international ban on executions seen as a bad sign.  By Anara Yusupova in 


SHOULD CENTRAL ASIA FEAR TALEBAN SPILLOVER?  Upsurge in militant activity in 
Central Asia will be contained, although security should be stepped up in 
border areas.  By Sanobar Shermatova in Moscow

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Parliament’s refusal to sign international ban on executions seen as a bad sign.

By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek

A proposal to restore capital punishment has caused debate and outrage in 
Kyrgyzstan, where the death penalty has not been applied for more than a decade.

Now being discussed by members of parliament, the idea was first floated by 
Murat Sutalinov, head of Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee, who even 
suggested that executions be carried out in public. 

Like other post-Soviet states, Kyrgyzstan no longer has the death penalty on 
its lawbooks. 

After a moratorium on carrying out executions lasting from 1998, capital 
punishment was formally abolished in 2007. The 189 convicts on death row had 
their sentences commuted to life. There are currently 204 individuals serving 
life sentences, according to Citizens Against Corruption, a human rights group. 

Sutalinov made his controversial proposal when the subject of tougher penalties 
came up at a September 23 meeting of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council, a body 
which brings together the heads of various police and security agencies. 

“Kyrgyzstan should not look to the West or the OSCE,” he said. “It should 
introduce capital punishment for certain crimes. In some cases, executions 
should be held in public. In my view, this will help reduce the crime rate.” 

His proposal was immediately backed by the secretary of Security Council, 
Adakhan Madumarov, who asked, “Why should society maintain people who have 
committed serious crimes against it? Even the United States, regarded as a 
model democracy, has three methods of capital punishment.” 

The Security Council – which is now being dismantled as part of wide-ranging 
reforms announced by President Kurmanbek Bakiev – was quick to say that its 
head was speaking in a purely personal capacity.

“Madumarov’s view in no way reflects the official stance of the Kyrgyz 
authorities or his own position as secretary of the Security Council,” said a 
statement from the organisation. “The decision taken at the Security Council 
session makes no mention of returning this penalty to legal practice.”

Despite this retraction, Sutalinov’s idea has become a live issue in 

On November 11, the Ak Jol faction in the Kyrgyz parliament voted not to back a 
motion to ratify a United Nations agreement banning the death penalty. Since Ak 
Jol dominates the legislature, the decision means parliament as a whole is 
likely to vote against ratification when it comes to debate it. 

The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and 
Political Rights requires signatories to ban the use of capital punishment. 
Since Kyrgyzstan has already done so, signing up to the protocol should not 
have been contentious. Refusing to do so has been seen by some analysts as 
reflecting a broader authoritarian impulse among the ruling elite. 

Ak Jol’s debate showed that opinion among party members was divided, but those 
who held the majority opinion cited arguments ranging from the need to crack 
down on crime to the high cost of maintaining life prisoners. One member, Askar 
Salymbekov, said public opinion was 80 or 90 per cent in favour of 
reinstatement, the AKIpress news agency reported.

The parliamentary committee for international affairs had reviewed the matter 
the previous day, and by contrast backed ratification of the UN protocol. 
Addressing that meeting, Justice Minister Nurlan Tursunkulov said the 
experience of other countries clearly showed that having the death penalty did 
nothing to cut the crime rate, according to AKIpress.

The fact that Sutalinov and Madumarov, both of them government officials, were 
so outspokenly in favour of the death penalty, set off equally strong reactions 
from opponents of such a reversal in policy.

Kyrgyzstan’s human rights ombudsman, Tursunbek Akun, issued a statement saying 
that coming from such senior officials, the proposal tarnished the country’s 

“Any call for public executions, the practice in medieval times and under 
fascism, will push our country over into the abyss of lawlessness and 
obscurantism,” said the statement. 

The ombudsman expressed fears that the officials’ remarks were “a trial balloon 
to test public opinion”. 

Interviewed by IWPR, Omurbek Tekebayev, who heads the major opposition party 
Ata Meken, agreed that “top officials wanted to test public reactions”. He 
pointed out that if this had not been the case, both Sutalinov and Madumarov 
would have been sacked for stepping so far out of line. 

Tekebayev also expressed concern that Sutalinov was articulating a more general 
policy shift away from honouring commitments to international conventions and 
democratic standards.

Temir Sariev of the smaller Ak Shumkar party said Sutalinov’s and Madumarov’s 
comments were “irresponsible and reckless”

The death penalty issue, he said, “has been dealt with in line with 
international conventions. I do not think it makes any sense to return to it.”

Sariev suggested that the authorities raised such issues merely to show a hard 
line stance and intimidate their opponents.

Mars Sariev, a leading political analyst in Kyrgyzstan, believes the 
authorities came up with the idea as they realised it would leave them in a 
win-win situation. 

“They realise it is not a feasible option, as it would undermine Kyrgyzstan’s 
position in the international arena, above all in Europe, which is an investor 
and sponsor,” he said. 

Yet as in many countries, reintroducing capital punishment appears to have 
broad public support in Kyrgyzstan. Sariev thinks and the “tough on crime” 
approach is bound to make the Bakiev administration more popular. 

In the end, though, the president would have to veto the idea – scoring points 
for his democratic credentials along the way, said Sariev.

“In reality, everyone understands that reinstating capital punishment is 
impossible, unless Kyrgyzstan wants to become a totalitarian state,” he 

Impossible or not, the spectre of capital punishment has alarmed Kyrgyzstan’s 
human rights community, which sent a joint letter to Bakiev on October 9 urging 
him to deal with Sutalinov and Madumarov. The following day, human rights 
activists marked World Day Against the Death Penalty by gathering in Bishkek to 
call for the right to life to be respected and a the penitentiary system made 
more humane. 

“As a human rights activist, I oppose the introduction of the death penalty in 
Kyrgyzstan,” Aziza Abdirasulova, who heads the human rights group Kylym Shamy, 
told IWPR. “It should remain a thing of the past; 137 countries have abolished 
this form of punishment and I don’t think there’s any reason why our country 
should introduce it.”

Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan.

This article was produced under IWPR’s Building Central Asian Human Rights 
Protection & Education Through the Media programme, funded by the European 
Commission. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR 
and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.



Upsurge in militant activity in Central Asia will be contained, although 
security should be stepped up in border areas.

By Sanobar Shermatova in Moscow

In the eight years the United States-led Coalition has been in action in 
Afghanistan, the northern provinces have remained largely calm – until 
recently, that is. 

Taleban attacks focused on southern Afghanistan, and the overland routes via 
which Coalition forces brought in fuel and ammunition from Pakistan. 

There was never a hint of a Taleban threat to Coalition airbases in Uzbekistan 
and Kyrgyzstan, or to the airfield in Tajikistan used by the French. 

The decision by Central Asian states to allow their territories to be used to 
bring in military freight into Afghanistan via the northern route changes 
things dramatically. 

The new supply line carries with it the risk that the Central Asian region 
could be dragged into the Afghan conflict. 

This danger was highlighted in stark terms in September, when the Taleban 
stepped up their activities in Kunduz province, a region close to Tajikistan 
which is controlled by German troops in the NATO force and which until this 
year was quiet. 

When the Taleban seized two fuel tankers in Kunduz in early September, NATO 
responded with an air strike that resulted in a number of civilian deaths, 
causing an international crisis. Attacks on German military vehicles have also 
been reported in the region. 

Afghan officials say Taleban activity in Kunduz has also involved non-Afghan 
militants of Central Asian origin. One senior commander, General Mustafa 
Patang, told journalists on September 12 that “hundreds” of militants had come 
to northern Afghanistan from the tribal areas of Pakistan. 

On October 12, President Hamid Karzai confirmed that the Taleban were moving 
men to the north – adding that they were using military helicopters to do so. 

The bulk of these foreign fighters are assumed to belong to the Islamic 
Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, which was active in Central Asia in the late 
Nineties before relocating to Afghanistan and then, after 2001, lawless parts 
of Pakistan. Estimates of their numbers range wildly from a few hundred to 

However, these Central Asian militants are not entirely homogenous. One known 
group affiliated to the IMU is the Islamic Jihad Union, which has apparent 
connections with Turkish and Afghan émigrés in Germany. The German police 
believe the group was planning to bomb airports, restaurants and cafes, an 
American military base and the Uzbek embassy in that country. The aim was 
apparently to prompt Germans to call on their government to withdraw troops 
from Afghanistan and from the military base in the Uzbek border town of Termez. 

The IMU itself appears to have shifted its priorities from toppling the Uzbek 
government to the broader international jihad agenda. In practical terms, its 
focus has been fighting the enemy on its doorstep – the Pakistani government. 
The military has mounted periodic offensives in the tribal areas, and the IMU 
has fought back on the side of the Pakistani Taleban. The IMU was closely 
aligned with top militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, killed by a rocket from an 
unmanned US plane in early August. 

For its part, the Pakistani army told civilians in the tribal zone that its 
offensive was not directed against the Pashtun population, but against the 
foreign militants causing instability in the area. 

Incessant Taleban attacks on the overland route from Pakistan through the 
Khyber Pass into Afghanistan have brought a halt to Coalition convoys carrying 
fuel and munitions. 

Now that the northern route via Central Asia is being used, it would seem 
logical from the Taleban’s perspective to apply pressure here, too. 

The IMU is an obvious choice for the job – many of its fighters spent time in 
northern Afghanistan in the mid-Nineties when they were part of the Tajik 
opposition guerrilla movement fighting the government in Dushanbe. The ethnic 
factor is also important, since this part of Afghanistan is populated by Tajiks 
and Uzbeks. 

Effectively, there are three front lines for defending Central Asia against a 
spillover of the Afghan conflict in the shape of incursions by Taleban-allied 

Given the arrival of the latter so close to the border, it did not come as a 
complete surprise when there were sightings of them in Tajikistan and 
Kyrgyzstan this spring and summer. 

(For reports on these incursions, read Chasing Phantoms in the Tajik Mountains, 
RCA No. 581, 24-Jun-09; Upsurge in Militant Presence in Kyrgyzstan, RCA No. 
582, 03-Jul-09; and Taming Tajikistan’s Eastern Valleys, RCA No. 584, 

The Tajik-Afghan frontier goes through difficult terrain and is porous in 
parts, allowing drug traffickers and militants to slip across unnoticed. There 
are mountain pathways providing routes through Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan and 
Uzbekistan. The IMU knows the ground well, since its guerrillas used the same 
routes in 1999 and 2000 to mount raids on Kyrgyz and Uzbek territory. The fact 
that armed groups appeared in roughly the same areas this year – eastern 
Tajikistan and southern Kyrgyzstan – suggests that local law-enforcement is 
still unable to monitor and intercept suspects using these drug routes. 

The second defensive line, therefore, runs along Central Asia’s borders with 
Afghanistan to reduce opportunities for infiltration. It should be recalled 
that both the German base in Termez and the French forces in Tajikistan are 
within easy reach of the border. 

The third line of defence lies deeper inside Central Asia. Militant groups, for 
example in Pakistan and the North Caucasus, are quick to adapt and will rapidly 
extend their attacks to new areas so as to disperse the forces arrayed against 
them. Weakening the security forces also has the aim of undermining the 
governments they support. 

There have been several examples of such targeted attacks in Uzbekistan in 
recent months. In May, police were targeted in and around the eastern city of 
Andijan, while in August the deputy head of the interior ministry’s 
counter-terrorism department, Colonel Hasan Asadov, was killed. 

Two Muslim clerics were attacked around the same time in what seem to have been 
related incidents. Abror Abrorov, deputy head of the Kukeldash madrassa in 
Tashkent was murdered in mid-July, and the capital’s chief imam or mosque 
leader, Anvar-Qori Tursunov, was targeted in a failed assassination attempt at 
the end of the month. It seems most likely that both clerics were singled out 
by militants for being too close to government and for preaching against 

While attacks on police and clerics are unprecedented in Uzbekistan, they are 
fairly standard practice in Pakistan and the North Caucasus. It seems 
reasonable to predict that militants will use these tactics again in the 
Central Asian context. 

Yet in contrast to other parts of the world, they will find their room for 
manoeuvre severely constrained in Central Asia. There are no places of refuge 
where they can hide out and no stockpiles of arms, and the local population 
will not supply them with food and intelligence information. The fact that the 
armed group which tried to establish itself in Tajikistan was eventually 
confronted and dispersed by government troops shows that there are limits to 
such insurgent efforts. 

Assuming that the militants will be unable to start operating deep inside 
Central Asia, there is thus little chance that these states will become drawn 
into the conflict with the Taliban and IMU in Afghanistan. 

It is therefore the defensive lines on either side of the Aghan border that 
will be decisive. 

The Coalition members and the Central Asian states are aware of the dangers 
posed by the Taleban relocating to northern Afghanistan. After security 
services from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Germany and the Central Asian states 
gathered in Dushanbe last month, they remained tight-lipped about the outcome, 
but coping with the new challenge from the “northern” Taleban must have been at 
the top of their agenda. 

Sanobar Shermatova is a Moscow-based expert on Central Asian affairs and sits 
on the RIA Novosti news agency’s advisory council. 

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