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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: 348 - (16/12/09)

Human rights go hang
The Uzbek government was cracking down on rights activists before a December 27 parliamentary election last year, Human Rights Watch said, criticizing the West for staying silent. The autocratic Central Asian state this year mended ties with the West that had been all but severed in May, 2005 after its harsh suppression of a riot in the town of Andizhan where hundreds died, according to witnesses.

Uzbekistan is too important to be treated for long as a pariah. It is a vital link in a supply route for U.S. troops in nearby Afghanistan. Western governments and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have praised it for progress on human rights.

But the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement late on December 10 that the Uzbek government was attacking and harassing rights campaigners. "Uzbekistan's international partners have been praising the government for human rights improvements, but this praise is wholly undeserved," HRW Europe and Central Asia director Holly Cartner said. "Anyone who tries to report on human rights in Uzbekistan clearly risks getting attacked, arrested or worse." HRW cited several cases where police prevented Uzbek activists from meeting its researcher Tanya Lokshina, who herself was then attacked and held by police in what it called a "setup" in December.

"What happened to Lokshina and the people who tried to meet her has frequently been happening to human rights monitors in Uzbekistan, and it shows the government has something to hide," Cartner said. "It is high time Uzbekistan's international partners speak out, loud and clear, to say that this despicable practice must stop."

The December 27 election was always sure to be won by loyalists of President Islam Karimov, who has run the country with a tight grip since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It duly was, producing no surprises.

The European Union, which in October dropped sanctions imposed on Uzbekistan in 2005, has been trying to improve ties with Central Asian states to help secure future energy supplies and diversify away from Russian gas and oil.

Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan, has shown signs of wanting better relations with Europe and allowed the transit of non-military supplies for U.S. troops in Afghanistan this year.

But it rebuffed calls to do more to protect human rights during talks with the EU, when it told Brussels to improve its own rights record. Rights groups say Uzbekistan has jailed thousands of dissidents and political foes of Karimov, a charge that the government denies.

Pandering to an unpleasant regime
The Uzbek regime, that boils its enemies alive, is able to get away with murder because of its size and position in the heart of Central Asia. The US military need its transit facilities. So do the Europeans involved.

It is claimed that there has been some improvement on the human rights front. Not according to the observers of Human Rights Watch on the ground, as we have seen.

A spike in the Central Asian works
For more than a decade Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have had a rocky relationship. But now, following an announcement by Tashkent that it is withdrawing from the Central Asian electricity grid, bilateral ties may take a dangerous nosedive. Bad news for Washington.

Uzbekistan’s decision hits Tajikistan hard, denying Dushanbe much-needed power imports at the onset of winter. Some in Dushanbe are signalling that the Tajik government is not going to be pushed around by Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s administration. If Uzbekistan does not quickly reverse its decision, some Tajiks suggest Dushanbe will retaliate by restricting water supplies that Tashkent desperately needs to keep the country’s cotton sector afloat during the spring and summer.

A big bilateral spat at this time could create a major headache for US military operations in Afghanistan. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are both key cogs in the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a supply line that funnels military supplies overland from Europe to US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. If Dushanbe and Uzbekistan aren’t cooperating, the flow of supplies into Afghanistan could experience disruptions.

In the brewing crisis over power, Tajikistan has no choice but to make a stand. Uzbekistan’s departure from the grid completely isolates Tajikistan, making it impossible for Dushanbe to import power from other Central Asian states, especially Turkmenistan.

Tashkent’s move also will obstruct Tajikistan’s ability to export electricity during the flush summer months, when Tajik hydropower plants - thanks to snowmelt-fed rivers - are working at full capacity.

The Soviet-era grid was built in such a way that Tajikistan would be a seller of hydro-electric power during the summer and an importer during the winter months. Generating lots of hydro-power in the spring and summer had the additional benefit of releasing a vast amount of water needed to irrigate Uzbekistan’s cotton fields.

Uzbekistan’s departure from the grid is completely upending the supply-and-demand calculus. Uzbek officials justify their action by saying Tajikistan regularly steals power and that Tashkent must protect its interests. On November 23, Uzbek Ambassador Shokasym Shoislamov told journalists in Dushanbe that his government was abandoning the grid because the system was falling apart. He also alleged the "fragile and vulnerable" Soviet system allowed members to "uncontrollably and with impunity steal energy in their own interests."

Isolated Tajikistan has long grappled with crippling energy shortages. A serious failure in early November left much of the country without power for several days. At the time, Tajik energy officials blamed Uzbekistan’s undeclared exit from the unified network in late October.

Some experts speculate the reason Uzbekistan may be leaving the grid is the completion of a 500-kW power transmission line linking Tashkent with the southern Surxondaryo region over a route that bypasses Tajik territory. The line is expected to be operational on December 1, Uzbek and Tajik media outlets have reported.
With all energy imports now blocked, officials at the Tajik energy monopoly, Barki Tajik, say they will be forced to release more water from the country’s reservoirs this winter to create power - water Uzbekistan needs for irrigation next summer. Barki Tajik representatives also have suggested they will stockpile more water throughout summer 2010, meaning that downstream supplies could be significantly lower than normal.

"Along with the withdrawal from the unified energy grid, Uzbekistan has broken off our water and energy agreements. [...] Accordingly, the Tajik energy system is forced now to make the most use of our hydropower plants to cover domestic needs," the deputy head of Barki Tajik’s control centre, Sergei Tkachenko, said in comments distributed November 25 by the Asia-Plus news agency.

Officials and analysts in Dushanbe say Tashkent’s annual machinations, and now its departure from the grid, are political moves designed to keep Tajikistan isolated and weak, and thus unable to construct more hydropower plants. Tashkent has long protested Tajik plans to exploit the energy potential of the rivers.

"Annually, under different excuses, Uzbekistan impedes the transit of energy to Tajikistan, as well as the export of Tajik power in the summer period when we have a surplus of hydropower," Alexei Silantiev, an advisor to the head of Barki Tajik, complained in comments widely carried by local media outlets. "Uzbekistan is perfectly aware that Tajikistan suffers from power deficits in winter, putting pressure on our country."

Others have suggested that Tashkent may be trying to weaken the government in Dushanbe. Uzbekistan’s decisions "have a bearing on Tajikistan’s economic and domestic political situation," the Digest Press weekly quoted Tajik political analyst Shokirjon Khakimov as saying in its November 26 edition. Uzbekistan will "undermine Tajikistan’s energy security, which, in turn, might undermine the trust of [Tajik] people in the authorities."

In retaliation, Khakimov suggested Dushanbe should consider withdrawal from the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia, "in charge of distribution, rational use and trans-boundary water management."

One project Tashkent has vehemently opposed is the Rogun hydropower station on the Vakhsh River. Uzbek officials have complained that the dam could limit water available for irrigation downstream. But Dushanbe sees the construction of the proposed 335-meter giant as a solution to its constant shortages, and as a means to generate much-needed import revenues.

Water wars are likely to be a feature of a global warming world. One of them is brewing in Central Asia.

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