Uzbekistan and the World

Ok, I’m feeling guilty. Back in November, when the ‘orange revolution’ was thriving in Ukraine, we were all over it here at Afoe. Now, with an estimated several hundred dead in Andizhan, Uzbekistan we’re strangely silent. Why, because it isn’t Europe? Well, we are a Europe centred blog, but I hope that doesn’t mean we are Eurocentric. In any event we are involved, one way or another: as Jack Straws comments, or lack of them, make only too plain. So I’m going to try and follow what is happening in Uzbekistan.

But there is another reason for my deciding to do something about the situation, and it came to me after reading a post by John Quiggin on Crooked Timber.

The US currently has an air base and around 1000 troops in Uzbekistan. They can?t be regarded as neutral, and their presence clearly supports the mass murdering and torturing dictator Karimov, someone who appears indistinguishable from Saddam circa 1980. A literal reading of Administration rhetoric would suggest that the US should use its power to overthrow Karimov , but there?s zero possibility that this will happen (the official US response is an appeal for restraint, directed mainly at the protestors). But the troops should be withdrawn immediately, and all ties with this evil regime broken.

Now there are two things here I seriously disagree with.

Firstly JQ states that the presence of US troops “clearly supports the mass murdering and torturing dictator Karimov”. It does no such thing, and I am surprised by the rhetoric used here. It *implies* a deeply embarrasing acquiescence in the said activities, I agree, but this is not the same thing at all and JQ should know this (aren’t there some philosophers on board at CT?).

Actually in case my apparent nit-picking lead me to be misinterpreted, you can find an excellent run down of the history of the Bush administrations relations with the Karimov regime over at the Whiskey Bar (complete with what must be one of the most embarrasing ‘photos of the day’ of Bush with the dictator during his March 2002 visit to the US: a photo which Spain’s Jos? Luis Zapatero would love to have shot, but he, unlike Karimov, can’t get an invite).

My second problem is more than nit-picking. JQ says: “the troops should be withdrawn immediately, and all ties with this evil regime broken…” All of this sounds to me very much like 60’s rhetoric, and the world in my opinion has moved on.

Removing the troops (obviously I don’t imagine for a minute that they would do it, but still follow the thought) would only serve to isolate Uzbekistan more, and the situation could end up pretty much like that in Myanmar. I think there is a better opportunity here: the very fact that Uzbekistan forms part of the system of US and UK strategic alliances should be seen as an opportunity. An opportunity to put pressure on Washington and London, pressure that they can then exert on Karimov. So that’s what I think we should be doing: putting pressure, and informing.

What do we want? Well despite the attractiveness of the rhetoric, what may not be the most desireable thing to do would be to ‘overthrow’ of the dicatator. What might be more interesting would be to achieve a series of specific changes, like an end to torture, the release of prisoners, legalisation of opposition political parties and then elections.Following, of course, the elections the dictator would effectively be duly ‘overthrown’, but possibly without at the same time throwing the country so needlessly into the kind of turmoil we are all only too well aware of in other conntexts. So let’s try and spread the lesson of the ‘orange revolution’ (or that of its Georgian mentors) and in what must be the most difficult of circumstances, bring a little democracy to Uzbekistan.

Meantime lets not forget the hypocrisy. You can hear the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan giving some backround in this BBC video, and you can read him here. In fact Craig Murray was apparently sacked as UK ambassador for reporting that political prisoners were literally being ‘boiled in oil’.

As a first venture into blog-related Uzbekistan coverage, the guardian has a few links here.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

5 thoughts on “Uzbekistan and the World

  1. As an American and a former ‘stan hand, maybe my commenting on AFoE is a bit out of place, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Fundamentalists v tyrant despots…this seems a good place to test how the US is going to respond to inevitable regime change in Saudi.”

  2. I agree, and quite strongly.

    Perhaps it’s easier to sympathize with the Ukraine, because in that situation, there was a clear victor who was denied his victory. In Uzbekistan, there is a clearly oppressive government, but no mature or widespread, organized and responsible opposition movement.

    The responsibility of the int’l community, imho, would be to slowly encourage a political loosening of the screws, so to speak, otherwise Uzbekistan will fall into the kind of repression or anarchy from which it is so difficult to extract a state. (Say, Iraq, as an extreme example.)

  3. Edward,

    if ISAF supply bases are sufficient for a European involvement – Uzbekistan also has a stationing agreement with Germany. Currently, most of the ISAF airliftinh operation seems to be carried out via Termez, where about 300 German soldiers are stationed. (in German -> LINK)

  4. Lest we forget, there is a 900 pound gorrilla to the north that is extremely interested in the region and Uzbekistan in particular. With 26 million people Uzbekistan is the heavyweight and a change in government will be strongly resisted in the Kremlin unless – and this is a big unless – the current government actually promotes instability. The US presence, although known, is almost invisible. Attempts to build civil society organizations are almost out of the question. I worked there to try and come up with ideas to reform the land tenure system which is deeply medieval (and Soviet) and any reform to land meets heavy resistance. Last month I met with local farmers and local government officials and there was a consensus that something needs to change. But I’m afraid the people at the top of the heap, those with vested interests, will not be easily moved.
    I was expected to be back in Tashkent next month for a round-table discussion – looks like I’ staying in Kyiv.

  5. Richard, thanks for this first hand info. I agree that this has all the hallmarks of an extremely complex situation, with no easy answers to hand.

    Of course, it’s also the kind of situation where adroit use of the appropriate political rhetoric makes it easy to score points. Meantime the people on the ground are stuck with the kinds of realities you describe.

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