Police played a critical role in the events of March 24. Their failure to protect government buildings during Bishkek's street protests paved the way for the ouster of President Askar Akayev. More than a year later, Kyrgyzstan's police force plays no less critical a role; both in terms of its efforts to reform, and the implications its success could have for the country's future stability.
Since the March 2005 uprising, Kyrgyzstan has experienced a series of contract killings of parliamentarians and other public figures. Parliament, concerned for its own safety, heavily criticized the Interior Ministry after the shooting deaths of three parliamentarians in 2005.
At the same time, ordinary Kyrgyz have expressed strong concern about what is perceived as the increased influence of organized crime on politics. In early 2006, opposition groups championed the fight against criminal groups and rallied a broad range of civil society organizations to their cause. Public concern peaked with the election of reputed mafia leader Ryspek Akmatbayev to parliament in April 2006. Only with Akmatbayev's murder in May by an unidentified gunman did the tension begin to decrease.
Sensitive to the political implications of this trend, the government has pledged to crack down on ties between police and criminal groups. In January 2006, Prime Minister Feliks Kulov charged that the "irresponsible attitude of law-enforcement and judicial bodies dealing with organized crime" had resulted in Kyrgyzstan's inability to fight back against growing crime rates, AKI news agency reported. Kulov pledged to take direct responsibility for the Interior Ministry's organized crime unit in a bid to "protect its personnel from possible attempts to intimidate or blackmail them".
To date, international assistance has played the main role in this reform drive. Since 2003, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has taken the lead role in assisting Kyrgyz officials with the technicalities of reforming their law enforcement system according to international standards. The OSCE's $6.37 million Police Assistance Program conducts community policing, public disturbance prevention programs as well as work on improving legislation and provision of necessary equipment.