Uzbekistan is facing big changes. The basis of stability, the guarantor of the same unwritten agreement - Islam Karimov - is old and will inevitably leave his post. He still has not appointed a clear successor, and therefore the beginning of an open fight for power between the clans is only a matter of time. Let's try to predict it.
Key actors of the coming civil strife
The basis of the division of Uzbekistan into clans is a territorial feature, and then a national one. This allows clans to be sufficiently flexible and, if necessary, to accept members of other nationalities into their ranks, provided that the newly adopted share the values and goals of the clan.
In total, according to various estimates, from five to ten clans arose in Uzbekistan on the ruins of the Kokand, Khiva and Bukhara khanates. The strongest are the Tashkent and Samarkand clans, whose representatives occupy key posts in the republic. The positions of Dzhizakians, Bukharians, Khorezmians, Kashkadaryans, Surkhandaryans and Karakalpaks look weaker. Weak clans have lost their independence and serve the interests of larger ones. But even large clans are heterogeneous, as they consist of different groups.
Separately, it should be said about the Fergana clan. It originates from the descendants of the rulers of the Kokand Khanate, and therefore its representatives are very ambitious and were the most irreconcilable opponents of Islam Karimov. The Andijan unrest of 2005 of the year was supported not only by Western emissaries from NGOs, but also by Ferghana elites, for which they had to pay dearly. Now the Ferghana clan is defeated and divided between Tashkent and Samarkand, but after Karimov’s departure, he may well try to regain independence.
The Tashkent and Samarkand clans fought a long war against each other for the right to exert exceptional influence on the president. The unequivocal winner as a result of the war did not come to light. However, given the starting positions of the parties, the Tashkent people rather won. On the other hand, having learned from bitter experience, Karimov will not allow too much to reduce the influence of the Samarkand clan, to which he formally belongs.
The basis of the welfare of the Samarkand clan is Uzbekistan’s agriculture, which consistently generates export earnings. It is rumored that the owner of the Fergana Valley is a relative of Islam Karimov - Akbar Abdullayev, who controls the order of 70% of the economy of the Fergana region of Uzbekistan.
Representatives of the Tashkent clan gradually strengthened their position in the government and financial sector of the country. So, Rustam Azimov at the beginning of 90-s became the chairman of the newly created Uzbek Innovation Bank "Ipak Yuli". At the moment, Azimov is the deputy prime minister, but he continues to maintain control over the bank through his man, Rustambek Rakhimbekov.
In Uzbekistan, Rustam Azimov, who graduated from a magistracy at Oxford, is positioned as a pro-Western politician with solid ties with banks in the West and Asia. He is also called the most acceptable presidential candidate of Uzbekistan for the United States.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Security Service, which have substantial resources and, most importantly, repressive powers, are trying to carry out their policies in Uzbekistan. However, the security forces are associated with clans and inevitably participate in the protection of their interests. Traditionally, the Samarkand clan had influence on the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Tashkent - on the National Security Service.
Thus, over the years of independence, the actually forced unification of Tashkent and Samarkand people into a single “party of power” took place. However, this unity is kept on an extremely fragile basis: understanding that while Karimov is in power, a thin world is better than a good quarrel.
In turn, Karimov, despite his power, is forced to be an arbiter not only between clans, but also to regularly carry out personnel movements among representatives of his (Samarkand) clan. In order not to provide opportunities for strengthening competitors who want to remove Islam Abduganievich from power.
Pretenders to the throne
Thus, the key contenders for gaining power in the republic are the Tashkent and Samarkand clans, who divided the defeated representatives of the Fergana Valley among themselves.
Tashkent citizens are the current Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyayev and Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov. Despite belonging to the same clan, Mirziyayev and Asimov compete with each other. However, in the press, Rustam Azimov is most often mentioned as a candidate for Karimov’s successor.
Karimov has no heirs, but he has two daughters: Gulnara and Lola. Lola, the youngest daughter in the family, has no ambitions, and therefore, in the division of power, most likely, she will not take part. And he will concentrate on protecting the interests of his husband, the oligarch Timur Tillyayev.
Otherwise, Gulnara behaves. The first problem of Gulnara, preventing her from being elected as head of state, is gender. The second is isolation from the Uzbek realities: after all, Karimova spent most of her life traveling to foreign countries. The third is a very absurd character, which does not contribute to an increase in its rating among the population. However, the key obstacle for Gulnara on the way to the presidential chair is the lack of allies among high-ranking officials.
Recently, Karimov-elder has often criticized pro-Western Azimov, however, she also gets Gulnara herself, who had recently been deprived of diplomatic immunity and forced to defend herself on the basis of corruption.
However, Karimov himself is in no hurry to name specific personalities, which is understandable: having elected a successor, the head of the republic will speed up the political processes in Uzbekistan several times and create additional threats for his clan.
The coming years will be key for Uzbekistan. The future of the republic will depend on the ability of the clans to come to an agreement among themselves again: keeping the system of checks and balances created by Karimov, or creating a new one.
It is unlikely that Gulnara Karimova will be able to take over the reins in her hands: she is too incompetent in matters of government, although she is most acceptable to her father.
The current prime minister of the republic, Shavkat Mirziyayev, has high chances to take the chair of Karimov, but compared to Rustam Azimov, his position looks weaker.
The intrigue with respect to the Uzbek security officials remains: will they prefer to side with the clans or will they try to dictate their terms to the clans? The struggle of the Interior Ministry and the National Security Service for influence on Karimov largely repeated the struggle of the Uzbek clans. However, taking into account some moments of confrontation of the security forces, this option cannot be completely discarded.
The most negative variant of the development of clan enmity is “Afghanization” of Uzbekistan, however, the probability of this is still low. There is no pro-Western opposition in Uzbekistan, opposition politicians expelled to foreign countries have no support from the population, as well as financial resources to fight for power. And therefore do not pose a serious threat.
I believe that next year the key events on which the future of Central Asia will depend, will be the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and the change of ruling elites in Uzbekistan. And if the withdrawal of NATO will inevitably provoke an increase in instability, then the outcome of the clan confrontation is extremely difficult to predict.