Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 301- (30/01/06)
Tashkent lost by the West
The events of mid-May in Andijan in the eastern Ferghana Valley, when hundreds
were massacred, have changed everything in Uzbekistan - for the worse. It is now
something of a pariah state as regards the West. Moscow and Beijing of course
are quite prepared to overlook the odd massacre or two by others, when they are
not perpetrating one themselves. They are both cosying up to Tashkent right now.
One can be sure that human rights abuses are never mentioned when Chinese and
Russian diplomats are given an audience. Despite Western pressure, President
Islam Karimov, the surly dictator of the country, has outlawed opposition
parties, harassed and imprisoned dissidents, and, despite his own promises,
failed to take meaningful steps to stop the routine use of torture against
perceived opponents. Scores of dissidents have been executed after sham trials.
After violently suppressing the most serious outbreak of unrest he has yet
faced, Uzbekistan's president, who had traditionally balanced his Interior
Ministry against his National Security Service (SNB), now appears to be
increasingly reliant on the SNB and protégés of SNB head Rustam Inoyatov.
Karimov appointed a new interior minister on January 6th, but he is no more than
a cipher. Like all pertinacious dictators, he has centralized power in his own
While both the US and the European Union (EU) had courted Uzbekistan, the most
populous of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, during the 1990s, its
strategic importance emerged more forcefully after the September 11 2001,
attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
US intelligence and military forces used former Soviet military bases in
Uzbekistan to mount their campaign to oust the Taliban government in
neighbouring Afghanistan, and have maintained a presence in the predominantly
Muslim country. But they were asked to leave in July after the regime became
deeply suspicious of their activities.
Cancellation of conference on the death penalty
Karimov's most recent display of resistance to opening meaningful political
space for the opposition - or even for civil-society groups - came late last
year when his government blocked the holding of a conference on the death
penalty in Tashkent. The conference, planned for December 5th by a group called
"Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture," could not be held,
authorities told participants the day before, because the sponsoring
organization had not been properly registered with the government. Co-sponsors
included New York-based Freedom House, which is close to the US establishment.
In fact, the group had submitted a registration application to the government
last January, but had not received any reply - despite a law that requires a
decision within two months.
Cancellation of the event drew strong statements from both HRW and Amnesty
International. "This step shows yet again how freedom of expression is
curtailed in Uzbekistan, Amnesty said in a statement. "It also highlights
the authorities' policy to prevent any public discussion of the death penalty in
the country." HRW noted that the government has a long history of refusing
to register independent human rights or other issue-oriented groups, often
treating their activities as illegal.
Karimov's intransigence is embarrassing not only to the Bush administration,
which continues to want Karimov as a "strategic ally" in Washington's
anti- terrorism campaign, but to Western Europe as well. The European Bank for
Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which held its annual meeting in the
Uzbek capital of Tashkent last May, has warned that it would cut its funding to
the former Soviet republic unless Karimov met certain "benchmarks"
toward human-rights and political reform, including taking concrete steps to end
rampant torture of prisoners; registering civil-society groups; and ensuring
greater freedom for the media and opposition parties.
But seven months later, human rights groups say the EBRD has nothing to show for
its coaxing of Tashkent. If anything, the situation has deteriorated.
"It should be clear to everyone by now that quiet diplomacy simply doesn't
work in a country like Uzbekistan," said Rachel Denber, acting director of
the Europe and Central Asia division of New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
"The EBRD would do better speaking out about the alarming lack of progress
in human rights, and publicly calling on the Uzbek government to move forward
with the necessary reforms."
One of the benchmarks set by the EBRD for continued lending to Uzbekistan was
that the government permit independent civil society groups to register and
function freely. The Bank said it would have one year to comply before sanctions
were taken. "Unfortunately, this is just another example in a long list of
setbacks for fulfilling the human rights benchmarks set by the EBRD earlier this
year," said Denber. "The international community must firmly and
publicly condemn this appalling move and make clear that this type of behaviour
will seriously affect their relations with Uzbekistan."
Evidence of US backtracking
Karimov hosted US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman late last year. Veneman
praised the country's leadership, describing Uzbekistan as a "strategic
ally of the United States" and offering both food aid and assistance in
developing Uzbekistan's agricultural sector. She did not speak publicly about
the human rights situation in the country.
In a recent speech before the National Endowment of Democracy (NED), in which he
criticized what he said were decades of Western tolerance for repression
practiced by Western-allied Muslim governments, President Bush omitted any
reference to Uzbekistan, an omission that was quickly seized on by critics both
in the US and in the Islamic world as evidence that Bush's rhetoric was hollow.
Human rights groups and regional experts have long argued that Karimov's
repressive measures continue to radicalise many Uzbeki Muslims, some of whom
have been associated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which Bush
himself linked to al Qaeda before the Afghan campaign, and other armed groups.
Rights groups have also expressed deep concern about the fate of a prominent
human rights activist and journalist, Ruslan Sharipov, who was sentenced to four
years in prison in September on what critics say were trumped-up charges of
homosexuality. Sharipov is believed to have been beaten and tortured while in
custody. His public defender was abducted and severely beaten by men dressed in
camouflage uniforms in late August.
In late September, the government also blocked a congress of the opposition Erk
Democratic Party, whose activists around the country had reported an increase in
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
The overall thrust of geopolitics in Central Asia in 2005 is most clearly
illustrated by the evolution of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO),
which now includes China, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and
Uzbekistan as members and India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan as observers. The
SCO was increasingly active in 2005, leading some analysts to see the emergence
of a potentially powerful regional grouping serving the interests of its
heavyweight members, China and Russia.
A summit of SCO leaders in Kazakstan in early July appeared to confirm this,
issuing a declaration with a call for the US-led antiterrorism coalition to
provide a timeframe for withdrawal from military facilities on SCO territory, a
thinly veiled reference to the US bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Subsequent events showed that the SCO remains more of a forum than a force,
however. Uzbekistan soon went beyond the declaration, planning to evict its US
base less than a month after the summit. The move fits in with Karimov's
mounting suspicions that the West in general, and the United States in
particular, had become a destabilizing presence that his regime could no longer
tolerate. Kyrgyzstan's more pragmatic leadership simply set about negotiating
more advantageous terms to host its US base, with no mention of a specific
timeframe for withdrawal.
New Cold War with the US
On 29th July, President Karimov informed the United States that it had 180
days to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad air base it had used to support operations in
Afghanistan since late 2001. Initial reactions linked the move to worsening
US-Uzbek relations in the wake of the massacre in Andijan and increasing
cosiness between Tashkent, Peking, and Moscow. These are relevant, but secondary
factors. The primary driving force behind Karimov's initiative is his belief
that the United States has gone from a useful strategic partner to a meddlesome
plotter that threatens his hold on power.
A deep chill has taken hold of US-Uzbek relations since the violence in Andijan
in May. The United States joined European nations in expressing deep concern at
the massacre allegations and calling for an independent international
investigation, a call President Karimov and his government have angrily refused.
More recently, the United States played a prominent role in the evacuation of
439 Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan, where they fled after the violence in
Andijan. On 29th July, the refugees were airlifted to Romania in preparation for
transfer to final destinations variously reported as Australia, Canada, the
Netherlands, and the United States. Fifteen refugees remain in detention in
southern Kyrgyzstan at the request of Uzbek authorities, who want them returned
to Uzbekistan for alleged crimes, including the murder of a prosecutor in
Andijan. A US State Department official told "The New York Times" on
30th July that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on the phone with Kyrgyz
President-elect Kurmanbek Bakiev on 28th and 29th July arranging flights out for
the refugees. As for the remaining 15 Uzbeks, the official said, "Our
position is that they all have to come out."
The first reports on the Uzbek decision on the US base at Karshi-Khanabad seized
on this context. The Associated Press noted, "Uzbekistan's ties with
Washington have deteriorated after the Bush administration joined other Western
nations in urging an international investigation" into the Andijan events.
The "Financial Times" wrote that "relations with the US have
become strained after the Uzbek government suppressed a rebellion" in
Andijan. "The New York Times" specifically linked the eviction to the
refugee crisis, leading its story, "Uzbekistan formally ordered the United
States to leave an air base that has been a hub for operations in Afghanistan in
protest over a predawn United Nations operation on 29th July to spirit out
refugees who had fled an uprising in Uzbekistan in May, senior State Department
officials said on 30th July." And "The Christian Science Monitor"
wrote, "Yet when the Bush administration called for an international
inquiry into the deaths of at least 173 political dissidents in May, the
But while calls for an international inquiry and the operation to evacuate the
refugees from Kyrgyzstan undoubtedly angered the Karimov government, they are
not the root cause of the US-Uzbek rift. The real reason lies in the official
Uzbek interpretation of what occurred in Andijan. Western journalists present in
Andijan on 13th May and interviews with survivors conducted in the immediate
aftermath by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and
International Crisis Group have depicted an armed uprising and prison break
followed by a sizeable demonstration in the city centre that Uzbek security
services used lethal force to disperse, killing hundreds. The official Uzbek
view is entirely different -- an Islamist coup attempt supported by foreign
sponsors in line with "regime change" experiments in Georgia, Ukraine,
and Kyrgyzstan with the ultimate aim of establishing outside control over
An overview of the government-controlled Uzbek press compiled by Arena on 25th
July provides some insight into the official view. A 14th June article in the
flagship state-run newspaper "Narodnoe slovo" stated, "Certain
countries of the West, which would like to see the Central Asian countries fall
into line with their expansionist policy, are using any and all means to export
to this region forms and principles of democracy acceptable to them."
Another article in the same newspaper the same day went further, claiming,
"There is no doubt that the West is using the drama in Andijan in its
great, dirty game to 'advance democracy,' in fact, to seize new staging grounds
in the post-Soviet space, to surround the potential rivals of Russia and China,
which Western propaganda is ceaselessly portraying as 'bad guys'."
A 16th June article in "Narodnoe slovo" stated that the people who
died in Andijan were deceived by their "'leaders' and those who carried out
the orders of their foreign patrons and sponsors. All of us have witnessed the
consequences of the so-called coloured revolutions taking place before our eyes
in post-Soviet space. We see that they don't bring anything good. What positive
changes have there been in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan?" An article in
"Pravda vostoka" on 24th June argued, "Under the pretext of
concern for human rights, there are unceasing attempts to interfere in the
internal affairs of the independent state of Uzbekistan. Especially active in
this respect is the United States, which uses the cover of the United Nations
and the creation of an international commission to destabilize the situation.
The lives and rights of ordinary Uzbek citizens should not become small change
in the grand geopolitics of the United States."
The Uzbek official press also insisted that the United States advanced its
purported evil designs through NGOs. The editor in chief of the newspaper "O'zbekiston
ovozi" explained in an interview on Uzbek TV on 17th July that the "Soros
Foundation may seem very fair and protective of democracy and human rights on
paper but, in reality, what they are involved in is evil things, coups,
destruction in countries where they operate, and so on."
Television conveyed the message more strongly than print media. A 16th July
documentary on state-run Uzbek television boldly claimed, "There are those
who have a keen geopolitical interest in the region. Attempts by some major
powers to make Central Asia dependent on them are aimed first of all at bringing
Uzbekistan under their control. A show aimed at overthrowing the strongest
legitimate constitutional system in Central Asia began under the orchestration
of outside forces in the middle of May 2005." Against this backdrop, the
Uzbek refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan were simply described as escaped
extremists. A 27th July documentary described them as follows: "The
aggressors -- who committed grave crimes in Andijan and escaped their due
punishment -- settled in the neighbouring Jalal-Abad Province's Suzak
This view is not unique to Uzbekistan. Russian observers in particular have
revelled in sordid tales of US-sponsored NGOs spinning plots across the former
Soviet Union. One of the baldest statements of this conspiracy theory -- shorn
of the NGOs and presented purely as a military intervention by proxy -- came in
a 29th July comment to MiK from Igor Panarin, identified as a professor at the
Russian Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy. "Andijan was a purely
American operation," Panarin said. "According to some information,
[the Americans] and the British even transported militants from Afghanistan
through their military bases in Uzbekistan when they conducted this
None of this should be construed as having anything to do with what actually
happened in Andijon on 12-13th May. But as an indication of what Karimov and his
confidants believe took place, it does more to explain the decision to evict the
US air base than mere ire at the demand for an international inquiry. For if
they feel that the United States and its efforts to advance democracy are a
threat to their power, as the statements from government-controlled newspapers
and television indicate, their decision was driven by the most powerful of all
instincts -- that of self-preservation.
This instinct will likely continue to drive Uzbekistan's foreign-policy
decisions, as Karimov and his inner circle seek to minimize perceived threats to
their rule by closing off possible channels of malign Western influence. A
similar impulse has governed the tightening of Uzbekistan's ties with Russia,
the embodiment and self-appointed defender of the post-Soviet status quo, and
China, a strong supporter of the status quo in Central Asia. Yet the
geopolitical significance of this emerging alliance may not live up to its
advance billing. For while its short-term prospects are as good as those of any
convergence of convenience, its long-term prospects depend on the durability of
a post-Soviet status quo that recent crises have shown to be hardly more stable
than the late-Soviet stasis that preceded it.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Iran-Uzbekistan joint economic commission
The recent session of the seventh Iran-Uzbekistan joint economic commission
comprised of Deputy Iranian commerce minister, Mehdi Ghazanfari, and Deputy
Uzbek foreign trade, investment and commerce minister, Saber Hassanev.
Ghazanfari said Iran has achieved numerous goals in fields such as
petrochemical, oil and gas, construction, pharmacology and auto manufacturing
industries, Interfax News Agency reported.
Iran used to import most of the nation's required manufactured goods, but now
only import technical facilities and interested in foreign investments. For his
part, Hassanev, said that since Uzbekistan's independence, there were more
opportunities for activities in such fields as excavation of oil and gas,
manufacturing of textiles and exporting them. He added, "Uzbekistan ranks
fourth in production of cotton in the world and Iran-Uzbekistan cooperation in
that field could prove quite beneficial for both sides." According to
Hassanev, Uzbekistan attach prime importance to reforms towards privatisation
and activating the country's private sector with the help of both Iranian and
MINERALS & METALS
Steel output up 2.8% in 11 months
Uzbekistan raised crude steel output 2.8 per cent year-on-year in
January-November to 565,812 tonnes, the State Statistics Department said, New
Roll output grew 4.7 per cent to 527,131 tonnes. The state-owned Uzmetkombinat
produces 99 per cent of Uzbekistan's crude steel, and all of the country's roll
and milling balls. It smelts scrap metal and has the capacity to produce 750,000
tonnes of crude steel per year. Uzbekistan smelted 602,160 tonnes of steel in
2004, up 24 per cent from 2003. It increased roll production 23.3 per cent to