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

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.  By IWPR 
staff in Central Asia

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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 Kazakstan’s 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 country’s application.

Nazarbaev’s office has denied discussing the proposal, let along pushing it. 
Some analysts believe it could even work to the president’s advantage, since he 
could gently turn it down as a demonstration of his democratic credentials.

The campaign began on September 10, when the president’s 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 president’s 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 
Nazarbaev’s 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 president’s 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 hasn’t been discussed in the Ak Orda 
[presidential residence], and it isn’t 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 

One argument is that Nazarbaev is so concerned about future stability that he 
would jeopardise Kazakstan’s reputation abroad if he had to.

Bulat Abilov, who heads the opposition party Azat, argues that Nazarbaev’s 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 year’s time, the 
situation still won’t 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 president’s 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 Nazarbaev’s 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 he’s tired and wants to retire in 2012,” said Poletaev. “And that will 
allow the people now in power to preserve the wealth and influence they’ve 
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 

Poletaev, however, says the damage might be fairly limited. 

“I don’t 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 

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 

Roman Bamberg and Galiaskar Utegulov are pseudonyms used by journalists in 


Analysts are sceptical that new institutions will make for more democratic 

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 Kyrgyzstan’s “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 another’s work, and certain powers currently exercised by the presidential 
administration will be delegated to the cabinet.

Avtandil Arabaev, a member of parliament from Bakiev’s 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. 

“We’ve continued to operate according to the old Soviet system, and that’s a 
brake on economic development,” he said. “It is right that reforms should start 
with the presidential administration.”

While Bakiev’s 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 people’s 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 

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 leader’s 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 
Kyrgyzstan’s multiple political groupings as possible under one roof. 

“All the fractured groups like clans and regional groupings that play a major 
role in the country’s politics will be brought together in the Kurultay and 
they’ll 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; there’s 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 Akaev’s hurried 
departure from office, Bakiev has gradually strengthened his position, 
curtailing parliament’s 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 president’s 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, it’s going to control them as well.”

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained journalist in Bishkek.


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.

“They’re 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 they’re dangerous. They’ve studied illegally in Pakistan, and since 
they were there illegally, it’s more than likely they received training in 
terrorist camps.”

On the group’s general aims, he said, “They have dangerous plans. There’s 
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 Jamaat’s 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 don’t 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, we’ve become more careful. 
We’ve started to dress differently and stopped actively preaching in public 
places and mosques,” he said.

“If authorities hadn’t 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 they’ve started operating,” he 
said. “But that benevolent attitude has changed first to suspicion and then to 
open hostility.” 

Mullojonov views the group’s 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 
they’ve made a mistake”.

Nargiz Hamrabaeva is a correspondent with the Tajik news agency Asia Plus.


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 

“The city looks like there’s been a war,” said the source. 

A local man who gave his name as Alisher said his brother’s 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 brother’s family and now he doesn’t have the money to build another one 
somewhere else.”

An official from the mayor’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 city’s suburban districts was cleared of makeshift 
structures in 2006, and the trees planted in their place soon died. 

Even now, says one local observer, “It’s as if a huge tank has rolled through 
the city crushing everything in its path.”

A new wave of demolitions targeted Andijan’s 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 

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.

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