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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

A 'Brief Trip' That Lasted 17 Years: Kazakh Reunites With Family After Finally Being Freed In Xinjiang

The Kazakh government has refrained from criticizing China, a key investor in Kazakhstan's economy. The Kazakh authorities have said that they don't interfere in China's treatment of its own citizens, including more than 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs living in Xinjiang

Apr 12 — “A 58-year-old ethnic Kazakh man has emerged from a 17-year nightmare of Chinese imprisonment and "reeducation" to be reunited with his family in Kazakhstan. Raqyzhan Zeinolla was welcomed at Almaty's international airport on April 9 by family members, including his wife and grandchildren he'd never met. It was a precious moment of happiness for one of the many families caught up in Beijing's massive campaign of internment and forced assimilation targeting millions of Muslims in China's northwestern Xinjiang Province.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakh-rejoins-family-17-years-xinjiang-china-muslims-camps/31199804.html

Meet The New Billionaire Behind Kazakhstan’s Surprisingly Hot Brokerage

33-year-old Russian Timur Turlov owns the lion’s share of a U.S. listed stock brokerage targeting clients in countries like Russia and Kazakhstan

Apr 13 — “Timur Turlov has made a fortune tied to the stock market. But when the usually stoic Russian native is asked his thoughts about trading shares in GameStop, the video game retailer made red hot by Reddit day traders? He smiles, then rolls his eyes. “It’s too volatile. It’s bad for business in the long term.” The 33-year-old’s business is selling stocks to retail investors—an activity that has made him incredibly wealthy. Shares of his Nasdaq-listed brokerage firm, Freedom Holding, rose a meteoric 200% in the year through early March, and enough to make Turlov a newcomer to Forbes’ list of the World’s Billionaires, ranked No.1,517, with an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.” READ MORE: https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisettevoytko/2021/04/13/meet-the-new-billionaire-behind-kazakhstans-surprisingly-hot-brokerage/?sh=41ace25c3468

Kazakhstan: Oil workers resistance to jabs complicates output plans

Kazakhstan's energy sector is having to spend more on its workers because of COVID-19

Apr 14 — “Oil companies in Kazakhstan are reportedly locked in a labor dispute with employees over coronavirus vaccinations. But it’s not that the workers are demanding the inoculations. Quite the opposite. State media have further heightened anxieties around the standoff, worrying out loud that the impasse could slow work on a $45 billion project to expand output at an economically vital oilfield.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-oil-workers-resistance-to-jabs-complicates-output-plans

KYRGYZSTAN

Does The New Kyrgyz Constitution Set The Country Up For Future Unrest?

The newly approved constitution is very similar to what Kyrgyzstan had under former Presidents Askar Akaev and Kurmanbek Bakiev, both of whom were chased from power partly due to amendments to the constitution that gave them more power

Apr 13 — “The controversial new constitution that returns Kyrgyzstan to a presidential form of government has been approved in a nationwide referendum, but almost everything surrounding the document suggests it may live a short life in a country that has had three revolutions in 16 years. Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairwoman Nurzhan Shayldabekova said on April 12 that 79.3 percent of those who cast ballots in the referendum -- some 1.03 million people -- voted in favor of the new constitution, with just 13.65 percent voting against it.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-constitution-referendum-problems/31201021.html

Capital Flight: Why Do Investors Leave Kyrgyzstan?

During the past 10 years, foreign investors withdrew more than $5 billion of profits from the Kyrgyz companies. Of these, 16% were withdrawn in 2020

Apr 13 — “The movement of foreign direct investment is directly related to business environment. The inflow of investments clearly indicates that the investors expect positive results from doing business in the country where they are investing. The outflow, on the contrary, shows that something went wrong. In 2020, a lot went wrong: the new coronavirus pandemic, border closures and suspension of production for almost two months, loss of profits. All this significantly weakened the businesses in Kyrgyzstan, including large ones.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/capital-flight-why-do-investors-leave-kyrgyzstan

Why survivors of sexual violence can't get justice in Kyrgyzstan

The police and judicial system are inadequate, and society often blames women themselves when they are raped, kidnapped and murdered

Apr 13 — “Kyrgyzstan is in shock following the murder of Aizada Kanatbekova, who was ‘bride-kidnapped’ (abducted in order to be forced into marriage) in the centre of Bishkek, the country's capital. On 7 April, Kanatbekova was found strangled in a car next to the body of her kidnapper, who had taken his own life. It became clear that the police knew the car's licence plate, the name of the suspect and his phone number, but still "did not manage" to save the woman's life. Kanatbekova, 27, had been planning to travel to Turkey for work, after finishing university. On 8 April, people in Bishkek and the southern city of Osh held protests against sexual violence, and called for the resignation of the interior ministry’s leaders.” READ MORE: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/why-victims-sexual-violence-cant-get-justice-kyrgyzstan/

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan: Huge Muslim Brotherhood trial ends with lengthy prison sentences

The group's alleged leader was an Egyptian national teaching Arabic at a local state-run university

Apr 12 — “A group of more than 100 defendants in Tajikistan has been sentenced to between five and 23 years in prison on charges of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization. Dushanbe-based newspaper Asia Plus reported on April 12, citing sources at the Supreme Court, that all but two of the 119 people on trial were given prison sentences. The ruling was handed down on April 9, ending a trial that began in July 2020.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-huge-muslim-brotherhood-trial-ends-with-lengthy-prison-sentences

Transforming Tajikistan: Between a Soviet past and a Tajik future

As historic buildings are demolished, some residents of Dushanbe mourn lost memories while others embrace change

Apr 14 — “Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, is changing rapidly. In what was once a Soviet city known for its quiet tree-lined avenues, new highrise towers and grand administrative buildings are emerging. It is an extraordinary transformation taking place as Tajikistan reimagines what it means to be an independent Central Asian republic with its own national identity. But some residents are questioning the price at which it comes: the demolition of the city’s Soviet architecture and with it, the loss of childhood homes and memories to large-scale construction.” READ MORE: https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/4/14/transforming-tajikistan-between-a-soviet-past-and-a-tajik-future

Iran and Tajikistan Announce Formation of Joint Military Committee

Both Iran and Tajikistan have compelling reasons to cooperate more closely in the security sphere

Apr 15 — “Major General Mohammad Baqeri, the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, and Colonel General Sherali Mirzo, the defense minister of Tajikistan, met last week (April 6 and 8) in Tehran, where they inter alia signed an agreement on creating a joint military defense committee (IRNA, April 8; Regnum, April 9). The two sides said that the new body will promote security cooperation and help them counter terrorism; but exactly how it will work remains unclear.” READ MORE: https://jamestown.org/program/iran-and-tajikistan-announce-formation-of-joint-military-committee/

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Down in the dumps

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

Apr 13 — “State statisticians in Turkmenistan may not be reliable or transparent, but they are consistent. At a cabinet meeting devoted to the economy on April 9, Deputy Prime Minister Gadyrgeldy Mushshikov announced that the country’s gross domestic product, or GDP, had expanded by 5.9 percent in January-March, as compared to the same period in 2020.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-down-in-the-dumps

Turkmen study-abroad students are in financial distress

Turkmenistan’s Embassies and Consulates provide no support to its citizens

Apr 14 — “Study-abroad students from Turkmenistan can hardly make ends meet because of restrictions on money transfers from their parents as well as the fact that they are unable to return to their home country since international air services have been suspended. There is an increasing number of tragic stories about students, which is related to the dire economic situation.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2021/04/turkmen-study-abroad-students-are-in-financial-distress/

Turkmenistan's Authoritarian Leader Expands Grip On Power

Critics say Berdymukhammedov plans to use the constitutional amendments to secure his lifetime presidency and to pass it on to his son and grandchildren

Apr 15 — “Turkmenistan's authoritarian president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who is also the head of the government in the tightly controlled state, has added another title to his name: the speaker of the newly established upper chamber of parliament, the Halk Maslahaty (People's Council). State media in the extremely isolated former Soviet republic reported on April 14 that Berdymukhammedov was "elected to the post by secret ballot" by the chamber's members.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkmenistan-authoritarian-leader-expands-grip-on-power/31205118.html

UZBEKISTAN

The importance of digital technologies to Uzbekistan’s fight against pandemic

Uzbekistan has been actively digitalizing most industries

Apr 12 — “In the global economy, the rapid spread of the pandemic has caused serious damage to all sectors of the economy - especially the service sector. For example, the service sector in Uzbekistan has been one of the most affected during the current crisis. The share in gross domestic products of developed countries is 60 to 70 percent, providing employment for 50 to 60 percent.” READ MORE: https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202104/1220877.shtml

Europe Adds Uzbekistan to GSP+ Trade Scheme

The benefits — zero tariffs on a range of goods — come with rights monitoring requirements of shortcomings Uzbekistan may have difficulty improving

Apr 13 — “Last week, the European Union announced that Uzbekistan had been accepted as the ninth beneficiary of the Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance, GSP+, intended to support “vulnerable developing countries” that have ratified a bevy of international conventions on human rights. The core benefit of GSP+ is the full removal of tariffs on two-thirds of all goods present in the EU’s official product list.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2021/04/europe-adds-uzbekistan-to-gsp-trade-scheme/

Despite COVID-19, Uzbekistan gas-to-liquids plant closer to completion

When completed, the Uzbekistan GTL will bring Uzbekistan a step closer to achieving energy independence and demonstrate the success of the country’s petrochemical growth strategy

Apr 15 — “Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uzbekistan said on April 13 the construction of its gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant, which is the largest complex for the production of synthetic liquid fuel in the region, has now entered the final stages with the overall implementation of planned works currently standing at 95.3%.” READ MORE: https://www.neweurope.eu/article/despite-covid-19-uzbekistan-gas-to-liquids-plant-closer-to-completion/

AFGHANISTAN

Has The Taliban Changed? Afghans Living Under Militant Group Say It Still Rules Using Fear, Brutality

Afghans who currently live under Taliban control say the militant group remains rooted in its extremist interpretation of Islam and rules using fear and barbarity

Apr 13 — “The Taliban claims it is not the same brutal group that first ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s, when its regime was an international pariah notorious for oppressing women and massacring ethnic and religious minorities. The extremist Islamist group has attempted to project a more conciliatory image amid international efforts to broker a peace settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban.” READ MORE: https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/afghan-living-under-taliban-say-it-still-rules-with-fear-brutality/31201897.html

Why the US will never leave Afghanistan

The U.S. is not going to leave or abandon Afghanistan and concede that vital space to China

Apr 15 — “President Joe Biden’s decision to continue the U.S. military presence until Sept. 11, might seem like the welcome beginning of the end to a “forever war” that roughly half of Americans believe has been a failure. But there are broader geopolitical forces at play and vital U.S. national interests at risk if the U.S. completely ended its involvement in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/548557-why-the-us-will-never-leave-afghanistan

Afghans To Face ‘Greatest Challenge’ After U.S. Withdrawal

For many Afghans the US withdrawal rekindles memories of how their country was nearly torn apart by the “botched transition” after the 1989 Soviet withdrawal

Apr 15 — “The dramatic announcement of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan poses existential challenges for a country where the government is still largely dependent on international funding as it struggles to fight an emboldened Taliban insurgency. The withdrawal, formally announced by U.S. President Joe Biden on April 14, will undoubtedly end Washington’s longest war. But experts fear it will lead to renewed instability or a civil war as peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban have failed to take off since Washington’s agreement with the hard-line Islamist movement last year.” READ MORE: https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/afghans-to-face-greatest-challenge-after-u-s-withdrawal-/31205787.html

WORLD

Central Asia’s Afghan Route to Prosperity

Two new mega-projects connecting Central and South Asia could transform Eurasian security, significantly increase regional economic activity, and potentially bring peace at last to Afghanistan. But most of the world has so far paid little attention to important recent developments

Apr 13 — “For the first time in centuries, there is an opportunity to connect Central and South Asia via modern transport and energy corridors through Afghanistan. Once completed, these projects would transform Eurasian security, significantly increase regional economic activity, and potentially bring peace at last to Afghanistan. They may even revive the Great Silk Road.” READ MORE: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/central-asia-afghanistan-transport-energy-opportunity-by-djoomart-otorbaev-2021-04

Building a prosperous central Asia, could the ‘Kabul Corridor’ work?

Several central Asian nations have proposed the construction of an Uzbekistan-Pakistan rail line that will cross through Afghanistan. Could trade bring stability to the region?

Apr 16 — “There is a growing appetite among landlocked central Asian nations to open trade routes through south Asia to provide them greater access to the world. The concept is a no brainer. Building highways and train networks through to the subcontinent will afford developing central Asian countries with the opportunity to better access global trade, both to support their domestic manufacturing economy through exports, as well as improving the quality of life of its citizens by accessing cheap imports. These networks will also develop new industries in the region such as bolstering the energy economy, creating new jobs for local citizens.” READ MORE: https://www.defenceconnect.com.au/key-enablers/7892-building-a-prosperous-central-asia-could-the-kabul-corridor-work

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