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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: 266 - (27/02/03)
The president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, is crowing over his good fortune. The Americans have got rid of his bitterest enemies, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), for him and are paying for the privilege into the bargain, some US$160m. Since the IMU nearly succeeded in assassinating him several years ago, he has every reason to be grateful.
He explained on national radio recently, still the surest means of reaching the widest audience in the poor far-flung Central Asian country: "The US has played a major role in eliminating the Taleban and the machinery of terrorism. In a sudden blow they have liberated Uzbekistan from all military and ideological menace of aggression. I think that they will be here for as long as it is necessary for them to protect us."
Karimov is obviously immensely gratified that Washington since 9:11 has adopted the geopolitical doctrine that he has long made the credo of his regime - that the Islamicist fundamentalists are the enemy of order and stability in his part of the world, Central Asia. A determined use of force is essential to combat them.
The Uzbek government has been struggling with radical opposition Islamic groups that have sought to capitalise on citizens' discontent with the government's harsh persecution of any dissent. The main target of repression is the Islamic fundamentalist movement, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which operates in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well. Repression quells individual terrorists, but promotes collective terrorism as a reaction.
The Russians give way to American hyperpower
Karimov realises that the US has far bigger issues at stake then Uzbekistan. Control of Iraq and the world oil industry is one prize; a new scenario in the Middle East another, in which age-old enmities could perhaps be transcended, if not resolved.
He also knows that the Islamicists themselves have a larger agenda. To topple ex-Soviet relics such as himself (as they surely see him) is but a prelude to the Islamicisation of Central Asia and hence of the world. Karimov does not regard himself as a stooge of Moscow at all; and he is right not to. He has steered his country in an independent direction free from Moscow. Inviting the US in is to propel the Russians out; and the Kremlin knows it well.
It is also, as he clearly sees, to end the pipedream of the Islamicists once and for all. But it is not to be without its fell implications for his idea of the future of Uzbekistan all the same; here is where he may well have miscalculated. Once in, the Americans are extremely reluctant to leave. Their airbase at Khanabad, from which the Taleban were ousted from northern Afghanistan, may be the thin end of the wedge for Karimov's regime with no less fatal consequences.
Karimov would never have feared that the US was a far greater danger to his regime than IMU. But that may well prove to be his undoing.
The US Republicans of the far hawkish right now in charge in Washington have a core set of beliefs - and one of them is a devout belief in liberal-democracy. They remember that the US was constructed as a republic in revolt against a monarchy, that of George III, whose legitimacy depended entirely on his hereditary right to rule. Whatever else is Karimov's claim to govern Uzbekistan than that?
Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher, defined the papacy as "the ghost of the Roman Empire seated crowned upon the grave thereof." What else is Karimov's regime if not "the ghost of the Soviet empire over Central Asia, seated ensconced in its heartland, upon the grave thereof?
That this is not just fantasy became clear in March 2002. The pressure from Washington led the Uzbek regime to sign a joint declaration of vital moment in which it promised to assure (doubtless very much tongue in cheek): "a strong and open civil society, respect for human-rights and human liberties, a true multiparty system, free and equal elections, political plurality, diversity of opinion and free expression of different opinions." Added to this tall agenda were the independence of the media and the freedom of justice, in other words the rule of law.
All this represents nothing less than a programme of revolution, such as shook the Americas in 1776. Letting the Americans in is a dangerous affair.
Washington has kept the Uzbek regime to its word; well as much as it can. At the beginning of the year, Tashkent abolished censorship and officially authorised a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in defence of human rights. Colin Powell, US secretary of State, has evoked before congress "substantial and continuous progress" in the matter of human rights and of liberal democracy. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs stress that progress has been limited and that further pressure from Washington is requisite. This is going to be a pressure more relentless than that of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Karimov, fortunately for those Uzbeks who believe in democracy, did not know what he was doing.
The Uzbeks are discovering that letting in the Americans has something irreversible about it. It is not just that once in, they show no indication of going away. The Uzbek Government imagines that that is a good thing for them, that they have a permanent guarantee of their security. The key thing is that they are showing distinct signs of intending to take over and tell the Uzbeks how to comport themselves.
The Americans are fervent believers in the superiority of their way of life and its credo of human conduct and political governance, liberty, equality before the rule of law and the Rights of Man. They have a distinct tendency to seize the moral high ground and dictate to people in their power what they ought to do. This is especially so with people whom they regard as backward or benighted or indeed both.
The Japanese discovered that in 1945-51. The Uzbeks are beginning to do so now. They may soon be wondering if the US, having crushed Saddam, is not going to start ruling their part of the world with the overbearing manner he employed to rule Iraq.
The key fact is that the US needed Uzbekistan as a front-line state in the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, which involved a war against the enemy of Uzbek-Afghan war leader Dostum, namely the Taleban. Once won, at least in Afghanistan, to the satisfaction of the US, it could pull nearly all its soldiers out and prepare for the real kill - Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Uzbekistan became marginal once again, a marginal outpost of empire, perhaps, but part of it all the same.
There may be just the teeniest bit of anxiety and regret on the Uzbek side when they reflect that, having rid their republic of any troops from the Russian Republic in the 1990s, they now have foreign troops back again, albeit from a long way away.
Miss Jones in town
The US Assistant Secretary of State, a lieutenant of Colin Powell's, Miss Elizabeth Jones, came to town in January and did not mince her words. She expressed her concern about "the human rights situation in the Central Asian nation that has been an important ally in the war on terrorism."
She recognised that there had been some progress in the last year, particularly the registration of an independent human rights group and the invitation granted to a UN torture envoy. But these were offset by "very unfortunate recent events including the gruesome death of four prisoners at the hands of their jailors."
She warned that improvement of the human rights situation was crucial for the former Soviet republic's security. "I believe it's very important for the security of Uzbekistan that human rights issues be addressed in the interests of the people of Uzbekistan in order to assure their safety and in order to assure their adherence to the government," she stressed, quoted by AP. This de-coded, means the patronage of the West is to some extent dependent on progress in human rights in the country.
Meanwhile, Jones also said that she had a lengthy discussion about Iraq with Uzbek President, Islam Karimov. "It's clear that Uzbekistan has fundamentally the same position on Iraq as the United States," she said.
Uzbekistan has been hosting hundreds of US troops involved in operations in neighbouring Afghanistan since October 2001. During her recent visit to the state, Jones also met the Uzbek foreign, defence and interior ministers.
Miss Jones switched tack by assailing Uzbekistan's economic record. "We believe that some of the recent economic policies adopted by the government of Uzbekistan are counterproductive and incompatible with moves toward a free market," she commented upon completion of her talks with top officials in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Jones noted that new restrictions on trade imposed by Uzbek authorities last summer and the recent closure of borders with neighbouring countries blocking cross-border trade, had jeopardised economic progress. "I encouraged the officials I met to reverse these policies," said Jones, who oversees European and Eurasian Affairs at the State Department.
The economy is faring reasonably will despite these restrictions. The dirigiste state-run economy could not be more different than the laissez-faire model of the US, but is compatible with market economics in foreign trade. Whether it is in foreign investment is another matter, FDI still being exiguous.
SamKochAvto to launch Land Rover
Uzbekistan plans to launch production of Land Rovers at the Uzbek-Turkish joint venture SamKochAvto in Samarkand, Interfax News Agency reported.
The project, which is included in Uzbekistan's 2003 investment programme, is currently being drafted and, according to preliminary figures, may cost US$7.67m. The projected capacity of Land Rover production has remained undisclosed due to commercial secrecy. Parts for the assembly would be sent from Turkey. To this effect, a loan from Turkey's ExIm-Bank may be raised.
French company wins tender to build Uzbek gas treatment station
France's Sofregaz [consulting and engineering company] has won a US$98m tender to build a booster compression station for the Zevardy, Kultak, and Pamuk gas fields in the southern Kashkadarya Region of Uzbekistan, a spokesman with the Uzbek national oil and gas company, Uzbekneftegaz, told Prime-TASS News Agency on 18th February.
The contract between Uzbekneftegaz and Sofregaz is expected to be signed in the second quarter of 2003. The contract will be financed with loans from foreign banks, including French ones.
The annual capacity of the station is expected at 10m cu.m.
Aral Sea desalting project to be initiated
An Uzbek-Austrian project on supplying the Aral Sea area residents with quality drinking water is expected to commence this year, New Europe reports. Within the framework of the project, the equipment for desalting water to be installed will work with the help of solar and wind energy and have the capacity to provide drinking water up to 600 people.
The project will be implemented by the Agency on Science and technologies within the Cabinet of ministers of Uzbekistan and Austrian Company ATB TBB. The Austrian government will support the project and the Uzbek side will conduct initial works and participate in designing the water desalting installation. The Austrian research centre, Arsenal Research, will do the certification and examination of the project.
The project will be implemented in other regions of the country after the initial examination of the equipment in real-life environment.
Tashkent uses IBRD loan for rural schemes
For the current year, Uzbekistan is planning to use US$7.3m of an IBRD loan for a Rural Enterprise Support Project, the Agricultural Ministry press service recently announced. Interfax News Agency reported that under the programme of investment projects for 2003, implemented with foreign investments against Uzbek government guarantees, IBRD lending to rural enterprises will total US$36.1m. Up to now, US$3.18m has been spent on advancing agriculture.
The IBRD extended the loan for a term of 20 years, including a five-year grace period.
MINERALS & METALS
Uzbekistan calls tender for gold deposits exploration
The Uzbek government has announced an international tender for the exploration and development of three gold deposits with combined reserves of about 350 tonnes of gold, a official with the government was quoted as saying by Prime-TASS News Agency.
Additionally a tender was announced to reconstruction and put Uzbekistan's Angren gold refinery back into operation. Under the terms of the tender, bids will be accepted until April 1st, while tender offers are to be submitted no later than June 30th.
The results of the tender are to be announced by the end of August. Two of the deposits, Qizololmasoy and Qochbuloq in Tashkent Region, are ready for development and have combined reserves of about 300 tonnes. The third one, the Jamansay area in the northeast of Uzbekistan, is being auctioned for exploratory works. Its prospective reserves stand at about 50 tonnes.
According to Uzbekistan's Geology and Mineral Resources committee, Uzbekistan has 41 gold deposits including 33 place gold deposits. At the moment only nine deposits are being developed, yielding about 80 tonnes of gold a year.
Uzbekistan urges new railway bypassing Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan wants to accelerate the construction of a new railroad bypassing Turkmenistan. The new Tashguzar-Boisun-Kumkurgan railway will enable Uzbek trains to travel directly to the country's southern region, without having to travel through 185 kilometres of Turkmenistan's territory. The cabinet's press service said that such a step will "help create a conducive environment for improving the country's transportation, and will help intensify the economic and social development of the Kashkadarya and Surkhandarya regions," Interfax News Agency reported. "It will also speed up the development of deposits and will have a positive impact on the social infrastructure in the southern regions," they added.
The railroad's construction will be financed by the company Railroads of Uzbekistan as well as with budget funds and foreign investments. The project will proceed in two phases and will be fully completed by 2007.
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