A dose of absurdity was injected August 30 into the mystery surrounding the fate of Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov, as a state media outlet carried a report about world leaders offering the incapacitated leader congratulations on the country’s upcoming 25th anniversary of independence.
The outward signs in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, suggest nothing out of the ordinary is going on. But whether or not Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov has experienced a serious heart attack, as some reports suggest, the episode highlights the fact that no clear-cut succession plan is in place.
Central Asian states do not face an “imminent” threat posed by Islamic militants, but they need US assistance to help defend against potential dangers, according to top US diplomats. Such assistance, it appears, may include drone aircraft delivered to Uzbekistan, which democratization watchdogs rank as one of the most repressive states in the world.
During a Central Asian tour that focused on regional security issues, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gingerly applied pressure on the presidents of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to improve their dubious human rights records. When pressing Uzbek President Islam Karimov to reform, Clinton reportedly secured a commitment from him to change his ways.
A powerful earthquake registering 6.2 on the Richter scale struck Ferghana Valley early July 20, affecting Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The epicenter of the quake was about 45 kilometers south of the Uzbek city of Ferghana.
For Saidulla, a shop owner at Tashkent's Farkhad Bazaar, Independence Day ceremonies in years past have produced trifling hassles, including heightened police security, cordoned-off streets and a slowdown in customer traffic. This year, however, as authorities plan to celebrate Uzbekistan's 20th anniversary of independence, many Tashkent residents are paying a much higher price.
NATO, not the European Union, initiated the idea of inviting Uzbekistan’s controversial leader, Islam Karimov, to visit Brussels, according to an aide to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. Karimov is scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Barroso, EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, as well as Belgian authorities, on January 24.
It would seem that the Uzbek government’s handling of the mid-June refugee crisis, in which roughly 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan fled to Uzbekistan, has given President Islam Karimov’s administration a significant boost.