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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
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: 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 framework.

Pashtunistan nigh?
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 opposition. 

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," Greenwald added.

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."

Report's Suggestions
The ICG report urges the international community to help Uzbek refugees and labor migrants so they do not become easy recruitment targets for Islamic radicals. 

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 important. 

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.

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