Asia Central

Evacuees from Kabul arrive at Tashkent, Uzbekistan in a military aircraft following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Photo by Handout/Bundeswehr via Getty Images.

Unlike the West, the Central Asian states have been preparing for the return of the Taliban to neighbouring Afghanistan for several years, building up their diplomatic relationships and enhancing domestic security, but the takeover leaves them facing enormous challenges.

The uncertainty of the situation in Afghanistan and whether the Taliban can keep its security guarantees to Moscow of preventing the export of extremism is a worry, but Russia is also using the momentum and the ignominy of the US withdrawal to deepen its security involvement in the region, whether the region wants it or not.

Central Asia governments have to tread carefully with their actions and messaging towards both actors as despite Russia – and even the US – exaggerating the security risks over the last 20 years, the risks for Central Asia are certainly real.…  Seguir leyendo »

Voting during Kazakhstan's 2021 parliamentary election in Nur-Sultan. Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images.

The highly-controlled elections to Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament (Majlis) have produced a distribution of seats almost identical to the previous parliament, with ruling party Nur Otan — still under the chairmanship of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev — remaining firmly in charge.

The elections were the first since 80-year-old Nazarbayev yielded his position after nearly 30 years in power to his own hand-picked successor Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev. The leadership’s need for control and wariness of electoral protests is unsurprising in light of the unusual spate of anti-government rallies that took place when Nazarbayev passed the presidential reins in 2019, and the recent post-election demonstrations in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Russia.…  Seguir leyendo »

People protest during a rally on the central square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Wednesday, October 7, 2020.

Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia's only democratic country, remains mired in political turmoil a week after allegations of electoral interference triggered violent protests.

As condemnation grew after last Sunday's contested parliamentary election, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov announced he was ready to resign after an interim government was formed. The latest voters' discontent led to the takeover of the President's main office building and the resignation of the Cabinet causing a leadership void that rival political parties and factions are vying to fill.

Leadership competitions aren't new in Kyrgyzstan, a country of 6 million wedged between Russia and China. This is the third time the country's citizens have forced their president to flee from office amid allegations of voting violations and corruption.…  Seguir leyendo »

Boys ride scooters during International Children's Day (June 1) at the central Ala-Too Square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP via Getty Images.

Truth has been a casualty of the pandemic globally and the various Central Asian governments’ responses to the pandemic reflect both how far and how little their leaderships have progressed from the Chernobyl mentality of concealing the truth during the latter days of the Soviet Union.

The Kazakh government has shown relative transparency in communicating with citizens about virus data, even if the actual death toll is likely to be higher than reported. Uzbekistan’s seemingly much lower cases rates than in Kazakhstan and rapidly flattening curve, weeks before its neighbour, suggest that it has been less transparent, while its compliant media fails to hold it accountable.…  Seguir leyendo »

Shavkat Mirziyoyev in June. Photo: Getty Images.

In the three years since Shavkat Mirziyoyev was elected president of Uzbekistan, he has embarked on a wide-ranging reform process including currency liberalization, eliminating forced labour and abolishing exit visas. This has encouraged foreign investors and the population, but a rare protest last week over natural gas and electricity shortages shows that the Uzbek population’s faith in change under the new leadership could be wearing thin, while foreign direct investment that adds real value to the economy is in short supply.

When Mirziyoyev came to power, Uzbekistan was on the verge of bankruptcy. A former prime minister of 13 years, and a pragmatic economist, the new president set on a rapid course to open Uzbekistan up to its neighbours and remove barriers to trade and foreign investment.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakh Majilis Chairman Nurlan Nigmatulin and ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev at an inauguration ceremony in parliament. Photo: Pavel Aleksandrov\TASS via Getty Images.

Leaders of the resource-rich Central Asian region have the propensity to remain in power until mortality dictates otherwise. Much like the UK and Brexit, however, few wanted to see Central Asia’s longest reigning ruler, Kazakhstan’s septuagenarian president Nursultan Nazarbayev, crash out without a deal.

The sudden departure of the country’s official leader of the nation with no clear succession plan could have led to investment chaos, intra-elite fighting and the unravelling in a matter of months of a system he had built over decades, à la Uzbekistan following the death of long-serving autocrat Islam Karimov in 2016.

In order to avoid just such a ‘no-deal’ scenario and ensure the continuity of his policies, in March Nazarbayev carefully choreographed his own resignation and the election of a hand-picked successor, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, while retaining plum positions and powers for himself.…  Seguir leyendo »

Fue un taxista de Toledo el que le explicó al diputado kazajo Beirut B. Manrayev, vicepresidente para relaciones culturales, el significado de la expresión española “ojalá” y su origen. El sentido, más allá de la rápida traducción al inglés por “wish”, le sedujo tanto que a mediados de agosto la citó en la capital kazaja, Nursultán, durante una cena con 15 periodistas de todo el mundo. Invitados por el Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, la comitiva formaba parte de una estrategia que impulsa desde hace años el gobierno del país euroasiático en su lucha contra el desconocimiento que rodea a su nación.…  Seguir leyendo »

Former Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

Although there were some signs of a looming transition of power, Nazarbayev’s resignation caught many by surprise. Importantly, he followed constitutional procedure to the letter and for the first time in 20 years, did not push for snap elections.

This enforces the legitimacy of his temporary successor and launches the succession process, proof that he chose evolutionary development for Kazakhstan rather than revolutionary.

Nazarbayev’s authority and ability to govern effectively had waned over the last couple of years. With rising political disaffection and an uncertain economic outlook related to the oil price, stagnant growth and inflationary tendencies, it is possible that the president decided to leave in case the situation deteriorated.…  Seguir leyendo »

Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/AP Images President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, 2017

After spending decades as a pariah state, feared or at best ignored by even its near neighbors because of its reputation as one of the most repressive and closed nations in the world, Uzbekistan is slowly emerging from the shadows. Along with other Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan is worried about the expansion of the Taliban and ISIS into Afghanistan—and, under a new president, is for the first time taking the lead on making peace in the region.

Tashkent’s self-imposed international isolation ended this week when it hosted a major peace conference on Afghanistan at the end of March. The meeting, which takes place today, brings together the foreign ministers of India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Russia, Afghanistan, all four Central Asian Republics, and the UN, as well as representatives from the US and EU.…  Seguir leyendo »

Fishermen ride in a truck to collect fish from a boat in shallow water by the Aral Sea, outside the village of Karateren, south-western Kazakhstan, 15 April 2017. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

On 15-16 March there is a landmark opportunity to promote peace and prosperity in Central Asia when the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan meet in the Kazakh capital of Astana. It will be the four leaders’ first summit in nearly a decade. A top agenda item will likely be the precious water resources the countries must share in this vast region.

Water has been at the heart of recurrent disputes among the four states since the demise of the Soviet Union. At root, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are short on water, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan short on electricity. The tension has been sharpest in the densely populated Ferghana Valley, where Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan converge.…  Seguir leyendo »

Uzbekistan’s New President Steps Towards Ambitious Reform With Security Chief Sacking

The president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has dismissed his much-feared head of the National Security Service (SNB), Rustam Inoyatov, marking the final step of a transition of power in Uzbekistan. Since taking office in 2016, Mirziyoev has removed high-ranking government officials and replaced them with allies.

At first glance, this looks like a standard power grab. The two most important sackings were Inoyatov and Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Asimov. Following the death of President Islam Karimov in August 2016, Mirziyoyev – who was then prime minister – made a closed-door deal with Inoyatov and Asimov to set up a new government: Mirziyoyev would become president, and Asimov and Inoyatov would be at his side as prime minister and head of the powerful SNB.…  Seguir leyendo »

A firefighter boat takes part in an exercise for the rescue services of the Caspian littoral states. Photo: Getty Images.

After 21 years of negotiations, the littoral countries of the Caspian Sea – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan - are apparently close to agreeing the sea’s legal status. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the text of a convention on delimitation was settled at a December meeting with his four counterparts. According to Lavrov, the Caspian presidents will meet in the first half of 2018 in Astana to finally sign.

Russia has been trying a change of tack. Rather than carrying out unwieldy five-sided negotiations, President Vladimir Putin now seems to be favouring bilateral and trilateral approaches. This may be yielding results beyond mere carving up of the sea: Russia has had more effective and flexible separated dialogue with neighbouring countries, based on common interests with each of them, but which are not necessarily shared by all five countries.…  Seguir leyendo »

Without much ado, Kazakhstan adopted a new military doctrine in September, replacing a 2011 document that had become dated. The new document states that Kazakhstan does not have enemies. Yet, Astana seems alarmed enough by Russia’s aggressive actions toward Ukraine since 2014 to have produced a doctrine that is an obvious reaction to Moscow’s hybrid warfare tactics, which include cyber-disruption and propaganda.

Kazakhstan is not alone in sensing that it now lives in a rapidly changing security environment that demands new policies. Belarus, another neighbor of Russia, introduced a new military doctrine in July 2016. But while Belarus made explicit that it is reacting to Ukraine’s fight against Russian-backed separatists and Moscow’s use of hybrid warfare, Kazakhstani authorities have not commented publicly on changes to their military doctrine.…  Seguir leyendo »

Un estado joven en un mundo incierto

A mediados de noviembre, Kazajstán fue sede del tercer "Club Astaná" anual, una nueva plataforma independiente e imparcial para el diálogo entre líderes empresariales, políticos, representantes de medios y otros expertos internacionales sobre las "cuestiones críticas que afectan a todos los países de Eurasia". El evento encarnó la política exterior de Kazajstán en los últimos veinte años, en un momento en el que esa política va camino a enfrentar pruebas sin precedentes.

Los participantes en el Club Astaná de este año eran tan diversos como de alto perfil. Entre ellos había representantes de los principales grupos de expertos de Europa, Asia, Estados Unidos y Oriente Medio; ex presidentes, como Abdullah Gül de Turquía y Danilo Türk de Eslovenia; la ex comisionada europea Benita Ferrero-Waldner; el miembro del parlamento indio Shashi Tharoor; y el CEO de Channel One Russia, Konstantin Ernst.…  Seguir leyendo »

The inauguration of Kyrgyzstan’s new president on 24 November is a tribute to the country’s parliamentary democracy. But to overcome continued vulnerability, Sooronbai Jeenbekov must manage powerful southern elites, define the role of religion in society and spearhead reconciliation with Central Asian neighbours Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

Sooronbai Jeenbekov will be inaugurated as Kyrgyzstan’s fifth president on 24 November, the victor of a tight, unpredictable, contested but ultimately legitimate election. The new leader, a loyal member of the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), won 54 per cent of the vote and gained a majority in every province but Chui and Talas – the home territory of the defeated main opposition candidate Omurbek Babanov.

As president, Jeenbekov will face a number of challenges and opportunities, both at home and in Central Asia. The state Committee for National Security (GKNB) on 4 November opened an investigation against Babanov for inciting ethnic hatred based on a speech he made on 28 September in an ethnic-Uzbek area of Osh, a city in southern Kyrgyzstan’s Ferghana Valley.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sooronbay Jeenbekov won 54.3 per cent of the vote in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election. Photo: Getty Images.

Kyrgyzstan looks set to conduct the first democratic transfer of power in the Central Asian region. On 16 October, the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission announced preliminary results revealing that the candidate of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), Sooronbay Jeenbekov had won 54.3 per cent of the votes cast in the country’s presidential election, while his chief opponent, businessman Omurbek Babanov received 33.4 percent. After a campaign marred by mud-slinging and provocations, this clear majority confounded expectations and widespread belief that a close vote between these two former prime ministers would necessitate a run-off.

The peaceful and measured response to the unexpected results so far is broadly encouraging.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man walks past a monument depicting Kyrgyz folklore hero Manas in Batken, Kyrgyzstan, in March 2016. CRISIS GROUP/Julie David de Lossy

Kyrgyzstan’s forthcoming presidential elections on 15 October are a milestone for Central Asia: for the first time, a president from the region will voluntarily stand down at the end of his constitutionally mandated term. Kyrgyzstan has come far in the seven years since the tumultuous events of 2010, when President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in Bishkek and ethnic violence engulfed the southern city of Osh, killing over 400 people, mostly Uzbeks.

The presidential race is tight and unpredictable. Sooronbai Jeenbekov, from the southern province of Jalalabad and representing the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) party, faces Omurbek Babanov, a wealthy independent candidate from the northern province of Talas, still closely aligned with the party he formed in 2010, Respublika.…  Seguir leyendo »

Availability of as of May 2016. May be incomplete or incorrect due to lack of information. SurrogateSlav/Wikimedia, CC BY-NC

US president Donald Trump, who gets on Twitter the moment he wakes up, may be social media’s most prominent politician user, but he is hardly the only one. For the past two decades, world leaders have leveraged the power of the internet to communicate with the public. In some nations, digital tools are part of an effort to increase government transparency and accountability. In others, they are a platform for propaganda, censorship and fake news.

The Conversation Global’s series Politics in the Age of Social Media examines the varied ways that governments around the world rely on digital tools to exercise power.…  Seguir leyendo »

What has led to the heightened political tensions in Kyrgyzstan?

On 26 February, authorities arrested Omurbek Tekebayev, the leader of the opposition party Ata-Meken, on charges of fraud and corruption. That incident sparked peaceful protests in Bishkek, including at the capital’s Ala-Too Square, the site of earlier demonstrations that ultimately led to the ouster of two presidents. The past week’s demonstrations were modest, however protests in Kyrgyzstan have previously started small and then snowballed. President Almazbek Atambayev’s government – and especially the judiciary – should ensure that its actions ahead of the November ballot are above reproach in order not to aggravate the already tense situation.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protests in April and May galvanised the government to crack down on dissent. Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

In Kazakhstan, the power of citizens to resist authoritarianism has been dealt a significant blow. On November 28, two major Kazakh land activists, Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayanov, were sentenced to five years in prison on charges of organising unsanctioned protests and inciting social discord.

Bokayev and Ayanov were arrested following large-scale land protests in the country in April and May. Normally very cautious, in this instance, the regime failed to spot the potential threat of online activism in time, and therefore let protests unfold.

The jailing of the two men shows the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev well understands that it can no longer underestimate the power of new forms of civic activism.…  Seguir leyendo »