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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

Replacing Turkey: This Summer Kazakhstanis Will Go On Vacation Within the Country

Coronavirus pandemic has given a surprising opportunity for the development and strengthening of domestic tourism in Kazakhstan

July 6 — “Tourism in Kazakhstan, just like in the rest of the world, was one of the most affected sectors of economy, the first one. According to Rashida Shaikenova, director of the Kazakhstan Tourist Association (KTA), who spoke at the online briefing regarding the situation in the sector, it stopped working in the second half of January, when various countries started introducing quarantine measures to respond to the spread of coronavirus, banned travel and closed borders. She estimated the losses in the travel industry as one hundred per cent.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/replacing-turkey-this-summer-kazakhstanis-will-go-on-vacation-within-the-country/

Kazakhstan: Nur-Sultan revelry sparks ire as coronavirus crisis escalates

City authorities said they hoped the feast would cheer up frontline medical workers

July 7 — “As Kazakhstan’s coronavirus crisis appears to grow only more alarming by the day, this hardly felt like the time to celebrate. Officials in the capital, Nur-Sultan, which was last year renamed in honor of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, apparently felt otherwise. And so, they pressed ahead with a giant, raucous fireworks display on July 6. The stunt has provoked rare levels of indignation, including from some improbable quarters.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/kazakhstan-nur-sultan-revelry-sparks-ire-as-coronavirus-crisis-escalates

Kazakhstan well poised to tackle digital learning but challenges remain

Kazakstan’s education and skills policies will be crucial for the Central Asian country’s economic recovery and efforts to avoid the digital divide, experts say

July 8 — “Some 78% of Kazakhstan’s population are internet users and the country has one of the lowest prices of mobile data globally, with a cost of less than $0.5 per gigabyte of mobile data it is the sixth cheapest in the world. The country’s relatively advantageous digital position makes its transition to digital learning particularly interesting to watch, Arthur van Diesen, UNICEF’s representative in Kazakhstan told ‘Astana Finance Days’, an online conference held last Wednesday (29 June).” READ MORE: https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-europe/news/kazakhstan-well-poised-to-tackle-digital-learning-but-challenges-remain/

KYRGYZSTAN

Perks of Kyrgyzstan’s Participation in International Organizations Illustrated by the OSCE Membership

“Prospects of the Kyrgyz–OSCE partnership will become even more pertinent in the light of sweeping global security issues like climate change, resilient pandemics, devastating wars, terrorist threats, and cybersecurity,” expert Kanatbek Abdiev analyzes Kyrgyzstan’s participation in the OSCE

July 6 — “This article aims to analyze a background of cooperation between the OSCE and the Kyrgyz Republic, whilst also assessing the effectiveness of the country’s participation in the OSCE from 1998 to 2018. The rationale for choosing the OSCE to study the effectiveness of the state’s participation in international organizations is due to several factors. First, the Organization’s concept of security covers the politico-military, the economic, and the human dimensions, unlike many other associations whose work is limited to merely security or economic issues.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/perks-of-kyrgyzstan-s-participation-in-international-organizations-illustrated-by-the-osce-membership/

Date Set for Kyrgyzstan’s Parliamentary Election: October 4

Amid the mire of politics and a pandemic, Kyrgyzstan is headed for a pivotal parliamentary election this fall

July 7 — “Last week, on July 3, Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov signed a decree setting out the official date of the country’s next parliamentary elections. The date has been set for October 4, despite some chatter that it could be delayed; what will happen remains uncertain. The October 2020 parliamentary elections will take place within the context of a tumultuous political moment in Kyrgyzstan and a pandemic.” READ MORE: https://thediplomat.com/2020/07/date-set-for-kyrgyzstans-parliamentary-election-october-4/

Kyrgyz Chaos: Shortage Of Medics, Hospital Beds As COVID-19 Cases Skyrocket

Kyrgyzstan is facing a severe shortage of medical professionals, hospital beds, drugs, and equipment as coronavirus infections have shot up in recent weeks

July 11 — ““When I was driving from one hospital to another with my sister in the car — who was struggling to breath — I felt like the loneliest person in the world,” said Taalaybek Shaiymbekov about his 26-year-old sister, Kunduz. After being rejected by numerous hospitals in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, for several days, Kunduz was finally given a bed at the National Infectious Diseases Center on June 28. But it was too late. Doctors were unable to save the young woman’s life.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyz-chaos-shortage-of-medics-hospital-beds-as-covid-19-cases-skyrocket/30720679.html

TAJIKISTAN

Robberies and Thefts Increase in Tajikistan

COVID-19-related restrictions have led to increase in the number of robberies, thefts and domestic violence cases in Tajikistan

July 3 — “In late April, the Tajik authorities confirmed pandemic in the country, reported 15 infection cases, and decided to close the largest non-food markets. Many people, at least in the capital, had to stay at home for some time to prevent the spread of the pandemic. All these restrictions, together with the deterioration of the Tajik migrants’ situation in Russia, led to an increase in poverty and unemployment in the country. The social networks and media more frequently report violence and crimes.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/robberies-and-thefts-increase-in-tajikistan/

How to reform the financial market of Tajikistan?

The financial market of Tajikistan is subject to imbalances and is not able to fully perform its functions

July 4 — “The current model is based on attracting external foreign investment, migrant remittances, and dominated by budget financing of the economy.
At the same time, the tax burden of market participants remains high, which narrows their self-financing potential. The potential of financial market entities, including banks and non-banking financial institutions, is also used to a limited extent.” READ MORE: https://cabar.asia/en/how-to-reform-the-financial-market-of-tajikistan/

Tajik Prosecutors Summon Journalist’s Family After His Coverage Of Coronavirus

Tajikistan has long been criticized for clamping down on free speech and curbing independent media by arresting journalists, blocking access to websites, and denying accreditation to reporters

July 8 — “The Prosecutor-General’s Office in Tajikistan has summoned for questioning close relatives of an independent journalist who has led critical coverage of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, in a sign of the increased efforts by authorities to stifle free speech. Mirzo Salimpur, a founder of the independent Akhbor news agency and a former RFE/RL journalist, said on July 7 that four days earlier, the officials questioned his relatives and demanded his eldest daughter and two sisters-in-law speak against him “in a video.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/tajik-prosecutors-summon-journalist-s-family-after-his-coverage-of-coronavirus/30714102.html

TURKMENISTAN

Analysis: Authoritarian Turkmen President Embattled At Home, Abroad As Pandemic And Storm Recoveries Mismanaged

Turkmen citizens have no say in politics and critics of the government are imprisoned and sometimes simply disappear in unknown prisons

July 4 — “Though there have been some rough times before, it’s fair to say no Turkmen president has ever been in such a difficult position as Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is right now. Okay, so there have admittedly only been two presidents of Turkmenistan but the first one, Saparmurat Niyazov, certainly never faced the serious problems that Berdymukhammedov has staring at him now.” READ MORE: https://www.rferl.org/a/analysis-authoritarian-turkmen-president-embattled-at-home-abroad-as-pandemic-and-storm-recoveries-mismanaged-/30705720.html

Turkmenistan: Guess WHO’s coming to dinner

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

July 7 — “At long last, an expert mission from the World Health Organization traveled to Turkmenistan this week. A visit had been flagged up as early as April, but unspecified problems got in the way. Government-aligned sources suggested the impediments were logistical, but in the event, the five-person WHO team was transported from Germany to Ashgabat on a Turkmenistan Airlines-owned Bombardier Challenger VIP jet. Even though flights to and from the country have been suspended since February-March, arranging this particular transfer never posed real problems.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/turkmenistan-guess-whos-coming-to-dinner

450 employees to be dismissed in Ashgabat offices of “Turkmengaz” by 1 September

The Turkmen natural-gas industry has been hit hard by low prices of gas — the country’s main export commodity

July 7 — “Staff redundancies are still underway in the state holding “Turkmengaz”. Correspondents of “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” report that by 1 September, 2020 some 450 employees are expected to be laid off in Ashgabat offices of the holding. In mid June the holding executives and lawyers warned employees about the forthcoming downsizing. They were informed that because the company is not generating the expected revenue, it is unprofitable to keep a large number of staff. In this connection all those in attendance were obliged to submit letters of resignation starting from 1 July, 2020.” READ MORE: https://en.hronikatm.com/2020/07/450-employees-to-be-dismissed-in-ashgabat-offices-of-turkmengaz-by-1-september/

UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan’s health care system, economy hit hard by COVID-19

Expanded social protections, services, may help, study finds

July 6 — “The COVID-19 pandemic and measures to contain it have hit Uzbekistan hard, cutting exports and remittances, straining government coffers, and forcing most small businesses across the Central Asian country to close, a new multilateral assessment finds. The study represents a consolidated effort by UN agencies and international financial institutions, a Multilateral Socio-Economic Response and Recovery Offer, with UNDP as technical lead.” READ MORE: https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/news-centre/news/2020/Uzbekistan_health_care_economy_hit_hard_by_COVID19.html

COMMENT: Borrower beware: Uzbekistan’s dollar debt binge could spell long-term trouble

Uzbekistan issued its debut $1bn Eurobond in February to high demand, but the government needs to avoid the temptation of a borrowing binge that ends in a debt trap

July 7 — “Uzbekistan’s inaugural $1bn Eurobond in February of last year was hailed as a landmark event for my country. The placement set a benchmark interest rate for the nation, put us on the map of the global fixed income investment community, and of course provided funds for government coffers. But the Eurobond placement – and continuing dollar-denominated borrowing by both the government and state-owned banks — gives me pause.” READ MORE: https://www.intellinews.com/comment-borrower-beware-uzbekistan-s-dollar-debt-binge-could-spell-long-term-trouble-186998/

As Uzbekistan opens up its banking sector, Georgia’s TBC sees opportunity

Until recently, the Uzbek banking sector was focused on channeling funds into specific sectors, with state-owned banks controlling 90 per cent of the sector

July 9 — “One of Georgia’s two largest banks, TBC, last month announced plans to open a subsidiary – JSCB TBC Bank – in Uzbekistan. The announcement comes as TBC, founded in 1992, continues to look for areas in which to expand, and as Uzbekistan finally begins to open up its banking sector to foreign players. TBC’s Uzbek operations are currently in pilot mode, with banking only available for what it has called “friends and family”, but according to TBC services will be available to the broader Uzbek population by August this year.” READ MORE: https://emerging-europe.com/business/as-uzbekistan-opens-up-its-banking-sector-georgias-tbc-sees-opportunity/

AFGHANISTAN

What Iran Wants in Afghanistan

A reduced American presence could provide Iran with an opening to expand its influence in Afghanistan

July 8 — “Negotiations to end the long-running war between Afghanistan’s central government and the Taliban slowly inch along, punctuated by spasms of violence. The Taliban and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) often lash out with attacks on the Afghan security forces and civilians, with the ISKP frequently targeting Shiite communities. Any settlement will likely require the United States to withdraw most combat troops from the country. U.S. President Donald Trump is eager to leave Afghanistan after nearly two decades and plans to review several options for drawing down troop levels, something that could easily happen by the end of the year.” READ MORE: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/2020-07-08/what-iran-wants-afghanistan

Russia Goes Bounty Hunting in Afghanistan

Moscow will not leave behind its legacy of power in Central Asia or anywhere else without fighting for it

July 8 — “The revelations that Moscow paid Taliban warriors bounties to kill U.S., British, and other allied soldiers in Afghanistan is already generating a scandal in the United States. Yet for those who closely monitor Russian foreign policy in Central Asia and Afghanistan, this represents a particularly grisly escalation of policy but not a change in strategy. Moscow has long been determined to enhance its position with the Taliban and accelerate the ejection of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which it regards as a threat to its position in Central Asia and to Russia. In Moscow’s imagination, the presence of several U.S. and/or NATO airbases in Afghanistan could strike Russian targets in Central Asia. Moreover, Russia has consistently expressed a visceral reaction to the presence of foreign military forces, especially Western ones, in and around Central Asia.” READ MORE: http://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13628-russia-goes-bounty-hunting-in-afghanistan.html

The False Promise of Peace in Afghanistan

There is a significant risk of the peace process in Afghanistan collapsing or stalling indefinitely. In a new report from the Center for Preventive Action, Seth G. Jones details steps the United States could take to prevent that from happening

July 9 — “Afghan peace talks have, at least for the moment, bogged down. Violence has spiked, and there have been revelations that GRU Unit 29155—a shadowy component of Russia’s military intelligence agency—provided aid, including bounties, to the Taliban. None of this bodes well for a quick resolution of the war.” READ MORE: https://www.cfr.org/blog/false-promise-peace-afghanistan

WORLD

Chinese business briefing: Getting back on track

Beijing wants its neighbors to believe it is not abandoning them

July 6 — “A Kazakh bureaucrat sifting through the heaps of dire economic news these days would be rewarded by a glance at Chinese customs data. Exports to China grew 11.1 percent year-on-year in the first five months of 2020, according to Beijing’s statistics. By contrast, Uzbekistan’s exports to China fell 47 percent in the same period; Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan all saw exports to the People’s Republic fall over 20 percent.” READ MORE: https://eurasianet.org/chinese-business-briefing-getting-back-on-track

We Must Not Cede Afghanistan and Central Asia to Russia

The United States needs to keep a limited military presence in the country and the region as a check on the Kremlin’s global ambitions

July 9 — “I used to believe that the United States and Russia could form a strategic alliance similar to the one that defeated Nazi Germany once upon a time. I thought it might be possible for Washington and Moscow to join forces, become the world’s policemen, and keep the peace. I was wrong, and worse yet, naïve.” READ MORE: https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/07/russia-afghanistan-us-must-not-cede-central-asia-to-moscow/



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