Stratfor's 2018 Annual Forecast said that Uzbekistan would attempt to alleviate socio-economic pressure by enacting economic reforms to court foreign investment. The recently announced decision to sideline a powerful conservative force in Uzbek politics opens the door to further reform in the country, confirming that analysis.
One of the most powerful men in Central Asia has just been forced into retirement. According to unnamed senior government officials, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev dismissed the long-serving National Security Service chief Rustam Inoyatov. And on Jan. 31, Mirziyoyev announced that Inoyatov would soon be replaced by Ihtiyor Abdullaev, a former prosecutor general with a strong loyalty to Mirziyoyev.
Inoyatov’s dismissal is a significant but not unexpected move from Mirziyoyev. Known as one of the most powerful figures in Uzbekistan, Inoyatov served 23 years as the chief of Uzbek security services and had close ties to the former Uzbek president, Islam Karimov. When Karimov died suddenly from a brain aneurysm in late 2016, Inoyatov and Mirziyoyev were both in the running to replace him. But even after Mirziyoyev edged his way into the presidency, Inoyatov remained in power as the last remaining challenger from the previous regime.
In recent months, Mirziyoyev has made Inoyatov's security services the target of harsh criticism, particularly in a December 2017 speech where he called for major reforms to the agency. And that tough talk was backed up by action, as Mirziyoyev worked to curb Inoyatov's influence by cracking down on black market currency trading and cutting the pervasive security details provided to diplomats. All of these developments made it a clear question of when, not if, Mirziyoyev would make his move to sideline Inoyatov.
The security chief's dismissal is a major step in Mirziyoyev's consolidation of power, and will likely lead to a deeper overhaul of the Uzbek security structure. As the leader of Uzbekistan's much more conservative faction, Inoyatov may have opposed the president's many plans for change and liberalization in Uzbekistan. Now that Inoyatov is out of the picture, Uzbekistan could begin to accelerate economic and political reforms in the country as Mirziyoyev continues to establish himself and his legacy.