Uzbekistan is on a mission to woo foreign investors, touting a massive privatization drive that will see the state relinquish some control over an economy in which it retains a heavy hand.
However, investors may be leery of channeling their cash into a country with a reputation for seizing foreign assets without recompense.
Uzbekistan is putting up stakes for sale in a whopping 1,247 enterprises, First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov said at an investment forum in Tashkent on November 6, as reported by the UzA state news agency.
Foreign investors are being offered the opportunity to snap up state-owned stakes in 68 companies and bid at auctions against local investors for another 667 enterprises, Azimov said.
They will also have the chance to take on 512 (evidently loss-making) businesses for free, if they take on investment obligations.
A spokesman for a key security body in Tajikistan has wandered off the script on Afghanistan by scoffing at claims there is a build-up of Islamic State militants beyond the country's southern border.
Muhammad Ulugkhodzhayev, spokesman for the security services Main Border Troops Directorate, told Avesta website on November 5 that the rumors of fighters with the terrorist organization converging in northern Afghanistan were “far from truthful.”
Seeking to downplay another oft-aired scare scenario, Ulugkhodzhayev said there has not to date been a single attempt by militants from either Islamic State or the Taliban to make an incursion into Tajikistan.
The more thoughtful observers of the region have indeed long questioned whether the Taliban in particular would have any tactical, strategic or ideological interest in venturing into the former Soviet states along Afghanistan’s border.
Ulugkhodzhayev said that defenses on the country’s border were as normal.
Officials in Tajikistan, from the president downward, have tended to speak out of both sides of their mouths on the thorny issue of security. On one hand, they seek to cast themselves as the frontline against Islamic radicalism, thereby buying themselves diplomatic leverage with international partners, but at the same time they insist Tajikistan’s security forces are more than capable of dealing with any challenges that present themselves.
Kazakhstan’s embattled currency has continued its downward slide to hit fresh lows after the dismissal of the central bank chief this week failed to restore market confidence in the tenge.
The latest drop came after the National Bank of Kazakhstan announced late on November 5 that it would stop propping up the tenge and let market forces decide the rate.
The currency fell to 307 to the dollar on November 6, a significant but not precipitous 2.5 percent fall on the previous day.
However, the tenge has fallen by 10 percent overall in the five days since President Nursultan Nazarbayev fired Kayrat Kelimbetov as chairman of the National Bank and replaced him with Daniyar Akishev — a move Nazarbayev said aimed to restore confidence in the ailing currency.
The tenge has now lost 64 percent of its value against the dollar since August, when the National Bank abandoned its policy of maintaining it in a managed corridor — a strategy Kelimbetov inherited from his predecessor, Georgiy Marchenko.
Under pressure from external forces ranging from the depreciation of Russia’s ruble to the fall in global oil prices, the tenge fell sharply in mid-September, prompting the National Bank to step in again to prop it up.
As of November 5, it has once more abandoned that policy, the central bank said in a statement, and decided on “the minimization of its participation in the currency market” in order to preserve hard currency reserves.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has said he believes the country should switch from its current mixed political system to a fully parliamentary one. The move would have clear benefits for his Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) as he prepares to leave office.
Atambayev made his remarks on November 6 during his first appearance at the new-look parliament, where SDPK are now the dominant partner in a four-party coalition government following the October 4 elections.
Proposals to amend the constitution during the last term of parliament were dashed, but Atambayev argues another attempt is in order.
“I agreed with [the idea] to introduce changes to the constitution. But I asked that the next parliament consider that question without hurrying,” he said. “Five years ago we chose a parliamentary form of government, but really we do not have this. We have one foot in parliamentary government, another in presidential. We should completely switch to a parliamentary system.”
Atambayev’s preference for a parliamentary system can be seen as a virtual confirmation that he wishes to step down in two years time and ensure the dominant position enjoyed by his party is not compromised by a new president eager to get their own way.
That much became evident as he openly mused on hypothetical discussions within the country’s business class should Kyrgyzstan once more become an investor’s nightmare under a president with unchecked powers.
Tajikistan’s Transportation Ministry has grounded all flights by Tajik-registered cargo company Asia Airways after one of the company’s Antonov-12 jets crashed in South Sudan.
Despite that precautionary measure, officials in Tajikistan are stressing that they deem the craft’s operator, which they say is Armenian company Ala International Limited, ultimately responsible for maintenance of the plane.
The head of the Transportation Ministry civil aviation department, Yusuf Rahmonov, said in remarks reported by Asia-Plus that authorities in South Sudan are now investigating the causes of the accident, which killed around 40 people. The crew on the Antonov, which was built at a factory in Uzbekistan in 1971, reportedly included citizens of Russia and Armenia.
But Armenian authorities have been quick to deny their liability and appear eager to pass the buck back to Tajikistan.
A spokesman for the national aviation authorities in Yerevan, Ruben Grdzelian, has said that neither Ala International Limited nor the Antonov are registered in Armenia, RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
“Eight air companies are registered in Armenia, and Ala International Ltd, which owned the An-12 that crashed in South Sudan, was not among them. Moreover, the national registration signs of the An-12 — EY-406 — is a sign for Tajikistan. So it is obvious that the plane was registered in that country,” Grdzelian was quoted as saying.
With a few exceptions, the new Cabinet led by Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariyev is the same that hobbled over the line before the parliamentary elections.
Eleven of the 16 people proposed for positions in the Cabinet and confirmed by parliament November 5 have returned to their old offices.
Testifying to the death of multi-party government in the traditional sense, most of the ministers are technocrats brought in from the outside with few firm affiliations to the factions in the parliament.
Presenting his 11-point plan for government before parliament on November 4, Sariyev said he was “mobilizing an executive government” to ensure it worked as “a united team” — a declaration of intent to stem the political infighting that has hobbled earlier administrations.
That might be a good thing for Kyrgyzstan as it forges ahead in a difficult economic environment. The multiple Cabinets operating under the previous parliament — in particular the first two — were riven by internecine rivalries that often reflected the interests of the parties to which ministers belonged.
But the technocratic nature of the government means that the parliament has transferred much of its clout to an executive branch effectively controlled by President Almazbek Atambayev. That shift in emphasis carries risks for tensions further down the line as the 2017 presidential election approaches. Atambayev is constitutionally barred from running again and has made no indications he plans to flout that rule.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev got the red carpet treatment at Buckingham Palace this week after signing billions of dollars in investment deals in London.
The focus of the two-day trip, which started on November 3, was trade, and British Prime Minister David Cameron – fresh from hosting China’s leader Xi Jinping about to welcome Egypt’s Abdul Fattah al-Sisi – showed no sign of succumbing to pressure from campaigners to press Nazarbayev over Kazakhstan’s checkered human rights record.
Nazarbayev met Cameron and British businessmen and came away with 40 trade and investment deals worth around $5 billion, according to Nazarbayev's office.
One coup for Nazarbayev was an agreement for a British company to invest some $3.1 billion in a project to bring gas from the energy-rich west of his vast country to the capital Astana and the industrial heartlands.
Kazakhstan may have plenty of gas, but it lacks distribution capacity. So the deal reported by TengriNews for Britain’s Independent Power Corporation to build a gas pipeline and construct four gas stations is welcome for Astana.
Nazarbayev also secured agreement for British involvement in EXPO-17, a flagship international exhibition that Astana is hosting in two years, and investment in the steel and solar industries.
So it looks like the Zhogorku Kenesh is to get its new chairs after all.
AKIPress reported that newly appointed speaker Asylbek Jeenbekov lamented the woeful state of the legislature’s seating in remarks before deputies on November 4.
“The old chairs have remained in place, but in the summer we will change to a new system. We will buy simpler chairs, so that they are more durable, so deputies don’t spin and twirl on them, so they work,” Jeenbekov said in comments quoted by AKIPress. “But in any case, replacements are needed, you will be convinced of that yourselves soon. Some chairs have broken five or six times.”
One chair failed to withstand the exertions of Ziyadin Zhamaldinov, a deputy with the Onuguu-Progress party. Zhamaldinov has some extensive experience of parliamentary upholstery, having served in three successive convocations, and each time with a different party. From 2005 to 2010, he was a deputy with the then-ruling Ak Zhol party. In 2010, he won a seat with the southern-based Respublika party. He switched to Onuguu-Progress for his latest run at parliament.
Jeenbekov said the decision not to buy new chairs marked a defeat in what he described as an “information war” waged by the media.
In the international soccer stakes, the capital of Kazakhstan is becoming the away destination that clubs dread to visit.
As Europe is gently settling into the cooler weather of November, the players of FC Astana are already familiar with temperatures below freezing.
If the weather was frosty for the visiting Atletico Madrid squad, who traveled to Astana for the latest Champions League group stages match on November 3, the greeting certainly wasn’t.
Europe’s premier competition has proven a major draw and the 30,000-seater Astana Arena was again full to capacity for Tuesday’s game, although traffic snarls meant many ended up missing the first 15 minutes.
FC Astana is becoming the master of grinding out the tedious draw, and they did their magic against a lackluster Atletico, thereby ensuring their unbeaten home record.
Fans were kept on the edge of their seats to the very end. A last-minute save from FC Astana's Nenad Eric denied Atletico and preserved the goalless scoreline.
The 0-0 result won’t get any hearts racing, but but it does mean that Astana still have a slender chance of progressing in the competition. In October, Astana held Turkey's Galatasaray to a 2-2 draw. The team has two points out of four games, which is more than some pundits might have expected of them.
The sub-zero temperatures in Kazakhstan's capital, the second coldest in the world after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, were expected to make life difficult for their Madrilenian opponents.
“Maybe the cold weather will cause Atletico problems. We can open the roof in the stadium a bit to make it tougher for them,” FC Astana's Bulgarian coach Stanimir Stoilov joked ahead of the game.
Washington’s top diplomat traveled to Central Asia to kick-start a historic initiative to reinvigorate U.S. engagement with the region, but it was the unceremonious treatment of a reporter that is going to stick in the memory.
Activists had hoped in advance of John Kerry’s whistle-stop tour that human rights issues might feature prominently on the agenda. But talk of those was relegated to the sidelines — in public at least.
Instead, Kerry focused on prospects of security, energy and economic cooperation, which have long constituted core priorities for Washington.
The closest Kerry came to mentioning Central Asia’s poor human rights record in public was in remarks about “quality of governance and the strength of democratic institutions.”
“In Central Asia, as elsewhere, people have a deep hunger for governments that are accountable and effective,” he said at the meeting on November 1 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, with foreign ministers from the region’s five former Soviet republics.
The U.S. State Department said in advance of the tour that this meeting would form the basis of a new diplomatic format, which it has dubbed C5+1.
“We should have no doubt that progress in democratic governance does lead to gains in every other field about which we are concerned and about which we are talking,” Kerry said.
The muted tone of those remarks will have come as a disappointment to many.