Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 290- (25/02/05)
A missing "outpost of tyranny"
Lying at the heart of Central Asia, and the most populous of the five Central
Asian states, Uzbekistan is something of a regional bully. Under the autocratic
Islam Karimov, its ruler since the country gained independence in 1991,
democracy has waned and human-rights abuses have grown. As of July 2003, the
economy still had a long way to go.
Uzbekistan's anti-terrorist efforts initially won it friends in the West; in
2002 America donated US$220m in aid for supporting its campaign in Afghanistan.
In May 2003 Uzbekistan hosted the European Bank for Reconstruction and
Development's annual meeting. But both have since suspended most of their
assistance due to the country's dismal record on economic and political reform.
Uzbekistani authorities blamed Islamic extremists for a series of bombings in
Tashkent in March 2004, but there is no shortage of suspects.
A power struggle brews in Uzbekistan
A power struggle is brewing in Uzbekistan, pitting the country's secret police
chief against the head of the Interior Ministry. The political manoeuvring comes
at a time when rumours are circulating in Tashkent that Uzbek President Islam
Karimov is ill.
Both Rustam Inoyatov, chairman of Uzbekistan's National Security Service (NSS),
and Zakir Almatov, the interior minister who controls Uzbekistan's vast police
force, are believed to harbour ambitions to succeed Karimov, or at least dictate
who becomes the president's successor. The two are perhaps the most powerful
political figures in the country after Karimov, as they head the two key
components of Uzbekistan's pervasive state security apparatus.
Inoyatov and Almatov each control what are, in effect, private armies, as both
the NSS and Interior Ministry possess independent and heavily-armed military
units. In addition, the NSS and Interior Ministry operate their own
investigation and surveillance departments, as well as rely on independent
communication facilities, transportation and other infrastructure. The rivals
also wield considerable influence in Uzbekistan's business sector. Retired
officers are often placed in top positions at enterprises and banks controlled
by the two agencies. All of this allows Inoyatov and Almatov to operate their
respective government agencies as personal fiefdoms within the state.
The multiple sources of influence give Inoyatov and Almatov a considerable
advantage over purely political rivals, such as Prime Minister Shavkat
Mirziyayev and Economy Minister Rustam Azimov, as the presidential succession
issue gains attention, fuelled mainly by the widely circulating rumours in
Tashkent that Karimov is suffering from a serious, possibly terminal illness.
Administration officials indicate that Karimov is healthy. Given the
government's secretive nature, there is no way to independently verify or debunk
the rumours about the presidential illness.
In recent months, Inoyatov and Almatov have taken steps to strengthen their
respective government agencies and enhance their personal authority. Almatov,
for example, conducted a sweeping personnel change at the Interior Ministry,
installing reliable allies in key positions. Inoyatov is reportedly backed by a
Tashkent-based political clan, while Almatov enjoys the support of a Samarkand
Both Inoyatov and Almatov are staunch upholders of Uzbekistan's authoritarian
system and both have lengthy and successful track records in the state security
sphere. Inoyatov, who has headed the NSS since 1995, is widely admired in
security circles throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States for
preserving many of the vestiges of the former Soviet KGB as he reoriented the
Uzbek service to combat domestic security threats, in particular Islamic
radicalism and political dissent. He also managed to stop an agency
"brain-drain" during the mid 1990s that was curtailing the
capabilities of the NSS.
Almatov, who has held the Interior Ministry portfolio since 1991, built his
reputation in the early 1990s, using "iron-fisted" methods to achieve
a dramatic reduction in crime in Uzbekistan's major cities. In addition, Almatov
was an instrumental figure in Karimov's successful effort in the early 1990s to
eliminate potential political rivals, either arresting opposition leaders or
driving them into exile. The Interior Minister also played a key role in the
ongoing campaign to stifle freedom of religious expression.
Almatov's desire to succeed Karimov appears to be long-standing. In the
mid-1990s, in the immediate aftermath of his successful anti-crime campaign,
Almatov sent out signals concerning his political aspirations. The signs were
sufficiently worrisome to Karimov that the incumbent appointed Inoyatov, and
enhanced the NSS's powers in order to serve as a counterweight to Almatov's
Since then, Karimov has skilfully played Inoyatov against Almatov. According to
Uzbek political observers, Inoyatov enjoys the particular trust of Karimov, and
the president has consistently enhanced the NSS's powers over the last decade.
Most recently, the NSS's authority was extended to managing Uzbekistan's
borders, including border guard and customs units.
The ability of either Inoyatov or Almatov (or their proxies) to succeed Karimov
is far from assured, given the build-up of popular discontent inside Uzbekistan.
International political analysts believe the Uzbek government's capacity to keep
the lid on dissatisfaction is being stretched to its limits. The government's
reluctance to address glaring economic deficiencies is heightening the chances
that Karimov's authoritarian system could crumble in the coming years.
Economy in crisis
In a December speech, Karimov announced that Uzbekistan had achieved
"macro-economic stability" and claimed that the population's average
income had risen 210 percent over the past five years. Such statements create
the impression that Karimov is out of touch, as they do not correspond to
Uzbekistan's economic reality, observers say. Entrepreneurial activity in
Uzbekistan has experienced a dramatic drop-off in recent years, as businesses
struggle to bear an onerous taxation burden while confronting rampant
corruption. A report prepared by the International Finance Corporation, the
World Bank's arm for private-sector lending, estimated that domestic investment
in businesses has declined roughly 50 percent over the last three years.
As one economic observer told EurasiaNet; "It seems like he [President
Karimov] lives in a different world. Either some information is concealed from
him, or he is extremely hypocritical. Anyway, we [ordinary people] are sick and
tired of the situation. Something has to be done or else…"
Indeed, there are signs that Uzbekistan's normally pliant population is reaching
a point where it is losing its fear of punishment and is starting to resist
government repression. Beyond the Islamic radical-inspired violence that hit
Uzbekistan in 2004, the country in recent months has experienced a series of
protests staged by regular Uzbeks upset with declining living standards.
In November, 6,000 protesters took to the streets of the Ferghana Valley city of
Kokand to condemn new government taxation and trade policies. The Kokand unrest
sparked protests in other cities in the valley, including in Ferghana City and
Margilan, as well as in Karshi in southern Kashkadarya Province.
Anti-government demonstrations also occurred December 3 in the city of Bakht in
Syrdarya province, and on December 6 in Shakhrikhan in Andizhan Province. In
both cases, people protested against decisions by local authorities to cut off
utilities, namely, natural gas, electricity, and water. In addition, a rally
occurred December 10 not far from the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, the site of the
March suicide bombing attacks against police officers. Local residents protested
a government ruling to demolish their homes in order to build a road.
During each of the December protests, law enforcement authorities showed
surprising restraint. In previous instances of popular unrest, officials reacted
quickly and forcefully, making mass arrests. But in December, authorities merely
cordoned off protest sites and made no effort to forcefully disperse
demonstrators. In all cases, local political officials were dispatched to engage
the protestors, and issue promises that their complaints would be addressed. In
Bakht, the protest stopped only after authorities turned the electricity back
Russia and Uzbekistan push ahead with Central Asian gas transit plan
The Gazprom corporation has signed contracts to transit Central Asian gas across
Uzbekistan and to purchase Uzbek gas in 2005, RIA News Agency reported.
A Gazprom press statement said that the contracts were signed during a visit to
Uzbekistan by a company delegation headed by deputy chairmen of the board, Yuriy
Komarov, and Aleksandr Ryazanov.
"During the visit contracts were signed between Gazprom and the Uztransgaz
company for the transport of Central Asian gas across the Republic of Uzbekistan
and for the purchase of 5bn cubic metres of gas from Uzbekistan in 2005,"
the statement said.
The two sides also agreed to expand cooperation in the gas sector between Russia
and Uzbekistan in the areas recorded in the Strategic Cooperation Agreement. In
particular, they have decided to create joint working groups to step up work on
the Central Asia-Centre development project, draft a long-term contract for gas
transit across Uzbekistan, and to prepare a production-sharing agreement to
develop deposits in Uzbekistan's Ustyurt region.
Uzbekistan's gas reserves are over 6,250bn cubic metres. Its current output is
55bn cubic metres a year, of which 5bn are exported to Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and
Tajikistan. It started sending gas to Russia in May 2003, 1.27bn cubic metres in
that year and about 7bn last year.
The Strategic Cooperation Agreement between Uztransgaz and Gazprom was signed on
17 December 2002 and covers in particular long-term purchases of Uzbek gas for
the period 2003 to 2012, a role for Gazprom in developing Uzbek gas deposits on
production-sharing terms, the joint development of a gas transit infrastructure
in Uzbekistan, and the transport of Central Asian gas across the republic.
Joint work to develop Uzbekistan's gas industry is part of the Central Asia-Centre
project on the reconstruction and expansion of existing plants and also the
building of new gas transit facilities in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan
and Russia, so that Central Asian gas can be transported across these republics
in the amounts required by international agreements.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan relations gain strength
During Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's recent visit to Bohara, talks
between the presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were highly rated by Uzbek
Prime Minister, Sadik Safayev, Turkemnistan.ru reported.
Safayev stressed the importance of the discussion by the presidents of two
neighbour states on the issue of the establishment of the Central Asian Centre
for Preventive Diplomacy. "As the Uzbek saying goes, a close neighbour is
better than a distant relative," Safayev said. It is clear that if the two
states have 2,000 kilometres of common border and many links, including between
relatives, the need for political dialogue at the top level is mutual, he added.
The meeting between presidents was necessitated by the vital need to discuss
important issues, many of which they managed to solve, Safayev said. "The
point is that UN should set up its body there which will contribute to the
implementation of programmes on strengthening stability," he noted.
Turkmenistan suggested that this office should be located in Ashgabat.
"Well, this is a very reasonable proposal and we support it. In turn,
Turkmenistan supported Uzbekistan's initiative on the establishment of the UN
Centre for countering drug related crimes. We believe this is a regional
"We also decided to establish a joint body to monitor the use of water from
the border river of Amudarya that is designed to prevent any misunderstandings
in this regard," Safayev said. On the whole, Safayev noted that a direct
dialogue between Niyazov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov was useful and