Uzbekistan’s president for life, Islam Karimov, either already has or is about to learn that the “for life” part of that title is the real deal. Karimov, known among other things for (allegedly) executing political prisoners by boiling them, has apparently suffered a brain hemorrhage and there are conflicting reports as to his continued existence. But even the reports that say he’s still alive suggest that it’s only a matter of time. He is 78 after all (man, that “only the good die young” thing really does have some validity), and 78 year olds who suffer massive strokes (I’m speculating, but when a regime like Karimov’s admits that the leader has suffered a stroke at all, then you can bet it was a big one) usually don’t go on to thrive for years to come.
Uzbekistan doesn’t get a lot of coverage around here, but that’s more my failure than a testament to its relevance. All five of the former Soviet Central Asian republics are ruled by kleptocratic authoritarian regimes whose commitment to human rights is rhetorical at best, and so the region is constantly viewed as a potential new hot-bed for Islamic radicalization and ergo terrorism. Groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which fell apart last year when part of the group joined ISIS while another opted to continue its alliance with the Afghan Taliban, are testament to the possibility of Central Asian radicalization, and there are occasional worrisome signs from the region. One bunch of guys who are happy to fan the flames about the threat of Central Asian radicalization, a threat that some regional experts argue is completely overblown, are these countries’ dictators themselves. This works for them because they’re able to excuse all manner of abuses on account of “fighting terrorism” with nary a peep from the United States or Europe (in Karimov’s case, supporting the US invasion of Afghanistan also helped his stature with Washington).
Karimov’s death, or at least the stark reminder of his mortality, has kicked off a bit of a tizzy over succession. EurasiaNet.org published a piece on this yesterday that’s worth checking out if you’re interested:
Under the constitution, it is the Senate chairman, currently Nigmatilla Yuldashev, who holds the reins of power while the president is incapacitated. Yuldashev, a former Justice Minister, is one of many anonymous figures within Uzbekistan’s nebulous elites, so the obvious and well-known candidates to succeed Karimov are few.
The succession will likely play out behind the scenes and under the control of the powerful domestic intelligence agency, the SNB, and its director, Rustam Inoyatov. However, the opaque nature of the regime in Tashkent makes it difficult to speculate on who might step into Karimov’s shoes, said Alice Mummery, a London-based independent analyst specializing in Uzbekistan.
“Through his presidency, Mr. Karimov has moved swiftly to remove any potential threats to his power base. This makes it very difficult to ascertain who is a likely successor in the event of his death or incapacitation,” Mummery said.