suggestion of Using Shiite Fighters in Afghanistan Seen as Risky

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Shiite fighters were “the best forces” to help the Afghan government in its counterterrorism efforts

Jan 14 — “A recent Iranian offer for Afghanistan to use Iran-backed Shiite militias in the fight against Islamic State militants is viewed by some Afghan lawmakers and experts as a threat to Afghanistan’s volatile security. Since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011, Iran has reportedly deployed tens of thousands of Shiite fighters from across the Middle East and beyond to fight on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.” READ MORE: https://www.voanews.com/extremism-watch/irans-suggestion-using-shiite-fighters-afghanistan-seen-risky

WORLD

Slow Anti-Americanism in Central Asia

In an interview, Edward Schatz, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, discusses the power of symbols, how Central Asian social movements have used the United States in framing their efforts, and more

Jan 12 — “Imagine symbols as resources. Now consider the United States as a symbol quarried by social movements in Central Asia for different reasons, and to different ends. It’s this line of thought that Edward Schatz, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, follows in his new book “Slow Anti-Americanism: Social Movements and Symbolic Politics in Central Asia.” The United States — “symbolic America” — is a resource mined by various social movements in Central Asia. From Islamists to human rights activists to labor movements, symbolic America has had its uses in distant Central Asia.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2021/01/slow-anti-americanism-in-central-asia/

Will Biden take on neglected Caucasus and Central Asia?

Following Trump’s erratic approach, Biden’s team of experienced pros are expected to try to reengage the region

Jan 13 — “When Joe Biden becomes president of the United States on January 20, he will be surrounded by a foreign policy team with deep experience in the former Soviet Union. But it remains an open question whether Washington will again be able, or even willing, to wield significant influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Biden himself has long been one of Washington’s most prominent foreign policy figures, and has a history with this region dating back to the 1970s. He was the foreign policy point man as vice president under Barack Obama, and personally knows many of the leading figures in the region.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/will-biden-take-on-neglected-caucasus-and-central-asia

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