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Kazak Political Feud

Accusations of corruption expose damaging power games among Kazakstan's political elite
By Dosym Satpaev

A Kazak power struggle spilled out in the open recently when high-ranking government officials traded accusations of corruption and incompetence.

The Prosecutor General Yuri Khitrin charged the republic's interior ministry of profiting from the sale of confiscated narcotics. Interior Minister Kairbek Suleymenov responded by accusing Khitrin of inefficiency over his department's failure to secure a single conviction against a major drug-dealer.

More significant than the allegations themselves is the fact this feud is being conducted in public, a sure sign, say analysts, that the real point at issue is political power. "The real significance isn't to be found in the wording of the accusation, but in the fact that it has appeared at all," said political observer Bakhyt Jusipov.

According to Maksat Nauryzbaev, a specialist on the Kazak elite, the squabble between Khitrin and Suleymenov highlights the interests of Rakhat Aliev, son-in-law of Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbaev and pretender to the throne.

Most political experts and observers believe these conflicts are an indication of the struggle between several influential politicians and financial-industrial groups intent on strengthening their power base.

Analysts believe there are between five and eight such groups. The most powerful include members of the presidential family or enjoy good relations with the president himself.

Khitrin has close ties to the financial-political group around Aliev, who is deputy chairman of the Almaty Region National Security Committee, NSC.

In terms of its influence and ambition, this elite group occupies a leading position in the Central Asian state and controls major trading enterprises, casinos and nightclubs as well as powerful print media and television resources.

Some experts believe that Aliev is conducting a shrewd campaign to strengthen his position and influence as the main successor to the presidency.

According to political analyst Aidar Kurmanbaev, the president's son-in-law is using the mass media under his control to reinforce his tough anti-crime, anti-drugs image. Aliev's goal, Kurmanbaev suspects, is to take over Kazakstan's main law enforcement agencies and security bodies.

But the republic's interior minister has so far thwarted Aliev's attempts to neutralize his enemies within the law enforcement agencies and replace them with his own allies. Suleymenov has his own ambitions to rise to the top of the political elite.

The interior minister has always supported a re-division of ministerial responsibility which would transfer control over economic crimes and corruption to his domain - a move which would greatly enhance his power and influence.

This battle for influence has been brewing for a while and the various competing groups are actively using the mass media to disseminate compromising material on their opponents. There have been several instances recently of television cameras capturing officials from Aliev's NSC arresting interior ministry personnel on charges of corruption.

Likewise interior ministry operations to arrest NSC staff in the act of accepting bribes have been caught on camera.

With increasing frequency these inter-clan squabbles have drawn in the most senior officials, such as Khitrin and Suleymenov.

Nazarbaev, meanwhile, prefers to let the feuds rumble on, allowing the various factions to fight it out among themselves thereby preventing any one group securing enough power to pose a threat to his position.

The president's reluctance to remove the now utterly discredited Suleymenov indicates his concern over the growing authority of his son-in-law.

But such infighting at the highest levels of Kazakstan's security organs is ultimately damaging to the interests of the country and its citizens.

Just recently an attempt to arrest a group of suspected guerrillas in Almaty was botched as a direct result of the break down between the interior ministry and the NSC. According to the official version of events the guerrillas are linked to the Uygur Ozatlik Tashlakhty, a group fighting for an independent Uygur state in neighbouring north west China.

Suleymanov led the operation himself and refused to call on the support of the NSC's Arystan special anti-terrorist forces. The operation was poorly executed, all the guerrillas were killed and six interior ministry personnel injured.

Dosym Satpaev is IWPR project editor in Kazakstan