The White House is getting soft on Uzbekistan for the sake of access to military transport routes to Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch charges:
According to congressional sources, the administration wants Congress to adopt language that would allow the secretary of state to waive existing human rights-based restrictions on US assistance, including military aid, to the Uzbek government. The waiver would be intended to help secure a deal the United States is negotiating with the Uzbek government to provide the US enhanced military access to Uzbekistan to support its operations in Afghanistan...
“The US has an interest in enhancing its supply routes to Afghanistan, and the Uzbek government profits handsomely from existing transit agreements, so both have strong reasons to continue and expand them,” Williamson said. “The United States should not be sacrificing human rights conditions to reach an agreement on access that both sides ultimately want.”
Gulnara Karimova, the controversial daughter of President Islam Karimov, dictator of Uzbekistan, is expected next week in New York at Fashion Week at Lincoln Center.
Today the New York Post reports that Human Rights Watch is questioning whether the sponsors of Fashion Week should include Karimova, who is her country's ambassador to Spain and associated with the oppressive regime of her father.
“There’s nothing fashionable about lending a high-profile platform to the senior official of one of the world’s most repressive governments," Steve Swerdlow, HRW's Uzbekistan researcher is quoted as saying.
Karimova will be showing her "Guli" fashion line which includes Middle Eastern and Asian ethnic clothing said to be "green" in its use of native cotton. But that makes it suspect for labor rights campaigners, however, as Uzbekistan is documented as using forced child labor to pick cotton.
A think tank chaired by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has come up with an interesting idea for getting the largely ineffective Collective Security Treaty Organization off the ground: Kick out Uzbekistan.
The Institute of Contemporary Development, known by its Russian acronym, INSOR, is presenting a report on the CSTO at the Global Policy Forum in the Russian city of Yaroslavl this week that will include proposals to reform decision-making within the bloc from the current consensual format to a simple majority vote.
"In light of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan in 2014, we need to decide what is more important: [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's opinions or the security of Russia and its allies," he said. "It is evident that nobody needs the CSTO as just a talking shop."
Karimov's strongest objections to the internal organization of the CSTO have been over the implementation of a rapid reaction force. Uzbekistan remains deeply wary of Moscow's ultimate intentions and appears to suspect the Kremlin of attempting to gradually take over Central Asia's security.
The report also proposes overhauling relations between the CSTO and NATO. While the Russian-led bloc was initially intended as a counterweight to NATO, it is increasingly evident that the two groups share joint challenges dealing with security in and around Afghanistan.
Maxim Popov, an Uzbek HIV/AIDS campaigner and educator handed a harsh sentence of seven years of prison last year for distributing sex education booklets, was quietly freed early from prison in June, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, noting that the news of his release was only made public August 30. Popov is still confined to his home and has been given a job as an unskilled laborer, but has his wages garnished by the state.
Popov, a psychologist by training who ran various youth programs, was accused of "corrupting minors" for distributing booklets about safe sex. He was also charged with embezzlement of foreign donor funds, a claim the foreign agencies themselves didn't make,which seems to have been trumped up by the authorities. Numerous NGOs signed a petition on behalf of Popov, but as we noted last year, USAID (the U.S. government's Agency for International Development) and other international agencies that had once given grants and publications to distribute to Popov seemed to disappear when it came time to defend him publicly.
An alleged cable recently released by WikiLeaks indicates how USAID backed away from his case and UNICEF said they were not following it; there was disagreement about the origins of the booklet he was said to have distributed but there was no evidence for the charges of financial mismanagement. The State Department privately raised his case with Uzbek officials.
The new WikiLeaks dump of alleged diplomatic cables contains numerous dispatches from Tashkent with troubling new revelations about the downplaying of the issue of forced child labor in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan by both the US Embassy and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), apparently driven by the need to keep good relations with Uzbekistan.
The US Embassy in Tashkent described Uzbek students' annual sojourn to the cotton fields as a rite of passage and a fun social occasion where they play guitars and eat trail mix, discounting reports of NGOs about coerced labor and poor conditions. A Bangladeshi UNICEF official was concerned about the impact Western retailers' boycott of Uzbek cotton over forced child labor was having on his homeland's economy, where traders source cotton from Uzbekistan.
For various reasons, both the Guardian and the activist organization Wikileaks have released the remainder of the collection of more than 250,000 cables, including several hundred previously unpublished dispatches datelined Tashkent from the period 2007-2009.
Tajikistan’s national football team went down 0-1 in a World Cup 2014 qualifier on September 2 to deadly rivals Uzbekistan. But Tajikistan Football Federation vice-president Rustam Emomali, President Emomali Rakhmon’s eldest son, is not taking the defeat lying down and has promised to improve the quality of the game in the country.
“Of course, it is shame that we were unable to defend the draw, but our team acquitted itself well against Uzbekistan,” he was cited as saying by Russian news agency Interfax.
Having played for Tajik premier league champions Istiqlol Dushanbe, Emomali should know a thing or two about football.
He also spared a few words for the national team’s enthusiastic fans, diplomatically ignoring the scenes of unrest outside the packed 13,600-capacity stadium in Tursunzade. A meeting in the Tajik capital between the presidents of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia meant the game was pushed off the national airwaves, so turning up in person was the only way of getting to see the game live.
Again, presumably due to security concerns related to this meeting, the game was not held at the larger national stadium in Dushanbe, so many hopeful fans were turned away, leading to ugly scenes with the large contingent of police present.
Uzbekistan launches its own version of Facebook, Muloqot, on September 1 with claims the new social networking site will be “a convenient and cheap communication platform” for Uzbekistan’s mushrooming legions of social networking addicts.
The name of the bilingual Uzbek-Russian site says it all: Muloqot means “dialogue” or “communication” in Uzbek, and the forum is being touted as cheaper-to-access than sites hosted on foreign servers, with the added bonus of offering an Uzbek-language interface.
So has Uzbekistan – which global watchdogs call an “internet enemy” and say ranks as one of the most repressive countries on earth – suddenly committed itself to freedom of information? Hardly, say critics: Muloqot is more likely just another way of controlling the flow of information.
Uzbek IT company Simple Networking Solutions, which operates the site, is promoting Muloqot as a “web-based project which helps people express themselves and find an audience.”
The company does not mention that the website can also help the government’s cyber-spies find people who are trying to express themselves too freely.
To open an account, Muloqot users must give an Uzbek cellphone number, providing an easy means of monitoring who is posting what. There is no option to sign up without an Uzbek number, reducing chances the system will be infiltrated with dangerous foreign ideas. And to register for an Uzbek cellphone number, of course, one must present a passport.
Amb. George Krol (L) and Sen. Lindsey Graham at President Karimov's residence, August 27, 2011
US Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina was received by President Islam Karimov at his residence in Tashkent on August 27, Uzbek state media reported. Ambassador George Krol, the new US envoy to Tashkent, also attended the meeting. Uzbek TV quoted Karimov as saying Uzbekistan “highly values relations” with the US and has seen “great positive things in our relations, especially most recently.“ According to the typically filtered government reports, the American senator was said to discuss resolution of the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan and ways to stabilize the region.
Gov.uz quoted Graham as stressing the importance of economic renewal and solving social problems in Afghanistan. While official reports didn't specifically mention the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) which supplies NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, no doubt the senator discussed Tashkent's crucial role in helping the NDN. Uzbekistan is known to serve as a key transit air hub through Termez and has supplied food and fuel by train as well. The US has been actively involved in promoting business and economic opportunities around the NDN, seeing it as important to security of the region and an evenutal "Silk Road" to prosperity.
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the UN
Logo for 20th Anniversary of Uzbekistan's Independence
In preparation for the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan's independence, to be celebrated September 1, authorities have been furiously cleaning out any "undesirables" from the capital of Tashkent. Months ago, under the rubric of urban renewal, more than a thousand small businesses were destroyed, reportedly without compensation, and numerous people have lost their homes, EurasiaNet reported. Police are also capturing and destroying stray cats and dogs.
Police are checking documents and anyone found without a mandatory resident permit is subject to detention and removal. Those detained are taken to a special Center for Detention and Assignment of Vagrants and put on buses home. While the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago, independent Uzbekistan still retains the Soviet-era system of propiska, or residential registration.
The railroad connecting Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, with the Uzbekistan border town of Hairatan, has opened, putting into operation a key node of the U.S. military's overland transport route through Central Asia to Afghanistan. reports Central Asia Online:
TASHKENT – Service began last weekend on the long-awaited Hairatan-to-Mazar-i-Sharif railway.
Uzbekistan Railways (UTY) built the route, which was scheduled to open in July before contingencies forced a postponement.
“We have been working out the route’s status as well as who will run it and how (since early July),” said Rasul Holikov of UTY.
Uzbekistan and Afghanistan signed a three-year cortract August 4 under which Uzbekistan will provide commercial services and operate the 75km railway.
Curiously, the report doesn't mention the military origins of the railroad, even though the website is run by US Central Command. It does, at the end, refer lightly to the security issues related to operating a train in Afghanistan:
“I drove a locomotive through all of the stations up to Mazar-i-Sharif,” said Umid Hursandov, a UTY engineer. “Like all other the new railways built by our company, (it) is reliable and meets all standards. Many railway workers in our country are worried about their safety if they work this route. Of course, it would be foolish not to recognise that tension in the region persists, but I saw sound security along the entire railway and soldiers were guarding every crossing and important railway yard.”
It's also curious that no one else seems to be reporting this, but anyway, for more on the military aspect, see this previous post.