Russia conquered Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1925. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry. Independent since 1991, the country seeks to gradually lessen its dependence on agriculture while developing its mineral and petroleum reserves. Current concerns include insurgency by Islamic militants based in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, a non-convertible currency, and the curtailment of human rights and democratisation.
Update No: 276 - (01/01/04)
Human rights an issue once again
In the 1990s, the Clinton Administration made the Uzbek regime an international pariah for its dismal human rights record. The record has not improved - far from it. But the Bush Administration is taking a more relaxed attitude to the problem.
For there is another real problem in the republic which harsh repression is an attempt to address - that of Islamic fundamentalism. But it is not clear that the repressive policy of the regime helps at all. Indeed, there are signs that it is exacerbating it. The US is uneasily aware of that likely fact, but sees no alternative to giving the regime its broad support.
This is not true of the UK, however, at least in the shape of a Scot, the UK ambassador, Craig Murray, who has openly condemned the practices of the regime. He upstaged the US ambassador last year by openly denouncing the regime at a public address, just after the American had been studiously moderate in criticism.
There are 10,000 political dissidents detained in prison and every year numbers of them are tortured to death. Murray has cited the horror of boiling people alive as one frightful abuse of human rights practised in its jails. He points out that nearly one fifth of the $500 million aid has been for 'law-enforcement and security services,' who are doing the torturing.
He had the backing of Clare Short, UK Minister for International Development until recently. Her departure from the government made his position more exposed at home.
The Foreign Office lobbied for his resignation on the grounds of his being "depressed." In a whispering campaign against him he has been accused of drinking heavily with Uzbeks, womanising at social functions with them and ordering his embassy vehicle down some steps to get to a picnic. The ambassador has denied that any "inappropriate behaviour" took place.
He has had the support of a 15-strong group of British businessmen based in the capital, which has written to UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to praise him. One of them James McCrory, a development consultant, says that Mr Murray has promoted "British culture and ideals to an extent not previously known here.. Mr Murray is being sacrificed to the Americans. The US Embassy makes no effort to conceal its dislike of the way he repeatedly slams (Uzbekistan's) human rights record."
The authorities in Tashkent have let it be known that they have not asked for his recall and it appears that he will not be disciplined after all. He refuses to quit his post and may yet remain as ambassador.
Cooperation with the West against terrorism
The US line is far more emollient for an obvious reason - Tashkent is now a major partner in the war against terrorism. Washington and Tashkent have the same enemies in advocates of Islamic fundamentalism. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operates throughout the region, not just in Uzbekistan. It is on the US list of terrorist organisations.
Another extremist organisation is Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, which is not on the list, because it eschews violence. But it is being persecuted by the authorities, with the effect of driving younger Uzbeks to reconsidering the option of violence. Says one 30-year old member, naturally preferring anonymity: "Our authorities are so strict, it can force us to resort to violent ways of reaching our goals. Islam doesn't prohibit use of armed violence if one is attacked." He would prefer a peaceful route, but "if an uprising happens first, I'll join that." A new period of Islamic fundamentalism may then be opening, incited by the regime.
The Uzbek regime gave the US full support in its war in Afghanistan and let it use a base, Khanabad, on the frontier with that country. Operations are by no means over. Washington has given Tashkent $500 million in aid in return for use of the base. The Tashkent-Washington axis remains firm.
The IMF is critical of trade policy
The IMF is taking a critical line on the restrictive practices of the regime in its commercial policy, which is inhibiting growth, says the international organisation. The IMF is always in a cat-and-mouse state with Uzbekistan, sometimes contributing funds and sometimes not, but forever ready with advice.
The economic record is not so bad for all the regime's heavy-handed methods. They may be crude, but they can be effective. The republic avoided the worst fall-out from the collapse of the rouble in 1998 because of tight exchange controls. Inflation is low and growth slowly positive. Uzbekistan is likely to go on in an independent way, whether politically or economically.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Karimov and Purvanov talks strong bilateral ties
President Islam Karimov, during a recent visit to Bulgaria, said Uzbekistan and Bulgaria will work together to create a joint transportation infrastructure. Karimov met with his Bulgarian counterpart, Georgi Purvanov in Sofia, according to Interfax News Agency.
The two state leaders talked about cooperation, bilateral agreements and regional and international problems. Bilateral trade is less than US$10m, Karimov said. "This shows we have not used many possibilities," he was quoted as saying. Fourteen documents were signed as a result of the visit, among them an agreement against double taxation of revenues and property, accords on transport and tourism, and a cooperation agreement between the Uzbek Chamber of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
ADB offers US$350,000 TA grant to Uzbekistan
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) recently green-lighted a technical assistance (TA) grant, worth US$350,000, to examine the potential and options for renewable energy development in Uzbekistan, the bank said in a statement. With funds coming from Denmark and ADB acting as administrator, the grant will develop an action plant to increase renewable energy development and design pilot projects for the most appropriate renewable energy options, New Europe reported.
"Renewable energy sources could yield environment-friendly and cost-effective energy solutions, especially in remote areas, compared with the high cost of providing grid connections," said Piya Abeygunawardena, and ADB principal economist (environment). Despite that the installed capacity for electricity production grew over a seven-year period (1992 to 1999), electricity output shrank by 11%. The majority of power plants are outmoded and defective. They cannot meet increasing demand, particularly during peak periods, the bank said. Based on latest estimates, demand for primary energy may top projected production by a tenth in 2010.
BAT Uzbekistan produces fewer cigarettes in Q1-Q3
British American Tobacco Uzbekistan (BAT Uzbekistan), a joint venture forged between Uzbekistan and Great Britain, manufactured 4.83bn cigarettes in the first nine months of last year, down 8.6% compared to the period a year ago, Interfax News Agency reported recently.
A BAT Uzbekistan official was quoted as saying sales on the domestic market shrank 0.9% year-on-year to 4.74bn cigarettes. Exports totalled 131.65m cigarettes, down 72.7%. BAT Uzbekistan is the tobacco-manufacturing monopoly in Uzbekistan, controlling 64.8% of the local market.
The official said the drop in domestic sales was due to stiff competition from smuggled tobacco. BAT Uzbekistan is also a major taxpayer. In 2002, the company paid 33.5bn sum (US$45m) in taxes, fees and collections to Uzbekistan's state coffers.
CNH eyes bigger stake in Uzselkhozmash-Holding
Cash New Holland (CNH) hopes to pick up a 4 per cent stake in Uzselkhozmash-Holding which owns 16 agricultural machine building firms in Uzbekistan, Uzselkhozmash-Holding Deputy Chairman, Dilshod Salikhbaev, was quoted as saying recently.
The two parties are currently putting the finishing touches on the contract and an agreement may be signed by the end of December, Salikhbaev said. The stake's price tag is US$1m. Uzselkhozmash-Holding is already 5.8 per cent owned by CNH, when the latter bought the stake of US$3.5m. The holding company is majority owned by the government, which holds a 51 per cent stake and 9.6 per cent is held by minority shareholders. A 39.4 per cent share package has been reserved for sale to a foreign investor.
Afghan bridge to keep communication lines open
Uzbek state joint-stock enterprise Uzavtodor said recently that a bridge erected by Uzbek construction workers in Afghanistan will hep create continual communication between the northern and southern parts of the country, Interfax News Agency reported.
"The new bridge is economically and strategically important to the country which is restoring its war-hit economy," Abdukakhkhar Yuldashev, chief engineer of Uzavtodor, was quoted as saying.
The contract for the construction of the bridge was signed in October last year. The final act for the commissioning of the 10th bridge was signed with the Afghan Ministry of Public Works, the company said.
Uzbek construction companies have built a total of 1,000 metres of bridges in Afghanistan, Yuldashev said. All the construction materials and equipment were brought from Uzbekistan he said.
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