Uzbekistan: Security services still see opposition as threat
The head of the security services also warned that looser borders could lead to more terrorism.
The security services in Uzbekistan have laid down a bold red line for political activism, warning the public that they see two long-banned movements as still posing risks to national security.
Speaking last week in parliament, Ikhtiyor Abdullayev, head of the rebranded State Security Service, reprised a whole other array of long-standing government anxieties, including terrorism, separatism and the dangers of overly open borders.
Abdullayev’s remarks may prove useful in defining the outer limits of the acceptable in the only marginally freer Uzbekistan being forged by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The nationalist-minded opposition groups that emerged around the time of the fall of the Soviet Union are still to be deemed anathema it would seem.
“We have information that the non-state opposition parties Erk and Birlik have appealed to the Justice Ministry. Their main goal today is to legalize their activities, and for tomorrow it is disrupt peace and tranquillity in our country,” Abdullayev reportedly said on March 30.
Media reports do not dwell on why specifically the head of the SSS, formerly the SNB, deems the Erk (Freedom) Democratic Party and the Birlik (Unity) movement to pose such an existential risk.
Abdullayev, who was addressing parliament during discussions on a long-awaited law to finally determine the precise scope of action for the security services, naturally also dwelled on the dangers of radical religious groups. He identified the peril as coming from Afghanistan.
“First and foremost, we are talking about the activation in our neighboring state of terrorist groups like the Islamic State, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, and other armed groups, as well as the return of natives of Central Asia belonging to militant groups, through various countries, into our republic,” Abdullayev said.
The SSS chief also worried out loud about the risk of overly open borders with neighboring Central Asian nations, warning that an increase in the numbers of tourists and investors could lead to an inflow of weapons, drugs and radical religious literature.
For good measure, Abdullayev warned that unspecified, shadowy foreign security agencies are actively funding separatist forces in Uzbekistan.
The cascade of scared visions of terrorists, separatists and political bomb-throwers under your bed had an inescapably pre-2016 feel about it. What is unclear is whether this marks a relapse into the ever-vigilant paranoia that defined public security in the days of the late President Islam Karimov or if the security services see themselves as constitutionally required to always fear the worst and hope for the best.
The real test will come once the authorities run out of easy good news to disseminate. Releasing activists that have been in jail well beyond their official release date, easing movement around the country, allowing very slightly more independent journalism and other similarly milquetoast concessions are fast losing their power to impress.
If Abdullayev’s alarmism about political opposition activity is to set the agenda, stories out of Uzbekistan may revert to a familiarly grim pattern before too long.