Kyrgyzstan’s security chief is on a mission to solve every problem in the country

Photo of Kamchybek Tashiev, Kyrgyzstan's security chief. Screenshot from Akipress news YouTube channel. Fair use.

On February 19, the Kyrgyz Football Union (KFU) election committee elected Kamchybek Tashiev as the new president of the KFU. This was an expected outcome for Tashiev, the Chairman of the State Committee of National Security (UKMK), since he was the only registered candidate for the position.

The idea to make Tashiev responsible for football in Kyrgyzstan belongs to his close ally the president, Sadyr Japarov. After the national team failed to qualify for the playoffs at the AFC Asian Cup, Japarov revealed that he offered the position to Tashiev. The timing of these events aligned perfectly with Tashiev’s visit to the southern city of Jalalabad on January 29. During the visit, he evaluated the progress of the renovation of the central football stadium whilst being visibly irritated and dishing out harsh criticism to the local authorities about the dire condition of the facility.

The security chief’s inspection of a sports facility was an odd sighting, given that sports do not usually fall under the competence of state security services in most countries. However, in Kyrgyzstan, few, if any, were surprised. Since his appointment as the UKMK chief in October 2020, Tashiev has reinterpreted the agency’s role and expanded it to the oversight of any issue he finds in need of his intervention.

Protesting and climbing over walls

Tashiev’s current post is by far the highest and most powerful he has held over his decades-long political career, which started in 2005 during the rule of Kyrgyzstan’s second president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, when he was elected into the parliament alongside Japarov. In 2007, Bakiyev awarded Tashiev the military rank of major-general and appointed him the Minister of Emergency Situations, a post he held until his dismissal in 2009 for the alleged misuse of the ministry’s funds.

Here is a YouTube video about Tashiev's career before his UKMK tenure.

In 2010, the Tashiev-led Ata-Jurt party finished first in the parliamentary elections. In 2012, Tashiev, alongside Japarov and others, organized protests in the capital Bishkek, demanding the nationalization of the Kumtor gold mine, and attempted to climb over the wall of a government building. Both Tashiev and Japarov were found guilty of attempting to seize power, but were given light sentences.

Tashiev and Japarov’s fortunes changed overnight in October 2020 during the anti-government protests organized in response to the rigged parliamentary elections. Tashiev took advantage of the power vacuum and released Japarov from prison, which eventually led to Tashiev becoming the security chief and Japarov the president.

A quick-fix approach to complex problems

In 2020, Tashiev started his tenure as the UKMK chief with tackling one of the biggest issues in the country: corruption. Kyrgyzstan ranks 141st out of 180 countries in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, highlighting the widespread and systemic character of the problem. Under Tashiev, UKMK took over the roles of several other state bodies previously engaged in combating corruption, such as the State Service on Combatting Economic Crimes, which was dissolved.

Tashiev’s anti-corruption campaign came to be know as “kusturizatsiya,” derived from the Kyrgyz word “kusturuu,” meaning to induce vomit. According to this practice, state officials and businessmen implicated in corruption were arrested by the UKMK and let go after paying off damages to the state, a sum that is decided by the UKMK, and not the court.

The most famous person to undergo kusturizatsiya is the former deputy head of the State Customs Service, Raimbek Matraimov, widely known as Raim Million, who got his nickname after the journalistic investigations exposed his corruption and money laundering schemes. He was released after paying USD 24 million despite Japarov's earlier promises that he would be put in jail.

In parallel, Tashiev sought to solve Kyrgyzstan’s border problems and brought the State Border Service under the UKMK control in November 2020. By that time, Kyrgyzstan had finalized the border delimitation and demarcation processes with only two of its four neighbors: China and Kazakhstan. The borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan remained disputed.

Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan finalized the border delimitation process in January 2023, with Kyrgyzstan giving up the strategically important Kempir-Abad water reservoir in exchange for pasture land. A group of 27 politicians and activists who criticized this deal and attempted to mobilize people to protest against it were arrested. Tashiev blamed them for trying to destabilize the country and carry out a coup.

Tashiev’s attempts to solve the border issues with Tajikistan have been less successful and more tragic. Between 2012 and 2022, there were 144 conflicts on the Kyrgyz–Tajik border, which resulted in the death of more than 200 people on both sides. The biggest and the most deadly clashes took place in April and September 2021, after Tashiev had taken over the border issue. His comments about the possibility of swapping the Tajik Vorrukn enclave located in Kyrgyzstan for land elsewhere caused a diplomatic scandal and hurt the negotiations process.

Another major problem Tashiev has attempted to solve is organized crime. In October 2023, Kyrgyzstan’s criminal kingpin Kamchy Kolbaev was killed in an operation conducted by the UKMK as part of the the fight against organized crime groups and their leaders. Following Kolbaev’s death, Tashiev promised that “there will no longer be a mafia” in Kyrgyzstan. Notable criminal figures in the country responded to Kolbayev’s death and Tashiev’s promise by uploading videos in which they renounced criminal ideology and promised to live by the law.

Read more: Will organized crime survive the government onslaught in Central Asia?

Here is a YouTube video with Kyrgyzstan's criminal figures promising to live by the law.

Corruption, organized crime, and border delimitation are only part of Tashiev’s portfolio. One of his early problem solving ventures involved checking the validity of parliament members, ministers, and state officials’ university diplomas to ensure that they did not get them through bribery, which is a widespread practice in Kyrgyzstan.

Fresh off defeating organized crime, in December 2023, Tashiev and the UKMK focused on eliminating prostitution in the country by publishing the passport details and photos of women implicated in prostitution and firing and arresting officials and police officers who allegedly provided protection for pimps and helped them run brothels.

Here is a YouTube video with Tashiev promising to close down all brothels in Kyrgyzstan.

In the same month, the UKMK started looking into the work of major markets in the country. Tashiev blamed market owners of charging vendors unreasonably high rent and not creating proper conditions, and threatened to privatize markets if the owners did not respond positively. The result of his intervention was a 20–30 percent decrease of rent prices.

In January, in response to the news about a woman who died as the result of beatings from her husband, Tashiev encouraged survivors of domestic violence to file their complaints at the UKMK offices, bypassing the police tasked with investigating such crimes.

Attempts to solve all these problems have helped solidify Tashiev’s status as one of the most popular politicians in the country. Such political capital may come handy for Tashiev’s presidential ambitions, which are well documented. In 2011, he ran in the presidential elections and finished third, receiving over 14 percent of the votes. Should Tashiev decide to run in the next presidential elections, the long-standing friendship and political alliance between him and Japarov will be put to an unprecedented test.

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