New Transport Routes in Central Asia and Caucasus Trigger Intra-Regional Competition (Jamestown Foundation)

Paul Globe writes for Jamestown Foundation: Perhaps not surprisingly, the development of railways in Central Asia and of shipping routes and pipelines across the Caspian Sea are routinely characterized as elements of geopolitical competition among major outside powers, including Russia, China, Turkey, the United States, Iran and India (see EDM, February 19, 2013May 23, 2017March 21, 2019April 23, 2020December 15, 2020). But such a focus often overshadows the views and actions of the countries in the region, each of which is generally more concerned with boosting itself at the expense of regional competitors, even if that delays progress on vital projects.

go to Jamestown Foundation: New Transport Routes in Central Asia and Caucasus Trigger Intra-Regional Competition – Jamestown


(China/Central Asia) Beijing Expanding Size and Role of Its ‘Private’ Military Companies in Central Asia (Jamestown Foundation)

Paul Globe writes for Jamestown Foundation: For the last several years, China has made use of its own private military companies (PMC) to guard Chinese industrial sites and transportation networks across Central Asia that it views as essential to its broader “One Belt, One Road” (more recently known as the Belt and Road Initiative—BRI) project. But now, in the wake of the withdrawal of the United States’ forces from Afghanistan, the rising strength of the Taliban and the militant group’s growing threats to Central Asian countries (see EDM, July 13), Beijing is expanding the presence and mission of these PMC troops. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during a recent swing through Central Asia, told regional leaders that Beijing’s reliance on imported PMCs to guard local strategic infrastructure will be an important new form of security assistance to them against any threat from the outside (Eurasia Today, July 16). This expanded Chinese activity inevitably challenges other players in the region, including the Russian Federation, Turkey and the United States.

go to Jamestown Foundation website: Beijing Expanding Size and Role of Its ‘Private’ Military Companies in Central Asia – Jamestown


(Uzbekistan/Central Asia/South Asia/Pakistan) Uzbek President’s Call for Connectivity, Cooperation, Dialogue and Trust in Central Asia-South Asia Region: Pakistan’s Obduracy is the Obstacle (VIF)

Amb Skand Ranjan Tayal writes for VIF: President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan hosted an important conference ‘Regional Connectivity Between Central Asia and South Asia – Challenges and Opportunities’ in Tashkent on 15-16 July 2021. The conference was proposed by the Uzbek President in his statement at the UNGA last September, but the weeks before the conference saw a rapid deterioration in the Afghan situation and the subtext of the informal discussions and the formal statements was the dangerous situation in Afghanistan.

go to VIF website: Uzbek President’s Call for Connectivity, Cooperation, Dialogue and Trust in Central Asia-South Asia Region: Pakistan’s Obduracy is the Obstacle | Vivekananda International Foundation (


(Afghanistan) The instability of Afghanistan is a problem for Central Asia and Russia

Dmitri Trenin writes for Carnegie Moscow Center: There are two problems with U.S. overseas deployments outside the Western world. One is when Americans enter a region by force, disrupting the geopolitical status quo. The other is when they pull out, leaving behind a mess. 

see the Carnegie Moscow Center’s website: Afghanistan After the U.S. Pullout: Challenges to Russia and Central Asia – Carnegie Moscow Center – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


(Central Asia) Central Asian security in the system of Eurasian relations

Ulugbek Khasanov writes for Valdai Discussion Club: Every regional international political system has a certain combination of common systemically important factors that distinguish it from others and determine its qualitative properties. In forming a foundation for international security, modern Eurasia plays a balancing role in in global processes, being dependent on stability in its strategic regions and Central Asia is recognized to be one of them. 

read the analysis: Central Asia: Regional Security as a Process — Valdai Club


(China/Russia) What’s next for Central Asia ?

writes for BESA Center: On May 12, 2021, China’s FM Wang Yi hosted the second China + Central Asia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in the city of Xi’an. At the top of the agenda was Afghanistan, as China is worried about possible spillover into Central Asia and its eastern provinces.

go to the analysis: China and Russia: A New Vision for Central Asia (


India/Central Asia – India-Central Asia Relations: Issues and Prospects (D P Srivastava, VIF)

Despite close historical and cultural connection that India shared with Central Asian region, the bilateral relations have remained below the potential. The key reason is the lack of connectivity. However, in 2015, with PM Modi’s visit to this region, India’s outreach in Central Asia has gradually increased. Join Amb D P Srivastava and Dr. Pravesh Kumar Gupta for a discussion on the issues and prospects of the india-Central Asia relations.

India-Central Asia Relations: Issues and Prospects | Vivekananda International Foundation (


Central Asia – Five steps for cleaner air in Central Asia (Lilia Burunciuc, World Bank blogs)

For the last five years I have lived and worked in the beautiful city of Almaty, Kazakhstan. On clear days, the city offers a stunning skyline backed by the Tian Shan mountains. But clear days are becoming fewer and farther between. Sadly, these unique views are often obstructed or fully blocked by poisonous smog.

Five steps for cleaner air in Central Asia (


Central Asia/Digital Future – How Central Asia can ensure it doesn’t miss out on a digital future (Lilia Burunciuc, World Bank blogs)

Weather forecast dashboard, Tajikistan

Digital dashboard at the Hydrometeorology Agency of Tajikistan. © GFDRR/World Bank

On April 9, Kazakhstanis received disappointing news that one of their favorite chess players, the national and world champion Dinara Saduakassova, had to withdraw from an online chess tournament due to poor internet connectivity. In a video posted online, Dinara lamented that, during the game, she was more worried about the connection than the match.

Although chess may not seem like a life or death concern, there are a myriad of other, more critical opportunities that tens of millions of people across Central Asia are missing out on because of poor internet connectivity. These include jobs, education, collaboration, innovation, and civic participation, among others.

Meaningful digital connectivity, that is, connectivity that is available, accessible, relevant, affordable, safe, trusted, and user-empowering, is a necessity in today’s world —and increasingly, a human right.

Studies show that countries with robust connectivity infrastructure can mitigate up to 50 percent of the negative economic impacts resulting from pandemics. Moreover, just a 10 percent increase in broadband connectivity can add at least 1 percent to economic growth, and a 1 percent increase in internet connectivity can boost exports by 4.3 percent.

Unfortunately, Central Asia still has a long way to go to ensuring good connectivity and enabling economies and people to benefit from digital development.

Nearly half the population in Central Asia is not digitally connected, and many of the unconnected live in rural and remote areas. In fact, three out of the five countries in Central Asia are below the global average in terms of the number of individuals using the internet.


Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet

Fixed Broadband Subscriptions per 100 Inhabitants


79%   13.44


55%   12.7

Kyrgyz Republic

38%   5.64


22%   0.07


21%   0.09

Global average

54%   13.26
Source: UN E-Government Survey 2020.

But lack of access is not the only problem. An internet connection in Central Asia is expensive, and of poor quality. The low quality of connectivity is a problem even in Kazakhstan, as Dinara Saduakassova can attest, even though it has the highest internet penetration in the region.

All of the Central Asian countries are near the bottom of the global ranking on the average time taken to download a 5GB film or a three-hour full HD (1080p) educational lecture on YouTube. Among Central Asian countries, the Kyrgyz Republic scored highest and yet reached only 146th place globally, 12 minutes ahead of Kazakhstan.

Average download speeds by country

Governments in Central Asia have demonstrated that they can move fast when necessary. For example, Uzbekistan almost doubled its fiber-optic infrastructure from 36,600 kilometers in 2019 to 68,600 km in 2020, and simplified permits for the construction and launch of cell towers, thus enabling an accelerated rollout of mobile networks.

And there are many more examples across the region, from improving access to digital government services to setting up call centers and hotlines and launching channels and information platforms—all of these changes prompted by the need to swiftly respond to the recent pandemic.

Nevertheless, the governments of Central Asia still need to address the root causes of the region’s poor connectivity.

To connect the remaining half of its population to the internet by 2030, it is estimated that countries need to invest at least $6 billion. This will require unwavering political will and an unprecedented multi-stakeholder effort, including a massive influx of private investment for infrastructure deployment and public sector efforts in digital skills development and policy reforms.

So how do we get to meaningful connectivity for all?

First, Central Asian countries need to develop open and competitive telecom markets. They can do this by modernizing the institutional, legal, and regulatory frameworks, bringing them all up to international best practice standards. In this context, it is equally important that the countries remove restrictions on access to all wholesale and retail internet services (including to international gateways) and simplify the burdensome licensing procedures.

Second, the telecom sector needs to be transformed from a state-dominated model to one driven by the private sector: the region must attract private investments to cover the infrastructure needs, particularly in rural and remote areas. Those areas are often commercially unprofitable for private operators. What can be done in such cases is to encourage infrastructure sharing, apply state-aid mechanisms (e.g., award competitive subsidies), and design public-private partnership models.

It is also essential to strengthen the regulatory authority of the telecom sector by granting it the necessary authority to ensure a level playing field among market participants. In addition, the incumbent telecom state-owned enterprises could be “unbundled” to focus on the wholesale infrastructure markets and reach every corner of the country, while stepping out of the retail markets to let the private sector deploy the “last mile” connectivity and focus on customer service innovations.

Third, governments in Central Asia need to develop a digital ecosystem. This includes investments in increasing access to digital devices, enhancing local content, and developing the digital skills of the population. To reap the full spectrum of benefits offered by the digital world, Central Asian countries will need to build capacities for remote work and boost cybersecurity and data protection for citizens and businesses alike.

The World Bank will continue to support Central Asian governments in these efforts, including through our ongoing Digital Central Asia-South Asia program (Digital CASA), which is helping to bring reliable and affordable internet services to the region, link small and medium-sized businesses as well as workers to the regional and global digital economy, create more and better jobs, and catalyze innovations in the delivery of public and private services.

Central Asian countries could seize the moment to ensure inclusive and meaningful digital access for all. This will do a lot more than just help Dinara’s chess game, as it will help speed up economic recovery, create jobs, and promote much-needed growth throughout the region.

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