Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 329 - (01/06/08)
The Uzbek regime of President Islam Karimov is beset by many
worries. Karimov is a fearful man, as autocrats tend to be. He knows that he is
widely and deeply hated by the vast bulk of his own people, as were Mao and
Stalin in their time. But unlike them he has no grandiose foreign conquests to
compensate, the defeat, and occupation of half of Europe, or the rape of Tibet.
Karimov versus Nazarbayev
Quite the reverse, he is being pressured by the president of his neighbouring
giant, Kazakhstan, to join a Central Asian Union (CAU), with Astana as its
capital and effectively Nursultan Nazarbayev as its uncrowned emperor. Naturally
he objects to this compound idea.
He visited Astana in April and made his displeasure at the proposal quite clear.
But he has to do business with the oil and gas giant all the same. Both leaders
agreed to boost bilateral economic cooperation by creating a common trade area
at the borders. Karimov's harsh criticism of Nazarbayev's proposed CAU, however,
raised eyebrows among many in Kazakh political circles.
In particular, Karimov found the Central Asian Union to be an inadequate
initiative that failed to consider differences in economic development among
Central Asian states. He also reminded Nazarbayev that the Eurasian Economic
Community (EurAsEC) already represents a regional institution of this sort.
"I want to state right away that this initiative is unacceptable for
Uzbekistan," Karimov said.
Nazarbayev officially announced his Central Asia Union initiative a year ago at
a bilateral meeting with Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The initiative
promotes political and economic integration in the region, but to date only
Kazakh and Kyrgyz officials have conducted a series of meetings within its
Things don't look too good to the south either. Uzbekistan is in a geopolitical
quandary – or rather its leadership is. With a long border with unstable
Afghanistan, its government is fearful of developments there and in Pakistan.
The Pashtuns either side of the Afghan-Pakistani border could yet unite under
fundamentalist leadership into a new state – Pashtunistan. This is much what
happened after the Soviet defeat when Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns and allies
united by the Taleban, were fighting the Uzbeks and Tajiks and allies, from the
northern borders of Afghanistan
That could be a calamity as far as the Uzbek regime is concerned, beset by
Islamicists as it already is. The Musharraf regime in Pakistan was visibly
enfeebled last year, with a nation being polarised between Westernising liberals
and Islamic fundamentalists. The capitulation in mid-2007 to the legal
profession over the suspension of the Chief Justice, then re-instated, was a
boost for the former. The assault on the Red Mosque in the autumn was a
propaganda boon for the latter.
Tashkent is afraid of a Central Asian domino effect. Hundreds of Uzbeks, indeed,
fled violence in the eastern city of Andijan in May 2005, when rights groups and
eyewitnesses accuse Uzbek security forces of killing many hundreds of unarmed
protesters. The brutal suppression of any sign of Islamic radicalism merely
provides martyrs for the cause. “The blood of martyrs is the life-blood of the
faith” as they like to claim.
Renewed violence on the cards
A Brussels-based think tank has warned that the international community must
brace for civil conflict in Uzbekistan once President Karimov leaves office.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) notes in a new report that Karimov's term
has officially ended with no handover in sight, but speculates that any eventual
battle to succeed him could turn violent. It urges other countries to act now to
mitigate the possible effects.
In the report, "Uzbekistan: Stagnation and Uncertainty," the ICG says
the country remains a serious risk to itself and others. ICG Vice President Jon
Greenwald told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the 70-year-old Karimov's term ended
formally in January 2007; but he shows no sign of stepping down. Greenwald said
there is neither a clear successor nor a succession process.
"On the surface, the political situation appears rather calm at the moment.
But there are dangers ahead, because the control of President Karimov is
obviously limited by his own duration in office and his own health," he
said. "There is no indication of any system by which there would be a
succession to Karimov." Greenwald said an eventual power struggle could
well include violence. He said the human-rights situation remains grave, with
persecution that targets human-rights activists, journalists, and the political
Meanwhile, Greenwald said, a tightly controlled economy drives off investors and
exacerbates grinding poverty. "The Andijan uprising and massacre, and the
repression that followed from that were symptomatic of a situation that's been
deteriorating for a number of years," he said. "The economic situation
is very poor. The control of the economy by the government has resulted in a
great gap between the handful of people around the regime who are doing very
well economically, and the mass of people who were going very poorly,"
Can Sanctions Change Anything?
Greenwald said the European Union should maintain the limited sanctions it has
imposed following events in Andijan, including a visa ban on some Uzbek
officials and an arms embargo. He said the international community should also
target the assets abroad of Uzbekistan's political elite.
At the same time, Greenwald acknowledged that sanctions have neither forced an
international probe into Andijan nor otherwise moderated government policies.
"We honestly feel, at this point, that there is a great deal of interest on
the part of the government in Tashkent to re-establish relations with most of
the outside world," he said. "And there is not a great deal of
leverage that anyone has -- either the European Union or the United States, or
anyone else -- to have much impact on policies of the government."
The ICG report urges the international community to help Uzbek refugees and
labor migrants so they do not become easy recruitment targets for Islamic
The group argues that education abroad should be sustained, and Uzbekistan's
neighbours should be helped in their ability to withstand any shocks that might
result from turmoil inside Uzbekistan. The ICG says that improving training for
border guards and police on issues including refugee law and protection is
It also describes an urgent need to improve emergency-response systems and to
encourage alternative transport and energy arrangements for those countries
vulnerable to Uzbek pressure.