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Rakhat Aliev - Crime Fighter

General Rakhat Aliev, keen to follow in his father-in-law Nursultan Nazarbaev's footsteps to the Kazakstan presidency, seems to know few limits when it comes to self-promotion
By IWPR

Television viewers were recently treated to the strange spectacle of Kazak "Rambos" arriving back in Almaty with an AN-12 transport plane allegedly seized during a raid on the Congo.


The plane had been sold to the Congo - apparently in breach of Kazak law - by the Infrakos company. According to a statement from the National Security Committee, NSC, around a dozen Kazak commandos were dispatched to the Congo to seize the plane and fly it back to Almaty.


Television cameras were waiting at the airport, where the commandos - for some reason wearing black masks - posed for journalists. Presiding over the whole performance was Rakhat Aliev, number two at the NSC and son-in-law of the president, who praised the success of the operation and promised that the security council would not allow any more state property to be sold off for a song.


This was only the latest in a series of media episodes designed to enhance the image of the NSC. In each case Aliev and his cohorts are seen fighting evil, in the form of drug dealers, or corrupt businessmen engaged in ripping-off the country.


The NSC is presented as the only body capable of fighting corruption, which - it is implied - extends to the police, custom officials and tax inspectors. Aliev's image-makers are clearly hoping a more important subtext will take root in viewers' minds - if General Aliev can work such wonders in his own department, then imagine what he could achieve if he were running the country? Kazak pundits are convinced Aliev is preparing the ground ahead of an attempt on higher office.


The idea of a dozen camouflaged Kazak commandos turning up in the Congo, seizing a vast aeroplane, flying through the airspace of several countries, touching down to refuel at least once, before reaching Almaty, beggars belief.


But even if it did all happen as the NSC claims, questions arise about the legality of such an action. None of the Kazak mass media have paused to ask whether the special services should be behaving like vigilantes. Moreover, no one has wondered if the aeroplane in question was worth such enormous effort.


Aliev's priority seems to be promoting himself as a strongman, prepared to bend the rules to reclaim stolen Kazak property. But the consequences of this adventure could be far-reaching.


A country which despatches special forces and uses violence to resolve international property disputes could be deemed a terrorist state. So while the action may have been brave and daring, it was neither sober nor well thought out.


Which has led some to reach quite a different conclusion than the one Aliev intended. By showing off his youth, inexperience and legal ignorance, Aliev has raised a question mark over whether he is fit to be the next chief of a department like the NSC. Moreover, the episode could have dented any presidential ambitions he may have had.


But there is yet another version of events, which pins the misjudgement not on Aliev, but on his spin doctors and their ill-judged scam to boost their boss's tough-guy image. According to this interpretation prior agreement was reached with the new owners of the AN-12 ahead of the mission.


The rest of the drama depended on Aliev's acting skills and his subordinates' ability to keep a straight face while they reeled off their improbable story.


This version would explain why the NSC is insisting that no violence was used to reclaim the plane; why there have been no complaints from the Congolese; and why Kazakstan has not been accused of state terrorism.


The image of a just, honest and courageous leader was conceived last year, when the Aliev-controlled Novoye Pokolenie (New Generation) newspaper compared him to a an character from a well-known soap opera, who bravely takes on the Italian Mafia.


And Aliev's publicity machine is not about to rest on its laurels. The filming of Crossroads, a popular Kazak soap opera, is being hurried along to allow filming to begin on a new drama series about the NSC. While the money for the series does not come directly from the council itself, it is thought the time-honoured Kazak practice of "voluntary" (read: enforced) commercial sponsorship has been used to pay for it.


Of course, while few doubt that the president's son-in-law is nursing serious presidential ambitions, the more important question is what the president himself wants. If Nazarbaev decides to back Aliev, his public relations campaign will undoubtedly grow apace. If Nazarbaev decides, however, on a different successor, Aliev will no doubt abandon his spin-doctors and fall into line.


Sergei Duvanov is a regular IWPR contributor.


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