Residents of Khanabad, a village located near a US military base in Uzbekistan's southeastern Kashkadarya Province, were among the first Uzbeks to learn about the late March militant attacks. Even though Uzbek media remained largely silent on the violence, the US base went into crisis mode, tipping off local residents that Uzbekistan was experiencing some sort of emergency.
"We thought a war had burst out," said one Khanabad resident. "We had not seen so many [war] planes take off in a long time."
Eventually, Khanabad residents determined that the base had not been the scene of Islamic radical action. Even so, the Uzbek government has responded as if the facility had been at the conflict's epicenter: officials tightened security around the US facility, literally closing off Khanabad to the outside world. Citing "security reasons," Kashkadarya provincial authorities announced in early April that visitors would no longer be allowed to enter Khanabad village. Officials also ordered a stop to bus and taxi service that had connected the village to the outside world. In addition, local law enforcement, along with members of the makhalla (neighborhood watch) committee, visited every home in Khanabad, reminding residents to be vigilant and inform authorities about any stranger who managed to enter the village.
"We thought that after Americans come here, our life would improve. But the [American] airbase has given more trouble than benefits so far," said a village elder.
According to a local police source, officials are additionally intent on imposing an information blackout in the area. Law-enforcement authorities have reportedly been instructed to prevent local inhabitants from communicating with journalists both local and foreign except those who work for state-run media and who receive specific permission in advance from the regional administration.
The villagers began experiencing difficulties almost from the moment US forces began using the base in late 2001. The village was encircled by a barbwire fence, preventing villagers from grazing their cattle in nearby fields. As a result, many villagers felt compelled to sell their livestock. In addition, Uzbek authorities granted a portion of the village's lands including a lot with an irrigation canal situated next to the only source of irrigation water for the village to US forces, which sought to expand the air base. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The Americans reportedly allocated funds to build another canal, but local officials opted to spend the money on other projects, local residents claimed.
Regional officials maintained that the latest security measures were implemented with the villagers' best interests in mind. At the same time, they hinted that, depending on circumstances, some of the restrictions could be lifted in the near future. Many Khanabad residents, however, are skeptical that conditions will improve any time soon.
For now, most are trying to figure out new economic survival strategies. For many, the cut-off of public transport has had a considerable impact on their daily routines. The village is situated 12 kilometers away from Karshi, the provincial capital, where many Khanabad residents work. Few villagers have cars of their own, so they have to walk for two kilometers to the nearest road, where they can flag down taxis to Karshi. The need to take taxis has imposed a serious financial burden on many residents. The average income for locals is roughly the equivalent of 10-15 US dollars per month. The fortunate few who managed to find work at the air base earn up to four times that amount.
Not only has Khanabad's isolation disrupted inhabitants' economic life, it has upended social plans as well. One Khanabad resident recounted that her son had been planning to get married soon. But the wedding has been postponed indefinitely because friends and relatives from outside Khanabad would not be permitted to attend. "Our relatives live in neighboring villages that are just a few kilometers away, but none of them would be allowed to come to the wedding," the woman complained.