Daily archives: May 17, 2005

The US and its ‘special’ dictator

By Pepe Escobar writing in the Asia Times

“I am delighted to be back in Uzbekistan. I’ve just had a long and very interesting and helpful discussion with the president … Uzbekistan is a key member of the coalition’s global war on terror. And I brought the president the good wishes of President Bush and our appreciation for their stalwart support in the war on terror … Our relationship is strong and has been growing stronger.”

– US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Tashkent, February 2004

Uzbekistan dictator Islam Karimov’s army, which last Friday opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters in Andijan, in the Ferghana Valley, has been showered by Washington in the past few years with hundreds of millions of dollars (US$200 million in 2002 alone) – all on behalf of the “war on terror”.

So you won’t see the White House, or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, hammering Karimov. You won’t hear many in Washington calling for free elections in Uzbekistan. The former strongmen of color-coded, “revolutionary” Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan were monsters who had to be removed for “freedom and democracy” to prevail. So is the dictator of Belarus. Not Karimov. He’s “our” dictator: the Saddam Hussein of Central Asia is George W Bush’s man.

‘Either with me or against me’

This is what happened in Andijan. Twenty-three local businessmen – who even resorted to hunger strike – have been on trial since February, accused of “Islamic terrorism”. They were part of Akramia, a small Islamic movement whose platform privileges economic success over ideology and religious fundamentalism. Soon after they had set up a construction company – and apparently also a mutual fund – to help local people get a few jobs, the businessmen were arrested.

Washington has listed the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as a terrorist organization. Hizbut Tahrir (HT) – which does not condone armed jihad – may soon follow, as Washington always follows Karimov’s leads. In Uzbekistan, any opposition against the Karimov system is considered terrorism. Karimov blames HT for a series of bombings – which the group vehemently denies – as well as unspecified al-Qaeda-connected organizations (it was the IMU which was responsible for the 1999 bombings in Tashkent). According to Alison Gill of Human Rights Watch in Uzbekistan, Karimov’s security apparatus cracks down heavily on HT, but now Akramia is also a target.

The group was founded in 1992 by a math teacher, Akram Yuldashev, and it’s in fact a splinter group from HT. It’s very popular with relatively educated youngsters in the Ferghana Valley – as it promotes a direct connection between an honest, pious Islamic way of life and economic success. Amplifying the Islamic tradition of zakat, Akramia also insists that part of business profits must be consecrated to help the poor and the needy. Yuldashev has been in jail since 1999. His wife, a defense witness at the trial, vehemently denied that Akramia’s teachings encouraged political subversion: it’s all about economic freedom.

Last Thursday, exasperated protesters close to the 23 businessmen organized a commando raid to release them, taking over the local administration center – with many also demanding for Karimov to go. According to the protesters, had they not acted this way, the 23 would have been condemned, tortured and killed: that’s how it works in the Karimov system. The next day came the bloodbath. Galima Bukharbaeva, on site for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, described a column of armored personnel carriers firing at will – and unprovoked – at the protesters. As many as 500 may have been killed, including women and children, and more than 2,000 wounded. People were angrily protesting against the corruption of the Karimov system, which they blame for their appalling living conditions. Karimov blamed it all on “terrorist groups”. The White House copied him almost verbatim.

Seven decades of the Soviet system imprinted their atheist mark on Uzbekistan. This is not an Islamist haven. Talibanization is a deadend (and that’s why the IMU is only a minor sect). The only true national religion is vodka – capable of alleviating even economic distress. Most women in Tashkent use makeup and mini-skirts with thigh-high boots. HT preaches peaceful jihad. The Karimov system’s repression is relentless. All Muslim organizations and even mosques have to be registered. Sheikhs need a work permit issued by the government. If you don’t pray in a state-sanctioned mosque and wear a long beard, traditional turbans or a hijab, you can go to jail.

A throne drenched in blood

When Uzbekistan became an independent republic in 1991 Karimov operated a classic emperor’s new clothes facelift: exit the communist apparatchik, enter the president; exit Marx, Lenin and Stalin, enter Tamerlan. Karimov, stony face and vacant eyes, is the new Tamerlan – without the conquering spirit (Tamerlan built an empire stretching from Egypt to the Great Wall of China).

The legendary, last nomadic ruler of the Central Asian plains used to order pyramids of skulls to be erected after battles to better terrify subdued populations. Karimov relies on proven “counterinsurgency” torture methods with a macabre, creative touch (immersion in boiling water) thrown in. He once declared, on the record, that Islamists should be killed by a bullet in the head – exactly like scores of wounded may have been killed in Andijan by the Uzbek army, according to some witnesses. In 2004, Human Rights Watch released a book with more than 300 pages of case studies in Uzbek torture. One of the key objectives of torture is to give the US “intelligence” connecting the Uzbek opposition – any kind of opposition – to al-Qaeda and “terrorist groups”. Once again: the Karimov system regards any kind of opposition as “terrorism”.

Everything in Uzbekistan is Soviet/clannish, Karimov-controlled. Practically every square inch in every neighborhood (mahalle ) in Uzbekistan is under surveillance by the so-called “White Beards” – the system’s informants. Karimov’s only weakness is his daughters. Gulnara Karimova, the eldest, practically owns the country – factories, mobile phone companies, travel agencies, the nightclubs where the micro-power elite dances to Russian techno. There may be lots of gas, oil and cotton – but the majority of 26 million Uzbeks subsist with less than a dollar a day. The currency – the som – is virtually worthless: 0.0007 euros. Changing money in Tashkent can become a war operation lasting a full hour.


If Orson Welles could remake Citizen Kane (Citizen Karimov?) Uzbekistan’s Rosebud would be Khanabad. Khanabad embodies a graphic post-Cold War irony. It used to be the biggest Soviet airbase during the 1980s war in Afghanistan. Now it hosts the Americans – ostensively serving to help the “war on terror” in Afghanistan.

The Washington-Tashkent “special relationship” started as early as the mid-1990s, during the Bill Clinton administration. In 1999, Green Berets were actively training Uzbek Special Forces. Khanabad has nothing to do with Afghanistan: Bagram takes care of this. But Khanabad is crucial as one of the key bases surrounding Bush’s Greater Middle East, or to put it in the relevant perspective, the Middle East/Caucasus/Central Asia heavenly arc of oil and gas. It’s on a seven-year lease to the Pentagon, due to expire in late 2008.

So Karimov in Uzbekistan is as essential a piece in the great oil and gas chessboard as Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Inevitably, there will be more uprisings in the impoverished Ferghana Valley that has reached a boiling point. Karimov again will unleash his American-funded army. The White House will be silent. The Kremlin will be silent (or dub it “green revolution” – by Islamic fundamentalists, as it did with Andijan). Corporate media will be silent: one imagines the furor had Andijan happened in Lebanon when Syrian troops were still in the country. Uzbeks in the Ferghana won’t be valued as people legitimately fighting for freedom and democracy: they will be labeled as terrorists. And Rumsfeld will keep cultivating a “strong relationship” with Karimov’s Rosebud.

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The Metro – 60 Second Interview with Craig Murray

The Metro – 60 Second Interview: by Kieran Meeke, May 17th, 2005

As Britain’s Ambassador to the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, Craig Murray spoke out against the human rights abuses of the US-funded regime long before the recent massacre. He lost his job last year and stood against Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the General Election to protest against Western policy in the region and the war in Iraq.

You warned more than a year ago that Uzbekistan would explode. How angry are you to see it happening?

It gives me no pleasure to be proved right. It’s interesting to see the hypocrisy of Jack Straw and others claiming they are doing something. We’ve long known that this was a terrible regime and it was bound to lead to public protest. And we knew that the regime would act viciously against that protest. President Karimov has the arrogance that comes from knowing he has the support of both Washington and Moscow.

President Karimov of Uzbekistan is a brutal dictator but he’s our dictator. Discuss.

Yes, that’s very much the American line. They argue that our alliance with Karimov is a necessary evil, like our alliance with Stalin in Word War II. There is no such comparison. The only factor driving radical Islam in Central Asia is people despairing at the regime and the lack of any democratic alternative.

What happens next?

Not much. We’ll see more hypocrisy from the US and the UK, calling for everything short of actual change. Democratic elections within a year are the only thing that will defuse the situation. There is no sign we’re going to call for that, nor that we’re going to stop calling Uzbekistan ‘our ally in the war on terror’, nor that the US is going to stop giving the regime a few hundred million dollars a year. There’s no sign Jack Straw will stop using intelligence from the Uzbek security services which is extracted by torture. Coming out of the torture chambers will be people ‘admitting’ they were working for Osama Bin Laden, and Washington will give some credence to all that nonsense.

Intelligence produced through torture is bad intelligence. Why are the CIA addicted to it?

Well, it’s plainly immoral and illegal. Secondly, it’s rubbish. But while the material is untrue, that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. The US Government is delighted to have material that says the Uzbek opposition are Islamic militants. It gives them the excuse to go on backing Karimov.

Is the ‘War on Terror’ a genuine threat or a fantasy from the intelligence services?

A great deal of it is a fantasy. The intelligence about weapons of mass destruction wasn’t true, either, but it was extremely useful. The same is true of intelligence that allows former Met Police Chief John Stevens to say there are 200 Islamic terrorists active in Britain. Active Islamic terrorists, prepared to sacrifice their own lives, but they haven’t managed to kill anyone yet. Not very good terrorists, are they? It’s all complete rubbish designed to keep the population in a state of fear. Tanks at Heathrow to keep a suicide bomber off a plane? It’s plainly bollocks – hype.

We topple an evil dictator in Iraq, yet support an evil dictator in Uzbekistan. Why the paradox? You can’t believe Tony Blair and Jack Straw are evil or stupid.

There certainly are evil people in the White House and the Pentagon. The decision has been taken that, in the war on terror, Britain should be extremely close to the US. Jack Straw finds the alliance over Uzbekistan distasteful but he’s held his nose and got on with it. The Americans are cynical; their interest in Central Asia is all about oil and gas. We back a dictator in Central Asia to get access to oil and gas, and we remove a dictator in Iraq to get access to oil and gas. Explain American policy in terms of freedom and democracy and you get a contradiction. Explain it in terms of oil and gas and it’s completely consistent.

60 SECONDS EXTRA!: Well, the US is the world’s greatest economy. It’s your business to get rid of anything threatening your fuel supplies. What’s wrong with that?

Well, they want to get access to it so they can burn it up as quickly as possible in their massive gas-guzzling cars and with a total lack of concern for energy conservation. They will drive forward global warming.

60 SECONDS EXTRA!: But they don’t believe in global warming…

They claim not to. You have to tie in this political stance to their refusal to sign the Kyoto Agreement. That’s what makes it all so bloody disastrous.

60 SECONDS EXTRA!: To deny the reality sounds stupid, almost insane.

It’s not insane to the interests promoting it. They stand to make huge fortunes in oil and gas. It’s the energy companies who are the lobbyists for the non-existence of global warming. They are just pursuing a very narrow personal interest, which is typical of America. Often they are stupid and their policy in Uzbekistan is extremely stupid. They are going to create Islamic fundamentalism. But this is all in the interests of the military establishment – a bigger threat means more money, better pay, more jobs etc. I seem to have developed a very cynical world view.

What can a Metro reader do?

Write to their MP. As someone who has worked in the Foreign Office, I can tell you it has much more effect than you might think. The MP passes it on and it has to be answered within a week. Six letters and they think the electorate is fascinated by this subject. Write and demand free elections in Uzbekistan and demand we stop calling it an ally.

60 SECONDS EXTRA!: You gave the voters of Blackburn a unique opportunity to judge Jack Straw’s conduct. They rejected you. Should you now shut up?

It’s amazing that 2,000 people voted for someone with no backing, banging on about Uzbekistan. I didn’t enter the election with any thought that I might possibly win and I can think of nothing worse than sitting in Parliament with all those boring farts. I intended to make a point and I did.

60 SECONDS EXTRA!: Do you support ID cards?

Completely appalling idea. As a diplomat, I used to boast that Britain was a free country where you could walk around without a policeman demanding to know who you are. I’ll certainly refuse to carry one. What will happen with illegal immigrants? You can’t deport half-a-million people. Are you going to lock up everyone who refuses to carry them? Will terrorists who forge passports be stumped by forging an ID card or stealing one? It’s claimed to be a cure for everything short of the common cold but it’s an extraordinarily expensive non-panacea.

Craig Murray has urged the public to write to MPs calling for free elections in Uzbekistan, and demanding that Britain stops calling Karimov’s murderous regime our “ally”. Having worked in the Foreign Office, Craig has seen how much of a difference a letter to an MP can make.

To support Craig’s call, you can write to your MP via www.faxyourmp.com – it’s quick, easy and free!

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(Financial Times) Winds of change reach central Asia

The Financial Times – Winds of change reach central Asia: It was only a matter of time before the Bush administration’s professed desire to spread democracy, especially among Muslims, collided with the obstacle of an undemocratic US ally such as Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan.

Difficult though it is to be sure of the facts – that is one of the troubles with tyrannies – Mr Karimov’s forces seem to have killed large numbers of his opponents since the start of an uprising in Andizhan on Friday. Some reports say more than 500 have died.

Mr Karimov, who has ruled since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, has blamed criminals and Islamic radicals linked to the Hizb-ut-Tahrir movement. That is probably a self-serving attempt to paint all the government’s critics as terrorist fanatics. More likely, Uzbeks are inspired by the overthrow in March of Askar Akayev, president of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

Unlike in previous uprisings in Ukraine and Georgia, western nations concerned about central Asia do not have the option of backing a pro- democracy movement and letting history takes its course. Unrest in Uzbekistan is driven almost entirely by domestic discontent with Mr Karimov’s cruelty and economic mismanagement, and even if he were ousted there is no guarantee that a democratic government would take his place.

One of the few westerners to emerge from recent events with any credit is Craig Murray, the former British ambassador in Tashkent. He resigned after protesting about his government’s use of dubious information obtained under torture from detainees in Uzbekistan. The US, on the other hand, has been uncharacteristically quiet, with the White House admitting that Uzbeks want a more democratic government but suggesting lamely that this should not be achieved by force.

Unfortunately for US policymakers, Uzbekistan is not an irrelevant tinpot dictatorship. It is the most populous state in central Asia, is seen as a vital ally in the war on terror, and is home to a US air base that made an important contribution to the success of US military operations in Afghanistan. The problem is that Uzbekistan, in the words of Human Rights Watch, also has a “disastrous” human rights record. This combination has led to hand-wringing in Washington.

Speaking to the BBC, Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican congressman, half-heartedly defended US ties with Mr Karimov by comparing them with US support for Stalin during the second world war, and argued that critics of Uzbekistan should bear in mind its support for the war against terrorists.

It may not be long before someone quotes Franklin D. Roosevelt and argues that at least Mr Karimov is “our sonofabitch”. But such ruthlessness is bad policy in today’s connected world. If the US really wants to spread democracy and freedom, it cannot expect to exempt its tyrannical allies from the democratic movement it helped launch in the Middle East, eastern Europe and central Asia.

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(Times): Ready, steady, cook up reasons for supporting the boiling butcher

The Times – Ready, steady, cook up reasons for supporting the boiling butcher:ISLAM KARIMOV, President of Uzbekistan, boils people alive. Why? For the same reason Saddam Hussein put his enemies in a shredder: because, at the time, he could.

When the West is your pal you are able, quite literally, to get away with murder. And what murder! It is a surprise Karimov has time for governing at all, once he has spent the morning formulating new ways to poach, grill, tenderise, smoke and flamb’ his citizens to death. Boiling water, electrocution, chlorine-filled gas masks, drowning, rape, shooting, savage beatings, Karimov’s Uzbekistan is the absolute market leader in torture right now. The CIA would not shop anywhere else, which is why a mysterious Gulfstream 5 executive jet routinely delivers terrorist subjects from Afghanistan there for interrogation and, perhaps, percolation. Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador, drew attention to this last year, and the noted socialist Tony Blair acted immediately. He sacked him.

Mr Murray’s warnings echo louder than ever now, on the back of hundreds of corpses in the streets of Andijan. Uzbek troops opened fire on an unarmed crowd of protesters on Friday in an act of such brutality that the world finally woke up to the wickedness of the war on terror’s new best friend. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, called it a ‘clear abuse of human rights’ ‘ no kidding, Sherlock ‘ but struggled to make his voice heard among our American allies. Little surprise. If they had wanted his opinion, they would surely have given it to him.

Live and don’t learn would appear to be the moral to this story. Karimov may be a vicious, murdering, malevolent despot, but he is our vicious, murdering, malevolent despot so, like Saddam, he can boil, shred and gas away until we tire of uses for him. Saddam was in the right place, sharing our hostility towards Iran at the right time, and so we armed him to the teeth in the name of a cause. Karimov, a nasty member of the regional Soviet hierarchy even before independence in 1991, stands beneath another flag of convenience. He is frightened of Islam, rich in gas and oil, and within striking distance of Afghanistan. An American airbase, which Karimov allowed to be built at Khanabad, now protects the American-owned pipeline carrying Central Asia’s black treasure through Afghanistan to the sea. Is it not strange that all our pals have the same thing in common? Just as celebrities end up latching on to other celebrities, so the West always finds itself hanging out with guys who are knee-deep in four-star.

The reason only the West could set the Iraqi people free was because our military and financial support for Saddam Hussein’s corrupt Government had made it impossible for his citizens to rise up alone. So it is in Uzbekistan. When Kabuljon Parpiyev, one of the leaders of the doomed Andijan protestors, spoke to Zakir Almatov, the Uzbek Interior Minister, at the weekend, he claims that he was told: ‘We don’t care if 200, 300 or 400 people die ‘ we have the force.’ It is the backing of the coalition that makes Karimov cocksure and invincible. There are countries around the world that would choose true freedom overnight: if only the coalition’s freedom-junkies would let them.

In 2002, the United States gave Uzbekistan $500 million in aid (as opposed to $36 million four years earlier) of which $120 million went to the army and $79 million to the notorious SNB, Karimov’s secret police. It was the SNB who boiled Muzafar Avazov, an Islamist activist, to death, having already beaten him severely and ripped his fingernails out. The fate of his fellow prisoner Husnidin Alimov does not bear thinking about, considering the Government restricted viewing of his lifeless body. It was also the SNB who came to collect Avazov’s 63-year-old mother, Fatima Mukhadirova, sentenced to six years’ hard labour for the crime of telling the world about the murder of her son. (She was released the day before Donald Rumsfeld was due to visit, during which he praised ‘the wonderful co-operation we have received from the Government of Uzbekistan’ over the War on Terror.)

So the freedom our precious coalition claims to be exporting around the world is not true freedom at all. Rather, it is freedom we are giving back, having conspired with sadists to take away. What the Iraqi people enjoyed at the polling booths in January was freedom on our terms, not theirs. Considering the dreadful human toll, one would think we would then acknowledge that mistake by not repeating it, but no: there were no opposition parties in Uzbekistan’s last election and there are no arms restrictions imposed by our Government, either. Questioned on thisin Parliament in December 2003, Bill Rammell, the junior Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister, said: ‘Uzbekistan is a key player in a region of strategic importance to the UK, so defence co-operation is important. It is important to note that Uzbek armed forces are not implicated in human rights violations.’ In other words: go boil your head. Oh, sorry, you already have done.

We mould these little monsters such as Saddam, Karimov and General Manuel Noriega and they do our dirty work until such a time when it is no longer expedient, at which point we extract revenge and dress it up as a moral crusade; or enduring freedom. There are those who believe that, whatever its motives, the war in Iraq can be justified by free elections and the removal of Saddam. Yes, but only if that policy is consistent. If the coalition agenda is to spread democracy worldwide, then it cannot be in bed with a tyrant like Karimov. And if it is, then any good in Iraq is overpowered by the stench of death and hypocrisy wafting across from central Asia.

As it stands, the War on Terror finds an exalted place in its ranks for a man whose idea of government is a dissident casserole. Hey, Tony, what’s that smell? I think your freedom’s done.

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