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Weekly Digest of Central Asia

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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

Pandemic and Human Rights: Only Repressive System is Functioning in Kazakhstan

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, civil activists are being detained in Kazakhstan for peaceful actions and posts on Facebook, and doctors who tell about the problems with supplies in hospitals are intimidated and fired from job

Aug 3 — “The Almaty-based human rights activist Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, the head of Ar.Rukh.Khak NGO, believes Kazakhstan has the repressive system against activists during the global pandemic and restriction of human rights. “The humanity has fallen into a situation when human rights are restricted for safety reasons. This coronavirus gives us an opportunity to compare how the government works in other countries, how the issue of civil rights restrictions is being solved. Kazakhstan, once again, has proved it is a country that is not free, has major issues with the freedom of speech, access to information, compliance with and exercise of human rights,” Toregozhina said.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/pandemic-and-human-rights-only-repressive-system-is-functioning-in-kazakhstan/

Containing Ethnic Conflict? Kazakhstan Probes Violence In Mixed Uzbek-Kazakh Village

Kazakh authorities are keen to make sure the clash between Kazakhs and Uzbeks doesn’t escalate into a wider conflict

Aug 4 — “There is a quiet farming village in southern Kazakhstan that has been home to several thousand ethnic Uzbeks and Kazakhs living side by side for centuries. But peace in the dusty community of Qosmezgil was shattered recently by a clash between several young Uzbek and Kazakh men that left four people, including a policeman, injured. One victim of the violence is in intensive care with a severe eye injury and other wounds he sustained in the July 20 fight.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/containing-ethnic-conflict-kazakhstan-probes-violence-in-mixed-uzbek-kazakh-village/30766325.html

How to go bankrupt. The leading national company of Kazakhstan accused of raiding

In July 2020, some Kazakhstan entrepreneurs who took loans from the Bank of Development of Kazakhstan (BDK) wrote a letter to the president, in which they tell how BDK and the investment fund of Kazakhstan (IFK) “destroyed” their enterprises

Aug 4 — “In 2013, a key national holding ‘Baiterek’ was established in Kazakhstan. Its mission was to support independent business. The new agency drew public response: why create an organisation with doubtful efficiency but tremendous administrative expenses? The current analysis of performance creates an impression that ‘Baiterek’ was created to governmentalize the independent business and to remove potential competitors.” READ MORE: http://longreads.cabar.asia/ifk_brk_eng

KYRGYZSTAN

Organic Agriculture in Kyrgyzstan as a Symbol of Ecological Modernization

The transition to organic agriculture will become not only the optimal solution to environmental problems in the country, but also one of the stimulating factors for further economic development

July 30 — “To date, discussion of further measures to solve environmental problems at various summits of heads of state in the past ten years has been one of the main items on the agenda. For example, in December 2019, the UN held its next annual conference on climate change and presented reports, the results of which show that the condition of the environment is certainly deteriorating at a rapid pace. And most important, many states still mistakenly perceive climate warming as an expected threat, taking fragmented preventive measures to address this problem. It is generally accepted that environmental degradation is a direct consequence of economic activity.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/organic-agriculture-in-kyrgyzstan-as-a-symbol-of-ecological-modernization/

Kyrgyzstan: Business Owners at Issyk Kul Try to Survive by Means of Domestic Tourists

Due to coronavirus pandemic, businesses cannot rely on foreign visitors this year, and the flow of domestic tourists is rather small

Aug 4 — “This year is quiet for the south shore of Issyk Kul. It has no foreign tourists because of coronavirus and closed borders, and very few domestic tourists. Rest homes and guesthouses reduce prices to somehow attract guests. The majority of guesthouses in the southern shore of the lake is vacant. For local residents, summer is the time when they can earn to live out up to next year. But this year many residents worry they won’t earn enough.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/kyrgyzstan-business-owners-at-issyk-kul-try-to-survive-by-means-of-domestic-tourists/

No Coronavirus Postponement And No Front-Runners So Far In Kyrgyz Elections

Kyrgyzstan is readying for parliamentary elections in October that the pandemic and a sweeping reorganization of its political parties ensure will be very different from any of its previous votes

Aug 7 — “The two-month countdown to Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections has started, and President Sooronbai Jeenbekov has been clear the elections will take place despite the huge problems the coronavirus is causing for the country. Such Kyrgyz votes have traditionally been energetic and controversial affairs. But the October 4 vote promises to be the most interesting to date, since for the first time there are no front-runners.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/no-coronavirus-postponement-and-no-front-runners-so-far-in-kyrgyz-elections/30771625.html

TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan suspends electricity deliveries to Uzbekistan

Tajikistan says low snowfall has hindered output at its hydropower plants

July 31 — “Tajikistan says it has stopped delivering electricity to neighboring Uzbekistan and Afghanistan because diminished river levels caused by a winter of reduced snowfall have constrained output at the Soviet-built Nurek hydroelectric plant. A statement posted on President Emomali Rahmon’s website on July 28 stated that snowfall in the areas where melted ice pours into the Vakhsh River was at levels of 50 percent compared to previous years.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-suspends-electricity-deliveries-to-uzbekistan

Tajikistan brings presidential election forward, to Oct. 11

There is only one sliver of intrigue remaining: will it be the incumbent President Emomali Rahmon, 67, seeking another seven-year term, or will the reins be handed over to his son, Rustam Emomali?

Aug 6 — “Crisis-stricken, authoritarian-minded leaders sometimes resort to delaying elections as a tactic for ensuring a smoother ride. Things in Tajikistan are unfolding differently. And so, the upper and lower house of parliament convened on August 6 to vote in favor of holding the next presidential election on October 11 – one month before the traditional November date for polls.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-brings-presidential-election-forward-to-oct-11

Wish I were there: off the beaten track in Tajikistan

Plans to make 2020 a ‘year of tourism’ in Tajikistan have been dashed but if visitors do return, treasures await

Aug 7 — “In December 2019, I travelled to the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan. On the drive south from the capital, Dushanbe, I stopped in a place called Bokhtar — an in-between-city, a place no tourist would usually choose to linger. Looking back on it, the wintry scene had a certain melancholy — and that was before recent events intensified my nostalgia for far-flung travel. The willows were as thin and bare as Chinese brushstrokes. Aside from a few pomegranates stubbornly clinging on, the orchards were empty: apples pruned, vines tied in, walnut trees stark silhouettes against cold, misted skies.” READ MORE: https://www.ft.com/content/74085c47-7476-412b-96bb-7203821d42e5

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan: Hiding from satellites

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

Aug 4 — “The president has seized upon the opportunity of the holy holiday of Eid al-Adha, known locally as Kurban Bayram, to make a sustained round of telephone calls to leaders of fellow mainly Muslim nations. Interlocutors included Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz, who had only just got out of hospital after undergoing a gallbladder operation, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The leaders of neighboring nations, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Iran, were also contacted. And last week, it was the turn of the king of Bahrain, the vice president of the United Arab Emirates, and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-hiding-from-satellites

The books authored by the Turkmen President are freely available online

The books authored by the Turkmen President are an inseparable part of his personality cult — they are studied by schoolchildren, students, public sector employees, military personnel and even cotton pickers during work breaks

Aug 4 — “The books, authored by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, are freely available on the website devoted to the 25th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s Neutrality. The catalogue is comprised of 63 writings. Among them are not only the books personally written by Berdymukhammedov, but also 11 collections based on his adages entitled “To the new heights of progress”. READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/08/the-books-authored-by-the-turkmen-president-are-freely-available-online/

Turkmenistan’s public sector employees urged to take unpaid leave

The economic crisis amid the pandemic has taken a toll on ordinary Turkmen citizens

Aug 6 — “Since 4 August, 2020 executives of Ashgabat international airport “Oguzkhan” have sent the majority of their employees on unpaid leave. As of today they have been informed that the leave is scheduled to last until mid September. One of the airport employees told a correspondent of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” that the minimum number of employees were left at work to maintain the equipment in working order. In the meantime, the old airport building for domestic flights operates in a regular mode.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/08/turkmenistans-public-sector-employees-urged-to-take-unpaid-leave/

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan wraps up Kadyrinskaya Hydropower plant modernisation

The Uzbek ministry said the project was completed on time despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

Aug 6 — “Uzbekistan’s Energy Ministry has announced the completion on time of the three-year project to modernise the Kadyrinskaya Hydropower Plant, which was marked in a ceremony attended by foreign partners and representatives from the Kadyrinskaya HPP-3 plant and Uzbekhydroenergo, Uzbekistan’s state hydropower producer and developer.” READ MORE: https://www.neweurope.eu/article/uzbekistan-wraps-up-kadyrinskaya-hydropower-plant-modernisation/

Uzbekistan aims to become one of world’s largest gold producers

At present, the annual volume of gold production in Uzbekistan is estimated at 100 tonnes and will significantly increase in years to come

Aug 7 — “Uzbekistan aims to become one of the world’s largest gold producers within the next several years that will be achieved through more development of its domestic gold regions. According to latest data, published by the Uzbek State Committee for Geology, the country currently has 63 large-scale gold mining fields, which have total reserves of more than 2,500 tonnes of gold, and probable reserves (in categories C1 and C2) of 5,990 tonnes. Of these, at least nine are currently in the developmental stage and there is a possibility the number of such fields will increase already shortly.” READ MORE: https://resourceworld.com/uzbekistan-aims-to-become-one-of-worlds-largest-gold-producers/

A dam failure raises concerns about corruption in Uzbekistan

An investigation into the causes is taking a long time to report

Aug 7 — “When a dam burst in Uzbekistan in May, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president, was quick to promise justice for the victims. Those responsible for the disaster, which killed six people and displaced over 100,000, would answer before the law “regardless of who they are”, he pledged. On social media, ordinary Uzbeks aired their suspicions that negligence or corruption must have contributed to the collapse, since the Sardoba dam had only been completed three years before.” READ MORE: https://www.economist.com/asia/2020/08/08/a-dam-failure-raises-concerns-about-corruption-in-uzbekistan

AFGHANISTAN

What Do US-Iran Talks Mean for Afghanistan?

The U.S. and Iran are talking. That’s good news for Afghanistan

July 31 — “After a tumultuous period marked by rising violence and delayed implementation of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in Doha this year, finally the clouds seem to be breaking in Afghanistan. The Taliban and Afghan government look set to complete their long-overdue prisoner exchange and proceed to intra-Afghan talks, as outlined by the Doha agreement. The Taliban also announced a three-day ceasefire during the Muslim festival of Eid ul Adha.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/07/what-do-us-iran-talks-mean-for-afghanistan/

Russia Is Winning the Information War in Afghanistan

The country’s former occupier is using Kremlin-backed media to fuel anger toward the United States

Aug 5 — “Since 2015, when Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suspended Moscow’s participation in the Northern Distribution Network supply route, which facilitated the transit of food, fuel, and hardware for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Russia has transformed from an inconsistent partner to a multipronged adversary of the United States in Afghanistan.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/08/05/russia-is-winning-the-information-war-in-afghanistan/

Afghanistan: Foreign fighters complicate peace prospects

The presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan presents a serious challenge in securing counterterrorism gains of the past, while ensuring that the Taliban delivers on the promise of ensuring non-use of Afghan soil to plan attacks against the US or its allies

Aug 6 — “The 26th report of the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, published on 23 July 2020, showed that over 6,000 Pakistani insurgents remain in hiding in Afghanistan. The report claimed most of them to be members of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group, which is known for targeting the Pakistan military as well as the civilian population.” READ MORE: https://www.orfonline.org/research/afghanistan-foreign-fighters-complicate-peace-prospects/

WORLD

COVID-19 Heats Up the New Great Game in Central Asia

Washington has a golden opportunity to counter China’s gains

Aug 3 — “Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Asian nations—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan—are facing a particularly challenging test of their governments, health care systems, and fledgling economies, which are heavily dependent on commodity exports to global economic engines such as China. Unlike many other developing countries left isolated by the pandemic, they have a choice of great-power backers, as China, Russia, and the United States compete to offer aid.” READ MORE: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/08/03/covid-19-china-new-great-game-central-asia/

Trump’s Central Asia policy

Central Asia has come a long way in US foreign policy from being perceived initially as the “Periphery of the Periphery” or on the “other side of the moon” of America’s foreign policy interests

Aug 4 — “The United States recently chaired the C5+1 High Level Dialogue with the Central Asian states in a virtual format. Several issues including Afghanistan, regional connectivity, trade, and for the first time in the forum, the topic of the Aral basin, were discussed. The platform — created in Samarkand in 2015, which provides the US a platform to engage all the Central Asian states was one of the Obama administration’s key achievements which Donald Trump has continued.” READ MORE: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/trump-central-asia-policy/

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