Central Asia Geopolitical Watch – From November 5 to November 11, 2022

Central Asia Watch Team : Alexandre Brière, Tristan Jarraud, Sophie Marc, Julie Eifler-Bolander

11/05/2022 : President Tokayev signed constitutional amendments in Kazakhstan – Julie Eifler-Bolander –

On November 5, during an official ceremony at the Akorda, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed six constitutional amendments, as reported by his official press service. These laws were adopted on June 5 by referendum, and should restore the country’s Constitutional Court, expand the powers given to the institutions focused on Human Rights (Human Rights Commissioner and Prosecutor General), and amend the election system. They should enter into force on the 1st of January 2023. Regarding the Constitutional Court, the Kazakh newspaper Astana Times reminds us that its office is to check the constitutionality of all legal acts, including laws, and that its members will be appointed partly by the Parliament (6) and by the President (4). Citizens and the Prosecutor General will be able to refer to the Court directly. Moreover, due to the transition to a mixed voting system – with a mixed-member proportional representation – President Tokayev declared that new elections should be held in the first half of 2023, with “new, more fair and open rules”. This constitutional revision occurs in a context of numerous political reforms, since 2019, in order to increase competitiveness and transparency of the political process, according to State Counselor Erlan Karin.

However, this initiative is not without its criticisms. Indeed, for the Kazakh independent media Vlast, and its editor Dmitriy Mazorenko, these amendments would aim at pleasing the population as a matter of urgency after the violent demonstrations in January 2022, and would resemble a transformation of an “authoritarian regime” into a “plebiscitary regime”. As a matter of fact, there would have been no discussion between institutions and civil society about the drafting.

11/06/2022: Meeting between the government of Kyrgyzstan and the authorities of the Taliban regime in the context of issues related to regional security – Alexandre Brière –

On November 6, in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, an official meeting was organised between the special representative of the President of Kyrgyzstan, Taalatbek Masadykov, and the authorities of the Taliban regime. Discussions were held with Acting First Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan Abdul Ghani Baradar, Acting Deputy Prime Minister Abdul-Salam Hanafi and Deputy Foreign Minister Shir Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai. According to the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, this meeting is part of the negotiations on regional security and the development of bilateral trade and economic relations. According to the Kyrgyz media, there was also talk of bilateral agreements related to transport corridors and the possibility for the Kyrgyz government to provide humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. These negotiations take place against a backdrop of potential threats and risks to the national security of Kyrgyzstan since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, which became the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, on August 15, 2021. In this regard, as reported by the independant press service Radio Azattyk, the Kyrgyz government has affirmed its desire to strengthen political dialogue with the Taliban government without, however, recognizing its full legitimacy. Moreover, the Kyrgyz embassy is one of the few still operating on Afghan territory. In addition, the Kyrgyz President expressed his plan to develop a common line of conduct in order to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan, to provide the Afghan people with the necessary humanitarian and economic aid and thus to participate actively in the fight against international terrorism and drug trafficking in the region.

11/07/2022: State of play on the situation of freedom of expression in Kyrgyzstan, as part of Information and Press Day – Alexandre Brière –

On November 7 was celebrated the Day of Information and the Press in Kyrgyzstan. According to the Kyrgyz press service Kaktus Media, on the sidelines of this commemoration, many journalists organised an urban cleaning day in the alley of journalists, a highly symbolic district in the city centre of the capital, Bishkek. The demonstrators underlined the inadmissibility of the harsh measures taken by the political authorities against the representatives of the press and the media. They fervently recalled that freedom of opinion is an integral part of the history of the Kyrgyz people. Indeed, despite the fact that Kyrgyzstan is considered the leader among Central Asian countries in terms of freedom of expression, a repressive policy against independent media, journalists and bloggers has worsened since the start of the current year. In this regard, the detention of investigative journalist Bolot Temirov, on suspicion of illegal possession of drugs, has caused genuine public outrage throughout the country. However, according to the official press service of the Kyrgyz government, President Sadyr Zhaparov affirmed that the country remains committed to the principles of the rule of law, the respect for human rights and the freedom of the press. Moreover, as indicated by the Kyrgyz news website Kloop, the United Nations Human Rights Council demanded the abandonment of a bill on non-governmental non-profit organisations initiated by the presidential administration on November 3. Indeed, the arrest of more than 20 activists and politicians over the past month, as well as the blocking of the websites and bank account of the Kyrgyz news service Azattyk Media, illustrate the discriminatory nature of this bill and its contradiction with the Constitution of the country.

11/07/2022 : Criminal trial against Zhanbolat Mamai, leader of the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan – Julie Eifler-Bolander –

On November 7 was to be held the trial against Zhanbolat Mamai, who is an independent journalist, a political activist and the leader of the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan. He was arrested by authorities in February for “spreading false information” and “insult to officials”, as reported by the media Azattyq, as he was taking part in a commemoration of the victims of the January 2022 violent demonstrations. They would have claimed 238 lives, among which 6 by police torture, according to the Kazakh independent newspaper Vlast, which says that these figures come from official sources. The Prosecutor General lightened the prosecution threshold, and on November 2, after nine months of detention, Zhanbolat Mamai was released and placed under house arrest until his trial for “illegal rallye organisation”, according to Vlast. This is not the first time that this political opponent has been detained by the authorities : indeed, in 2017, they accused him of money-laundering, as explained on Eurasianet. This trial, whose outcome has not been yet reported in the press, occurs despite a context of strong political will to improve justice and transparency in Kazakhstan, as the constitutional reform is supposed to demonstrate, according to the authorities and President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (official press service, and medias that are close to the State, like Astana Times). This strengthens the criticism of this reform by some activists of civil society, the media Vlast and the opposition : this would not be a deep transformation of the state structure, and it would not guarantee real political transparency.

11/08/2022: At COP 27, Kazakhstan shows its desire to achieve carbon neutrality and become the most important regional hub in green energies – Tristan Jarraud –

On November 8, during the COP 27, Prime Minister Alikan Smailov expressed Kazakh authorities’ desire to move towards green energies. Carbon neutrality was set by Astana for 2060. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Kazakh energy mix includes 3% of renewable energy. The Kazakh authorities wish to increase this share to 15% in 2030. In the same speech, the Prime Minister asserted his will to make Kazakhstan one of the regional leaders for green energies in Central Asia.

It is in this sense that the same day, at the COP 27, the Prime Minister signed a framework agreement on the implementation of green hydrogen projects with the company Fortescue Future Industries. This hydrogen should be exported to the European Union because it falls within the memorandum of understanding signed with the latter. He added about this agreement that Kazakhstan’s “approach to encourage decarbonisation will be based on the maximum use of market mechanisms and private investment”.

11/08/2022 : Mongol President’s speech at the COP 27 and commitment for a more sustainable development – Julie Eifler-Bolander –

On November 8, Mongol President Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh delivered a speech at the COP 27, in which he stated, as reported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website, that Mongolia is “one of the countries that are strongly affected by the climate change”. He also mentioned the Mongol “National adaptation plan”, which sets a goal by 2050 of “zero” gap between greenhouse gas emissions and absorption. Focused on the implementation of policies and not talks, this COP 27 was also an opportunity for bilateral meetings with other heads of State and leaders of international organisations. In this regard, the President met the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and signed a memorandum on a partnership between Mongolia and the European Union. Named “Forest Partnership”, it was referred to on Twitter several times by the official press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This commitment should allow to mitigate the effects of climate change on the environment, and improve sustainable forest management, especially since “thousands of jobs can [thus] be created”, as asserted by the Ministry. At the same time, on the 9th of November, the Mongol Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene met the United Nations Resident Coordinator Tapan Mishra, as announced on the United Nations in Mongolia’s Twitter account. A blueprint for development was handed at this occasion to the Prime Minister. Mongolia’s choice to comply with a sustainable development logic is therefore significant in the recent news, and it makes Mongolia one of the countries of Central Asia that communicate the most on these topics.

11/09/2022 : Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev attended the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the Olympic village in Tashkent – Sophie Marc –

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev attended the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the Olympic village in Tashkent, on Wednesday 9 November, as reported by the Tashkent Times. In 2025, the country will host the Asian Youth Games and the Asian Youth Paralympic Games. Young athletes from 45 different countries will compete in nearly 20 disciplines. 

The total cost of the Olympic Village project is over 289 million dollars, for an area of 100 hectares. Several infrastructures are planned: an athletics and football stadium with 10,000 seats, 6 indoor and 7 outdoor sports facilities, a water sports palace, a bicycle path, martial arts and team sports complexes. According to the media outlet Yicai Global, the Chinese company CAMC Engineering is in charge of the entire project. 

As several media outlets (Islamabad Post, Yuz) have pointed out, this is the first time in its history that Uzbekistan has organised such an important and prestigious event, and the president did not fail to emphasise in his speech the significance of this event for his country: “We have our own path, our own aspirations and our own projects. We are convinced that the historic work we are starting today will yield great results. This confidence gives us strength”.
Since Uzbekistan agreed to host the Games, the country has invested heavily in sport: almost 4,000 billion soums have been allocated to support the athletes, 118 major facilities have been commissioned and 110 have been rebuilt.

11/11/2022 : Strengthening of fraternal development between Turkic-speaking countries within the framework of the 9th summit of the Organization of Turkic States – Alexandre Brière –

On November 11, the ninth summit of the Organization of Turkic States was held in the historic city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan. According to the Kyrgyz independent news service Radio Azattyk, the summit is the first since the restructuring of the Turkic Council in November 2021, under the aegis of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Among the main heads of state present, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The summit is held around the theme: “New Era for Turkic Civilization: Towards Common Development and Prosperity”. According to the monthly international relations magazine The Diplomatist, the summit is part of discussions on humanitarian cooperation and plans to strengthen economic ties, create favourable conditions for trade and investment, to further simplify customs and transit procedures, as well as to strengthen cooperation in the fields of science and technology, education, health care, culture, youth, sport and tourism. According to the State News Agency of Azerbaijan Azertac, as well as the News and Information Agency of Uzbekistan UzReport, this event takes place in a context of uncertainties linked to the geopolitical upheavals caused by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. , but also to concerns about other regional conflicts in the ex-Soviet area, namely that between Armenia and Azerbaijan and that between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. In addition, this situation raises many questions for the member countries of the Turkic Council in terms of multilateral cooperation, in order to establish a common strategic policy for security and lasting peace in the Turkic space.

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