Reports that members of the Uzbek state security services (SNB) were conspiring to assassinate reformist President Shavkat Mirziyoyev have surfaced on the opposition People's Movement of Uzbekistan website.
Uzbekistan has been continuously hitting the headlines recently, and the reports come amid a flood of positive news from the Central Asian country. In the last few days, Mirziyoyev has delivered on his promise to lift strict currency controls from the country’s national currency and made a historic visit to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, ending the adversarial relationship between the two Central Asian countries forged during the late Islam Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan.
Now, however, there are reports of a plot to kill the Uzbek president during his visit to Kyrgyzstan, political analyst Usman Khaknazarov claimed on the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan website. Regional media describe Khaknazarov as a “well known” Uzbek expert.
According to the allegations, an "active member" of the Islamic State (IS) was meant to carry out a “terrorist act during state events”. This plan, Khaknazarov said, was organised by SNB generals during the second half of August. The plot failed to come to fruition as the IS member was supposedly arrested by the Kyrgyz state security services (GKNB) on September 2.
The claims should be taken with bucketful of salt, however, as the country is no stranger to unfounded rumours such as the now disproven claims from late 2016 that Karimov’s disgraced daughter had been killed. Yet assuming that there’s a grain of truth to these accusations, why would the SNB scheme to assassinate Mirziyoyev?
Game of Uzbek thrones?
The only known strong link between Mirziyoyev and SNB is the SNB head, Rustam Innoyatov. While a year ago Mirziyoyev became the successor to autocrat Karimov, his role was not so unlimited in power given his dependence on the other members of the unofficial ruling team. It is thought political infighting has become a problem – analysts say the situation is akin to the power struggle that ensued following Stalin’s death in the USSR between Beria, Malenkov and Khrushchev. Inoyatov and former finance minister Rustam Azimov were reportedly seen as the other two members of the ruling Uzbek triumvirate.
These views were partially proven when Mirziyoyev sidelined Azimov from the ruling triumvirate, and the president is now believed to be moving to consolidate his power. Moreover, on June 1 the publication of the contents of a leaked tape featuring Mirziyoyev confirmed that Azimov was under pressure. Azimov has been credited as the force behind the initial financial and economic reforms after Karimov’s death last September. These include the return of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to Uzbekistan.
The departure of Azimov left Mirziyoyev with Inoyatov, who is widely known as the “kingmaker”. Inoyatov has reportedly been opposed to some policy changes which Mirziyoyev has been minded to green light, such as a plan to switch the embattled Uzbek currency over to a floating exchange rate regime. The security chief’s conservative influence, nonetheless, has not impacted on the currency reforms launched in the country on September 6.
Another piece of information lending credence to the allegations is that Mirziyoyev reshuffled senior security officials on September 4, sacking defence minister Qobul Berdiyev, leaving Inoyatov as the only holdover security official from Karimov’s era. Mirziyoyev replaced Berdiyev with an ally Abdusalom Azizov as part of an ongoing process undertaken by the new president to replace Karimov’s appointees with his own loyal allies. Berdiyev had served as Uzbekistan’s defence minister since 2008.
Taking into consideration Inoyatov’s insistence on maintaining the currency regime, which was has long fed the now abolished black market, which in turn was always rumoured to be under the control of the SNB, the firings of security chiefs could possibly be part of an ongoing power struggle. That would make Khaknazarov’s assassination conspiracy allegations at least somewhat grounded in truth.
Moreover, Khaknazarov in a separate article, published on September 11, accused the SNB of trying to “sabotage” Uzbekistan Airlines planes in order to threaten and dissuade Mirziyoyev from removing an SNB stooge Valery Tyan as the head of the company. The article also indirectly blamed Inoyatov of being involved in these efforts. Tyan, according to Khaknazarov, worked in favour of Inoyatov’s personal interests, turning the airline into a corrupt business that involved itself in smuggling goods illegally from South Korea and back, among other operations.
Potentially adding some fuel to the fire of crumbling private interests, Mirziyoyev has shown a commitment to freeing political dissidents imprisoned by Karimov. He has also issued laws to protect the interests of small businesses, made some efforts to put an end to the practice of child labour in cotton harvesting, eased the process of renouncing Uzbek citizenship and signed a decree to cancel exit visas for Uzbek citizens in 2018, among other goals.
But only time will tell if the “kingmaker” will also earn the title of “king-breaker” or meet the same fate as Azimov.