President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan has said that the departure of U.S. and coalition troops from Afghanistan will bring "an increased threat of the expansion of terrorist and extremist activities, increased tension and confrontation" and "the creation of a permanent source of instability here." He made the comments in a televised address to the country's armed forces on the occasion of their 20th anniversary. Trend.az has reprinted a summary of Karimov's speech, but BBC Monitoring has the whole thing. This was the most intriuging part:
The Central Asian region, due to its geopolitical and geo-strategic importance and vast mineral resources in recent years become an object of close attention and the intersection of strategic interests of major states, is characterized by ongoing tension and confrontation in Afghanistan, where the war is under way already for more than 30 years.
The announced upcoming withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force in 2014 could lead to an increased threat of the expansion of terrorist and extremist activities, increased tension and confrontation in this vast region as well as to the creation of a permanent source of instability here.
This will require reforms to the Uzbekistan's armed forces, Karimov continued:
[T]he drastically changed conditions and the nature of modern military operations, which differ with their suddenness, quickness and rapidity, using small mobile units, should always be borne in mind.
An analysis of military operations in modern military conflicts and local wars shows the use of radically new combat systems of special task forces; the wider use of non-contact forms and methods of warfare with the use of advanced information technologies and modern high-precision weapons.
Aside from the implication that the war in Afghanistan is connected to "geo-strategic importance and vast mineral resources" (which in any case isn't made very clearly here) all that is probably correct. But it's interesting that he chose to emphasize these points here, in what was a fairly short address.
One interpretation would be that Karimov is laying the groundwork for further repression of Islamist groups in Uzbekistan, which he obviously believes to be a threat to his government's authority. But the military isn't Karimov's tool of choice to deal with internal threats: that would be the Ministry of Interior and SNB.
It seems more likely that there is a geopolitical subtext to this. Karimov, these days, seems to be less concerned about the threat of Islamists and more concerned about pressure from Russia. This more than anything else appears to be Karimov's motivation in seeking closer ties with the U.S. vis-a-vis the Northern Distribution Network. With the U.S. leaving Afghanistan starting in 2014, he's likely worried about how much longer he can count on that support.
The U.S. interest in Central Asia may be waning, but the surest way to get Washington's (and especially the Pentagon's) attention is to invoke the threat of Islamism. So this could be Karimov's way of scaring/guilt-tripping the U.S. into maintaining its security ties with Tashkent in the long term. And the second part of that quote, describing the type of military reforms Tashkent should pursue, is the kind of assistance the U.S. can give. Those are the sorts of reforms every military (including Russia's) is trying to implement, but the U.S. is far ahead of Russia or any other potential partner for Uzbekistan. So this also, implicitly, stands as a justification for strengthened military ties with the U.S., which will send a signal to Moscow that Tashkent has geopolitical options other than Russia. (This point was also made by the appointment of the pro-American Abdulaziz Kamilov as foreign minister last week.) Or perhaps this is misreading/reading too much. As always, your thoughts are welcomed...