Amangeldy Shabdarbayev, Chairman of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (KNB), has confirmed continuing concern about the infamous case of Rakhat Aliyev, while trying to give a positive image of the KNB working closely with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to tackle serious security threats.
Aliyev was fired as ambassador to Austria in June 2007. The Kazakh authorities accused him of ordering the abduction of two bankers and issued an international arrest warrant, but he claims that the charges were fabricated to prevent him from running for president. He is currently seeking asylum in Austria. Alnur Musayev, former head of the Presidential Guard and an associate of Aliyev, is also wanted in Kazakhstan.
Shabdarbayev pointed to close cooperation with the FSB over the extradition of wanted Chechens on Kazakh territory, which has resulted in handing over 10 people in 2007, closer counter-narcotics cooperation and the active implementation of all bilateral security agreements. “The KNB works with the FSB and other Russian special services with a high level of openness, trust and understanding of common threats: Exchange of operational information is arranged on a regular basis, we are active and regular participants in international antiterrorist drills and we compare experiences,” Shabdarbayev told Interfax (Interfax-Kazakhstan, Almaty, April 29). Such statements at a time when the Kazakh security authorities are evidently so concerned about Aliyev’s activities in Austria and their potentially negative impact on Kazakhstan’s international image suggests that the regime may be attempting to remind Aliyev that there are limits on how far he may go, limits that could involve the close connection between Kazakh and Russian intelligence.
Shabdarbayev also explained that a new bill on fighting terrorism is in preparation, which will supplement the existing legislation passed in 1999, by broadening the legal framework for Kazakhstan to combat terrorism. The new law will define the authority of each state body tasked with counterterrorism and place their methods of interaction with other agencies within a legal framework reflecting more closely the post-9/11 security implications and concerns.
The fear that Aliyev may gain political asylum and continue to attack the regime from abroad using “modern technology” is one of Shabdarbayev’s concerns. There is a great deal of interest in Astana over the question of how Aliyev will be perceived in the West. “It is clear that they [Aliyev and Musayev] will not become ‘martyrs of a regime.’ These people do not deserve this ‘status.’ They are, perhaps, the only representatives of the Kazakh elite, who did not have a ‘warm welcome’ from anybody, including the opposition, after they gave up power. Frankly speaking, nobody wants to have business with Rakhat Aliyev, because it is impossible to talk to or negotiate with this man. He is inadequate. Certainly, being in Austria, he can try using PR methods to promote his image of a fighter for democracy, persecuted in his homeland exclusively for political–but in no way criminal–reasons. This is, by the way, the role he is trying to play before the eyes of the West,” he explained (Interfax-Kazakhstan, Almaty April 29).
Shabdarbayev admitted that it remained unclear when Aliyev and Musayev would be handed over to the Kazakh authorities. He also recognized that the “Aliyev case” had affected the reputation of Kazakhstan’s intelligence services. “We fully realize that it will not be easy to restore public trust. I would, however, like to note that it was the KNB’s officers who revealed and investigated this case. An in-house cleanup is a painful task, but we went through this and are ready to move further. We have dismissed and convicted about 100 of our officers. I can confidently say that the KNB is one of the most incorrupt state bodies today and it is impossible that a situation like this can occur again,” Shabdarbayev said (Interfax-Kazakhstan, Almaty April 29). That such a senior intelligence official should be speaking about these issues publicly suggests there is real concern within the regime, not only about the reputation of the KNB but the international standing of the country and, in particular, President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Shabdarbayev talked about the focus of the KNB in the Aliyev case, which centered on undermining his financial resources inside Kazakhstan. According to Shabdarbayev, however, it has not yet been ordered to assess his foreign assets. The KNB has also closely monitored the “human resources” angle by watching those around Aliyev and his former closest contacts and “loyal” supporters in Kazakhstan. The KNB is confident that the support around Aliyev has collapsed. Nonetheless, since Kazakhstan’s intelligence assets are rather limited, they are restricted in their capacity to garner additional information on Aliyev in Austria, for example, about which western figures now have his ear following the loss of many of his Kazakh supporters, and to what extent his alleged efforts to undermine Nazarbayev are gaining sympathy in the West?
Making public denials about the authenticity of telephone conversations or responding to allegations of KNB involvement in particular publications not only appears to be an over-the-top response, it may give the impression to some in the West that Aliyev knows things about the regime that are worth searching out. In practical terms, managing this maverick figure at a distance may well entail a reliance on the FSB for advice and guidance on how to manage such a problematic figure.
One thing is clear from Shabdarbayev’s public comments: Despite the attempt to give the impression that Kazakhstan’s intelligence agencies are focused on threats of terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and other regional and international security issues, the KNB is in reality focused primarily on monitoring the activities of opposition groups and anyone that could be considered a political opponent of Nazarbayev. In short, its existence centers on being a political tool in Nazarbayev’s hands.