View Full Version : Why Is Uzbekistan Losing Interest In The West?

12-02-2005, 10:05 AM
Why is Uzbekistan losing interest in the West?


14:27 | 02/ 12/ 2005

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Vladimir Simonov.) Uzbekistan, the strategic kingpin of Central Asia who feels insulted by the West, has decided to order foreign troops out of its territory.

The other day, Uzbekistan prohibited NATO allies to use its land and airspace for the operation in neighboring Afghanistan. The Uzbek authorities insist that the allied forces, above all German and Spanish, leave the country by January 1, 2006. This year, Uzbekistan also told the United States, which is involved in a separate anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, to leave the Khanabad military base. Washington pulled out.

NATO and U.S. spokesmen describe this as Tashkent's overdramatic reaction to their criticism of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. They assure everyone who agrees to listen that this would not affect the logistics of the operation in Afghanistan. But independent military observers do not share this conviction.

It is interesting that Washington and the EU think that criticism of a democratic situation in some country may force its authorities to cool relations to the near-freezing point. I can name many states that hold the bottom places on the U.S. State Department's list of civil freedoms yet maintain friendly relations with Washington. So, Washington and the governing structures of the European Union are not trying to seriously analyze the reasons for the fallout with Tashkent for fear of getting unpleasant results.

In the early 1990s, Uzbekistan regained its independence and became a confident player on the Central Asian market. Its natural resources, above all cotton, uranium and gold, encouraged many Western companies to open their branches, while NATO military experts were attracted by the favorable geostrategic location of Uzbekistan that allowed monitoring the vast territories of Russia and China.

Before the 9/11 tragedy in New York, Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, an experienced oriental politician, offered the U.S. military and security forces the possibilities they could not hope to get in any other Central Asian country. Few people know that the Pentagon and CIA started hunting for bin Laden from the territory of Uzbekistan before invading Afghanistan. Penetration teams were sent and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles took off from Uzbekistan. Tashkent embraced the Untied States after the 9/11 tragedy, allowing it to use the Khanabad air force base and the Kokaity auxiliary airfield. At the same time, the German air force settled at the base in Termez. Combined, this firmly incorporated Uzbekistan into the system of covering the military-strategic interests of the U.S. and NATO in Central Asia.

Tashkent's foreign policy was based on the seesaw principle. From 1999 to 2002, Uzbekistan withdrew from the Collective Security Treaty signed with Russia and several other post-Soviet states, and joined the GUUAM group (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova). President-for-life Islam Karimov is acting on the British principle: the country cannot have permanent friends, only permanent interests. In that period Uzbekistan's interests obviously moved toward the Untied States.

But the affair did not come to fruition. The formal reason for the fallout was the events in Andijan where people died during the suppression of public unrest. The Uzbek rulers and the West differed in their assessment of the number of casualties and the nature of the unrest. The U.S. and the EU saw the Andijan events as a ruthless suppression of a social outcry by Tashkent dictators. Islam Karimov put the blame on the Akromiya radical Islamic organization and Western instigators.

As it often happens, the truth is somewhere in between. It is true that the revolt was preceded by the trial of a group of local businessmen who, as Akromiya members, were funded by the Islamic underground. But the social and economic situation in Uzbekistan, which has the biggest population in Central Asia, is far from stable. Over 80% of Uzbeks and other nationalities live below the poverty line, of whom some 40% earn no more than $1 a month. The virus of radicalism could not find a better breeding ground.

However, it was not the issue of human rights that ruined the once friendly Tashkent-Washington relations. The root cause is the specific mentality of the current U.S. administration, which regards its clients across the world mostly as temporary props for pursuing American policy. The old and useless ones are mercilessly discarded. Washington did not make it a secret after getting the Uzbek bases that it regarded Islam Karimov as exhausted human material that should be replaced with a more controllable leader.

This is why Washington has taken a series of haughty actions, such as refusal to pay a respectable fee for the lease of the Uzbek bases. It also introduced economic and political sanctions against the Tashkent authorities, eventually threatening to institute proceedings against Karimov in the International Court.

The United States seem to be pursuing a policy that is a carbon copy of the Soviet Union's of the 1920s and 1930s. At that time the Kremlin called for staging revolutions to replace old regimes across the world with a socialist model, which the Soviet ideologists regarded as the top of social justice. Today the U.S., believing that its notion of democracy is infallible, is using all instruments, both military and international legal ones, to change regimes and leaders at its discretion. But Uzbekistan proved to be a hard nut to crack.