For more than 25 years, Uzbekistan’s National Security Service (SNB) was the most feared law enforcement body in Uzbekistan. So when Shavkat Mirziyoev took over as president and soon moved to not only rein in the SNB but criticize and humiliate the security service for years of abuse, the people of Uzbekistan welcomed the SNB's relegation.
But a new state body has seemingly emerged to take its place. The long-dormant National Guard of Uzbekistan has been reformed, and its powers are growing to the point where it may already be a more formidable institution than the SNB ever was.
Uzbekistan’s National Guard was formed in 1992 and was part of the country’s armed forces. Its tasks were to guard strategic objects and protect “especially important people." There were believed to be some 1,000 members of the National Guard.
In August 2017, Mirziyoev issued an order removing the National Guard from the military and giving it independent status. Since then, successive orders, decrees, and amendments to the criminal and administrative codes have broadened its mandate.
The National Guard's website shows that it's still responsible for the “protection and defense of objects of state importance, vital facilities, diplomatic, consular and other representative offices of foreign states” but also the “property of individuals and legal entities.”
But there is much more.
The National Guard now provides “assistance in ensuring the protection of public order and security in cities and towns” and participates “in the prevention of acts of terrorism and extremism.”
And not only that.
The National Guard now also takes part in “ensuring the territorial integrity and defense of the country” and controls the “import, export, purchase, storage, and the use of firearms and hunting weapons.”
Following amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code in July, the National Guard can conduct pretrial investigations, detain people, bring them to a National Guard branch, and hold them.
Even if their numbers were around 1,000 just two years ago, they are many thousands now. Members of the National Guard are on duty throughout the country.
During the recent protest over home demolitions in Uzbekistan’s western Khorezm Province, the National Guard and the police arrived to try to disperse a crowd of hundreds that was blocking a main highway. Some protesters noted the police urged the demonstrators to leave the road while members of the National Guard were physical in removing, and in some cases detaining, people.
So who is overseeing this mighty new security body?
The head of the National Guard is Bahodir Tashmatov, a former deputy defense minister, chief of the Joint Staff of Uzbekistan’s Armed Forces and briefly head of Uzbekistan’s Security Council.
His deputy is Batyr Tursunov. Tursunov’s career in security services stretches back to the 1980s, when he was in the KGB. After independence in 1991, Tursunov became chief of Uzbekistan’s counterterrorism department within the Interior Ministry. During this time, Tursunov had a reputation for putting rights activists and opposition figures in prison.
Tursunov is also the father of Oybek Tursunov, who is married to Saida Mirziyoeva, the president's eldest daughter.