Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov has set up a presidential commission to supervise the law enforcement agencies, but NBCentralAsia observers are npt holding out much hope of genuine reform given that the security ministries are still headed by the old guard.
After making the last ministerial appointments in his new government on March 5, Berdymuhammedov set about redefining the powers of the various security services.
Provision of security at key military and civilian sites, which used to be done by the interior ministry, has been handed over to the Presidential Guards Service, while the traffic police have been transferred from the National Security Ministry, MNB, to the interior ministry.
The president also set up the supervisory body, a state commission which he will chair and which will examine submissions regarding the activities of the various law enforcement agencies.
Local observers expect the restructuring to go further, to include a reform of the agency that registers foreign nationals will be reformed, and a special prison service will be set up. “This [reform process] is being driven by purely pragmatic considerations; by a desire to manage these agencies more effectively,” said an NBCentralAsia source close to government circles.
Despite the structural shifts, observers are not expecting to see much real change, given that the security services are still headed by the same men where were in charge under the late president Saparmurat Niazov, who died in December 2006. In late February, Berdymuhammedov re-appointed Agageldy Mametgeldyev and Akmamed Rahmanov as defence and interior ministers, respectively. Geldymuhammed Ashirmuhammedov remains head of the MNB and Akmurad Rejepov retains control of the Presidential Guard.
Not only that, but all four have been appointed to the new supervisory commission set up to oversee their agencies. That creates something of an anomaly, given that the commission is supposed to hear complaints from members of the public, and that some of these may relate to abuses committed when Niazov was in power.
“It’s as if they’ve forgotten that these are the same security chiefs who supported the dictatorship, of which millions of people became victims or hostages. And now they are going to fight for these people’s rights?” said one local journalist.
Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Fund, an émigré group based in Bulgaria, said this commission was effectively “a compromise made in response to numerous calls from international organisations”.
She said the commission may well make some positive decisions on criminal cases that have no political subtext, but she noted that people who filed complaints as soon as the commission was set up have not yet had a reply.
Begmedova shares the view of other analysts that the retention of so many Niazov-era security officials does not encourage hope of substantive reforms.
“The appointment of the same people… suggests that [the leadership] is not really serious about improving the law enforcement agencies’ record on human rights,” she said. “The fact that this commission is headed by the president is not enough. He will have the same people reporting to him that Niazov did.”
(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)