Books on Uzbekistan
362 - (26/02/11)
President Karimov of Uzbekistan has a
fortunate first name, Islam.
He is a post-communist hack, but he can
impersonate the personality of a devout
follower of Islam, which of course he is
not. But many of his countrymen are.
Whether he goes to mosque every week is a
closely guarded-state secret. Probably
not; but who is to know?
Powerful backers abroad
Despite running a most repressive regime,
Karimov has powerful backers abroad, who
regard doing business with the most
central and populous of Central Asian
states as a distasteful necessity.
The US and Russia have long been in this
category, Washington for assistance in
waging war in Afghanistan, while Moscow
does not believe in being squeamish in
foreign policy. For both, realpolitik is
the order of the day.
The EU joins up too
They have now been joined by the EU, which
has huge interests in Central Asia, as in
Eurasia as a whole, of which the former is
an integral part. Untold riches and
markets are at stake. If the US and Russia
are not being fussy in these matters, why
should the Europeans be? More especially
as regime change is rarely, if ever,
brought about by remote foreign
President Karimov was on his first
official visit to Brussels in late January
since the European Union lifted sanctions
against his government last year. The
sanctions were imposed in 2005 after the
brutal suppression by the government of a
popular uprising in the Uzbek city of
International rights groups have been
urging the EU to raise the issue of human
rights with the Uzbek leader. News of his
visit sparked uproar among activists and
Uzbek dissidents abroad. Many have
expressed concern that the president of
the European Commission and the head of
NATO are meeting the leader of a country
that has one of the worst human rights
records in the world.
EU officials said before the meeting that
the Commission President, Jose Manuel
Barroso, would discuss human rights with
Mr Karimov. But action, not words, is of
course the key. But of this, there was no
In a report issued in February, the New
York-based Human Rights Watch accused the
EU of "an obsequious approach towards
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan." Gas-rich
Turkmenistan has an authoritarian
government intolerant of dissent, like its
Uzbekistan did not allow any independent
investigation into the Andijan shootings.
EU statements of concern on human rights
are "often not backed by a comprehensive
strategy for change", said Human Rights
Watch, an international non-governmental
organisation. The sanctions against the
government of Mr Karimov were lifted two
There had been a travel ban for top Uzbek
officials as well as an arms embargo,
following the 2005 mass protests in the
eastern Uzbek city of Andijan.
Government troops reportedly opened fire
on mainly unarmed protesters. Rights
groups claimed that almost 1,000 people
were killed. The Uzbek authorities put the
number of dead at 187 but never allowed an
independent investigation into the events.
Uzbekistan's relationship with the West
did change for a while following the
Andijan uprising. Dozens of Uzbeks were
jailed, while several hundred sought
sanctuary in Europe. Western NGOs and
media were expelled from the country.
Dispute over sanctions
But in recent years there has been
something of a thaw in relations.
The country borders Afghanistan and plays
an increasingly important role as a
transit country for NATO non-military
cargo. Mr Karimov will hold talks with
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.” I
think... it will be possible for me to
strike the right balance to discuss human
rights and democracy and at the same time
practical co-operation on transit
facilities and other elements in practical
co-operation that can be to the benefit of
our operation in Afghanistan," Mr
Human Rights Watch criticised the EU for
softening its policy "even though the
Uzbek government took no steps to fulfil
any of the EU criteria required for
lifting the sanctions".
Ahead of the Brussels talks, Amnesty
International wrote to Mr Barroso, urging
him to raise human rights issues with Mr
Karimov. It said human rights defenders
and independent journalists "are
continuously subjected to harassment,
beatings and detention without fair trial"
in Uzbekistan. On Andijan, Amnesty said
"international pressure urgently needs to
be reasserted". Amnesty said the EU should
call for Uzbekistan to "allow an
investigation as a matter of urgency".
It also urged the EU to install an
official delegation in the Uzbek capital
Tashkent to monitor the situation, with a
special focus on human rights. But nothing
is likely to come of any of this.
Realpolitik was after all invented in
Europe a long time ago, before the US
existed or Russia counted.