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uzbekistan

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  UZBEKISTAN

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
447,400

Population
25,155,064

Principal
ethnic groups
Uzbeks 71.4%
Russians 8.3%
Tajiks 4.7%
Kazaks 4.1%

Capital
Tashkent

Currency
Uzbek Sum

President
Islam Karimov

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Background:
Russia conquered Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1925. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry. Independent since 1991, the country seeks to gradually lessen its dependence on agriculture while developing its mineral and petroleum reserves. Current concerns include insurgency by Islamic militants based in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, a non-convertible currency, and the curtailment of human rights and democratisation.

Update No: 255

The Uzbek republic, or rather its repressive regime, has let the Americans into the country in a big way, with momentous consequences for its future. Actually, they were already in extensive cooperation with Uzbek security forces in anti-terrorist operations before 9:11. 
Uzbekistan is now part of the US security zone, with bases across Central Asia. The strategy was already unfolding under the Clinton Administration, which did a volte-face in its policy towards Uzbekistan, previously highly critical on human rights, once it began to appreciate the strength of the Islamicist threat in Central Asia. Clinton evidently now thinks that his failure to take out al-Qaeda and bin Laden was the biggest setback of his presidency. In April 2000 his administration announced plans to expand efforts with the Uzbek government to improve border security in Central Asia, under the initiative 'The Central Asian Security Initiative.' This is still in place.
Events since then have, however, escalated the scale of the US - Uzbek cooperation enormously. The US used Uzbek air bases to monitor northern Afghanistan during its war with al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Special forces operated from the common border of 80 miles.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has been the immediate threat, a 3,000-strong body of Islamic fundamentalists, engaged in drug-running, kidnapping and other outrages. Previously, they operated out of northern Afghanistan. But they are now dispersed and must be seeking other sanctuaries. In the vast, lonely reaches of the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush this is not an impossibility. Yet it may be difficult for them to mount raids into former Soviet Central Asia again. Time will tell. But their chances of toppling the regime, never very good, are now zero. Nobody likes a loser in Central Asia, as events in Afghanistan have been recently reminding us. 
Actually the IMU are a boon to Karimov's regime. They are now certain to get nowhere and they justify his repressive measures, not only to the mainly secular, or at least not fundamentalist, population, but also now to the Americans. 
The IMF is considering a resumption of loans, while other international agencies now have it on their lists. But the main thing is simply that Uzbekistan is now known about more in the West. 
Clearly Karinov has pulled off a diplomatic triumph by aligning his country so emphatically with the US in the anti-terrorist coalition, ignoring pleas by Putin made on September 12th-14th to remain more aloof. But this could have profound consequences, unpredicted by him at the time.
One distinct possibility is that Uzbekistan, could become what it deserves to be, a magnet for tourists. Astride the old Silk route and former site of the empire of Tamurlaine the Great, Uzbekistan could become a great tourist centre. With Samarkard, Bokhara, Khiva and other exotic cities it has some of the finest Islamic architecture in the Moslem world. It represents a rather more acceptable face of the great religion than al-Qaeda and bin Laden, or their IMU allies.
It will be a rich irony indeed, if the final outcome of IMU's activities will be to have given a huge impetus to the Westernisation of Uzbekistan, as not just the US and its armed forces, but its civilians and those from Europe too and Japan begin to discover the possibilities of this Central Asian outpost of Islamic civilisation. That would make for better relations between Islam and the West, not the souring of relations on which the fanatics have been banking their hopes.

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AUTOMOBILES

Uzbek-Rezina Teknika speeds up JV


Uzbek-Rezina Teknika, a major Uzbek industrial company, in cooperation with Germany's UnionMatex and Company Matador of Slovakia, is planning to move quickly on setting up a joint venture to produce radial tyres for cars and 500,000 diagonal tyres for truck annually, New Europe has reported.
According to the latest developments on the project, cited by Uzreport, the feasibility study is nearing completion and it is being conducted by UzChimProject, a local project engineering group. According to the initial findings, the total capital cost of the project will be in the region of more the 40.9m Euros.

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ENVIRONMENT

Scientists say concerned about Turkmen artificial lake

Scientists in Uzbekistan are voicing serious concerns over the ecological and environmental effects of a new artificial lake being created in the eastern part of Turkmenistan near the Uzbek border, Karina Insarov, an IWPR contributor, reported. Observers fear the "Golden Age Lake," which is being built in the Karashor depression of the Karakum desert, will fuel political tensions in Central Asia over water distribution. When completed, the new man made lake, the personal initiative of the Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov, will amount to 3,460 sq.km. with a depth of 130m. The project will cost Ashghabat US$6bn. 
According to Turkmen engineers, it will increase the amount of cultivated land in Turkmenistan from 1.8m to 2.2 m hectares. Yet Uzbek scientists say the project could have dire consequences for certain areas of Uzbekistan. Despite Turkmenistan's assurances that the lake will only be filled with discharge waters, there are concerns in Uzbekistan that it will also be supplied by the Amundarya River, the main water artery for the countries of Central Asia, which even at present levels struggles to provide for all the inhabitants of the region. 
According to Professor Erejep Kurbanbaev, the director of the non-government Eco-Priaralya organisation, the shrinking of the Aral Sea has directly affected the Priaral region, which has suffered catastrophic water shortages with knock-on social, economic and ecological effects. "The ecological catastrophe has brought about a drastic worsening of the living conditions," Kurbanbaev stressed. "A large number of industries have closed and many people have left the region. The Turkmen authorities are apparently unconcerned by the fears that have been expressed over their new lake, which they intend to complete by 2004. If Ashgabat does indeed go ahead with the project, it will inevitably lead to tensions with Uzbekistan."

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INDUSTRY

BAT says Uzbek figures hit by trading environment

British American Tobacco (BAT), parent company of Uzbek-British Tobacco Joint Venture UzBAT, recently announced its worldwide financial results for 2001, New Europe has reported. One of Uzbekistan's top five major investors, BAT generally produced good results for the international markets. 
However, in terms of Uzbekistan, it has pointed out that UzBAT's results were adversely affected by the trading environment in Uzbekistan, indicating that Uzbek operations produced lower results than expected. Overall, operating profit, before goodwill amortisation and exceptional items, was eight per cent higher with good performances across the Group, maintaining British American Tobaco's record for steady growth. Pre-tax profit increased 36 per cent, while adjusted earnings per share were ahead by 9 per cent. International brand volumes, which includes Uzbekistan, grew by almost 3 per cent.

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