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Central Asia in Focus: October 18, 2022

A test for the Kazakh and Uzbek Presidents, new UN Assistance Mission Chief arrives in Afghanistan, the era of Russia Lite in Central Asia, and more.

KAZAKHSTAN — Nietbay Urazbaev (R), chairman of the Karakalpak ethnic cultural association of the Mangistau region.

What’s Happening in the Region

A Test for the Kazakh and Uzbek Presidents over the Fate of Karakalpaks

Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev and Shavkat Mirziyoev share at least one thing in common; they are both the second presidents of their countries, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, respectively.

Part of being a second president is publicly declaring you are breaking with the failed policies of the first president, and both Tokayev and Mirziyoev promise more respect for their citizens’ rights than was seen when the two countries’ first presidents were in power.

There are currently at least five Karakalpak activists being held in Kazakhstan, based on arrest warrants from Uzbekistan relating to the violence in western Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan region the first two days of July 2022.

Violence erupted when police moved in to disperse protesters in the Karakalpakstan capital Nukus. At least 21 people were killed and 243 injured.

Large but peaceful protests started when residents of Karakalpakstan learned their nominal constitutional status as a sovereign republic was being removed from a package of proposed amendments to Uzbekistan’s constitution.

Many questions from the Karakalpakstan violence remain unanswered, one of the biggest of which is who started the violence.

The large protest in Nukus on July 1 was reportedly peaceful until police tried to break up the rally in front of the regional administration building.

None of the five Karakalpaks in custody were in Uzbekistan when the violence happened, so aside from moral support, they could not have played any role in events of early July.

Uzbekistan’s investigation into the violence continues and has led Uzbek authorities to issue warrants for the five Karakalpak activists in Kazakhstan, one of whom, Nietbay Urazbaev, is a Kazakh citizen.

Why It’s Important: Uzbekistan’s investigation has focused on the protesters, not the police, and now, with the detention of the five Karakalpaks, Kazakhstan is involved.

Human Rights Watch is calling on Kazakhstan not to deport the Karakalpaks in custody to Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan’s transnational pursuit of Karakalpak activists who were not in Uzbekistan when violence broke out doesn’t fit the image of a country where the government is vowing not to repeat the rights abuses that occurred under the previous president.

Same for Kazakhstan for detaining the activists at the request of Uzbek authorities.

The New UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Chief Arrives in Afghanistan

The new head of the UNAMA arrived in Afghanistan and had her first meeting with Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban official in charge of foreign affairs, on October 16.

Former Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbaeva was appointed UNAMA chief on September 2.

report from Afghanistan’s Tolo News agency on Otunbaeva’s meeting noted she and Muttaqi discussed “a range of issues including… opening up employment and educational opportunities for women.”

The rights of women in Afghanistan are a big concern for the international community now that the Taliban are back in power.

The Taliban promised to pay more attention to women’s rights, employment, and education, but there is little so far to distinguish the current policies from the medieval policies they practiced when they were in power in the late 1990s.

Otunbaeva’s predecessor, Canada’s Deborah Lyons, left the UNAMA chief position in June.

Why It’s Important: Otunbaeva faces an uphill battle dealing with the Taliban and her chances of convincing the ultra-conservative Afghan group to ease restrictions on women are not good.

But Otunbaeva has a wealth of experience, not only as a former Kyrgyz president, but also as a former Kyrgyz foreign minister, and former ambassador to the United States and later to the United Kingdom.

More importantly, Otunbaeva grew up and made herself a success in a strongly patriarchal society, albeit certainly not so restrictive as the system the Taliban have imposed.

Her insight and interpretations of Taliban rule should prove invaluable for the international community in dealing with the Taliban.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looks at whether the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has a future.

The value of being a CSTO member is becoming ever more doubtful after September clashes between member state Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as member states Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan fighting a brief war.

Russia has its hands full with the war it started in Ukraine, a war that has shown the Russian military is weaker than was believed.

This week’s guests are Erica Marat, an associate professor at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. and Raffaello Pantucci, Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

What I’m Following

The Era of Russia Lite in Central Asia

Halfway through October it seems clear enough that Russian influence in Central Asia is on the wane.

Kyrgyzstan was due to host military exercises of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization on October 10 but canceled on the eve of exercises.

At the meeting of the Central Asian and Russian leaders in Kazakhstan on October 14, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon went on a bizarre tirade about Russia’s need to treat the Central Asian countries with more respect.

Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine has cost the Kremlin economically, militarily, and in terms of its Russia’s international image.

Moscow is a toxic partner and the Central Asian governments, whether they wish it or not, need to move away from Russia.

Uzbek President Heading to Turkmenistan

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev will visit Turkmenistan October 20-21.

While it is always important when Central Asian leaders visit isolationist Turkmenistan, Mirziyoev’s visit comes ahead of the November 11 summit of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) that Uzbekistan is hosting and where Turkmenistan is due to formally become an OTS member.

Fact of the Week

Kazakhstan’s Agriculture Ministry reported on October 16 that the country’s grain harvest exceeded forecasts and totaled some 21.7 metric tons, of which more than 16.3 metric tons was wheat.

Kazakhstan is a major supplier of wheat to the other Central Asian countries, so the Agriculture Ministry’s news is a big relief for the region.

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.