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The high toll of traffic injuries in Central Asia: unacceptable and preventable

  • Written by Aliya Karakulova

BISHKEK (TCA) — Central Asian countries, and Kazakhstan in particular, have high numbers of road traffic accidents resulting in deaths and injuries every year. The problem can be solved by joint efforts of the governments and the public, and introduction of international best practices in the road traffic safety sphere. We are presenting this article by Aliya Karakulova, Senior Operations Officer, Transport and ICT for Central Asia, China, and Mongolia, at the World Bank Central Asia Regional Office in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The article was originally published on the World Bank website:

Read more: The high toll of traffic injuries in Central Asia: unacceptable and preventable

Smog over Kyrgyzstan capital city: causes, effects, and solutions

  • Written by Maria Levina

BISHKEK (TCA) — Air pollution has become one of the most discussed topics in Bishkek. A shroud of smog over Kyrgyzstan’s capital has become stronger in recent years, and it is clearly visible when looking at the city from above, even from villages located to the south Bishkek, at the foot of the mountains.

Read more: Smog over Kyrgyzstan capital city: causes, effects, and solutions

The more things change, the more Kazakhstan stays important

  • Written by Stratfor

ASTANA (TCA) — State power succession remains a relevant issue in Kazakhstan, and given the country’s dominant economic position in Central Asia, smooth transition in this country is vitally important for the entire region and beyond. We are republishing this analysis on the issue, originally published by Stratfor:

Read more: The more things change, the more Kazakhstan stays important

Crime and corruption a serious concern in Kyrgyzstan

  • Written by Maria Levina

BISHKEK (TCA) — The current criminal situation in Kyrgyzstan is of considerable concern among the population, and the relevant state bodies should ensure the proper security of the citizens, Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Sapar Isakov said at a government meeting on January 15. He ordered the Ministry of Internal Affairs to improve the situation by combating organized crime and strengthening preventive measures among minors.

Read more: Crime and corruption a serious concern in Kyrgyzstan

A year in review: Uzbekistan pursues liberalization at home, neighborly relations abroad

  • Written by Umida Hashimova

TASHKENT (TCA) — The year 2017 was marked in Uzbekistan by the President’s efforts to reform the tightly-controlled economy and financial sector, liberalize the internal political sphere, and improve the country’s tense relations with neighboring Central Asian states. Although much has been done on the domestic and foreign fronts, it is yet to be done much more to bring in the real changes to Uzbekistan, and to make such changes irreversible. We are republishing this article by Umida Hashimova on the issue, originally published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor:

Read more: A year in review: Uzbekistan pursues liberalization at home, neighborly relations abroad

A year in review: Kazakhstan pursues domestic reforms, foreign direct investment in 2017

  • Written by George Voloshin

ASTANA (TCA) — The year 2017 was marked in Kazakhstan by the authorities’ efforts to lay the ground for a smooth state power succession and to overcome the country’s economic and financial problems accumulated in the recent years. We are republishing this article by George Voloshin on the issue, originally published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor:

Read more: A year in review: Kazakhstan pursues domestic reforms, foreign direct investment in 2017

China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway to improve attractiveness of Central Asia

  • Written by Maria Levina

BISHKEK (TCA) — The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway route will be determined in April 2018, participants of the tripartite talks decided in Tashkent in late December. The meeting made decisions on the timing of the project, sources of financing and the development of its feasibility study.

Read more: China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway to improve attractiveness of Central Asia

A year in review: more problems, more reforms, more cooperation for Central Asia in 2017

  • Written by Paul Goble

BISHKEK (TCA) — 2017 was a remarkable year for Central Asia countries. In Kazakhstan, the economy has stabilized while the power succession issue remains relevant. Kyrgyzstan saw the first peaceful transfer of power in the October presidential election. In Tajikistan, President Rahmon continued the consolidation of his power, while Turkmenistan has experienced a dramatic economic downturn caused by lower natural-gas prices. In Uzbekistan, the new President has pursued reforms and undertaken efforts to improve his country’s relations with Central Asia neighbors. We are republishing this article by Paul Goble on the issue, originally published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor:

Read more: A year in review: more problems, more reforms, more cooperation for Central Asia in 2017

Kyrgyzstan to review its civil aviation policy

  • Written by Maria Levina

BISHKEK (TCA) — Bishkek-Tashkent-Bishkek air flight has been resumed late in December 2017, to run twice a week. In early 2018, it is also planned to resume the Osh-Tashkent-Osh flight.

The agreement on the resumption of air communications between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan was reached during the official visit of Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to Tashkent in December.

To expand the geography of air flights, Kyrgyzstan needs to improve conditions for its aviation development.

EU blacklist

It is a shame that the national airline company has only one plane, Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Sapar Isakov said recently at the Business Development and Investment Council meeting to discuss the country’s tourism development program.

According to Talgart Nurbayev, Director General of the state owned Air Manas airline, it is difficult for Kyrgyzstan to purchase aircraft through leasing because the country is blacklisted by the European Union. Staying on the EU blacklist increases leasing payments twice, he said.

To exit from the blacklist, Kyrgyzstan has to meet the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA), which requires large financial costs.

Prime Minister Isakov believes that transition to the open skies policy is necessary for Kyrgyzstan, so that citizens could fly to distant countries directly and without extra costs.

By the end of 2018, all ICAO recommendations will be fully implemented and Kyrgyzstan will be able to apply for the lifting of the flight restrictions in Europe by the end of 2019, Director of the Civil Aviation Agency of Kyrgyzstan (CAA) Kurmanbek Akyshev said.

In December 2017, ICAO specialists checked the Manas International Airport (MIA), the country's airlines and the CAA. The ICAO experts' conclusions were much more positive than in previous years when two audits resulted in much criticism.

Kyrgyzstan's airlines have been on the European Union blacklist since 2006.

Airports’ prospects

Passengers departing from Bishkek and Osh often have to travel to many foreign countries not directly but changing airlines, which is inconvenient and expensive.

For 26 years of independence, the state has not been able to fundamentally reform the aviation industry. The current airport management promised that with 8 billion soms of credit it would rectify the situation. But the loan would be a debt to be paid out by taxpayers. Even if the MIA receives this money, there is no guarantee that there will be a result and the quality of services will improve. Therefore, it would be better to assign this task on a reliable foreign investor.

The transfer of large airports to the trust management of a foreign company is a common international practice, and local citizens should not be afraid of this practice, the local business community says. In many countries, the state and private business work in partnership. The issue currently under discussion should be resolved within the public-private partnership. There are many companies in the world that have proven their professionalism, such as TAV from Turkey or companies from South Korea and Singapore.

Last November, Prime Minister Isakov met with Mustafa Sener, executive director of TAV Airports Holding, who said the holding, being among the leading airport operators in the world, had previously carried out large projects in Georgia and Macedonia. TAV Airports Holding is interested in investing in Kyrgyzstan, Sener said.

This issue was discussed in the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan.

“Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country located in the mountains. For this reason, there are only two ways to go abroad — by air and by ground transport. So we need to develop aviation, and there is no other alternative,” Prime Minister Isakov said at the parliament.

Citizens of Kyrgyzstan should have a choice by which company to fly. “We fly to other countries through Moscow or Istanbul because we do not have a choice. I think this is wrong,” he said.

The State should review its civil aviation policy. “We should be realistic and understand that we will not be able to develop our airports ourselves,” Isakov said.

Many large companies are interested in Kyrgyzstan and TAV Airports Holding is among them. “We will definitely negotiate with them but it is MPs who will make a decision whether to give the MIA into the concession or not,” Prime Minister concluded.

The Investment Promotion and Protection Agency of Kyrgyzstan is studying the world experience in order to choose the model most acceptable for Kyrgyzstan. The Agency intends to select five large companies working in this field and hold a tender among them.

There are also discussions about the possible sale of a 79% state stake in the MIA JSC. The State Property Management Fund explained that the MIA will not be sold because it not only brings profit but also is a strategic facility.

‘No changes needed’

Some MPs and experts believe that nothing needs to be changed, and the Manas International Airport should continue to develop independently. The MIA is among the main taxpayers, paying at least 1.5 billion soms in dividends to the state budget annually. When the American airbase was leaving the MIA, many predicted that the airport would “wither” but thanks to the good management, it is among the main payers of dividends in the country. In addition, the MIA at its own expense began to reconstruct the airports in the country’s regions.

The international airport is a complex facility, where various bodies perform their functions, and the quality of passenger service depends on how well all these bodies interact, MIA Board Chairman Emir Chukuyev said. For instance, the State Border Service performs border control, and it depends on them whether passengers will pass border controls without delay.

Customs control is the competence of the State Customs Service. To meet international standards, it should create a so-called green corridor. The level of passenger service also depends on the airlines that perform flights. However, passengers used to blame the airport for all the inconveniences, Chukuyev said.

Over the past five years, the MIA has increased passenger traffic by 63%, the company said. The MIA includes 11 operating airports across Kyrgyzstan — five international and six regional ones.

According to the Kyrgyz CAA, 36 airlines are currently operating in Kyrgyzstan including 32 international and four domestic airlines.

The main obstacle to the development of the airport infrastructure is the Law on Public Procurement, experts say. Long bidding procedures and other legal complexities make the MIA not competitive even among the airports in Central Asia.

Tajikistan: searching for food security

  • Written by Irna Hofman

DUSHANBE (TCA) — For Tajikistan, diversification of agricultural crop production and shifting away from cotton monoculture is vital for improving the wellbeing of local farmers and achieving the country’s food security. We are republishing this article by Irna Hofman* on the issue, originally published by EurasiaNet.org:

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The Belt and Road through Eurasia: who wins and how?

  • Written by Nathan Hutson

BISHKEK (TCA) — The countries of Central Asia, especially Kazakhstan, may significantly benefit from China’s Belt and Road initiative aimed to create transport and transit routes from Asia to Europe. But such benefits may turn out to be not as big as expected. We are republishing this article by Nathan Hutson on the issue, originally published by EurasiaNet.org:

Read more: The Belt and Road through Eurasia: who wins and how?

America, EU, Japan: time to reunite Afghanistan with Central Asia

  • Written by S. Frederick Starr

BISHKEK (TCA) — In the time of the Great Game, Afghanistan was in the center of the struggle between the Russian and British empires for their influence on Central Asia. Nowadays, post-Soviet republics of Central Asia seek to build stronger economic ties with their southern neighbor, as Afghanistan is a promising sales market and transit link for access to the Indian subcontinent and southern sea ports. This cannot be ignored by Russia and other world powers. In the following article, originally published by The National Interest, S. Frederick Starr* says that Afghanistan is part of Central Asia and not simply a problematic neighbor:

Read more: America, EU, Japan: time to reunite Afghanistan with Central Asia

Is Chabahar port a game changer in India-Afghanistan-Central Asia trade?

  • Written by Aditi Bhaduri*

NEW DELHI (TCA) — On December 3, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated the first phase of the Chabahar port development project on the Gulf of Oman, with the participation of senior Afghan and Indian ministers, including the Indian Minister for External Affairs Mrs. Sushma Swaraj.

Read more: Is Chabahar port a game changer in India-Afghanistan-Central Asia trade?

Has Central Asia stabilized?

  • Written by Stratfor

BISHKEK (TCA) — As state power succession remains an issue for post-Soviet Central Asian republics, especially for Kazakhstan, we are republishing this article, originally published by Stratfor, that presents the political outlook for each of the region’s five countries:

Read more: Has Central Asia stabilized?

Kazakhstan and Central Asia: international terrorism without borders

  • Written by Douglas Green

LONDON (TCA) — It has been no one less than Kazakhstan’s head of state and veteran politician Nursultan Nazarbayev who was lately quoted by Tass as stating that “the re-emergence of terrorist cells following the heavy blow dealt to Islamic State in the Middle East is a serious challenge for Eurasian states. […] International terrorism has acquired a catastrophic scope, it has no borders. Any part of the globe can become a target for a disastrous onslaught."

Read more: Kazakhstan and Central Asia: international terrorism without borders

Controversial railway project consolidates China’s foothold in Central Asia

  • Written by Farkhad Sharip

BISHKEK (TCA) — All new railroads that cross Central Asia will eventually connect China to the wider region and Europe, and in this geostrategic railway game, Russia may find itself on the margins of the region’s railway map. We are republishing this article by Farkhad Sharip on the issue, originally published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor:

Read more: Controversial railway project consolidates China’s foothold in Central Asia

The Afghan conundrum

  • Written by Aditi Bhaduri*

NEW DELHI (TCA) — This week US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson paid a visit to South Asia. He visited both Islamabad and New Delhi, and made a sudden, secret visit to Afghanistan, too. So tight was the security that there is confusion over where exactly he had his meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani – in Kabul or at the Bagram Air base, which he visited.

This was the first visit by Tillerson to the region since President Donald Trump unveiled his administration’s policy on South Asia and Afghanistan in August. A key component of this new Afghan policy is that he has changed the rules of military engagement. “A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions,” the President had announced. He has allowed the “integration of all diplomatic, economic, and military means” to target the enemy, without “micro-management from Washington”.

Trump has also called out Pakistan for its support in providing “safe-havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.” This effectively means that US and NATO troops will be at liberty to pursue any action to target the Taliban, ISIS and any other terror group in Afghanistan.

Significantly, it has been reported that following his visit to Afghanistan, Tillerson has said there is a place for moderate elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan's government as long as they renounce violence and terrorism. This is not a new approach. Successive Afghan governments have tried to reach out to the Afghan Taliban. In an interview to this author, soon after a bloodbath by the Taliban on the streets of Kabul last year Afghan Ambassador to India Dr. Shaida Abdali had said “We do not see the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Taliban. What we do see is the reconcilable and the irreconcilable Taliban.”

However, the Taliban insists on the departure of all foreign troops from Afghan soil before they agree to sit at the negotiating table, in spite of invitations to talks by powers like Russia and China. No doubt they feel emboldened to thus precondition talks, because of Pakistani support. Besides, the fractiousness of the coalition government in Kabul has contributed to the local support that the Taliban have managed to reclaim in many places because of abuses by representatives of the Afghan state or by those under its protection, like the local war lords. The Taliban today control almost forty per cent of Afghan territory.

This has made other regional players, including Russia and China, also reach out and open channels of communication with them. The Times earlier this month reported that it had learnt from members of the Taliban and Afghan officials that Russia is funding Taliban military operations against NATO in Afghanistan. The Russian Foreign Ministry has strongly repudiated that article saying “We believe that this fake, just as the other items containing false information, are aimed at drawing international attention away from the failure of NATO’s military policy in Afghanistan and are evidence of a resentful attitude to the stabilization efforts by Moscow and its regional partners … in Afghanistan.”

The ministry instead alleges that there are “…continued flights by unmarked helicopters to the Afghan regions controlled by extremists, whom British intelligence services are supporting.”

It is evident that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants have found a foothold in Afghanistan and there have been reports of Taliban and other militants moving over to their ranks. There is also worry in the region that with the current defeat of the ISIS in Iraq and Syria, its fighters may flock to Afghanistan where the country’s ungoverned tracts can offer them safe havens. To that end, Iran, whose longtime foe the Taliban has been, to also reach out to it, as it sees it as a lesser evil than ISIS and useful to counter the growth of ISIS there.

The Taliban has different factions and as the US steps up its military operations in Afghanistan, including with greater airpower, with no set deadline, even while the capability of the Afghan National Army is shored up, it is expected that the Taliban’s endurance will be tested and the more amenable factions may come forward to the negotiating table and eschew violence. Under sustained pressure from the US, Pakistan may not be able to keep up its support for the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistani analysts have decried Trump’s new Afghan policy as one which is bound to fail. Pakistan would like to have leverage over Kabul to maintain strategic depth against its arch-rival India on its eastern borders. However, Pakistan’s strategic location, for the movement of US troops and supplies into Afghanistan may not make it easy for the US to assert the kind of pressure it is threatening to. On the other hand, Pakistan’s close links with China can allow it to disdain US warnings.

Meanwhile, Iran, Russia, Pakistan would like to see US and NATO troops leave the region, even as the US becomes embroiled in this ‘new cold war’ with Russia while also alienating Iran with President Trump’s recent decertification of the Iran nuclear deal. It is a terribly complicated situation in which the worst brunt is borne by the Afghan people. It therefore becomes imperative for the government of President Ghani and CEO Abdullah to undertake reforms to provide better governance to the Afghan people. Afghans need to forge a national consciousness. Afghanistan is surviving on foreign aid today and in his speech formulating his Afghan policy, President Trump has also sent a veiled warning to the Afghan government, saying that “America will work with the Afghan government as long as we see determination and progress” and that American “commitment is not unlimited and our support is not a blank check”.

In spite of differences that persist within different stakeholders in Afghanistan and the different regional players, one thing is sure – an unstable Afghanistan is in no one’s interest. It is not only the neighboring and regional states, Pakistan included which embroiled in a war with its own local Pakistani Taliban, that are threatened by Afghan instability, as 9/11 has proved. It is time for all stakeholders to set aside their differences and work to find common ground there.


* Aditi Bhaduri is an independent journalist and political analyst specializing in international affairs and foreign policy. She writes for many national and international publications

China party congress subordinates regional, global engagements to national interests: what it means for Central Asia?

  • Written by Douglas Green

LONDON (TCA) — Rather than what one might have expected, China’s regional and global aspirations were not on top of the agenda at the Communist Party congress which took place this past week. Instead, domestic affairs dominated the event in the form of a consolidation of the hierarchic political and governmental power structure amidst speculations about a possible change in the denomination of candidates for succession within the system’s top ranks. Whatever the case, the message to neighbouring countries and beyond was: China comes first, the rest of the world will come as well — but later.

Read more: China party congress subordinates regional, global engagements to national interests: what it...

Presidential election: Kyrgyzstan choses to keep its political establishment in place

  • Written by Douglas Green

LONDON (TCA) — It is a warm, sunny and lazy Sunday afternoon in the Kyrgyz capital and all is quiet. The ominous spectre of mass demonstrations, burning vehicles, charging security forces and shootouts invoked by western “revolution manufacturers” and mass media parroting them is as remote as remote could ever be. Kyrgyz people go or do not go to vote, with both categories expressing a pragmatic approach to politics: let things go on as they do, let leaders govern and leave business to the population. This overall attitude explains why hardly more than half of the voters bothered to vote in the first place.

Read more: Presidential election: Kyrgyzstan choses to keep its political establishment in place

Business of politics, politics of business: fat cats in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential race

  • Written by Douglas Green

LONDON (TCA) — Has Kyrgyzstan managed to accomplish what failed to happen in Russia and Kazakhstan (though both of them came close) – namely the position of a plutocracy under the guise of democracy, with the country’s rich having become powerful as well? For a country where up to one-third of the population still lives just on or way under the poverty line, this is bound to raise eyebrows. The worst thing is that those wielding the sceptre in a my-turn, your-turn sequence of top state functions, are not industrial barons who could lift the country’s economy up to better levels, but self-made tycoons feeding on largely speculative business.

Read more: Business of politics, politics of business: fat cats in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential race

Destination CIS: India looks to trade with Central Asia

  • Written by Aditi Bhaduri*

NEW DELHI (TCA) — How important the Central Asian Republics (CARs) are becoming to India was evident when a two-day long conference was held in the Indian capital New Delhi late in September to encourage trade and tourism with these countries. While titled ‘Destination CIS’, the emphasis was clearly on Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which were also the partner countries of the conference. Only one single session was devoted to business with the Russian region of Rostov. The rest of the sessions of the conference, which was the first of its kind, were focused on the CARs mentioned above. Turkmenistan did not participate.

With India’s efforts to increase exports and make the country a manufacturing hub with different schemes like Make in India, Skill India and others, increasingly new opportunities are being created for enhancing international economic cooperation. “At this juncture, where the traditional and the developed markets are getting saturated, it is essential for the developing economies to find ways to boost trade and investment between them. The CIS region, one of the fastest growing regions of the world, offers India tremendous opportunities across various sectors,” explained Mr. Niraj, who is Secretary, International Affairs, of the PHD Chamber of Commerce, which had organized the conference.

What made the conference particularly opportune was that this year also marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and most of the CIS countries.

The CARs have had trade and cultural links with India going centuries back. The current government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen to revive these links to the resource rich region, formulating the Connect Central Asia policy. To that end he has visited all the CARs, with Kazakhstan being the most recent destination. With an increasing Chinese footprint in the region – with $10 billion in grants and aid – India is also keen to seize the opportunities present there. Indian trade turnover with the region on the other hand is only about 2.5 billion dollars.

Four major areas with great potential for bilateral trade and cooperation that were identified were: food security in the CIS countries, promotion of two way tourism, finance and logistics, and promotion and delivery of affordable world class healthcare.

While India offers the CARs a huge market for their goods – mainly dry fruits, handicrafts, and tourists, particularly those looking for affordable but quality healthcare, the country is also interested in the minerals and hydrocarbons of the Central Asia region.

A major drawback for the country to strengthen and enhance ties with the region is connectivity. India has no direct access to the CARs, and any overland route has to go through Pakistan, its arch rival.

To that end India is pinning its hopes on the International North South Transport Corridor which is to link India via Iran and the Caspian Sea through a multi-modal transport system to Central Asia, and beyond to Astrakhan and Russia.

India is also looking into a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union which will significantly increase trade profitability.

At the same time, as Dr. Ram Upendra Das, Head and Professor for Centre for Regional Trade, Department of Commerce, the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry, pointed out, for most Indian businesses the CARs were an alien entity with many even unable to pronounce the names properly.

The conference was therefore an attempt to bridge the information gap and clear misconceptions about doing trade with the region.

As Ms. Samargul Adamkova pointed out, manufacturing in the Kyrgyz Republic, for instance, would instantly find a ready market of 183 million people in the Eurasian Economic Union member countries, thereby offering huge incentives for Indian investments.

A parallel exhibition showcasing the achievements, tourism industry and handicrafts of the region added to the knowledge about the CARs that the conference sought to disseminate.

* Aditi Bhaduri is an independent journalist and political analyst specializing in international affairs and foreign policy. She writes for many national and international publications

The risk of reform in Uzbekistan

  • Written by Stratfor

TASHKENT (TCA) — On his path to political and economic reforms, the new Uzbek president Mirziyoyev is facing many risks and challenges, and many of them are beyond his control which makes his task even more difficult. We are republishing this article on the issue, originally published by Stratfor:

Read more: The risk of reform in Uzbekistan

EXPO 2017 in Kazakhstan: when the carnival is over

  • Written by Charles Van Der Leeuw

ASTANA (TCA) — A giant globe flanked by a pair of hardly less modest looking humps on either side, surrounded by several blocks of square buildings on the desolate outskirts of Astana – itself not exactly an organic urban centre and in turn located in an endless barren environment. This is what is left of the complex hosting this year’s EXPO through summer. What to do with it next only exists on the minds of people in high places, and it remains unclear whether the structure can endure the region’s harsh winters when snow is man-high and temperatures are down to minus 20 during the day and minus 35 at night for half of the year.

Read more: EXPO 2017 in Kazakhstan: when the carnival is over

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