Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 296- (26/08/05)
The US is asked to leave
The Uzbek regime has decided to sever its links to the US, giving it six months
notice to quit its airbase in Khanabad in the south near the Afghan border. This
is undoubtedly in reaction to the latest response of Washington to the appalling
events of May 13th.
By permitting his troops to open fire on demonstrators in the eastern city of
Andizhan, Karimov has become the first leader of a former Soviet republic in
recent years to suppress public protests with such ruthless use of lethal force.
Human rights activists estimate that 500 or more people may have been killed in
the violence that erupted on May 13th when anti-government rebels stormed the
town's jail and freed prisoners.
Those deaths show that this authoritarian leader has no intention of becoming
the latest loser in the political protests that have swept the former Soviet
Union in the last 18 months. Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, Leonid Kuchma of
Ukraine and Alsan Akayev of Kyrgyzstan all lost power after deciding not to
deploy troops against demonstrators, which is to their credit and should be a
factor in their future treatment.
Nevertheless, Shevardnadze made a special visit to Tashkent to warn his old
former Politburo chum not to allow Western NGOs, such as the Soros Foundation,
to operate any longer in Uzbekistan. The Soros Foundation there has been asked
to leave too. Western influences are to be flushed out.
For Karimov, the ousting of Akayev in March was particularly ominous as it
proved a pattern of protests developed in Europe could spread to the less
sophisticated Central Asian nations. He accused the Andizhan rebels of wanting
to repeat the Kyrgyz revolt. He blamed Islamist militants for stirring up
trouble and vowed to defend Uzbekistan's "secular path of
At first the Americans seemed accommodating, (there being a very definite chasm
between the Pentagon and the US State department on this issue) making no strong
protests. But events forced their hand. Refugees in Kyrgyzstan were threatened
with a forced return to Uzbekistan - and almost certain death. State Department
officials intervened to organise their flight to Romania, from where they will
be moved on to other countries.
Tashkent realised its period of grace with Washington was over. The US airbase
came to be seen as a Trojan Horse, menacing the regime's security. In addition,
as reported here previously, they had been encouraged by both China and Russia
to close the base down and to cool the relationship with the US.
The long haul
Karimov has long experience of ruling Uzbekistan, the most populous country
in Central Asia with 22m people. Like most other ex-Soviet central Asian
leaders, he came to power as the Communist party chief before the USSR's
collapse. Unlike Akayev and President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakstan, who
both allowed limited economic and political freedom, Karimov has preserved a
strong state backed by a ruthless secret service, the SNB.
With the secular opposition suppressed, Tashkent's main concern has long been
Islamism, which is more active in Uzbekistan than elsewhere in ex-Soviet Central
Asia. Even in Soviet times, Uzbeks were considerably more religious than their
neighbours. Today some politically active Muslims simply refuse to cooperate
with the authorities. Others support the non-violent Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a banned
extremist group that wants an Islamic state, and a few back the violent Islamic
Movement of Uzbekistan, a group allied to al-Qaeda.
The IMU, which had bases in Afghanistan, suffered heavy losses in the US-led
invasion of Afghanistan in 2001-2002, but splinter groups have since returned to
Uzbekistan and are once again working with the Taleban in some remoter parts of
The Islamists have been particularly active in Andizhan and other towns in the
Ferghana valley, a frontier territory shared with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
For Karimov the Islamist presence is both a security threat and a political
blessing. By playing up the threat, he had allied himself with Russia and the US
in the global anti-terrorism war. Washington, with the air base in Uzbekistan,
had given considerable economic aid. Yevgeny Kozhokin, director of the
Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, says: "The fall of
Karimov is not in the interests of Russia, the US or Europe. If the Uzbek regime
fails, it is likely that another Islamic republic will appear."
However, Karimov's reluctance to liberalise his country has kept the economy in
shackles, with severe restrictions on trade, investment and access to foreign
Marta Brill Olcott, a central Asia specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for
International peace, the US think-tank, says poverty, not religion, is at the
root of the recent unrest.
James Nixey, an analyst at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, says
Karimov can probably survive the current unrest, especially as there are no
elections until a presidential poll in 2007. Ms Olcott says economic
dissatisfaction is widespread, so events in Andizhan could be repeated
elsewhere. She says Mr Karimov can probably suppress unrest "in one, two or
even three cities. But he won't be able to do so in 10 cities
A debate is developing in Uzbekistan over the impact of the Kyrgyz revolution on
domestic Uzbek developments. There is no disputing that the Askar Akayev's
ouster in Bishkek has been a hot topic of conversation among Uzbeks. In
addition, Ozod Dekhkonlar supporters and other anti-government activists have
expressed hope that Kyrgyzstan's experience will serve as a catalyst for a broad
popular effort to force President Islam Karimov to step down. However, some
Uzbek political analysts contend that recent disturbances in Uzbekistan have
only a limited connection to Kyrgyz developments.
Uzbek, Kyrgyz firms discuss gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan
Head of Kyrgyzgaz (Kyrgyz Gas) joint-stock company visited Tashkent to discuss
the supply of Uzbek gas to Kyrgyzstan, KyrgyzInfo news agency reported recently,
citing the press services of Kyrgyzgaz.
The company's Director, Igor Chudinov, had talks with his Uzbek colleagues, the
report said. It added that Chudinov would discuss with the management of
Uztransgaz (Uzbek Gas Transportation) a draft of a general agreement on Uzbek
gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan in 2005/06. The report said since 2003 Kyrgyzstan has
been using Uzbek gas transported to Kazakstan from a terminal located in
Kyrgyzstan. A US$33m debt to Kazakstan has accumulated over the period.
Kyrgyzgaz reported that Bishkek had paid off US$17.42m of this debt.
Tashkent approves telecoms development programme
Uzbekistan approved a programme for developing its telecommunications and IT
network in 2005-2011, a source in the Uzbek Communications and IT Agency said,
Interfax News Agency reported recently.
He said that the programme involved increasing total switchboard capacity to 2.2
million numbers by 2010 from 1.98 million numbers in 2005. The fibre-optic and
digital radio relay lines will increase from 7,668km to 9,680km. According to
forecasts, the number of mobile subscribers in the country will increase from
850,000 to three million by 2010. The programme also involves increasing the
number of Internet users from 750,000 to 3.4 million. In autumn 2005 a proposal
will be prepared and submitted to the government on offering benefits to
software producers in Uzbekistan and also producers of computer components.
New telecom network opens in Uzbekistan
The East Telecom British-Uzbek-Russian joint venture has launched a branch in
the town of Navoiy in central Uzbekistan, the Uzbek newspaper Ishonch reported
The report said the telecom company branch had been fitted out with up-to-date
equipment and offered various services, including internet access, video links
and data transfer.