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Central Asia in Focus: August 16, 2022

Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan in Tashkent sit at a long table, each group sitting only on one side.
Uzbekistan – Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan in Tashkent on July 26, 2022.

What’s Happening in the Region

One Year with The Taliban Back as Neighbors

On August 15, 2021, the Taliban seized Kabul and returned to power in Afghanistan.

None of the Central Asian governments seemed surprised.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan set out their policies toward the new rulers of Afghanistan quickly.

Those positions boiled down to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan accepting the Taliban were there whether Central Asia wished it or not and there wasn’t much they could do about it.

Tajikistan stayed the course and continued to warn that the Taliban and other terrorist groups that the Taliban hosts in Afghanistan were a clear threat to Central Asia.

At a military parade on September 7, 2021, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon said, “The situation in the region… in connection with the expansion of the activities of terrorist, extremist and radical movements and organizations has become a cause of serious concern,” then added, “Tajikistan will not recognize any other government formed in Afghanistan through oppression and persecution…”

One year later, Tajikistan has not changed its position, though the Tajik government did send former intelligence service officer Samariddin Chuyanzoda to Kabul on May 14 to meet with Taliban representatives.

But among the other four countries, there are some differences now.

Uzbekistan was the most active in dealing with the Taliban even before the militant group returned to power last year. Uzbekistan just hosted an international conference on Afghanistan on July 25-26 with representatives from the Taliban in attendance.

More quietly, Turkmen authorities have also been engaging with the Taliban.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan border Afghanistan and both those Central Asian countries see stability in Afghanistan as key to business opportunities in Pakistan and India.

Advancing those interests has been a constant topic in the Turkmen and Uzbek governments’ conversations with Taliban representatives.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have sent delegations to meet with Taliban representatives in Kabul, but otherwise they do not seem to have had much contact with the Taliban.

Neither directly border Afghanistan and separation has its advantages.

Why It’s Important: For more than 30 years, changes of governments and fighting in Afghanistan has impacted Central Asia.

The leaders of the five Central Asian states discuss Afghanistan when they meet, but as this last year demonstrates once again, they still have no coordinated policy toward their southern neighbor and wait nervously for whatever happens next in Afghanistan.

It would help to have a common regional policy on matters such as trade and security that the Central Asian governments expect any Afghan government to understand and respect.

Kyrgyzstan – Issyk Kul Lake, 2006.

Balancing Tourism at Issyk-Kul

I’ll never forget the first time I was at Issyk-Kul, the enormous lake in Kyrgyzstan’s Tien-Shan Mountains.

It was early August 1992. I had never even seen a photograph of Issyk-Kul and I had no idea what I would find when I arrived.

What I found was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.

A bit like Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border, and a bit like Pokhara in Nepal, but Issyk-Kul has a beach.

Then, as now, the north shore was the place to stay.

The accommodations were modest, but I was living in Central Asian villages in those days, so I didn’t notice. All I saw was the Caribbean turquoise blue water near the shore and the snow-capped mountains that surrounded the lake.

There weren’t many people in those days. Sitting on the beach at night under a million stars watching lightning storms 40 or 50 kilometers away on the south shore, I could see the potential for tourism.

Now the north shore has more than 200 places for tourists to stay.

On August 11, Taalay Dalbaev, the head of Water and Land Resources Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology described the tourist zone of Issyk-Kul as a “disaster area.”

Dalbaev specifically mentioned the Zolotiye Peski guest house as an example, almost surely the same Altyn Kum guest house I was at in August 1992 since the words mean “Golden Sands” in Russian and Kyrgyz, respectively.

Dalbaev said people should not swim there because “the condition of the water is horrible.”

Dalbaev said of the 212 guest houses and hotels operating at Issyk-Kul, only 109 have systems for treating waste and sewage and not even all of those 109 had adequate systems, so sewage is being dumped in the waters of Issyk-Kul.

Why It’s Important: I love Issyk-Kul and I understand why other people would want to visit and why local entrepreneurs would see an opportunity to cater to the increasing number of tourists, but the lack of regulation and inspections for guest houses and hotels threatens to ruin the beauty people come to Issyk-Kul to see.

If the government wants to continue making money from tourism at Issyk-Kul, regulations on sanitary conditions need to be monitored and strictly enforced to preserve the beauty of the lake.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

On the latest Majlis podcast, we looked at Central Asian asylum-seekers in Europe, what forced them to flee to Europe, and what challenges they face trying to obtain legal status so they are not extradited back home.

This week’s guests are:

What I’m Following

Connected in Zardaly

Electricity and the Internet have arrived to the remote village of Zardaly in southern Kyrgyzstan.

An August 12 recent report noted the Internet is now working in Zardaly, an area in the Pamir Mountains only accessible on foot.

UNICEF Giga Accelerate, the Internet Society, and helped bring solar panels to Zardaly, no easy feat as this video shows.

Sponsors of the project say the connection to the Internet will help provide better education to the children of Zardaly.

Uzbek President Heads to Saudi Arabia

Uzbek President Shavkat MIrziyoev will be in Saudi Arabia on August 17-18.

According to Uzbek media, it is the first trip by an Uzbek president to Saudi Arabia in 30 years.

Mirziyoev’s trip comes as Uzbekistan is trying to open new trade routes to the south and looking for new trade partners to compensate for losses in trade with Russia caused by international sanctions after the Kremlin started a war in Ukraine in February.

Fact of the Week

Russian news agency TASS opened an office in Turkmenistan as the two countries marked 30 years of diplomatic relations.

Thanks for Reading

Thanks for reading our Central Asia in Focus newsletter! I appreciate you sharing it with other readers who you think may be interested.

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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.