Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov is betting on NATO rather than the CSTO to help secure his country as the U.S. forces begin to leave Afghanistan in 2014, according to a report on the website uzmetronom (in Russian). The report doesn't cite any hard data, but uzmetronom is pretty well connected with government officials in Tashkent and their analysis certainly makes sense, given the trends of the last few years, in which Karimov has pulled away from Russia and its favored security bloc, the CSTO, while increasing its cooperation with NATO.
"The fact is that Islam Karimov has never considered the CSTO as a real force that could counter the military threat from the outside," the report says, adding that Karimov's top concern as the U.S. starts to withdraw from Afghanistan will be border security. "One solution: to develop contacts with U.S. and NATO as much as possible."
Since the U.S. has moved to remove human rights-related restrictions from military aid to Uzbekistan, the Obama administration has been criticized for abandoning its scruples for the sake of Tashkent's cooperation on hosting supply lines to Afghanistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked about that yesterday, and she said there has been progress on human rights and political freedoms:
With respect to Uzbekistan, we value our relationship with Uzbekistan. They have been very helpful to us with respect to the Northern Distribution Network. They have also been helpful with Afghanistan in terms of reconstruction. They are deeply involved in assisting Afghans and the Afghan Government to try to rebuild and make Afghanistan a more prosperous, peaceful country. We believe that our continuing dialogue with officials of the government is essential. It always raises, as I have and as others from our government continue to do so, our concerns about human rights and political freedoms. But at the same time we are working with the Uzbeks to make progress, and we are seeing some signs of that, and we would clearly like to deepen our relationship on all issues.
Now, that contention is going to get a lot of scrutiny. She didn't give any examples of how the situation in Uzbekistan has improved. The most recent Freedom House rankings, for example, give Uzbekistan the lowest possible score, as they have for several years.
Most of the coverage of the news that the U.S. has decided to resume military aid (specifically, money to buy equipment, or Foreign Military Financing) has focused on why the U.S. did it, including this story from yesterday on EurasiaNet. But another question is: what does Uzbekistan get out of it? An obvious answer is, money, but the amount of money in question (at least so far) is very small, $100,000.
Maybe this will just open the door to more money in the future. But looking at the Wikileaked cables that describe the back-and-forth between the U.S. and Uzbekistan governments over the question of FMF, it doesn't seem that Uzbekistan is particularly concerned about the stuff per se, but in a more symbolic significance. For example, this cable from February 2010, after President Islam Karimov called for strengthening relations with the U.S.:
The fact that Karimov has effectively tasked his government to advance the relationship with the U.S. presents an important opportunity at a critical time as the USG manages the Afghanistan plus up. Karimov and the GOU are seeking legitimacy and recognition in two ways: First, they want the recognition and prestige that would accrue from a visit by Secretary Clinton to Uzbekistan. Second, they want to see progress on the issue of military-technical cooperation and what they know would be the concomitant lifting or waiving of the Congressional restrictions on FMF and IMET. Our challenge is to leverage this opening to our best advantage, but we cannot assume that time is our ally. The GOU is clearly looking for "signals," and, as part of any additional NDN-related requests, we would be well-served to be able to offer tangible responses to the Uzbeks on the question of a high-level visit or military-technical cooperation.
The groups included human rights organizations Amnesty International USA, the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Freedom House, Freedom Now, and Human Rights Watch; labor unions AFL-CIO and labor rights groups International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF and The Child Labor Coalition as well as Tashkent-based organizations such as the Expert Working Group and the exile groups Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.
“We call on you to stand behind your strong past statements regarding human rights abuses in Uzbekistan,” the signatories said in their letter to Clinton. “We strongly urge you to oppose passage of the law and not to invoke this waiver.” The Obama administration has called on Congress to support the waiver to enable such assistance as bullet-proof jackets for Uzbek law-enforcers.
The language already approved on September 21 will likely be included in an eventual foreign operations bill voted on later this year, barring the unlikely case of any senator willing to hold up the whole bill over Uzbekistan.
Researchers are warning that Central Asia’s post-Soviet decay has provided a fertile breeding ground for a group of dangerous tropical diseases. The region’s economic breakdown and falling healthcare standards have contributed to the reemergence of diseases that had been eradicated or were controlled when the countries were part of the Soviet Union. The diseases, such as malaria, hurt the region’s economy, the authors warn in “Central Asia's Hidden Burden of Neglected Tropical Diseases.”
NTDs “are a group of 17 parasitic and bacterial infections that are the most common afflictions of the world's poorest people. They blind, disable and disfigure their victims, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and disease,” says a press release from the Public Library of Science, which published the study.
Authors Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington, DC, and Ken Alibek of Nazarbayev University in Astana, who published their report September 27, write that “among their common features, the NTDs result in prolonged periods of disability and actually help to promote poverty through their long-standing effects on child development and worker productivity. It is not commonly appreciated that the NTDs are widespread throughout Central Asia where they are also a major determinant of poverty.”
The diseases include “soil-transmitted helminth infections, food-borne and zoonotic parasitic infections, and vector-borne protozoan infections.” Some of the infections spread through meat, which is no longer regulated by mechanized slaughterhouses, since the demise of the Soviet state left “livestock production in the hands of small farms and unsupervised homes, and largely without veterinary inspection.”
Due to the exigencies of supplying troops in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has been seeking a waiver to remove seven years of human rights restrictions barring military aid to the Uzbek dictatorship.
Yet despite these concerns, word comes today from a Senate source saying that Congress has indeed authorized the waiver, to the chagrin of many human rights activists.
[CLARIFICATION: The waiver has passed only in the Senate Appropriations Committee, but this is now unlikely to be changed when the bill comes for a vote to the full Senate.]
The groundwork was being laid long before; this summer, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-NC), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, visited Uzbekistan to discuss the waiver, among other aspects of improving Uzbek-US relations.
A meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Uzbek Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiev was anticipated this week, as the Uzbek delegation arrived in New York for the UN General Assembly. Yet the meeting didn't take place, possibly due to Uzbekistan's unhappiness about being named once again in the annual report on international religious freedom as a "country of particular concern" for its appalling torture and imprisonment of devout Muslims and other religious believers.
China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are asking you to trust them with your Internet.
Last week, the four countries proposed an Internet “code of conduct” at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Their document calls on signatories to curb “the dissemination of information that incites terrorism, secessionism, or extremism, or that undermines other countries’ political, economic, and social stability, as well as their spiritual and cultural environment.”
That makes sense coming from some of the most repressive Internet climates on the planet. Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders lists Uzbekistan and China as “internet enemies.” Tajikistan regularly blocks critical sites.
Gulshan Karayeva and Nodor Ahatov, members of Uzbekistan's Human Rights Society, were held by local authorities for 10 hours on September 15 while taking the photos:
We saw the fourth-graders picking the cotton as we were monitoring allegations of child labor in our region," Karayeva told RFE/RL.
"[The students] pick cotton from the early morning till the afternoon and then they are supposed to go to school afterward," she added.
Police destroyed all the notes the pair had taken while observing the child labor, including the children's names.
Karayeva said she initially succeeded in hiding the digital camera card from police before they searched her from "head to toe" and confiscated the card, said RFE/RL.
The Uzbek government was embarassed last week when Gulnara Karimova, daughter of President Islam Karimov, was asked to cancel her show during New York's Fashion Week when the organizers became concerned about human rights protests.
Following up on a story that we posted September 15 on Uzbekistan’s propiska crackdown, newly adopted legislation is opening a loophole for property owners to avoid being booted out of Tashkent.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov on September 15 signed legislationthat enables citizens who own real estate in Tashkent to obtain coveted residency permits, or propiskas. The new rule reportedly takes effect immediately. It’s not known exactly how many illegal residents can qualify for a propiska under the new framework. It’s likewise unclear how the rule will be implemented. Past experience shows that the letter of the law isn’t always followed in Uzbekistan.
Tashkent’s rapidly rising population is believed to be the reason why officials are now strictly enforcing the residency permit regime.
A week ago, after Human Rights Watch issued a statement criticizing the White House for seeking to ease restrictions on military aid to Uzbekistan, a State Department spokesperson promised to provide me with more information on what exactly sort of aid was being sought. After repeated inquiries, I still haven't heard anything, so it's safe to assume there will be no information for now. HRW suggested that the aid was to bribe Uzbekistan into greater cooperation with the Northern Distribution Network, the overland supply lines to Afghanistan that pass through Uzbekistan. The spokesperson told me that they had gotten several inquiries, but the only additional information (and it's not much) has come from Steve LeVine, of Foreign Policy, who talked to an unnamed U.S. official:
The senior U.S. official, who asked not to be identified, argued that the U.S. is not bribing the Uzbeks, but "seeking congressional support so small amounts of non-lethal assistance can be provided so Uzbekistan can defend itself against possible retribution from militants who might attack them for supporting NDN." This assistance includes items such as body armor, he said. Regarding Karimov's intolerance of opponents and critics, he said that the U.S. presses Uzbekistan to improve its human rights record and "we have acheived some progress."
Any time the Uzbekistan government justifies something by saying it is needed to protect against militants, we should immediately be skeptical. This is an old trope with them, and there have as yet been no attacks on the NDN in Uzbekistan or anywhere else. What small amount of militant activity used to exist in Uzbekistan has been completely wiped out -- does anyone remember the last time there was any sort of attack there?