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 But the troops should be withdrawn immediately, and all ties with this evil regime broken.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 JQ says: “the troops should be withdrawn immediately, and all ties with this evil regime broken…” All of this sounds to me very much like 60’s rhetoric, and the world in my opinion has moved on.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