Central Asia Digest | May 2019

Political Developments

During his visit to Uzbekistan, the German President held discussions with his counterpart and commended political, economic, and social change and reforms introduced by Uzbek President. The two sides discussed issues of further expanding political, trade, economic, investment, financial, technical, cultural, humanitarian relations, combating terrorism and extremism, building up security and international and regional cooperation. The Presidents welcomed launch of Uzbekistan – Germany consultations on Afghanistan to promote socio-economic, investment and infrastructure projects in that country. Agreements were signed on exchange and protection of information, cooperation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change, launch of production of commercial vehicles in cooperation with Volkswagen, and others.

During his visit to Tajikistan, Russian Defense minister met Tajik President and Defence Minister and inspected the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan. He held discussions on military cooperation between the two countries. About 7,000 troops from Russia's 201st Motor Rifle Division are stationed at three facilities that are considered part of Russian base in Tajikistan.

During his visit to Dushanbe, Russian Federal Security Service chief said that about 5,000 militants from Islamic State (IS) have been amassing in northern Afghanistan. Security experts have said that Russia has exaggerated the number of militants to justify its outreach to Afghan Taliban and to impress upon Central Asian governments that they need support from Russia to defend themselves.
 
Iranian foreign minister on his visit to Pakistan stated that Chabahar and Gwadar are complementary ports. He proposed that Gwadar be connected to the rail-road system of Iran and to north corridor through Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey and even to Iraq. 

The sixth High-level Political and Security Dialogue between European Union (EU) and 5 countries of Central Asia took place in Brussels. Afghanistan was invited as a special guest. This meeting was significant as EU recently adopted an EU-Central Asia Strategy titled “New Opportunities for a Stronger Partnership". The new Strategy conveys a strong message of commitment to the region and emphasises new opportunities for taking EU-Central Asia partnership forward.  Main priorities of New Strategy are sustainable development of the region, political integration, security, environmental protection, climate change, education and youth policy. Discussions on enhanced cooperation in prevention of violent extremism and counterterrorism as well as fight against illicit drugs trafficking were held. Discussions on implementation of the strategy, including improving effectiveness of cooperation in security, as well as in trade and economic, transport and energy fields took place. Issues of improving education, environmental protection and rational use of water resources were discussed. Participants noted the importance of further strengthening regional security cooperation with involvement of Afghanistan, and expressed their full support for peaceful resolution of situation in the country.

European Council President Donald Tusk paid a four day visit to Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In Tajikistan he praised cooperation with all Central Asian countries on fighting terrorism, drug trafficking and violent extremism, as well as climate change and other important topics. In Kazakhstan, he discussed Kazakhstan’s ambitious reforms programme, including improvement of business climate, rule of law, fundamental rights, good governance and anti-corruption. Tusk said that Kazakhstan is a priority country for EU. During Tusk’s visit to Dushanbe, Tajikistan and EU agreed to prepare an enhanced partnership and cooperation agreement. EU is extending assistance of 250 million-euro to Tajikistan for projects in territorial development, healthcare, and education. Issue of human rights was also highlighted. 

Kazakhstan's former President Nazarbayev has received the title of honorary member of Senate, upper house of Kazakh parliament.

A riot broke out at a high-security prison in Tajikistan, leaving 29 people dead, including guards, high-profile individuals within the political opposition, and members and supporters of Islamic State (IS). Tajik government quickly claimed that the riot was sparked by militants and moved to block internet access in the country. This is second deadly prison riot in six months in Tajikistan, coming less than a year since the IS-related terrorist attack that killed four foreign nationals. Terrorism could spill over Tajikistan’s borders and coalesce with political violence and instability plaguing the broader region of Central Asia. Tajikistan’s history of an exclusively security-based approach to countering terrorism not only fails at countering extremist narratives but also exacerbates the terrorist threat. The increased terrorist threat has led both Moscow and Beijing to ramp up their security presence in the country.

Turkmenistan has jailed numerous Muslims on vague "extremism" accusations, including punishing them for studying Islam. An increasing number of Muslims feel forced not to mark Ramadan visibly, as they fear being branded "extremists." Many Muslim men – particularly young men - are afraid to grow beards as police often target bearded men. Police appear to believe that young men who wear beards encourage Muslims to become extreme.In a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister, Kyrgyz President said that Kyrgyzstan is ready to align its development strategies with Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and strengthen practical cooperation with China in various sectors. He said that China has been providing Kyrgyzstan with huge selfless and sincere assistance for a long time without imposing its will, adding that China is indeed Kyrgyzstan's good neighbour, good friend and good partner. He said that Kyrgyzstan firmly adheres to one-China policy, supports China's anti-terrorism measures in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and will combat jointly with China the "three forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism. Chinese Foreign Minister said that China never interferes in Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs.

The third annual Kazakhstan Global Investment Roundtable (KGIR-2019) organised at Astana Economic Forum witnessed signing of 43 agreements totalling US$8.7 billion. During KGIR-2018, 32 agreements were signed totalling US$4.7 billion. Kazakh PM said that FDI to Kazakhstan was US$24 billion in 2018 and that a favourable business climate and Kazakhstan’s fresh focus on new and promising industries is promoting economic growth. Reasons for Kazakhstan's investment attractiveness include its strategically important location, favourable business environment, investment incentives and developed infrastructure.  According to World Bank, there are over 5,000 undiscovered deposits worth more than US$46 trillion.

600 experts from 50 countries gathered in Almaty for a three-day forum to discuss issues ranging from de-globalisation and consumption crisis to digital reality of mass media and effects of artificial intelligence on journalism. Heated discussions on the crisis of trust, rise of nationalism and populism, changing international order and risks posed by trade-wars were held.

A Meeting of leaders of Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) countries was held in Nur-Sultan city to mark the 25th anniversary of launch of idea of Eurasian integration and 5th anniversary of signing of EEU Declaration. Discussions on prospects of development of EEU, including implementation of digital agenda and key areas of EEU’s international activities were held. Kazakh PM said that Singapore, Israel and India are likely to sign FTAs with EEU soon.

Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev has stated that China is not only Kazakhstan’s economic partner, ‘’but also the closest friend we trust and rely on.’’China has invested US$16 billion in Kazakhstan with annual trade turnover in 2018 being US$11.6 billion.

Turkmenistan has invited CIS member-states to participate in Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project. Turkmen President stressed that work on TAPI is proceeding at full swing.

International Institute for Management Development placed Kazakhstan 34th in terms of global competitiveness among 63 countries surveyed, up four spots from a year earlier. Kazakhstan elbowed aside 29 countries, including Italy, Spain, Russia and Turkey in achieving this ranking.

KazPV group of companies intends to build a 100-MW solar power plant in Kazakhstan on a 150-hectare area during 2019-2021. Total cost of solar park is estimated at US$150 million.

In a meeting with Chinese foreign minister, Uzbek foreign minister said that Uzbekistan firmly adheres to one-China policy, resolutely supports China's efforts in combating the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and is willing to enhance pragmatic cooperation with China under Belt and Road Initiative.

Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan and Pakistan met in Bishkek on side-lines of SCO FM’s meeting and decided to enhance volume of their bilateral trade to US$1 billion and relations in diverse areas.

 

Economic Developments

In a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister, Kyrgyz President said that Kyrgyzstan is ready to align its development strategies with Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and strengthen practical cooperation with China in various sectors. He said that China has been providing Kyrgyzstan with huge selfless and sincere assistance for a long time without imposing its will, adding that China is indeed Kyrgyzstan's good neighbour, good friend and good partner. He said that Kyrgyzstan firmly adheres to one-China policy, supports China's anti-terrorism measures in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and will combat jointly with China the "three forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism. Chinese Foreign Minister said that China never interferes in Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs.

The third annual Kazakhstan Global Investment Roundtable (KGIR-2019) organised at Astana Economic Forum witnessed signing of 43 agreements totalling US$8.7 billion. During KGIR-2018, 32 agreements were signed totalling US$4.7 billion. Kazakh PM said that FDI to Kazakhstan was US$24 billion in 2018 and that a favourable business climate and Kazakhstan’s fresh focus on new and promising industries is promoting economic growth. Reasons for Kazakhstan's investment attractiveness include its strategically important location, favourable business environment, investment incentives and developed infrastructure.  According to World Bank, there are over 5,000 undiscovered deposits worth more than US$46 trillion.

600 experts from 50 countries gathered in Almaty for a three-day forum to discuss issues ranging from de-globalisation and consumption crisis to digital reality of mass media and effects of artificial intelligence on journalism. Heated discussions on the crisis of trust, rise of nationalism and populism, changing international order and risks posed by trade-wars were held.

A Meeting of leaders of Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) countries was held in Nur-Sultan city to mark the 25th anniversary of launch of idea of Eurasian integration and 5th anniversary of signing of EEU Declaration. Discussions on prospects of development of EEU, including implementation of digital agenda and key areas of EEU’s international activities were held. Kazakh PM said that Singapore, Israel and India are likely to sign FTAs with EEU soon.

Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev has stated that China is not only Kazakhstan’s economic partner, ‘’but also the closest friend we trust and rely on.’’China has invested US$16 billion in Kazakhstan with annual trade turnover in 2018 being US$11.6 billion.

Turkmenistan has invited CIS member-states to participate in Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project. Turkmen President stressed that work on TAPI is proceeding at full swing.

International Institute for Management Development placed Kazakhstan 34th in terms of global competitiveness among 63 countries surveyed, up four spots from a year earlier. Kazakhstan elbowed aside 29 countries, including Italy, Spain, Russia and Turkey in achieving this ranking.

KazPV group of companies intends to build a 100-MW solar power plant in Kazakhstan on a 150-hectare area during 2019-2021. Total cost of solar park is estimated at US$150 million.

In a meeting with Chinese foreign minister, Uzbek foreign minister said that Uzbekistan firmly adheres to one-China policy, resolutely supports China's efforts in combating the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and is willing to enhance pragmatic cooperation with China under Belt and Road Initiative.

Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan and Pakistan met in Bishkek on side-lines of SCO FM’s meeting and decided to enhance volume of their bilateral trade to US$1 billion and relations in diverse areas.

 

India-Central Asia Relations

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held wide-ranging talks with Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov who was invited to participate in oath taking ceremony of new government in his capacity as current Chair of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Kyrgyz President reiterated invitation to PM Modi to visit Kyrgyzstan for SCO Summit and a bilateral visit during 13-15 June, 2019. The two leaders held deliberations on diversifying economic and social cooperation for mutual benefit of both nations. They discussed taking the strategic relationship beyond the current level of bilateral exercises and construction of a joint mountain warfare training center. Kyrgyz military wants to procure simulators that have been purchased by Indian defence forces. Request for equipment includes products made by Hyderabad based Zen Technologies which has a wide range of products for Russian equipment, including driving and gunnery crew equipment for T-72 and T-90 tanks, as well as for BMP Infantry Combat Vehicles.

During her visit to Bishkek to participate in SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting, Former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called on Kyrgyz President and discussed ways to promote bilateral cooperation.  

Speaking at SCO Foreign Minister’s meeting, Former EAM said that India's commitment to regional connectivity is evident from its involvement in International North-South Transport Corridor, Chabahar Port, Ashgabat Agreement and India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway. She added that India has operationalized air freight corridors between Kabul & Kandahar & New Delhi and Mumbai in 2017.

Former EAM’s visit came soon after Former Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s participation in SCO Defence Ministers’ meet in Kyrgyzstan. Discussions sought to further boost defence and security cooperation among member countries in wake of evolving security challenges in the region.

Uzbek President stated that 908 projects with foreign investment of US$1.7 billion will be initiated in the country. India is among countries investing in the projects being implemented in the Andijan region between 2019 and 2020. India and Uzbekistan had earlier signed an agreement for a line of credit of US$200 million from India for financing housing and social infrastructure projects in Uzbekistan. The two have also signed an agreement for uranium export from the central Asian nation.

14th annual meeting of SCO Security Council Secretaries took place in Bishkek. Participants discussed ways to enhance security and stability in SCO member countries. They discussed ways to improve cooperation and response to modern security threats faced by countries. They underlined importance of enhancing cooperation to prevent promotion of terrorist ideology on Internet and on other information and communication technology platforms.

During their visit for annual Kazakhstan Global Investment Roundtable, delegations of Punjab National Bank and CG Corp Global met Kazakh Prime Minister. Representatives of several Indian firms and organisations including NTPC, ONGC Videsh, and Invest India held meetings with senior Kazakh officials. Preliminary agreements were reached on projects worth more than US$300 million, including a complex for foreign tourists in Almaty, a ski-resort in Turkestan and an amusement park in Shymkent city.

“Kazakh Invest,” a national company to promote foreign investment in Kazakhstan opened its Regional office in New Delhi to promote bilateral investments.

Uzbekistan has signed a principle agreement for a Bollywood production this year and hopes to leverage the image and reach of Ritu Beri, well known fashion-designer and Uzbekistan’s Culture Tourism Ambassador to promote Uzbekistan as a film tourism destination in India. Uzbekistan has also partnered with Marwah Studio in Noida to launch Indo-Uzbekistan Film and Cultural Forum to help and promote film and other cultural exchanges between industries on both sides. Ritu Beri recently organised the fashion show, Fargana Fantasy by bringing together Ikat of Uzbekistan and Khadi of India in Delhi. 

Indian company RV Healthcare has signed a long-term agreement with Kazakh health ministry to supply insulin and cancer medicines over 10 years. The firm’s new plant in suburb of Almaty is set to begin producing insulin within three years after the drug is registered with local authorities. This is expected to end Kazakhstan’s complete dependence on imported insulin.

 

 

 

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About the Author

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar

Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia; President, Institute of Global Studies and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar belongs to the Indian Foreign Service and has acquitted his responsibilities in the diplomatic service for 34 years. He was Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia and has worked in senior diplomatic positions in Indian Embassies/Missions in Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Geneva, Tehran, Dhaka and Bangkok and also at Headquarters in India. He negotiated for India in the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and in negotiations for India-EU, India-ASEAN and India-Thailand Free Trade Agreements.

He contributed significantly to strengthening strategic ties and promoting cultural cooperation between India and USA, EU, Russia and other countries.Ambassador Sajjanhar worked as head of National Foundation for Communal Harmony to promote amity and understanding between different religions, faiths and beliefs. Ambassador Sajjanhar has been decorated by Governments of Kazakhstan and Latvia with their National Awards and by Universal Peace Federation with Title of ''Ambassador of Peace.'' Currently Ambassador Sajjanhar is President of Institute of Global Studies, New Delhi. He writes, travels and speaks extensively on issues relating to international relations, foreign policy and themes of contemporary relevance and significance. He appears widely on TV panel discussions. Ambassador Sajjanhar is interested in reading, music and travelling. His wife Madhu is an economist and an educationist. They have a son and a daughter both of who are accomplished singers. Their son passed out of Yale University and their daughter is pursuing her PhD at University of Minnesota.