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UZBEKISTAN


 

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 9,949 9,713 11,300 91
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 420 450 550 173
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (date from the World Bank)

Books on Uzbekistan


Update No: 327 - (26/03/08)

The Andijon massacre and its consequences
The defining moment in modern Uzbek politics came on 13 May 2003, when hundreds were mown down in a massacre in Andijon in the eastern Ferghana Valley. Thousands fled to Kyrgyzstan. The US, which had been mealy-mouthed about denouncing routine torture and torments, including boiling people alive and the like (unlike Craig Murray, the UK ambassador, who, however, was dropped by his own government for his pains), did a U-turn. It denounced the brutality, whereupon Tashkent asked it to withdraw from its Uzbek base on the Afghan border. Uzbekistan was put in the doghouse. 

It is coming out of it. It is simply too important a country to ignore, the central country of Central Asia. There are indications that US troops are coming back in the guise of NATO forces. It has always been hard to square morality with geopolitics. The war in Afghanistan is not going well for the West and they need a base on the Afghan Uzbek border.

Tashkent is a Key Piece on the Chessboard of Global Power 
The thaw in Uzbekistan's relationship with the West became evident last December in Tashkent during a ceremonial assembly celebrating the 15th anniversary of the country’s constitution.

Addressing the audience, President Islam Karimov said: “We all know that there are still people who claim that some sort of a disagreement continues today between Uzbekistan on one side and the United States and European countries on the other. It is not hard to understand that they would like for such disagreements to exist, because they can gain something from them. In its foreign policy, Uzbekistan has always been and still is an advocate of mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation with all its near and far neighbours, including the United States and Europe.” With this statement, Karimov summarized the foreign policy priorities for his next term.

Uzbekistan's recent presidential elections, held December 23, were designed to avoid criticism from the West. Thus, for the first time in the history of independent Uzbekistan, there were not two, but four candidates competing in the election.

One of the candidates was a woman, a representative of the Social-Democratic Party faction in the national parliament; another was a human rights activist who was nominated by an “initiative group” of citizens. Formally, all the rules were observed. The alternative candidates were given access to television and other mass media. And in the end, acting President Karimov won 88.1 percent of the vote, down from the 92 percent he claimed in the 2000 election and less than the 92 percent won by Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2005. 

All of these features in the recent campaign were designed to demonstrate the new level of Uzbekistan’s political culture to the country’s main critics – the United States and the EU. Uzbekistan didn’t have to carry out this complicated scheme for the sake of its closest partners – Russia and China – since these countries never took issue with Tashkent over the matter of democratic values. Nevertheless, Moscow was the first to congratulate Karimov on his victory.

On the day following the election, the Uzbek president’s press service reported Vladimir Putin’s phone call and the conversation between the two presidents about bilateral relations. Later, Sergei Lebedev, the executive secretary of the CIS who headed the CIS election observer mission, visited Karimov at his residence. The CIS observer mission, which was the largest observer group at the Uzbek election, recognized the election as free, open and transparent (they have never reported otherwise in monitoring CIS elections). Meanwhile Western countries were very reserved in their criticism.

Shift by EU
This seems to represent a new policy of engagement. By coincidence, the Uzbekistan election campaign coincided with the decision by the UK to boycott Uzbek cotton. The country's largest supermarket chain, Tesco, announced that it would stop selling merchandize made from Uzbek raw materials, because the company’s management received information that the central Asian republic allegedly uses child labour for cotton picking (as they always have, including the Soviet times). Although the ban concerns the chain’s stores in 12 countries, this demarche became no more than a fly in the ointment for the Uzbek government. 

The Europeans have already demonstrated that they are listening to Tashkent’s desire to improve relations. On Jan. 17, the day after the president was sworn in, Pierre Morel, EU special representative for Central Asia personally congratulated Karimov on his re-election to the post. According to Uzbek news agency UZA, in his conversation with Karimov, Morel noted that the European Union “considers Uzbekistan as a reliable partner and supports the idea of strengthening and expanding further cooperation.”

In 2007, the EU began developing a new policy towards Central Asia that was to focus not on implementing democratic values, but on increasing EU influence in the region and participating in energy and other economic projects. Also last year, Europe partially rolled back the sanctions it had introduced in 2005 after the violent quelling of protests in Andijan. Uzbekistan itself also took a step forward, abolishing the death penalty as of Jan.1, 2008, and giving the courts the right to issue arrest warrants.

Opening to Japan
Still, according to a number of observers, Tashkent continues to be a difficult partner, cooperating only on its own terms with countries it chooses to approach. One of these countries is Germany, which has an almost warm relationship with Uzbekistan. Another is Japan. Unlike the Europeans and the Americans, Japan rarely criticizes the actions of Uzbek authorities inside the country. The two countries cooperate not only in the field of economics, but also in the humanities. The relationship with Uzbekistan is extremely important for Japan as it tries to constrain the influence of Beijing, which is increasing its presence in the region through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. According to Uzbek observers, this system of checks and balances in foreign policy is likely to continue in the future, especially since relations with Russia and the closest neighbours will keep developing due to the necessity of implementing energy projects.

End of isolationism
Uzbekistan’s movements toward Russia and its other neighbours might seem modest. But it is important to remember that for almost 17 years, Tashkent carried out a policy of self-isolation. At the beginning of the 1990s, Uzbekistan introduced a visa regime with its neighbouring countries, fearing the threat of Islamic extremism. A certain role in this decision was also played by economics: the authorities suspected that the residents of neighbouring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were taking cheaper foodstuffs out of the country.

After returning to the integration structures of the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the country had to raise its iron curtain. Joint pipeline projects were developed as well as projects for building transit routes connecting Europe and China through Central Asia, all of which will require a higher level of integration. According to some insiders, authorities were very sceptical about the idea of uniting Central Asia, especially as the project was led by Nazarbayev, but still decided to meet the neighbours halfway. Working visits with Nazerbayev, a no-visa agreement with Kyrgyzstan, and official visit by Karimov to Turkmenistan all testifies to Uzbekistan's desire to become closer to its neighbours. 

The only question that still remains unanswered is how Tashkent's relationship with Washington will develop. A representative of the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs believes that nothing of critical importance will happen before the U.S. presidential election in November. “And then we’ll see what Washington will do,” he said. “The Uzbek side believes the severance is the Americans’ fault, which means they are the ones who have to come up with the way to take the first step toward us.”

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