A political showdown is brewing in Kyrygzstan, where parliament and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov are pressing for an overhaul of the National Security Service, contending that the agency is obstructing efforts to contain rampant crime. Kyrgyzstan is at risk of becoming a failed state unless President Kurmanbek Bakiyev takes immediate steps to address governmental dysfunction, some MPs warned.
Parliament on January 26 adopted a resolution calling for the dismissal of National Security Service (NSS) chief Tashtemir Aytbayev, along with his deputy, Vyacheslav Khan, alleging that the duo had contacts with organized criminal elements and engaged in a wide variety of illegal activity, including weapons and narcotics trafficking.
During the parliamentary session, Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov asserted the NSS obstructed criminal investigations into numerous high-profile crimes. MPs also were presented with evidence that Khan possessed three passports Kazakhstani, Kyrgyz and Russian as was involved in several murky business ventures. Sutalinov and his Interior Ministry deputy, Omurbek Subanaliyev, survived a parliamentary vote of confidence.
A presidential spokesman on January 27 indicated that Bakiyev would not endorse the resolution to force Aytbayev's ouster. Nadyr Momunov, a Bakiyev spokesman, was quoted by the Kabar news agency as saying the president "was not given sufficient evidence to dismiss the current NSS chairman."
The parliamentary resolution was adopted a day after Kulov issued a statement assailing Aytbayev's anti-crime record, saying that "the work of the NSS and some other state structures gives [the public] grounds for criticizing authorities' failure to fight crime and corruption." In addition to Aytbayev, Kulov singled out Ryspek Akmatbayev, reputedly one of Kyrgyzstan's foremost underworld figures, as a source of instability in the country. "The continuous spread of criminal activity ... will cast doubt on the viability of Kyrgyzstan's democratic and civilized development," Kulov's statement warned.
Kulov's verbal broadside apparently was prompted by the January 24 dismissal of murder charges against Akmatbayev. The prime minister described the court's action as a "heavy blow to our international image." Akmatbayev has two prior convictions related to organized criminal activity and has served a total of seven years in prison. Kulov said the Akmatbayev case showed that Kyrgyzstan's judicial system had lost its independence.
"Today it is no wonder that courts acquit suspects whose involvement in especially serious crimes is obvious to everyone," Kulov's statement said. "Many people today are frightened. They think the criminals are winning. All they expect now is a further escalation of crime [and] arbitrariness."
Akmatbayev, speaking at a news conference, countered that Kulov was engaging in nefarious activities of his own, alleging that the prime minister was skimming funds provided by international donors. He repeated allegations that Kulov had been involved in the murder of Tynychbek Akmatbayev, Ryspek's brother, during a prison riot in October 2005. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. At the time of his death, Tynychbek Akmatbayev was an MP who headed parliament's Committee on Law Enforcement. When asked if his feud with Kulov could lead to bloodshed, Ryspek Akmatbayev responded, "Nobody [else] needs to suffer. ... I suggest that we meet man to man. I will kick his ass, and that will be that."
Meanwhile, Aytbayev, the NSS chief, also denied what he characterized as "baseless" accusations. "Nobody can say that I have connections with the criminal underworld," he told MPs during the January 26 session. "I am ready to account for my actions wherever and before anyone."
Bakiyev does not appear prepared to publicly intervene in government crisis. Through his spokesman Momunov, Bakiyev was critical of both Kulov and Aytbayev, saying their "verbal duel did not reflect well on them." Momunov also said the president felt the two should "control their emotions" and set an "example of political propriety."
At a government session January 26, Kulov sought special powers to combat crime and corruption, saying his office was finalizing an emergency anti-crime blueprint. "The scale of corruption has become so great that specific mechanisms must be adopted," Kulov said. A day earlier he disclosed his intention to assume control of the Interior Ministry's anti-crime division. He also urged parliament to pass legislation bolstering protections for witnesses in criminal cases. In addition, he courted support from Kyrgyzstan's non-government sector for an anti-corruption campaign.
While Kulov's position has attracted widespread support, underscored by the parliament resolution on Aytbayev's dismissal, some observers suggest the prime minister is motivated by a desire to exploit Kyrgyzstan's chaotic conditions to enhance his own political position at Bakiyev's expense. Bakiyev's reluctance to support the parliamentary resolution could be part of a presidential strategy designed to prevent Kulov, widely acknowledged to be his strongest rival for power, from gaining any political advantage from the crisis.
A presidential aide, Dosaly Esenaliyev, announced that a National Security Council session had been scheduled for February 9 to discuss crime- and corruption-related issues, the Kabar news agency reported.