Daily archives: August 1, 2005

“The policy of constructive engagement was myopic, morally corrupting, visibly hypocritical and unsustainable” – Craig Murray

Further thoughts on the US expulsion from Uzbekistan

The US will be keen to emphasise recent disagreement over Andizhan/refugees, to try to retain some dignity. But the causes in fact are much deeper, and relate to the failure of a policy of constructive engagement with a regime that is more recalcitrant even than Lukashenko, and was never going to reform.

The US tried for too long to paper over the cracks and argue in international fora that Karimov was reforming and just needed time. I believe that, for a while, wishful thinking led the US actually to believe this.

The result was a position, particularly on defence and intelligence co-operation, that became untenable and appeared to expose a massive hypocrisy at the centre of the Bush doctrine of spreading democracy and freedom.

It is I think important to realise that for Karimov it was the threat of economic freedom, not just political freedom, which turned him away from the US. Uzbekistan is much closer to a North Korean insular model than the South East Asian model that the US seemed to mistake it for.

The policy of constructive engagement (or “critical engagement” to use Jack Straw’s phrase) was myopic, morally corrupting, visibly hypocritical and unsustainable. Let us hope it is now buried.

Craig Murray

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Uzbekistan told US to close down airbase ‘after gas deal with Russia’ and get out

By Andrew Osborn writing in the Independent

The United States has been given six months to shut its airbase in the central Asian state of Uzbekistan in an ultimatum that is a snub to Washington and a boost for Russia which has been deeply uneasy about the presence of the US military in an area it considers its back yard.

Washington was served notice at the weekend at its embassy in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, and unless it can persuade the autocratic regime of Islam Karimov to change its mind it will have to close the base known as Karshi-Khanabad or “K2”, within 180 days and withdraw the thousands of military personnel. K2 was established after the 9/11 attacks in the US and is used to fly humanitarian and military missions into nearby Afghanistan.

America has paid $15m (‘8.5m) in rent since 2001 when it opened and it was keen to extend its lease. But Russia wants the US military out of the former Soviet central Asia.

And America has been under enormous pressure from human rights groups to condemn the Karimov regime for a massacre of opposition figures and ordinary civilians in May. The US State Department has irked Tashkent by calling for an international inquiry (Moscow says no such inquiry is necessary). But Britain’s former ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray, said the move was driven by a desire to keep control of the Uzbek economy in local and Russian hands.

“This is about the Karimov regime’s decision to turn to Gazprom and the Russians, not the US, to develop Uzbekistan’s oil and gas,” he said. “This deal was brokered between the President’s daughter, Gulnara Karimova, and Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek-born Russian who bought 27 per cent of Corus [British Steel]).”

“They were concerned that Western companies could build centres of wealth not under their direct control. They have decided to turn to Russian and Chinese state companies for investment.”

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Uzbekistan kicks US out of military base

The Pentagon has been given six months to quit as Washington’s relations with hardline dictator sour in wake of civilian massacre

By Nick Paton Walsh writing in The Guardian

Uzbekistan has given the US six months to close its military base there, in its first move to sever relations with its former sponsor.

The air base near the southern town of Khanabad, known as K2, was opened weeks after the September 11 attacks to provide vital logistical support for Operation Enduring Freedom in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Analysts have said that Uzbekistan agreed to the base, the first Pentagon presence in what is a former Soviet stronghold of central Asia, because of a large US aid package and Washington’s silence about the country’s appalling human rights record.

A US defence department spokesman said at the weekend: “We got a note at the US embassy in Tashkent on Friday; the gist of it was that we have 180 days to cease operations at the K2 airfield.”

He added that the defence and state departments were evaluating “the exact nature” of the request. “K2 has been an important asset for the war in Afghanistan,” he said. “We will have to evaluate what to do next.”

The US presence in Uzbekistan has been under intense moral scrutiny after the massacre by Uzbek troops of hundreds of civilians in the southern city of Andijan in May.

The White House was at first muted in its criticism of the massacre, but the state department has grown increasingly vocal in condemning the attack and calling for an independent investigation.

The Pentagon has sought to renew the leasing agreement for the base, for which it has paid $15m to the regime of President Islam Karimov since 2001.

Critics have accused the US of propping up one of the world’s most brutal regimes in exchange for the base’s short-term benefits. The Uzbek authorities are accused of killing and jailing ordinary Muslims under the guise of fighting religious extremism and terrorism, and the state department says torture is used by police in Uzbekistan as a “routine investigation technique”.

A former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who was sacked after criticising western support for the Uzbek regime, said: “The US has managed to hand the dictator Karimov the propaganda coup of kicking out the world’s greatest power. Western policy towards Uzbekistan has been unsustainable for a long time.”

He said the Uzbek decision to curtail relations with Washington was “due to a change-around in economic policy. There has been no significant investment from the west for a while; it’s all Russian and Chinese state-owned companies.”

“Karimov took the decision years ago not to have democracy and capitalism, it just took the US a lot longer to work that out.

“If they had any dignity they would have jumped before they were pushed.”

He said the move would put pressure on other central Asian states to turn away from the west, towards China and Russia, because of their reliance on Uzbekistan’s resources.

Uzbekistan’s demand for the Americans to leave the base prompted a senior state department official to cancel a planned visit to the capital, Tashkent, according to the New York Times.

R Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, was due to hold negotiations about the future of the base with the Karimov regime, and was to echo demands for an international investigation into the Andijan massacre.

The Uzbek government continues to maintain that 187 people in Andijan, mostly criminals, were killed when troops suppressed a prison breakout. Human rights groups say unarmed protesters were fired on, the injured were killed, and that up to 800 people may have died.

The New York Times also quoted a senior state department official as saying that the Uzbek demand was connected to US support for neighbouring Kyrgyzstan’s refusal to send home those who had fled Uzbekistan after the Andijan massacre.

The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has phoned the Kyrgyz government about 29 of those who fled, now being held in the southern city of Osh, and asked that they be ferried out by the UN to a neutral third country.

Her intervention sparked the Uzbek demand for the base to be closed, the official said.

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