Books on Uzbekistan
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: 282- (30/06/04)
Fundamentalists on the rampage
The Uzbeks are in a crisis, largely the making of the fiercely repressive government, under its brutal dictator, Islam Karimov. Armed attacks and explosions have shaken the country, perpetrated by religious extremists, notably groups such as the clandestine Hizb-ut-Tahrir, allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. Such outrages killed 47 at the end of March in Tashkent and Bokhara.
The scale of the repression is inviting fanaticism to grow, leaving young Muslims with little other hope such is the view of observers on the spot.
Torture is endemic and particularly ghastly in kind; there have been instances of boiling people alive. Some 7,000 are being detained for 'religious extremism.' Human Rights Watch says that the regime "is itself fabricating enemies of the state."
The UK ambassador, Craig Murray, has bravely been denouncing the human rights abuses. Curiously, the regime has not insisted on his removal. The Americans are more muted in public, dependent on the regime for a military base in the south to operate in Afghanistan. But there is evidence of exasperation building up all the same. US aid, which at over US$100m has been extensive, may not be forthcoming indefinitely. The US is aware of the long-run risks of being associated with a murderous regime, as in Iran in the days of Savak and the Shah.
Certainly some very unpleasant propaganda is already emanating from Hizb-ut-Tahrir, as in this tract: "The criminal regime of the Jewish Karimov, known for his hate of Muslims, spreads terror and has adopted the methods of Israel in collaborating with infidel countries, notably the US." The tract goes on to predict a rise in the number of martyrs. "Hizb-ut-Tahrir will struggle for their liberation and for the establishment of a mode of life respectful of Islam."
It is difficult to evaluate the true extent of the penetration of extremism in the republic. It is strongest in the heavily populated Ferghana Valley, which stretches right into Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, making it a regional problem. The regime is trying to isolate the valley from the rest of the country, especially the capital - no easy task.
Taloub Yakoubov, the president of the Society of Human Rights of Uzbekistan, is convinced like many observers, that the events of March had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, but were put in train by the SNB, the Uzbek security services, themselves. "Extremist Islam here is an invention of power."
The veteran militant was a leader of Berlik, the Uzbek anti-Soviet national movement in the 1980s. It was the ruthless suppression of this moderate and lay movement by the regime which prepared the ground for the extremists, he says, fomenting armed contestation. But this is to run counter to his own conspiracy theory that the whole thing is an invention of SNB. It is rather likely that there are young fanatics turning to violence out of desperation. It is clear that regimes throughout the area are quick to brand any form of Islamic opposition to themselves as linked to al-Qaeda. By the same token 'Copycat' military is almost invited by this unsubtle approach
New turn to austerity
The regime is haunted by the example of the Rose Revolution in Georgia. Ex-president Shevardnadze of Georgia rang up his old friend and former Politburo colleague recently to warn him of the dangers in any relaxation. He was preaching to the converted. Whatever Karimov's virtues if any, moderation is not one of them. But he did heed Shevarnadze's tip to close the Soros Foundation in Tashkent, which he promptly did. The Soros Foundation in Tbilisi certainly played a part in the Rose Revolution.
The regime is becoming ever more austere. It looks as if Karimov is taking Turkmen dictator Niyazov as his model, who has cut his country off from the world. Isolation is the new idea, both of the country from abroad and of the Ferghana Valley from the rest of the country.
Nevertheless, Karimov naturally is cooperating with neighbours to combat the menace. Indeed, he hosted a summit against 'terrorism' for June 17th, attended by the presidents of Kazakstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, plus figures from Russia and China. This was the latest meeting of the Group of Shanghai, an organisation created in 1996 to combat 'terrorism,' regional separatism (as of the Uighurs) and the huge drugs trade in the region The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was invited as an observer..
A notable absentee was Niyazov. He does not believe in foreign travel, even to attend a dictators' quorum. Karimov himself was abiding by the same maxim as the host.
Russians to oust the Americans?
If the US does turn against the regime, Moscow is likely to step in smartly to fill the gap. One thing not on the agenda of the Group of Shanghai meeting one can be sure, was human rights. Putin is no purist in that respect.
Indeed, Lukoil in mid-June signed a contract worth US$1bn to develop a gas field in Uzbekistan. The republic is likely to return to the Russian orbit so long as the beleaguered Karimov regime is in place.
This might not be for so very long. The 64-year old dictator is rumoured to have leukaemia, with no obvious successor in sight.
BMW chooses Sanar motors
Germany's BMW has chosen Sanar Motors Ltd as its general importer in Uzbekistan, a BMW statement said recently. Reinhard Mund, BMW general manager of the Commonwealth of Independent States countries, said that in the near future Sanar Motors is planning to form a network of dealers in the regional capitals of Uzbekistan. Tashkent already boasts a trading centre with the latest BMW models and maintenance services, Interfax News Agency reported.
Kevin Coon, BMW deputy general manager, quoted optimistic forecasts as saying that his company's sales in Uzbekistan will average 200 cars a year over the next two to three years. There are currently around 2,600 registered BME automobiles in Uzbekistan. In Central Asia BMW has official general importers only in Kazakstan and Uzbekistan. It is also considering the possibility of setting up an importer company in Kyrgyzstan.
China to make telecom equipment in Uzbekistan
China's largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer plans to set up production of CDMA cellular network equipment in Uzbekistan, a top official at the Uzbek Communications and IT Agency said on May 21st Interfax News Agency reported
The project is part of an information and communications technologies cooperation agreement that the agency signed with China's telecom manufacturer, he said. Chinese telecom manufacturer "is now working out the conditions for creating a joint venture to assemble CDMA mobile communications terminals on the basis of Koinot," the former agency Ukbekkosmos, he said.
The official did not reveal the details of the project because it was a commercial secret. New equipment to Ukbekiston Pochtasi would be supplied by China, which will allow the postal company to offer email and Internet services at post offices.
The Chinese telecom manufacturer will also donate digital switching equipment for 5,000 numbers and equipment for the Tashkent Information Technology University.
Japan to finish telecom deal
Mitsui & Co Ltd and Marubeni Corp of Japan will complete a €104m project to expand the telecommunications network in Uzbekistan in 2004, a source in the Uzbek Telecoms Agency told Interfax recently. The project includes increasing telephone network capacity in the country's western region to 40,000 numbers. The project will be financed with budget funds and a Japan Bank for International Cooperation loan of 12.7bn yen, paid to the Uzbek government in 1999.
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