Important news rarely comes from countries whose names end with "stan," but the hospitalization of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov after he suffered a stroke last weekend is noteworthy indeed. Karimov, 78, who has run the country since 1988, has done nothing to ensure a smooth succession; and his country is probably the strongest bastion against Islamist extremism in Central Asia.

"Fasten your seatbelts," Gleb Pavlovsky, a former policy adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin who is now one of his opponents, posted on Facebook after Karimov was reported dead on Monday night. The reports, which first surfaced on the Fergana News portal — a Russian-language site that is probably the best source of day-to-day information on the authoritarian black-box state — were later denied by the Uzbek authorities. The latest available official information is from the presidential press service, which says that Karimov is in a hospital, and from Karimov's younger daughter Lola's Instagram account, which says he's had a stroke and is in intensive care.

So the president of Uzbekistan is officially undead, but very likely in the twilight zone dictators enter when they are about to give up power. Even if he has died, that will not be announced until there is a successor.