WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 589, September 28, 2009 KAZAK LIFE PRESIDENCY PLAN LEAVES EVERYONE GUESSING Proposal to abandon elections for presidency comes just before Kazakstan takes up OSCE chair. By Roman Bamberg and Galiaskar Utegulov in Almaty
DOUBTS ABOUT KYRGYZ POLITICAL REFORM PLAN Analysts are sceptical that new institutions will make for more democratic decision-making. By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek TAJIK CLAMPDOWN ON ISLAMIC GROUP COULD BACKFIRE Experts fear Tablighi Jamaat missionary organisation may be further radicalised after mass detentions. By Nargiz Hamrabaeva in Dushanbe UZBEK TRADERS UPSET AT SHOP DEMOLITIONS Some believe casual remark by President Karimov prompted war on eyesore buildings used as shops. 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For more information about how you can support IWPR go to: http://iwpr.net/donate **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** KAZAK LIFE PRESIDENCY PLAN LEAVES EVERYONE GUESSING Proposal to abandon elections for presidency comes just before Kazakstan takes up OSCE chair. By Roman Bamberg and Galiaskar Utegulov in Almaty As supporters of President Nursultan Nazarbaev float the idea of making him head of state for life, analysts are trying to work out whether he will really take up the offer and risk wrecking Kazakstans attempts to show a democratic face to the world. The timing is double perplexing Nazarbaev does not face re-election until 2012 and is unlikely to face a serious challenge. Secondly, the proposal comes at a particularly sensitive time when Kazakstan is only months away from taking over the rotating chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, whose members made continuing progress towards democracy a condition for approving the countrys application. Nazarbaevs office has denied discussing the proposal, let along pushing it. Some analysts believe it could even work to the presidents advantage, since he could gently turn it down as a demonstration of his democratic credentials. The campaign began on September 10, when the presidents press office reported that Zakratdin Baidosov, a professor in the northwestern city of Aktobe, met the president who was visiting the area and asked him to stay on for life. You ought to rule Kazakstan and lead the country forever, Baidosov was quoted as saying. It soon became apparent that this was more than a one-off statement from an over-zealous follower in the provinces. On September 14, Darkhan Kaletaev, deputy head of the presidents political party Nur Otan, proposed passing a law opening the way for Nazarbaev to become president for life. In an interview with the KazTAG news agency Kaletaev argued that the scope of Nazarbaevs public role as recognised leader of the country went far beyond his status as constitutional president. In a September 23 statement, a top official from the presidents administration distanced it from the proposal, saying it had not sponsored the move. This is an initiative by certain individuals, the intelligentsia and political parties, said Maulen Ashimbaev deputy head of the presidential office. It has nothing to do with the authorities. It hasnt been discussed in the Ak Orda [presidential residence], and it isnt on the agenda. Ashimbaev said proposals of this kind should instead be viewed as more general expressions of support. Analysts interviewed by IWPR say there is no pressing need for Nazarbaev to secure lifetime rulership. The Kazak constitution was changed in 2007 to allow him, as the first ever president of independent Kazakstan, to run for office as many times as he likes. In addition, a law dating from 2000 would leave him with considerable influence and cast-iron guarantees of immunity if he stepped down. One argument is that Nazarbaev is so concerned about future stability that he would jeopardise Kazakstans reputation abroad if he had to. Bulat Abilov, who heads the opposition party Azat, argues that Nazarbaevs team sense that victory in 2012 election is not a certainty if the current economic crisis, stemming from global financial meltdown, continues and results in a disgruntled electorate. The spin doctors in Ak Orda understand that in two or three years time, the situation still wont have improved. Andrei Chebotarev, an expert on Kazak politics, wrote an article for the Moscow-based Information and Analysis Centre arguing that the Nazarbaev administration remains wary of the opposition. Apart from domestic opposition parties, there are political forces in exile led by disgraced former officials with substantial financial backing. They include the presidents former son in law Rakhat Aliev, currently in Austria, and Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former cabinet minister and banker. At home, pressure groups set up by investors who have lost money in the construction industry crash of the last year have set up a movement called Kazakstan 2012. Chebotarev concluded, however, that the authorities would have time to address problems arising from the economic crisis by the time the election comes round. Another theory is that the life presidency scheme is the work of elite groups who regard Nazarbaevs continuing presence as a guarantee of their own future. Although Eduard Poletaev, a leading analyst in Almaty, believes that a new law might give Nazarbaev some vaguer status as leader of the nation rather than life president, he says that would be enough to satisfy the elite. The status of leader of the nation will allow him to control the situation even if hes tired and wants to retire in 2012, said Poletaev. And that will allow the people now in power to preserve the wealth and influence theyve accumulated under this administration. The big question is whether the Kazak leadership is prepared to abandon the principle of an elected presidency just as it is about to enhance its international reputation with the 2010 OSCE chairmanship. I think it would be a very stupid move to pass such a law now, on the eve of chairing the OSCE. It would provoke a new wave of criticism both within the country and from the international community, said political analyst Viktor Kovtunovsky. Poletaev, however, says the damage might be fairly limited. I dont think it would have a major impact on the OSCE chairmanship, he said, adding that the European security and political grouping does not play a major role in global politics. The drive towards a life presidency may yet come to nothing, of Nazarbaev makes it known he does not want it. One analyst, who asked not to be named, even suggested the whole thing was an elaborate to allow the president to refuse the offer. Kovtunovsky, meanwhile, pointed out that the Kazak leader makes a habit of taking everyone by surprise. Three weeks ago, Nazarbaev agreed that schools and universities could named after him, but he turned down an initiative that the capital Astana should be renamed Nursultan, said the analyst. He supported a proposal that he could be re-elected as many times as he wants. Some things he accepts, others he doesnt. Roman Bamberg and Galiaskar Utegulov are pseudonyms used by journalists in Kazakstan. DOUBTS ABOUT KYRGYZ POLITICAL REFORM PLAN Analysts are sceptical that new institutions will make for more democratic decision-making. By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova in Bishkek A plan to make sweeping changes to the way Kyrgyzstan is governed has left local analysts divided over whether is it is a genuine response to changing times, or merely an attempt to shore up support for President Kurmanbek Bakiev. Central to the changes are two new consultative bodies, the Presidential Conference and the Supreme Kurultay, which are notionally designed to give the public a direct line to the president and a real say in decision-making. Critics, however, fear that the two institutions might provide the president with an excuse to fast-track decisions without engaging in wider consultation. The government reform package is currently being fleshed out by a working group which was set up on September 4, and is expected to deliver its report as early as September 22. Announcing the changes at the opening of the autumn parliamentary session on September 1, Bakiev said the Presidential Conference would be a platform for dialogue, and for balancing out the interests of various groups youth, business, employees, industry and agriculture. The Supreme Kurultay, meanwhile, will be a kind of assembly or congress in which Bakiev says Kyrgyzstans regional, religious and ethnic communities will be represented. The president suggested that the real thrust of the changes had more to do with economics than with politics to get his administration into shape to embark on much-needed economic reforms. Bakiev won a second term as president in July, in a year in which Kyrgyzstan has been hurting badly from the effects of global economic downturn. Government will be made more efficient by streamlining agencies that duplicate one anothers work, and certain powers currently exercised by the presidential administration will be delegated to the cabinet. Avtandil Arabaev, a member of parliament from Bakievs Ak Jol party, is among the supporters of the changes, and told IWPR, This is a timely initiative from the president. We need to define strategic guidelines. Kyrgyzstan has now been a market economy for 20 years, and the role of the state has changed. Political analyst Kubanychbek Omuraliev agrees that reforming the institutions of government makes sense. Weve continued to operate according to the old Soviet system, and thats a brake on economic development, he said. It is right that reforms should start with the presidential administration. While Bakievs opponents condemn the changes as a backward step for democracy, others remain unconvinced of the need for them. In his speech to parliament, Bakiev suggested that the two assemblies would generate new policies based on the peoples will, which he would then sign off on. Analyst Jyrgalbek Turdukojoev is dismissive of what he sees as a false exercise in consultation. These reforms are just a smokescreen to demonstrate to the nation and the international community that his power is legitimate and that he consults the public in his decision-making, he said. Topchubek Turgunaliev, coordinator of the non-government Congress of Central Asia, is among those who believe Bakiev is trying to bolster his position. Like his predecessor Askar Akaev ousted in a popular uprising in 2005, Bakiev has devalued the concept of reform, Turgunaliev said. Both of them used reforms to create authoritarian regimes. Establishing the Supreme Kurultay and Presidential Conference is merely a manipulation of public opinion. Cholpon Nogoibaeva, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, sees the reforms to government as merely a rearrangement of the current situation, noting, The institutions that exist now are already charged with the functions that are to be assigned to the Supreme Kurultay and the Presidential Conference. According to political analyst Mars Sariev, two different scenarios could emerge, depending on how the new institutions develop. One disastrous possibility would be a situation like that in Turkmenistan under its late president Saparmurat Niazov, where the supreme legislative institution was a national assembly whose 2,500 members were hand-picked and turned up merely to rubberstamp their despotic leaders decisions. More hope is offered by a scenario where the Conference and Kurultay gain genuine authority by attracting figures of substance intellectuals, business leaders, clerics, and people with a strong local power-base. Even then, though, Sariev believes the president would use this expansion in his support to call an early election, bring several strong and loyal parties into parliament and consolidate his position as president for the long term. Sariev sees the reform project as an ambitious attempt to bring as many of Kyrgyzstans multiple political groupings as possible under one roof. All the fractured groups like clans and regional groupings that play a major role in the countrys politics will be brought together in the Kurultay and theyll be able to engage the authorities in dialogue, he predicted. The problem at the moment is that not all the clan groupings are represented in government; theres a preponderance of southern clans. Regional, tribal and clan allegiances remain an important factor in Kyrgyz politics, with a particular rivalry between the broader northern and southern groupings whenever one or other is perceived to be dominant. Since his first election in 2005, shortly after President Akaevs hurried departure from office, Bakiev has gradually strengthened his position, curtailing parliaments powers in favour of his own, and securing a landslide victory for the then newly-created Ak Jol party in a 2007 election. Bakiev swept to victory in July with 76 per cent of the vote, compared with his nearest rival, opposition candidate Almazbek Atambaev, who got eight per cent. The opposition said the election was deeply flawed with numerous cases of fraud. The presidents tactic now may be to coopt political opponents instead of confronting them. This is the first time a governing administration has sought to absorb opposition forces into its own structures, said Sariev. But if it succeeds in creating these structures, its going to control them as well. Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Bishkek. TAJIK CLAMPDOWN ON ISLAMIC GROUP COULD BACKFIRE Experts fear Tablighi Jamaat missionary organisation may be further radicalised after mass detentions. By Nargiz Hamrabaeva in Dushanbe Scores of members of a banned Islamic organisation are in custody awaiting trial as part of a crackdown on a group that the authorities claim wants to violently overthrow the Tajik government. Some experts question whether Tablighi Jamaat, whose main mission is proselytising, is as dangerous as the authorities make out, while others argue that an excessively heavy-handed approach could radicalise members and drive them underground. A series of mass arrests were carried out across Tajikistan earlier this year, with 124 people arrested in one raid alone on a mosque in the capital Dushanbe in mid-April. Although most were soon released, four alleged members of Tablighi Jamaat banned in Tajikistan in 2006 face trial on charges of inciting religious, national and ethnic hatred. Officials alleged that they had undergone training in religious centres in Indonesia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. A further 46 were detained in arrests during March and April in the southern Khatlon region. Twenty-three of this group were released shortly afterwards under a court order forbidding them to leave the country and are currently under investigation. In August, five of the 46 were sentenced to prison terms of between three and six years for belonging to an extremist organisation, organising a criminal group and calling for the violent overthrow of the government. Another 18 remain in custody awaiting trial on similar charges. An official from the interior ministry who asked not to be named told IWPR that Tablighi Jamaat did represent a real danger, although he did not offer evidence that members were involved in subversive activity within Tajikistan, apart from distributing Islamist pamphlets. Theyre extremists, he said. Tablighi Jamaat wants to create an Islamic state. The movement is banned by the justice ministry, and the ban is there because theyre dangerous. Theyve studied illegally in Pakistan, and since they were there illegally, its more than likely they received training in terrorist camps. On the groups general aims, he said, They have dangerous plans. Theres intelligence information implicating Tablighi Jamaat members in acts of terrorism in India and Pakistan. In addition, supporters of the movement who have been detained in Dushanbe have been found to be in possession of propaganda leaflets and religious literature. Analysts are divided over whether Tablighi Jamaat, an international Muslim revivalist group, poses any real threat. Some say the authorities are simply bundling the movement together with other outlawed groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an armed group calling for the overthrow of the Uzbek government and Hizb ut-Tahrir, which aims to create an Islamic state in Central Asia. Others, however, say Tablighi Jamaats loose recruitment polices could be exploited by radicals. Internationally, some followers have been accused of links to terrorist groups. According to Tajik officials, Tablighi Jamaat ideology first appeared in the country in 1997, brought back by refugees returning from Pakistan and Afghanistan at the end of five years of civil war in Tajikistan. Supporters are typically aged between 18 and 30, and include ethnic Uzbeks as well as Tajiks. The Tajik security source said they were being monitored by government informants in every mosque. Very often, Tablighi activity is uncovered due to a tip-off from someone. Well-wishers inform the police that Tablighi Jamaat [followers] are preaching somewhere or are going to proselytise. A 32-year-old member who gave his name as Khurshed explained why the movement appealed to him. During the civil war when I was a teenager, I lost my parents. With a group of relatives I left for Afghanistan and from there on to Pakistan. I returned home several years ago, but it turned out that no one needed me, no one was waiting for me, he said. Thanks to my involvement in Tablighi Jamaat, I have found a meaning to life and a chance to fulfil myself. Khurshed said members of the group, who tend to wear long loose shirts, white caps and grow short beards, were being unfairly targeted. When people look at us they often call us extremists and confuse us with terrorists, he said. But our ideology is peaceful, and we dont meddle in politics or strive for power or the creation of an Islamic state. Our mission is to go out there with our message, at times overcoming hardship and difficulties. We call on people to lead a righteous way of life and seek secular and religious knowledge, and we hold talks on theological topics. Reluctant to divulge the exact number of members in Tajikistan, Khurshed said, There are many of us, several thousand. Other estimates put the figure at around 6,000. Khurshed told IWPR that following the recent crackdown, members went underground and changed their appearance. Following the ban and a number of show trials, weve become more careful. Weve started to dress differently and stopped actively preaching in public places and mosques, he said. If authorities hadnt banned it, in a couple of years Tablighi Jammat would have become the largest Islamic organisation in Tajikistan. Political analyst Abdullo Qurbonov said that while it was doubtful that the movement was expanding, forcing it underground could make it more dangerous. In calling for a pure Islam, the preachers from this organisation recruit more new followers and, ideologically, they bring them to the conclusion that Muslims should pursue jihad [holy war] against infidels. Qurbonov said he understood that radical Islamic groups had approached some Tablighi Jamaat members to recruit them for military training, and alleged there was proof that some of those who attended Tablighi Jamaat meetings went on to join armed groups. Tablighi Jamaat does not recognise the state as a legitimate entity from an Islamic point of view. For them, only the ummah [Muslim community] exists, and nothing else, he said. However, Muhiddin Kabiri, leader of the Islamic Rebirth Party, argued that the ban on Tablighi Jamaat was designed to curtail the spread of Islamic ideas that were outside the control of the state. He said the movement was not extremist and presented no security threat. This movement makes a point about being apolitical, it shies away from current political affairs, and it does not stress the differences in outlook that exist among Muslims. It avoids all contacts with political Muslim entities, and that is an indication of its peaceful character, said Kabiri, whose party is the only recognised Islamic political force in Central Asia. Tajik analyst Parviz Mullojonov agreed that Tablighi Jamaat does not pursue political goals. It was their non-confrontational nature that was the reason why they have initially been tolerated by the secular authorities and local religious establishment in most of the countries where theyve started operating, he said. But that benevolent attitude has changed first to suspicion and then to open hostility. Mullojonov views the groups lax recruitment policy as problematic. The selection criteria for becoming a Tablighi Jamaat preacher is rather loose, and people with quite radical views often join. As a result, many Islamist leaders call on their supporters to join Tablighi Jamaat so that they can influence its policies and ideology and use its legal status and peaceful image for their own ends, he said. He said some experts in the United States suspected that many Tablighi Jamaat followers were in fact using the organisation as cover. In Tajikistan, he concluded, the authorities seem to have decided that it is easier to ban them once and for all, just in case, than to go out on a limb and then discover theyve made a mistake. Nargiz Hamrabaeva is a correspondent with the Tajik news agency Asia Plus. UZBEK TRADERS UPSET AT SHOP DEMOLITIONS Some believe casual remark by President Karimov prompted war on eyesore buildings used as shops. By IWPR staff in Central Asia The arbitrary way in which the Uzbek authorities are tearing down shops and cafes which they say were built without permission has angered traders in the eastern city of Namangan. Even if many of these small trade outlets some of them self-standing structures and others built as extensions to apartment blocks were not put up in accordance with planning rules, they have existed over many years, and their owners say the sudden wave of demolitions is unfair and deprives them of their income source. The municipal authorities launched their demolition campaign after President Islam Karimov visited Namangan, a city of nearly half a million people, in July, during which he remarked that he did not like the look of the city. As well as shops, cafes, and bakeries set up as small-scale business to meet the demand for local services, other do-it-yourself structures mainly built onto first-floor apartments serve as housing. One interviewee in Namangan said demolition teams had razed 160 businesses outlets so far, and estimated that this had put more than 1,000 people out of work. The city looks like theres been a war, said the source. A local man who gave his name as Alisher said his brothers shop had recently been destroyed. The city administration said this was done to improve the appearance of the city, and claimed his shop was an eyesore, he said. The shop was providing for my brothers family and now he doesnt have the money to build another one somewhere else. An official from the mayors office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a decision was taken to take down buildings where owners had failed to comply with regulations. There were cafés with the wrong documentation, and shops that fell below the required standards, he said. We did warn them, but they didnt heed us. So the city government was forced into taking these buildings down. Alisher, however, is left feeling that the real motive for the demolitions may have been a desire to seek favour with President Karimov. I sometimes think that bureaucrats will stop at nothing to please the president, he said. The president didnt like the shops, so they got demolished, and no one cares what the shop owner will do now. Namangan is not the first town in Uzbekistan to undergo a forcible makeover. Andijan, 60 kilometres further up the Fergana valley, has gone through a similar process. One of the citys suburban districts was cleared of makeshift structures in 2006, and the trees planted in their place soon died. Even now, says one local observer, Its as if a huge tank has rolled through the city crushing everything in its path. A new wave of demolitions targeted Andijans remaining suburban areas starting this spring. In the far northwest of Uzbekistan, numerous shops and apartment extensions were destroyed in Urgench over the summer. Even those that had received planning permission were not exempt, and their owners were told things had now changed. In the historic city of Samarkand in the west of the country, shopkeepers on one of the main central streets received letters in July telling them the buildings were scheduled for clearance, although in this case they were promised land elsewhere by way of compensation. **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly basis. The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better local and international understanding of the region. IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The service is published online in English and Russian. The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR. REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal Chazan; Senior Editor and Acting Central Asia Director: John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule Mukhametrakhimova. IWPR PROJECT DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT: Executive Director: Anthony Borden; Head of Programmes: Niall MacKay; Head of Strategy: Mike Day. **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** IWPR is an international network of four organisations which are governed by boards of senior journalists, peace-building experts, regional specialists and business professionals. IWPR builds democracy at the frontlines of conflict and change through the power of professional journalism. 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