This post is the first from a new author, Alexander, a researcher currently based in the UK.
It seems that free and fair elections will never take place in Uzbekistan. Earlier this year there was a disputed report that Karimov had suffered a heart attack. This has yet again triggered succession rumours. There are a number of possible candidates– Gulnara Karimova, PM Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his Deputy Rustam Azimov. But no matter who wins the presidential elections in March 2015, they won’t run the country. The SNB runs the country, and Rustam Inoyatov runs the SNB.
Col. Gen. Rustam Inoyatov, Chairman of the National Security Service (SNB), is regarded as one of the most powerful men in Uzbekistan. He was born on 22 June 1944 and graduated from the Tashkent Faculty of Oriental Studies, learning Farsi and English. He is also one of the heads of the influential Tashkent “clan,” which is allied with the Ferghana clan. These two clans are based in Tashkent, Ferghana, Andijan and Namangan through their alliance. Their major rival is the Samarqand clan based in Samarqand, Bukhara, Dzhizak and Navoi, via its alliance with the Dzhizak clan. Unlike the civil war in Tajikistan in the 1990s, the ‘civil war’ in Uzbekistan happened behind the scenes between these various clans. The Uzbek Government has denied the existence of clan politics. Due to the lack of democratic elections, positions in government are largely dependent on clan membership. These clans are regional patronage networks created via marriage, friendship, business associations or other shared identities. The people at the top of the clan protect the ones at the bottom via what is commonly referred to as “krysha” (meaning roof).
The clan conflicts intensified in 1983 when the Samarqand clan came to power in Uzbekistan after it replaced the Ferghana Clan (the Tashkent clan ally). After a few years, the head of the Samarqand clan, Ismoil Jurabekov–known as the “Gray Cardinal” and rumoured to have been in command of drug smuggling from Afghanistan–brought Islam Karimov to power. Jurabekov held many important positions during the Soviet era, including Deputy President of Uzbek Council of Ministers (1985) and the First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers (1985-90).After Uzbekistan’s independence in 1991, the Samarqand clan controlled the vast majority of the most important positions in the executive branch and the interior ministry (the MVD). Jurabekov was appointed the Minister of Civil Defence and then the Deputy Prime Minister. During this early period, the MVD’s chief of criminal investigations, Zokir Almatov, was promoted by Karimov to head it. Due to Almatov’s control of the large police force and his tough reputation, he became one of the most influential men in the country. Through his ruthless approach, Almatov achieved a drastic reduction in crime in Uzbekistan’s major cities. Interpol data revealed that the rate of murder from 1996 to 1999 decreased by 15.1% and rape incidents decreased by 21%. Additionally, Almatov was responsible for eliminating Karimov’s political rivals, either by arresting opposition leaders or driving them into exile.
In 1993, Karimov realised two things: firstly, that his patronage of the Samarqand clan had been causing discontent among the other clans (especially the Tashkent/Ferghana clan), and secondly that Almatov could initiate a coup d’état and succeed him. Karimov’s solution for both problems was Inoyatov. In 1995, he appointed Inoyatov as the Chairman and gave the SNB money and power to use them as a counterweight to Almatov’s increasing influence. Karimov also stopped his patronage of the Samarqand clan. His close ally Jurabekov, however, was still at the centre of government. During the early 1990s the SNB was a very small organisation when compared to the MVD. On top of that, their actions were monitored by the Prosecutor General’s office. Under Inoyatov, the SNB grew very quickly. They soon overtook the prosecutors, and the roles were reversed: now the SNB monitored them. By 1999, the SNB reached a level where they could challenge the MVD and the Samarqand clan. In January 1999, Inoyatov made his move: the Deputy Prime Minister Jurabekov was forced to resign. One month later there was a series of car bombings in Tashkent.According to some reports, the February 1999 Tashkent bombings were masterminded by the SNB under the leadership of Inoyatov against the MVD. Another scenario is that the SNB knew about the plot but let it happen anyway as they knew this would work in their favour. After the bombings, the SNB got an increase in their budgets and more powers. Similarly, after the 9/11 attacks, the FBI got a drastic increase in their budgets, from $3.1B in 2000 to $8.1B in 2012, and laws were passed increasing their power. After the Tashkent bombings, the SNB was able to arrest anyone they wanted. Prosecutors in 1999 and 2000 brought charges against at least 140 persons in connection with 1999 terrorist bombings in Tashkent. All of those tried were convicted and 20 were executed. Many other opposition leaders in exile, such as Muhammad Salikh, were sentenced in absentia.
In an open letter to Karimov the imprisoned writer Mamadali Makhmudov wrote that the MVD wanted to blame the bombings on Mukhammad Salikh before the events took place. This was originally fabricated by Alisher Begaboev, who was an “officer, captain” in the MVD who “was jailed for many years.” Begaboev invented this story and then passed it on to the MVD in the hopes that he would get his job back. Begaboev told Makhmudov, “Salikh is far … Nothing will harm him… but we will get our jobs back … I have very reliable contacts in the [MVD], such as Alisher Ergashev … We will tell them that Mukhammad Salikh wants to bomb Tashkent, … organise assassination against ‘Papa’.” Begaboev “was released from prison not long before the February bombings is Tashkent.” Makhmudov also noted that the “Bombings in Tashkent were staged exactly by the scenario of Alisher Begaboev.”It is highly possible that the MVD was behind the bombings. Almatov probably wanted to impress Karimov by staging this event and blaming Karimov’s enemies. One of the car bombs was supposed to kill Karimov and it didn’t. It is possible that Almatov wanted to get rid of Karimov and take his place. Inoyatov most likely knew about this plan and let it happened anyway. This could be because he wanted to use the event as a “Kompramat” (compromising material) against Almatov. Makhmudov also wrote that the majority of the prisoners who were imprisoned with him said “that Tashkent bombings were specially organized by authorities themselves in order to distract public opinion, to defame the opposition in the eyes of the nation and to extend their term of power.” The bombings greatly increased SNB’s power as they could arrest, torture and imprison anyone they wanted under Article 159. To balance them out again, Karimov reinstated Jurabekov as his Presidential Advisor.
According to a report published by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, the rumour of Karimov’s resignation due to health problems prompted Inoyatov and Almatov to try to seize power, and “both leaders considered coup d’états in 2004, early 2005, and in mid-2005.” These “coup d’états” were more like confrontations between Inoyatov and Almatov that could eventually lead to the removal of Karimov.In March 2004, two important things happened: firstly, Jurabekov was ousted for the final time after criminal allegations (“theft on a large scale” and “abuse of power”) were made against him. Secondly, there was a second wave of bombings in Tashkent and Bukhara that some analysts believe to have been done this time by the SNB against the MVD which killed 33 militants, 10 MVD policemen, and four civilians. The government blamed Hizb ut-Tahrir, however the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) claimed responsibility. Regarding these bombings Muhammad Salikh, said that “the political regime of Uzbekistan, with its emphasis on repression against dissidents, has created good conditions for terror.” The fact that the militants mainly attacked policemen shows that they were dissatisfied with life inside Uzbekistan, and without the possibility of expressing their views on a political platform, they were willing to use violence to try to overthrow or get revenge against the government.
There was also a rumour that the MVD and SNB “had been placed on high alert in the week preceding the attacks.” This suggests that, like in 1999, they were aware of the threat and let the bombings happen anyway. This event was again used by the SNB/Tahskent clan and MVD/Samarqand clan to play out their power games. With Jurabekov gone, the Tashkent clan and SNB strengthened their position but Almatov was still a threat, and it would take, to use a neoconservative term: a “catastrophic and catalyzing event” to produce a clear winner.
SNB Cobra logo
During this time, Inoyatov and Almatov both commanded independent and heavily-armed military units, trained and partially funded by the US. This was part of the deal in which Uzbekistan allowed the Americans to use its Khanabad military base in their war against the Taliban. Inoyatov’s armed forces were smaller than Almatov’s, but he did have a number of elite spetsnaz units, such as the Special-Purpose Unit Alpha, Special Recon Platoon Scorpion, and Special Unit Cobra (similar to the US Delta Force). Both men had their own investigation and intelligence officers who also controlled Uzbekistan’s business sector. “Retired” MVD and SNB officers were often placed in important positions at large corporations and financial institutions. This helped the two rivals to operate their own vertically integrated mini-empires.The events that would lead to the final coup/confrontation mentioned in Central Asia-Institute report were initiated on 25 May 2004. The legislative chamber of Andijan’s regional government voted to prosecute Kobiljon Obidov, the Governor of Andijan and a leading member of the Ferghana clan (Tashkent clan ally), replacing him with Saydullo Begaliyev, the former Minister of Agriculture and Water. Karimov was not impressed by Obidov’s involvement in several political scandals, and he personally oversaw his prosecution. According to an anonymous source that spoke with EurasiaNet, Obidov “was the province’s master… businesses favored by the hokim got the green light for everything. All the entrepreneurs who enjoyed [Obidov’s] patronage,” including 23 prominent businessmen who were sent to jail, “grew rich.” Criminal proceedings were started against many of Obidov’s staff and associates. The new Governor of Andijan, Begaliyev, also decided to take the businesses of Obidov’s entrepreneurs “for a pittance” for himself or they “would face legal proceedings.”
Towards the end of 2004, protests began to take place with the first one attracting 6,000 protesters in Kokand (Ferghana Valley). The protestors took to the streets to condemn the government’s new taxation and trade policies. Surprisingly, the protestors were not dispersed and so these protests spread to other towns and cities, including Ferghana City, Margilan and Karshi.
At the beginning of 2005, Inoyatov was given control over the Customs Service and the 10,000 strong border security services as well as the river fleet, nearly doubling the number of troops under his control. A month later, in February 2005, Dilyor Jumabayev (the prominent member of Hizb ut-Tahrir in South Kyrgyzstan), said that SNB agents offered to pay Hizb ut-Tahrir members to overthrow the Andijan provincial government. “But we refused,” said Jumabayev, “they said they were sick and tired of Karimov’s regime. But we said, ‘After Karimov will come another Karimov.’ We said such things are sin. We did not participate.”
The various conflicts in Uzbekistan, such as the conflict between Inoyatov and Almatov, their plotting against Karimov, the anti-government protests across the country, the removal of the Andijan Governor and the subsequent arrest of a group of businessmen all converged in one “catastrophic and catalyzing event” in Andijan on 13 May 2005.
The new protests that started on the 10 May in Andijan were initially against the imprisonment of the 23 Obidov entrepreneurs. The protest was relatively small at the beginning and was mainly attended by their families, but then it grew considerably over the next two days.Then on the night of May 12 to 13, 2005 an armed group attacked an inspection service of the Andijan regional internal affairs administration. After that they attacked the Ministry of Defence’s 34th brigade, killing four MVD policemen and two military servicemen. They subsequently seized 300 weapons and hand grenades. Afterwards, they attacked the Andijan prison freeing 500 of the 700 inmates, including the 23 Obidov entrepreneurs. In the early morning, they captured the Regional Administration Building. Local residents gathered outside the building, which created “a chaotic crowd.” This crowd then demanded the Government’s and the President’s resignation. After a while, Karimov arrived in Andijan. The square near the Administration Building was surrounded by armed forces. Almatov and Begaliyev were responsible for holding negotiations on behalf of the President with the armed group and with the people who gathered in the square. Several exchanges of fire took place between the two sides. Later, when the negotiations had reached a stalemate, the armed forces forcefully stormed the building. “People inside the building tried to escape the city. This led to numerous civilian deaths.”
MOD and SNB troops
It is interesting to note that during the Andijan violence, Almatov’s MVD troops “were abolished and its divisions and units that pertained to fighting terrorism and extremism were either put under the control of the Ministry of Defence” or the SNB. This rapid shift in the security structures reflected the internal fight between Almatov and Inoyatov. “According to the version that emphasizes the inter-clan rivalry as the main driving force behind the Andijan events, Innoyatov, a representative of the Tashkent group, clearly prevailed in this competition.”The Dilyor Jumabayev interview showed that the SNB did want to get rid of Karimov and could hire “terrorists” to use them as proxies. The MVD is also able to do this and so the bombings in 1999 and 2004 could have been done by the MVD or Jurabekov and not the SNB. We should also not rule out that the bombings and the armed group in Andijan could have been genuine members of the IMU and IJU or ordinary people who were sick and tired of the regime and acted independently from the SNB and the MVD. Mamadali Makhmudov also said that the “appearance of a multitude of extremist movements is a result of the unlimited oppression of the law enforcement structures.” However, due to the compartmentalisation within intelligence agencies, anything is possible, one department could be prosecuting terrorists whilst another actively supporting them. This could explain why in Andijan the armed group also attempted to seize the regional headquarters of the SNB. If the SNB was behind this, then it would be easy for them to put the blame on Almatov/MVD. Even if the SNB was not responsible for the bombings or for Andijan, they did at the very least leverage each of these events to come out ahead over the MVD.
After Andijan, Karimov finally removed Inoyatov’s arch nemesis Almatov (because of his “poor health”). And most importantly, Karimov replaced Almatov with the deputy director of the SNB, a member of the Tashkent clan. This led the Tashkent clan leaders to further take advantage of the events; Karimov, however, rebuffed those efforts by firing Defence Minister Kadyr Gulyamov, one of the heads of the Tashkent clan. This made Inoyatov’s position within the clan stronger. A shakeup of the MVD and SNB security and counter-terrorism agencies considerably increased the power and resources of the SNB–a happy ending for Inoyatov, it seems. However, Inoyatov did not stop there. With the only person holding him back gone, he now had the freedom take over the whole government.
Inoyatov, Karimov, Almatov
When Karimov promoted Inoyatov to head the SNB, he most likely did not suspect that he would manage to avoid his meticulous system of checks and balances and would become the second most powerful man after him. Karimov brought Inoyatov to counter Almatov and not to turn into his rival. Today Inoyatov not only controls the SNB and MVD, but also all other branches of government. His men get appointed to every department. Whilst they work at these departments, SNB agents not only perform their official duties but also gather information for Inoyatov. Anyone critical of Inoyatov gets framed and removed. No state structure remained immune to this infiltration.A Wikileaks cable revealed that the SNB “wields significant influence in the Presidential Apparat, with the National Security Council composed of professional [SNB] officers… [that] Inoyatov has personally endorsed… Two [SNB] officers also control the Senate and Legislative Chamber, providing instructions that guide their actions.”
With Almatov gone, Inoyatov began making indirect moves against Karimov. This mainly involved getting rid of his supporters via the use of “kompramat”. It is widely believed that everyone in the Uzbek government gathers compromising material on their colleagues and uses it selectively. Widespread corruption from the bottom to the very top means that everyone has a lot of compromising material–every person has to pay bribes at some point. Most positions in the government are bought via the SNB and local oligarch Salim Abduvaliyev, and once the apparatchiks are in office, they try everything to get a return on their ‘investment’.The government is split into two groups, prior to the Andijan events the government was split between the Tashkent/Ferghana clan and the Samarqand clan, after Andijan the government is believed to be split between Inoyatov’s and Karimov’s supporters. When someone is found to be an agent from the rival group they usually get removed them from their post by using “kompramats” and in the worst case-scenario, they would get arrested.
Another Wikileaks cable revealed that Karimov removed Minister of Foreign Affairs Elyor Ganiev because he “simply carried out the…[SNB] orders.” There are some reports that Ganiev is a General in the SNB. He was replaced by the Ambassador to Belgium, NATO and the EU Vladimir Norov. Regarding Norov the US Embassy wrote that “unlike Ganiev, Norov does not have historical ties to the… [SNB] and is less likely to take orders from… Inoyatov.”
So with Inoyatov’s man Ganiev out and Norov in, what would Inoyatov’s next move be? Not surprisingly Inoyatov used the “kompramat” he had on Norov against him. In a separate Wikileaks cable, the US Embassy wrote that the SNB “controls the information flow to President Karimov, and that Foreign Minister Norov is under significant stress due to pressure from… Inoyatov. Norov currently does not have regular access to President Karimov, and Inoyatov is trying to prevent Norov from developing a closer relationship with Karimov…. The [SNB] also has penetrated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and an unspecified number of [SNB] officers there are monitoring Norov’s every move. Inoyatov has “kompromat”… on Norov obtained from Norov’s days as an ambassador in Europe, where he was allegedly involved in unspecified “shady dealings.” …Inoyatov has not revealed the “kompromat” in question to Karimov, but is using it as leverage against Norov.”
In the end, Norov lost his position and is no longer the Foreign Minister. Inoyatov is an expert on this type of espionage activity as one of his roles when he was promoted from the Uzbek KGB to the KGB USSR (1976-1981) was to work at Soviet embassies, and most likely his duties included monitoring Soviet ambassadors. After Norov, Abdualaziz Komilov was appointed Foreign Minister, who was the “head of the Uzbek KGB” until Karimov replaced him with Inoyatov in 1995. Due to Komilov’s SNB connections, Karimov appointed Norov as his deputy to balance them out.The reigns of power in Uzbekistan are in the hands of the SNB. Inoyatov, who was supposed to be Karimov’s man against Almatov turned the tables, and like Putin did in Russia, put the whole country under his influence. Karimov is cut off from information that Inoyatov doesn’t want him to know. Every new wave of anti-government resentment that briefly erupts in Uzbekistan is used by Inoyatov for his own advantage. Ironically, Karimov became a captive of the man who was only supposed to protect him from Almatov.
You can reach Alexander at email@example.com.