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The Road Ahead: What the Death of Islam Karimov Means for Uzbekistan and Central Asia

Courtesy of Carsten ten Brink/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by Harvard International Review on 7 February 2017.

On August 29, 2016, the president of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Four days later, the country lost its first and only president. Karimov had been exerting his influence in Uzbek politics since 1989 as the last secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, which later became the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDP). It may not come as a surprise that his rule was often mired by reports of human rights violations and declarations of autocratic powers to squash any political opposition.

Though the transition of power to the new provisional government may be relatively smooth, Uzbekistan remains fraught with challenges. For now, the Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev has assumed temporary control until elections are held later this year. The new leadership of Uzbekistan must address the late Karimov’s legacy grappling with a fragile economy, the separatist movement in Karakalpastan, increasing interest of foreign powers in exerting influence over Central Asia, increasingly complex water allocation amongst Central Asian states, and backlash from the previous government’s repressive stance towards Islam.

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The Death of Karimov: The Game for Uzbekistan

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Courtesy Alexandra (Sasha) Lerman/flickr

This article was originally published by the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) on 9 September 2016.

On 2 September (although unofficial reports cited 29 August as the date), the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov died in Tashkent. Formally, the President’s duties are currently being carried out by the leader of the Senate, Nigmatilla Yuldashew (although he has not been sworn in as head of state), and elections to the post of president are to be held over the next three months. Due to the undemocratic nature of the system in Uzbekistan, the successor to Karimov will be decided by an informal fight for the leadership, and not the result of the election. Currently, the most likely successor seems to be the ruling Prime Minister, Shavgat Mirziyayev, who among other indications headed the funeral committee, received the foreign delegations who attended Karimov’s funeral on 3 September, as well as the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, during his surprise visit to Samarkand on 6 September.

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Uzbekistan and Islamic State: Phantom or Foe?

Flag of Uzbekistan. Image: Giorgio Minguzzi/Flickr

This article was originally published by EurasiaNet.org on 13 November, 2015.

Numerous recent news accounts in Uzbekistan would seem to indicate mounting agitation over alleged activity by Islamic State — an extremist organization not previously known to have made inroads into the country.

Dozens of individuals have reportedly been arrested on suspicion of having links to the terrorist group, and some security forces are said to have been placed on high alert amid concerns about possible unrest. For all the clamor, little is understood about whether Islamic State has genuinely established a presence in Uzbekistan, and whether semi-official claims of anti-terrorist sweeps can be taken at face value.

In the latest case to draw public attention, Tashkent-based website 12news.uz cited an unnamed Supreme Court official on November 13 as saying a 23-year old man called Muhammad Abdullaev had been sentenced to 13 years in prison for his association with Islamic State. 12news.uz has served as a conduit for multiple alarming stories about alleged Islamic State incursions into Uzbekistan. » More

China’s Proposed Silk Road: Problems and Priorities in Central Asia

Image: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by RSIS in the 167th edition of RSIS Commentary on 20 August, 2014.

The Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) proposal put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping is considered a new model for regional and South-South cooperation. It is also the priority area for China’s all-round opening up and neighbourly diplomacy. While SREB potentially involves over 40 Asian and European countries, Central Asia occupies the centerpiece of the Belt. » More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Alarms Central Asian Strongmen

Euromaidan Kiev 2014-02-18. Image: Wikipedia.

The Russia-Ukraine crisis is having a profoundly unsettling effect on authoritarian-minded governments in Central Asia. On the one hand, they are keen to keep the forces unleashed by the Euromaidan movement at bay; on the other, they appear unnerved by the Kremlin’s power play.

State-controlled media outlets in Central Asian states are reticent when it comes to covering developments in Kyiv, Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. The parallels between the ousted and allegedly corrupt president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and leading members of Central Asian elites are obvious to many in the region, so it’s not surprising that the Euromaidan Revolution has received little play in Central Asia’s press. » More