KYRGYZSTAN’S LACKLUSTRE ELECTION CAMPAIGN  Apathetic public and short run-up 
period leave little scope for candidates to build up head of steam.  By Azamat 
Kachiev and Urmatbek Tashmatov in Bishkek

UPSURGE IN MILITANT PRESENCE IN KYRGYZSTAN  Porous border makes country's south 
vulnerable to incursions, experts say.  By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek and 
Abdraim Ysmanov in Jalalabad

KAZAKS AGREE TO JOINT WTO APPROACH  Almaty wants to use customs union to break 
down Russian trade barriers, and then bid for WTO membership.  By Galiaskar 
Utegulov in Almaty

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Apathetic public and short run-up period leave little scope for candidates to 
build up head of steam.

By Azamat Kachiev and Urmatbek Tashmatov in Bishkek

As Kyrgyzstan heads for an election in which the incumbent president Kurmanbek 
Bakiev faces five challengers, one might have expected campaigning to be lively 
and robust. In reality, activity has been muted so far, with little posturing 
by candidates and no shock announcements, scandals or street demonstrations to 
engage public attention. 

The election date, July 23, was announced only three months ago, after an 
extended debate over whether the ballot was due this year or next. (For more on 
this, see Surprise Early Polls for Kyrgyzstan, RCA No. 570, 20-Mar-09.) That 
left the opposition, in particular, little time to get into gear and identify a 

Of the six candidates, Bakiev is a strong contender as he runs for a second 
term. He was elected in July 2005 after playing a leading role in a popular 
uprising which led to the then head of state, Askar Akaev, leaving the country 
in March that year. 

Bakiev’s major opponent is Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambaev, 
selected by the main opposition bloc, the United People’s Movement, as its sole 

Atambaev served as prime minister in 2007 at a time when Bakiev was trying to 
coopt opposition members. Some in the opposition have held this against him, 
and unhappiness over his selection as the UPM’s sole the issue prompted Ak 
Shumkar party leader Temir Sariev to break ranks and stand for election 
himself. (For a report on this, see Kyrgyz Opposition Unity Crumbles, RCA No. 
576, 09-May-09.) 

The others on the list of candidates are Toktaim Umetalieva, who heads the 
Association of Non-Commercial and Non-Government Organisations; Jenishbek 
Nazaraliev, a high-profile doctor specialising in treating drug users; and 
Nurlan Motuev, who heads the Joomart Patriotic Movement, is co-leader of the 
Kyrgyz Muslim Union, and defied the authorities by taking control of a coal 
mine and running it for a year in 2006-07, for which he was later tried but not 

With the incumbent determined to stay in power and the opposition showing 
unusual cohesion in facing up to him, many observers were expecting a turbulent 
campaign punctuated by the mass demonstrations that were a feature of Bakiev’s 
early years in office. Yet so far campaigning on all sides has been low-key. 

A media-watcher who asked to remain anonymous said Atambaev, as Bakiev’s main 
opponent, was not putting up much of a fight. 

“His statements to date don’t contain basic messages,” said the analyst. “It’s 
hard to say what message Atambaev stands for. For instance, Nazaraliev offers a 
new [Kyrgyz national] flag and 100,000 soms for each family. Sariev’s message 
is that he’s steadfast.” 

Bakiev has been more active, albeit in his capacity as head of state rather 
than as an election candidate. Since the election race official began, he has 
attended a number of opening ceremonies for new buildings around the country, 
during which he chatted to the locals. 

Such visits have drawn fire from rights activists as well as opposition 
members, who suspect Bakiev he is exploiting official business for political 

Human rights groups even brought a case before the Constitutional Court seeking 
Bakiev’s temporarily removal as president for the duration of the campaign, so 
as to level the playing field for other candidates. The court rejected this on 
June 30, saying Bakiev’s activities did not constitute a breach of voters’ 

The president remains visible in the media in a way his rivals are not. 
According to the Institution of the Media Commissioner, a non-government 
watchdog, television channels body carried only Bakiev’s election broadcasts 
for the first week of campaigning. 

Atambaev and Nazaraliev have both complained that the owners of billboards are 
refusing to sell them space for election posters. 

Samat Borubaev, a member of the Central Electoral Committee, CEC, who heads a 
special team coordinating with the candidates, says all of them have been 
assigned equal amounts of airtime. But he says that since they are allowed to 
buy extra advertising, their different levels of visibility are directly 
related to the size of their war-chests. 

“Since June 18, the first day of the campaign, we have been providing ten 
minutes airtime a day to the candidates, which means each one has 50 seconds in 
Russian and [another 50 seconds] in Kyrgyz every day,” said Borubaev. “In 
addition, candidates will each get 15 minutes on TV to present their election 
programmes, free of charge. There are also roundtable and debate shows, which 
are likewise free.” 

On July 2, the CEC published details of each candidate’s electoral funds, 
showing that Bakiev had 35 million soms – over 800,000 US dollars – and had 
spent 14 million soms to date, whereas Atambaev had four million of which he 
had spent half already. The other candidates had about half a million soms 

Media expert Igor Shestakov thinks it is natural that Bakiev is seen on TV more 
often than other candidates. 

“That’s the scenario when an incumbent head of state is seeking re-election,” 
he said. 

Shestakov blames the short election deadline for forcing candidates to reduce 
their ambitions, saying “the time pressure has made all of them fix on the 
essential points of their campaigns without setting them out [in full], 
expanding on them and doing PR work. Instead, they’ve been focusing on meeting 
the voters at constituency level.” 

The electorate has become apolitical and has rather limited horizons these 
days, according to Shestakov. 

“Voter demands have become more specific,” he said. “If a candidate promises to 
fix their day-to-day problems, say by repairing a road or improving the 
infrastructure, that will be enough for them.” 

The lack of time has prevented candidates from seeking advice from election 
specialists abroad. The campaign teams of various candidates, including both 
Bakiev and Atambaev, said they were working on their own. 

A political strategist well acquainted with the methods used by Bakiev’s 
campaign team told IWPR that foreign consultants had not been hired. Speaking 
on condition of anonymity, he said the general approach seemed to be, “Why bend 
over backwards when he’s going to win anyway?” 

Shestakov noted one slight sign of technological progress in this election– 
some candidates, particularly Nazaraliev – are using the internet to deliver 
their campaign messages. 

“It’s a landmark, since everything used to be based solely on TV, radio and the 
press,” he said. 

Shestakov added, however, that since internet use in Kyrgyzstan is mainly urban 
while voter turnout tends to be higher in rural areas, the new medium might not 
prove very effective way of winning over the electorate. 

Azamat Kachiev and Urmatbek Tashmatov are IWPR-trained journalists. 


Porous border makes country's south vulnerable to incursions, experts say.

By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek and Abdraim Ysmanov in Jalalabad

Kyrgyzstan’s porous southern border, compounded by the inability of its 
under-funded security forces to patrol it adequately, is helping make the 
country a destination for Islamic militants who are believed to be coming in 
from Afghanistan and Pakistan, observers say.

In the past ten days, nine suspected militants have been killed in two 
operations in the south of the country. 

Three were killed in a firefight on the night of June 28, in the village of 
Kosh-Korgon, in Osh region’s Uzgen district, after being besieged in an 
abandoned house. One of them blew himself up with a hand-grenade. 

Kyrgyzstan’s State National Security Committee, GKNB, said its men found 
weapons including Kalashnikov rifles, pistols and grenades when they entered 
the building later. 

The following day, a fourth man, believed to be from the same group, was killed 
in a nearby forest after attacking and injuring three policemen with a grenade. 

Four arrests were made – the wife of one of the alleged militants, a villager 
said to have allowed the group to use his house, and two others accused of 
helping them. 

The incident followed a similar one in the Suzak district of neighbouring 
Jalalabad region on June 23, when forces from the GKNB’s elite Alpha unit took 
on a group of armed men in the village of Tash-Bulak. Five members of the group 
were killed, an officer from the Alpha force died, and a soldier from the unit 
was wounded. 

According to the GKNB’s Jalalabad division, the special forces found five 
Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers and ammunition in the house where the militants 
were hiding out. They also discovered instructions on how to make explosives of 
various kinds, and eight sets of black clothing outfits and masks of the kind 
that might be worn by suicide bombers. 

National-level officials have not so far officially confirmed that the groups 
involved in the Osh and Jalalabad were linked. However, the Bayishbek 
Jumanazarov, who heads the district government body in Uzgen, told the Bishkek 
Press Club on June 29, that there was a connection. 

Nor have officials definitively identified the members of either group. 

GKNB officers say some of the five men killed on June 23 had received training 
in Pakistan, and some were members of the banned Islamic Movement of 
Uzbekistan, IMU. 

Guerrillas from the IMU launched raids on Kyrgyz and Uzbek territory in 1999 
and 2000. As allies of the Taleban, they moved out of northern Afghanistan when 
United States-led Coalition forces arrived there in late 2001, and then settled 
in South Waziristan, a militant stronghold in north-western Pakistan. 

GKNB officials have also indicated that some of those killed in Uzgen might 
have been part of the “Islamic Jihad Union”, a shadowy group which claimed 
responsibility for attacks in eastern Uzbekistan in May. 

Overnight on May 25-26, a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Khanabad in the 
Andijan region was attacked. The Uzbek prosecutor’s office said a policeman and 
one of the attackers were wounded in an exchange of fire, and that all the 
attackers got away. On May 26, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Andijan 
city, killing himself and a policeman. 

The suspicion among analysts is that the militants now in Kyrgyzstan are of 
Central Asian origin but have recently moved back from Afghanistan or Pakistan. 
In the latter country, the Taleban and its allies are under mounting pressure 
from assaults by Pakistani ground troops and air strikes by US drone aircraft. 
South Waziristan is currently a major target for these offensives. 

In Afghanistan, the US is pouring in extra troops in hopes of inflicting 
military defeat on the militants and securing the southern provinces. 

In June, following reports that an armed group had appeared in the mountains of 
Tajikistan in (see Chasing Phantoms in the Tajik Mountains, RCA No. 581, 
24-Jun-09), Jakypbek Azizov, who heads the Kyrgyz interior ministry’s public 
security department, told a press conference that elite units from the ministry 
had been sent into Batken region as a result of developments in Afghanistan and 
the possibility that militants had infiltrated Kyrgyzstan’s immediate 

Batken is a strip of land in the far southwest of Kyrgyzstan, sandwiched 
between Tajik and Uzbek territory, and was the scene of IMU incursions in past 

“I see a direct link between the rise in militant activity in this country and 
the military operations in Pakistan,” said Zainiddin Kurmanov, who heads the 
Kyrgyz parliamentary committee for constitutional law, state institutions and, 
law and human rights. “The terrorists’ base is being destroyed, and militants 
are fleeing to the countries where it is calm and peaceful.” 

Security experts warn of an imminent threat to Kyrgyzstan. 

“If one trusts the law enforcement reports that the militants they eliminated 
were IMU, it points to a surge in activity by radical forces which pose a 
security threat to all the Central Asian states,” said Miroslav Niazov, former 
secretary of the Security Council, which oversees national security matters in 
Kyrgyzstan. “I do see a link between the recent events in Khanabad and this 

Kyrgyzstan is seen as particularly vulnerable because its southern border 
adjoins both Tajikistan, from where Afghanistan is accessible, and Uzbekistan, 
where many believe indiscriminate arrests of alleged Islamists over the years 
have bred rather than curbed extremist groups. 

According to Orozbek Moldaliev, an expert on national security issues, “The 
unstable situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the harsh regime in 
Uzbekistan exacerbate the threat for Kyrgyzstan, by increasing the potential 
number of terrorist attacks on its territory.” 

Zainiddin Kurmanov noted that it was fairly easy to cross into Kyrgyzstan 
undetected because the frontier is not guarded comprehensively, and also 
bribery is commonplace. 

“If you have money, it’s very easy to get into Kyrgyzstan through our porous 
borders,” he added. 

While the GKNB was able to act swiftly once it spotted the suspected militants, 
the border guards service which might have intercepted the intruders is 
overstretched and its resources are spread thin. 

“Our [border guard] agency has neither the personnel nor the resources to be 
able to tell who’s crossing the border,” said Rashid Tagayev, who represents 
the governing Ak Jol party in parliament. 

Lack of intelligence makes it difficult for the security forces to identify 
suspects once they are inside the country. 

“The secret service [GKNB] demonstrated efficiency in conducting the operation 
and seizing arms, said Moldaliev. “But there are questions that need answering 
– how did they get into Kyrgyzstan, and how and where did they acquire such a 
lot of arms and explosives?” 

A GKNB spokesman told IWPR the operations had been a success. “Our efforts have 
produced results, which are self-evident, although it doesn’t come without 
losses,” he said, in reference to the casualties the agency suffered. 

Tagaev says that in the absence of a specialised agency, the authorities need 
to expand their existing counter-terrorism resources and fund and equip them 

One of the obstacles to gathering intelligence on the ground is the widespread 
public mistrust in the police and the security agencies in general. Analysts 
say this is something the latter will need to work on. 

“It’s evident that the law-enforcement agencies are poor at engaging with the 
local population,” said Moldaliev. “People knew there was someone in that 
abandoned house [in Uzgen] but no one told the police.” 

Niazov added, “If there was mutual trust between the people and the 
authorities, people would cooperate with law enforcement and report suspicious 

Another radical group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which does not proclaim armed jihad as 
the IMU does, has had some success over recent years in capitalising on Islamic 
sentiment in southern Kyrgyzstan and general dissatisfaction with central 
government perceived as unresponsive. 

The lack of cooperation with police may also have afforded cover to some IMU 
members, especially given that southern Kyrgyzstan has a large ethnic Uzbek 

Another security expert, Leonid Bondarets, believes IMU militants have 
maintained an underground presence in southern Kyrgyzstan and have linked up 
with incoming groups. 

“Some of them left Kyrgyzstan, but other members remained here under deep 
cover. So some of these militants came to Kyrgyzstan from Afghanistan, and some 
of them were already here,” said Bondarets. 

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova and Abdraim Ysmanov are IWPR-trained journalists. 


Almaty wants to use customs union to break down Russian trade barriers, and 
then bid for WTO membership. 

By Galiaskar Utegulov in Almaty

A decision by Kazakstan, Russia and Belarus to try to join the World Trade 
Organisation as a group rather than individually is likely to slow their 
accession process down. But while Moscow and Minsk may be cautious about 
opening up their markets, a Kazak economist argues that his country’s exporters 
are well placed to compete globally as well as regionally. 

A new customs union which comprises the three former Soviet states and starts 
functioning next year is to apply for bloc membership of the WTO on behalf of 
its members Russia, Belarus and Kazakstan. At a customs union meeting on June 9 
in Moscow, the three states agreed to suspend individual negotiations with the 
WTO in favor of a joint accession process.

“Our common priority is to join the WTO, but now as a unified customs space,” 
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin said at the meeting.

Russia and Belarus have been seeking WTO membership since 1995 and Kazakstan 
since 1996. 

Of the three, Russia was the closest of the three to joining. At an 
international economic forum in St. Petersburg on June 4-6, Russian economic 
development minister Elvira Nabiullina said Moscow intended to complete 
negotiations by the end of this year. That meant Russia could have become a WTO 
member in mid 2010, but that now seems to have fallen by the wayside. 

Kazakstan was probably next in line, despite suspending negotiations with the 
WTO on a number of occasions. 

The customs union is one of a number of post-Soviet regional groupings, 
although to date Moscow has only succeeded in getting close allies Kazakstan 
and Belarus to sign up. Following an agreement signed in October 2007, the 
union is due to come into being next January, with all the arrangements 
finalised a year-and-a-half later. 

Customs clearance will then take place only on the external borders of the 
union, with goods flowing freely between member states.

According to Putin, the countries have agreed on 95 per cent of the external 
customs tariffs they will apply.

Economists interviewed by IWPR think the decision to seek joint membership 
makes some sense, although Kazakstan has its own reasons for agreeing to join 
the customs union first and only then the WTO.

Rahman Alshanov, a Kazak economist, thinks Kazakstan is in a win-win situation, 
because it will benefit immediately from the removal of barriers to Russian 
markets and will then be in a strong position to compete within the WTO. 

“Kazakstan’s largest trade turnover, 7.5 billion dollars, is with Russia, which 
is our most aggressive trading partner. The customs union will remove these 
barriers, and then we’ll see how competitive Kazakh companies are in comparison 
with Russian producers,” he said. 

Alshanov said that with a relatively open economy and export revenues 
equivalent to just over 50 per cent of gross domestic product last year, 
Kazakstan was in better shape than either Russia or Belarus to compete in the 
WTO system. 

Russia and Belarus are likely to be less enthusiastic than Kazakstan about 
accepting the free trade obligations imposed by WTO membership.

Dmitry Abzalov of the Centre for Political Trends, a political think-tank in 
Moscow, reflects a sense of caution commonly held in Russia about abandoning 
protectionist barriers. 

“WTO membership will be [seen to be] of value only after careful consideration. 
If the losses outweigh the gains, then it’ll be better to hold off on entry and 
negotiate better conditions so as to protect the domestic market,” he said. 

In Abzalov’s view, “The WTO needs the customs union more than the customs union 
needs the WTO. It’s obvious that Russia, Belarus and Kazakstan are very 
attractive markets for WTO members, which want to enter these markets.” 

Viktor Ivonin, an economist based in Tashkent, believes Kazakstan’s smaller 
neighbour Kyrgyzstan committed a grave error by rushing into WTO membership on 
its own in 1998. 

“The market was rapidly filled with goods, and as a result the country 
effectively lost its industry and agriculture, which were unable to compete 
with foreign producers,” he said. 

Alshanov said that in any case, a joint WTO application might take longer than 
expected, since Belarus – with the least open and least developed of the three 
economies – would find it hard to throw open its borders. 

“The process may be delayed for a year or two, at least,” he said. “There is a 
risk that Belarus will propose unacceptable conditions for accession, impeding 
the joint accession format.” 

If that happened, he said, the three states might end up going back to their 
original plans to join the WTO separately. 

Galiaskar Utegulov is a pseudonym used by a journalist in Almaty.

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