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central asia in focus

Central Asia in Focus

Author: Bruce Pannier

Mar 13, 2024

Image source: eurasianet

Copyright (c)2022 RFE/RL, Inc. Used with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036. Read here.

In the Region

Doing Business with the Taliban

In the latest sign that business relations between the Taliban and Central Asia are blooming, there were two forums at the start of March to promote Afghanistan’s trade with its northern neighbors.

The forum with Turkmen and Uzbek businesses follow the Afghan-Kazakh one in Astana in August 2023 where it was noted those two countries’ bilateral trade in 2022 was nearly $1 billion.

The Afghan-Uzbek forum in Kabul on March 3 drew representatives from more than 150 businesses.

Uzbek Ambassador to Afghanistan Yodgor Shodmonov and the head of Uzbekistan’s Exporters Association Erkin Malikov attended.

Malikov said Uzbekistan was particularly interested in imports of Afghan cotton as “there are many spinning factories in Uzbekistan [and] Uzbekistan itself cannot produce cotton for these machines.”

Uzbek-Afghan trade amounted to $266 million in 2023, six times the 2022 figure, albeit most($230 million) was goods from Uzbekistan.

The Afghan-Turkmen business forum in Ashgabat took place on March 3-5. Seventy-six Afghan businesses were represented, including 15 belonging to Afghan women entrepreneurs.

The Afghan delegation was led by acting Minister of Industry and Trade Nuruddin Azizi, who held talks on the last day of the forum with Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov.

The Chairman of Turkmenistan’s Halk Maslahaty, the People’s Council, former President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, visited the exhibitions and spoke with Afghan representatives.

Afghan-Turkmen trade in 2023 came to $457 million and in January 2024 alone, it reached $46 million, twice the amount traded in January 2023.

On February 25-26, Taliban acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and officials from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum and the state railway authority visited Turkmenistan.

After returning to Afghanistan, Muttaqi said Turkmenistan agreed to increase supplies of electricity and natural gas to Afghanistan.

A key agreement was for extending the railway line from the western Afghan city of Andkhoy to the Turkmen Caspian port at Turkmenbashi city.

On the first day of Muttaqi’s visit to Turkmenistan, Afghanistan’s Ariana News reported during the previous week the existing railway line between Andkhoy and the Turkmen city of Atamyrat carried more than 5 thousand  metric tons of goods.

Why It’s Important: There are two other railway lines connecting Afghanistan to Central Asia.

Ariana reports that during the February 18-25 period, the line from Torghundi, Afghanistan to Serhetabat, Turkmenistan carried 11,481 metric tons of cargo.

The line connecting Hairaton, Afghanistan to Termez, Uzbekistan carried 75,698 metric tons of goods.

Trade between Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and Central Asia is growing along with the acceptance by Central Asian governments that dealing with the Taliban appears to be a long-term proposition. 


Two Kazakh Citizens Killed in Russian Anti-Terrorism Operation

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) reported two citizens of Kazakhstan were killed in an operation by FSB forces about 60 miles southwest of Moscow. 

The FSB said on March 7 members of an elite FSB force attempted to apprehend two terrorists who were plotting to bomb a synagogue. 

The two suspects started shooting and were killed when the FSB force returned fire. 

The FSB said the two men, tentatively identified as 35-year-old Sabit Ashiraliyev and 32-year-old Janibek Taskulaev, arrived in Russia on February 28 and were staying in the village of Koryakovo. 

The two were members of the “Khorasan Province” terrorist group according to the FSB and a pistol, a Kalashnikov assault rifle, and material for making explosives were found at the scene. 

Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee confirmed the two were citizens of Kazakhstan who left for Russia on the date given by the FSB.

Why It’s Important: The “Khorasan Province” terrorist group is better known as the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), an offshoot of the Islamic State terrorist group. 

ISKP started its activities in Afghanistan, where it still mainly operates, but in recent months, ISKP militants have been involved in an attack in Iran and preparing for an attack in Germany. 

In both incidents, the ISKP militants were Tajik nationals. 

Citizens of Kazakhstan have rarely been mentioned in any of the terrorist or extremist groups operating in the Middle East or Afghanistan-Pakistan area. 

Yet these two Kazakh citizens left from Kazakhstan and went to Russia, allegedly to carry out an attack for ISKP. 

It seems inevitable that Kazakh authorities will increase surveillance of mosques and websites with Islamic material in the coming weeks to learn how these two Kazakh citizens became radicalized. 

Majlis Podcast

The most recent Majlis podcast looks at the plight of Karakalpak activists outside Uzbekistan.

Since the start of 2024, one of the leading Karakalpak activists died in Kazakhstan and another is currently detained there.

Two more Karakalpak activists in Europe face possible deportation.

The guests for this podcast are:

  • Arzu, a pseudonym for a Karakalpak activist now living outside Uzbekistan;
  • Catherine Putz, managing editor at The Diplomat magazine;
  • Leila Seiitbek, chairwoman of the NGO Freedom for Eurasia; and
  • Steve Swerdlow, a rights lawyer who has spent many years focusing on Central Asia and is currently an associate professor at the University of Southern California. 

What I’m Following

Uzbekistan to Further Boost Russian Gas Imports

In the last Central Asia in Focus newsletter, we reported Uzbekistan was preparing to increase imports from Russian has from 2.8 billion cubic meters (bcm) to 9.5 bcm by 2030.

Since then, Uzbekistan has decided to boost those imports to 11 bcm by 2026.

The move to increase Russian gas imports came just as RFERL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, released its latest report detailing corruption and Russian involvement in Uzbekistan’s gas industry. 

B5+1 to Hold Its First Meeting

Following the C5+1 summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September 2023, representatives of the Central Asian states and United States will meet for the B5+1 in Kazakhstan. 

The C5+1 was the first-ever summit of the five Central Asian presidents and the U.S. president. 

The B5+1 is a two-day conference in Almaty that brings representatives of the governments and businesses together trade, investment, logistics, and development of key resources. 

The meeting will be on March 14-15.  

Fact of the Week

The water level at Kyrgyzstan’s Toktogul reservoir on March 4 was at 7.7 billion cubic meters, far below usual.

The water level was 8.513 bcm on February 19.

The so-called “dead zone,” the point at which the turbines at the Toktogul hydropower plant will cease functioning, is 6.5 bcm.

Additionally, water from the Toktogul reservoir is important for agriculture in downstream countries Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and planting season starts soon.

Thanks for Reading

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

Feel free to contact me on X, especially if you have any questions, comments, or just want to connect about topics concerning Central Asia.

Until next time,
Bruce


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Welcome to Central Asia in Focus, a newsletter that offers insight and analysis on the events shaping the region's political future.