[A-List] US imperialism: Uzbekistan
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Mar 20 06:06:45 MST 2002
The skunk who came for tea at the White House
By Jim Lobe
Asia Times: March 16, 2002
WASHINGTON - There was no 21-gun salute, no honor guard, no full-dress White House press conference, no black-tie White House dinner, not even a real photo-op with President George W Bush. Such was the welcome accorded Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who opened his military bases to US military aircraft and at least 1,000 US Army Rangers during the military campaign in Afghanistan and pledged even more support to Bush's war against terrorism.
Instead, Karimov got a 45-minute chat with Bush on Tuesday before being politely and discreetly ushered to the door and sent on his way - although not without a tripling of US economic aid, promises of millions of dollars more in military training and equipment, millions of dollars in export credits, and a five-point Declaration on a Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Framework which notes that Washington will "regard with grave concern" external threats to Uzbekistan's security.
Karimov, who has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, is perhaps the most embarrassing of Washington's new allies in the fight against terror. "He's like the skunk at the garden party," said a State Department official who asked not to be identified.
Like Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, of whom president Franklin Delano Roosevelt reportedly once said, "He's an SOB [son of a bitch], but he's our SOB," Karimov has become Washington's SOB in Central Asia. The leader for 12 years of Central Asia's most populous and powerful state, Karimov has gained a reputation for ruthlessness. Having repressed his political opposition - most of whose leaders were imprisoned on trumped-up charges or forced into exile, like Karimov's most prominent foe, Muhammad Salih of the Erk (Freedom) Party - he has turned to clamping down on Muslims who choose not to practise their faith in officially authorized mosques.
Some 7,000 Muslims are in prison, where they routinely face torture, according to recent reports by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and the US State Department. The regime even holds Stalin-style "hate rallies" at which communities gather to denounce religious "extremists" and their families, according to HRW, which has an office in Tashkent. Police often detain family members as hostages in order to compel suspected dissidents to surrender to the authorities.
Such practices have spawned insurgencies against the regime. These include the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), created in 1993. To escape the repression, many of its younger militants fled to Afghanistan, where they gained the protection of the Taliban movement and later forged links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. The IMU, which was blamed for setting off bombs in Tashkent in February 1999, carried out a series of cross-border attacks from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000 but never represented an immediate threat to Karimov's regime, according to intelligence analysts.
Nonetheless, in what was seen as a transparent and successful effort to gain access to Uzbekistan's military bases, Bush himself named the IMU as part of the al-Qaeda network when he first addressed Congress about his plans to strike back at bin Laden shortly after last September's terrorist attacks in the United States. This, according to regional specialists, proved a major windfall for Tashkent.
"This last case of luck was so great that Mr Karimov, being singled out by the United States as an ally in the war against terrorism, began to feel that he was the leader not only of Uzbekistan, but of all Central Asia," wrote Salih in the New York Times this week.
The combination of those regional ambitions and a terrible human-rights record makes Karimov Exhibit No 1 for foreign-policy analysts who worry that Washington may repeat Cold War-era mistakes by forging alliances of convenience with governments whose policies may aggravate precisely the problems it says it is trying to combat.
"Propping up Uzbekistan as a regional hegemon not only would fail to address but would actually exacerbate a key source of Central Asian instability: the domestic political repression that fosters the radicalization of Islamist movements and galvanizes popular support behind them," say Pauline Jones Luong of Yale University and Erika Weinthal of Tel Aviv University, co-authors of an article in the latest edition of the influential magazine Foreign Affairs.
At the urging of US diplomats, Karimov took some symbolic steps on the eve of his trip here - notably, officially registering a long-standing domestic human-rights group - to show he is not insensitive to Washington's concerns. But most regional experts dismissed the move as a token. They point to Karimov's failure to follow through on a pledge last summer to release 1,000 political prisoners and his recent maneuver to add two more years to his term in office, to 2007. Washington denounced the ploy but, by the following week, announced it was tripling aid to US$160 million for the year. Three weeks later, Karimov got his White House invitation.
"There is no reason to give away benefits like assistance or summit without some strings attached," said Elizabeth Andersen, HRW's Europe and Central Asia division director. However, the strings that Washington has decided to attach are connected in the first instance to the Pentagon, where Karimov was greeted Wednesday by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and an honor cordon.
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michael.keaney at mbs.fi
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