Uzbekistan has adopted a law banning foreign military bases on its territory, ending feverish speculation that a rapprochement with the United States – and recent distancing from Moscow – was the precursor to Tashkent welcoming the US military back in.
Uzbekistan’s new foreign policy doctrine, passed by the lower house of parliament on August 2, specifically prohibits foreign military bases from operating on its territory, the government-run Uzdaily.com website reported.
Speculation that President Islam Karimov was preparing to welcome the US military had been fed by Washington’s courting of Uzbekistan ahead of the drawdown of troops from neighboring Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is a key cog on the Northern Distribution Network supply route into and out of Afghanistan, and the US operated a military base in the country until 2005, when Tashkent ejected it following Washington's criticism of the shooting of protestors in Andijan.
In June, Tashkent’s abrupt suspension of its membership in the Russia-led regional Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) also fed the rumor mill.
The new foreign policy doctrine appears to distance Tashkent from both the West and Moscow, ruling out not just foreign military bases and the participation of Uzbek troops in overseas peacekeeping operations but also membership in any international military or political blocs.
“Uzbekistan pursues a peace-loving policy and does not take part in military-political blocs; it reserves the right of exit from any interstate group in the case of its transformation into a military-political bloc,” Uzdaily.com quoted the doctrine as saying – wording which would appear to rule out Uzbekistan’s membership in the CSTO altogether (though Tashkent suspended its membership in June, it is still technically a member). It has already pulled out of the CSTO once before, withdrawing in 1999 and rejoining in 2006.
Hedging its bets, Tashkent, which retains membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) political grouping of former Soviet states, also “reserves the right to conclude unions, join commonwealths and other interstate groups, and also leave them” in the national interest, the doctrine says. The doctrine could also affect Uzbekistan's membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The new policy is “close to neutrality,” commented Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta -- but one semi-official Uzbek website which often gets leaks from the government was quick to quibble with that notion.
“In essence the foreign policy concept of Uzbekistan […] is close to neutrality, although it does not pronounce neutrality as a state policy,” said Uzmetronom.com. “Analysts believe such a position to be substantiated, since it leaves room for maneuver in the event of unforeseen situations which really could threaten the territorial integrity and statehood of Uzbekistan,” it concluded intriguingly.
**Correction: An earlier version of this blog said the doctrine was passed by the Senate on August 2. It was passed by the lower house of parliament.