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. By IWPR
staff in Central Asia
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
DOUBTS ABOUT KYRGYZ POLITICAL REFORM PLAN
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 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
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
Analyst Jyrgalbek Turdukojoev is dismissive of what he sees as a false exercise
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 theres been a war, said the source.
A local man who gave his name as Alisher said his brothers shop had recently
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
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
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
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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