“An Uzbek is my near-brother” runs a common Kazakh saying, which has lost its original implications since the July bombings in Tashkent. The ever-worsening relations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are anything but brotherly. Although Uzbek and Kazakh security forces declared their readiness to carry out joint investigations into the attacks, these efforts have not diffused tensions. At the start of the inquiry, Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee (KNB) flatly rejected allegations about the existence of terrorist training camps in South Kazakhstan. The secretary-general of the Collective Security Organization (CSO), Nikolai Borduzha, told the Kazakh newspaper Liter that there were no terrorist training camps on Kazakh territory (Liter, August 6).
Borduzha’s statement, cited by Kazakhstan’s national media, came as a great relief for the KNB, but it could not dissipate suspicions about possible links between some residents and extremist organizations. The course of investigations took a new turn after the killing of an Uzbek detective in Shymkent, who had come to Kazakhstan to conduct an unofficial investigation into the alleged connections. The circumstances of his murder remain obscure, and Kazakhstan’s security services did not comment on the mysterious case.
Then on August 20, Kazakhstan’s statewide Khabar TV broke the veil of silence, announcing that two defendants in the Uzbek trial had named a Kazakh citizen, Abbas Shayusupov, as one of the suspects in the July 30 terrorist attacks in Tashkent (Khabar TV, August 20). Considering the fact that Khabar Television is patronized by Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s daughter, this report might be interpreted as an indirect admission that some Kazakh nationals were involved in the attacks. However, security authorities regard any such links as aberrations. The government has never admitted that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has used Kazakhstan’s border region as a springboard into Uzbekistan. Given the current standoff between the security services of the two countries, it is unlikely that the diplomatic stalemate on border security can be overcome soon.
The governments of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan must find a solution that increases border security without infringing on the rights of local residents to cross the frontier to get to jobs in South Kazakhstan or visit relatives on the other side of the border. Any accusation or restrictive measures provoke retaliatory acts. On August 6, for example, immigration police in Pavlodar, North Kazakhstan, detained 19 Uzbek day laborers.
While investigators are trying to establish whether or not Kazakh nationals had a hand in the Tashkent bombing, some analysts speculate that the terrorists might be working for state officials opposed to President Islam Karimov. Observers also note that terrorist attacks typically follow an increase in pressure from influential Western circles on the existing regime. Prior to the latest blasts in Tashkent, both the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the United States had slashed economic aid to Uzbekistan (Kontinent, August 18-31).
The denial by CSO Secretary-General Borduzha is not surprising. Since American troops arrived at air bases in Uzbekistan, Karimov has shown little enthusiasm for working within the Russian-sponsored military and security structures. Uzbekistan distanced itself from the recent Rubezh 2004 exercises in Kyrgyzstan conducted by the CSO rapid deployment forces.
Russia apparently is trying to use the bomb attacks in Tashkent to promote its often-cited theory of an “international network of terrorism,” which would help Moscow to win worldwide justification of its military campaign against Chechen fighters. Superpower ambitions are one of several factors driving a wedge between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in their efforts to forge an anti-terrorist alliance.