Pipeline Politics: In Central Asia and the South Caucasus, pipeline politics are the most important game in town. Max Hess, writing on Registan last weekend, says that 2016 is likely to be a pivotal year for the South Caucasus’ aims to transport gas to Europe, and also pivotal for the countries of Central Asia and Iran as suppliers. Europe has long desired gas routes that don’t involve Russia, but completing them has not been easy. Of particularly concern is the status of the Caspian — is it a sea or a lake? Hess dives into why that matters and what progress has been made so far.
New Dynamics: On the Central Asian end of gas politics, Farkhod Aminjonov argues that while some see Russia’s moves to drop its gas trade with Turkmenistan and increase gas trade with Uzbekistan as power politics, what is really happening is Russia is adapting to changing dynamics in a region “in which they no longer possess an upper hand.” Aminjonov takes a welcome closer look at the numbers and notes that “the analysis shows that the so–called “growth” in the Russia–Uzbekistan gas trade is over exaggerated” and therefore a weak argument to leverage Turkmenistan with. That said, while Russia may not have the leverage it used to, Aminjonov says it remains Turkmenistan’s only alternate partner outside China.
Another view on how Russia is confronting the new dynamics in Central Asia comes from Eurasianet’s Peter Leonard who writes that economic trouble and sanctions have begin to derail Moscow’s regional projects in not just Kyrgyzstan but also Kazakhstan. In the meantime, China seems set to make gains in Russia’s stead, though Beijing is not immune from global economic malaise either.
Switching to Satr: The hijab (called satr by many in Tajikistan) has been the subject of debate around the world, not the least in Tajikistan where the conversation spans not just religion and politics, but national identity. Marintha Miles, in a her paper “Switching to Satr : An Ethnography of the Particular in Women’s Choices in Head Coverings in Tajikistan” takes an anthropologist’s view. The paper is well-worth reading to not just understand the historical context of the hijab debate in Tajikistan (forced unveiling under Soviet power in the late 1920s) but also the nuances of behavior. Miles concludes, in part, “For a woman in Tajikistan the practice of wearing hijab is the visible manifestation of her identity as a Muslim woman; a shift away from the relic of the dual identity of the secular Soviet-Muslim woman, and away from the new state-driven national identity.”