21 December 2023


Photo source: Vecher.kz

On November 7, the professional holiday is celebrated by military intelligence officers – people of a closed profession, who should not tell anything about their work even to their relatives. The interlocutor of “Vecherka” is Major General Omirtai Bitimov, who stood at the origins of Kazakhstan’s foreign intelligence service.

Unexpected profession

An ordinary rural teacher, a native of the village never even thought that he would become an intelligence officer and diplomat. One day, a friend persuaded Omirtai to go to the KGB department building on Dzerzhinsky Street, where they filled out questionnaires. A year passed and the head teacher of the school was invited for a final interview in the special service. I studied at the higher courses of the KGB in Minsk and the operational work began.

– I acquired a capacious baggage of knowledge. A new world just opened up for me. And my friend for some reason did not get into the organs,” recalls Omirtai Makashevich.

Later, Bitimov was sent to retraining courses, where he studied oriental languages in depth. In 1978, the Suar Revolution took place in Afghanistan, and the country was torn by internal conflicts. The situation near the southern borders of the USSR was unstable. The Kremlin realized that the Afghan issue had become a priority for a long time. In 1979, Moscow brought its protégé Babrak Karmal to power by force.

– I never realized that Afghanistan had so many languages and dialects. It was extremely difficult to serve. Food and fuel supplies were intermittent. Roads were often closed. Food was delivered to Kabul by air. Soviet military men were haunted by various diseases. As the internal situation intensified, friends – KGB operatives and border guards – died nearby.

Nevertheless, the assigned tasks were carried out.

– My Afghan partners and I set up illegal structures in places controlled by the mujahideen. We had to travel all the provinces,” the veteran recalls.

Then there were new business trips to the troubled country. In total, Bitimov gave 14 years to Afghanistan as a KGB-KNB officer and later as a diplomat.

– It is a paradox that the Soviet Army’s greatest enemy, Ahmad Shah Masud, later became an ally, fighting the Taliban,” the interlocutor says about the vicissitudes of politics.

Subsequent trips were easier for Omirtai Bitimov. Old Afghan acquaintances rose to ministers and generals. Contacts have been established up to the level of the president. Knowing that clan ties, tribal peculiarities and sentiments are important here, it was easier for the diplomat to build relations.

– At the same time, there was a period of unfair treatment of former friends. After the collapse of the USSR, I automatically remained in the Russian Foreign Ministry. Najibullah left power, and Babrak Karmal applied to our diplomatic mission for a visa. He was fleeing the mujahideen, like many Afghan communists. Suddenly, Foreign Minister Kozyrev said, “Old friends are to be abandoned.” I, as an employee of the consulate general, still punched Karmal’s visa. For a month we hid the former head of the country and only through Boris Yeltsin we were able to solve the issue,” recalls Omirtai Makashevich.

Invisible front

After returning to Kazakhstan after a period of work in the Foreign Ministry, Bitimov was offered to head the main intelligence department, on the basis of which the Barlau SVR would later be formed. He was at the origin of the formation of an independent intelligence service. Few of the leaders, who worked in the DZK, solved one of the main tasks – the deployment of foreign intelligence points. He received the support of KNB Chairman Dzhenisbek Dzhumanbekov in this direction. Our own intelligence personnel were strengthened, and our technical equipment improved.

– I learned a lot while working in Moscow in the PGU of the USSR KGB. The lessons learned from my mentor, Yuri Leontievich Kukhta, came in handy. It is not easy to be a manager, and intelligence, like counterintelligence, is not easy and creative work,” says the interviewee.

Behind the beautiful wrapper and the halo of romance of the profession lurk various difficulties and dangers. The veteran of the special service remembers how the unknown frightened him before his first trip to Afghanistan. Some fellow students refused to go on various pretexts.

Where the service is

Omirtay Bitimov, who has traveled to various countries and cities, from Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif to Ankara, is convinced that a scout should work where the service is interested, not where it is convenient for him.

– Even when I was training my own guys in countries with unstable political situations, I always told them not to be afraid. A mission is associated with risk. Somewhere there will be an explosion, something else may happen. If you refuse now, you win in a small way. But later a wide field of opportunities will open up.

I remember a case when an employee, after a retraining course, succumbed to the influence of relatives. He began to refuse to travel abroad. I was indignant. How so? He took someone else’s place, because other candidates had been selected. He wasted time and money. I got him fired on principle. It’s dangerous to entrust a difficult task to someone who fails even in the face of minor difficulties. An intelligence officer without a core, finding himself alone in the “field”, can simply evade the real work and will send to the Center “fake”, – says the former head of intelligence.

Once in Kabul, a young operative resented the fact that there was to be an event in the old city. He said: “It’s full of poor people and filth, and I’m a diplomat”. The resident sternly retorted: “You’re not a second secretary, you’re a shit yourself… You’ll be where I say and where they direct you.”

Later, when he became ambassador, Omirtai Bitimov, unlike other heads of diplomatic missions, assessed threats realistically. He allowed diplomats to bring their families to Kabul. He held meetings in different places and traveled without guards, although the situation changed daily.

Successful work in the diplomatic field largely contributed to the rapprochement between Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. It is not surprising that Omirtai Bitimov received the highest Afghan award – the medal “Mir Majidi Khan” from the hands of President Ashraf Ghani. It was added to the Order of Red Star, Orders “Dank” and “Dostyk” and many medals received during the Soviet era for special assignments in Afghanistan.

– I am happy that I worked in intelligence for many years. Each time has its own achievements and problems, and only some can be told about… Today, we veterans try to maintain the patriotic spirit of current employees. In this regard, there is an understanding of the NSC leadership, which always stands for the purity of the ranks. Happy holiday to all my colleagues! – says Omirtai Makashevich.

The article was published in №132 from 04.11.2023 of the newspaper “Vecherniy Almaty” under the title “Scouts are not born”.