On May 13 over 700 demonstrators for democracy in the town of Andizhan were massacred by President Karimov’s vicious Uzbek regime. Jack Straw had continually hailed Karimov as a valuable ‘Ally’ in the War on Terror. Yesterday the EU finally imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan over the Andizhan massacre. Better late than never.
The symbolism of the measure is probably more important than the practical effect. For historic reasons Uzbekistan’s armed forces are largely equipped with Russian weapons, and Russia will keep supplying ‘ on which more below. But Tashkent was indeed very keen on using Western technology to boost its military capacity. It was receiving this, gratis, from the USA. In 2002 alone the US gave Karimov $120 million in military assistance, and $82 million in security service assistance. That aid will probably now stop, but it is essential that the US follows the EU in embargoing the technology.
The restrictions for visas on officials involved in the Andizhan massacre is of great symbolic importance in confirming Uzbekistan’s status as a pariah state, but the EU appears to have dodged the big question ‘ do these apply to Karimov himself?
They certainly should. Two days before the massacre, Uzbek state propaganda announced that Karimov had personally travelled to Andizhan to take charge of the negotiations with the protestors, who had been massing in the square for a fortnight in ever increasing numbers. I doubt he was in truth genuinely there ‘ personal courage is not his hallmark ‘ but in Uzbekistan’s totalitarian system there is no doubt he was in charge. The decision to open fire on the crowd could not have been taken without reference to him.
Even if you accept the possibility that shooting started spontaneously, it is inconceivable that Karimov was not consulted by the next day. That morning soldiers went through the square shooting the wounded ‘ scores of whom had lain without help all night – in the head.
If the travel ban does not include Karimov and his rapacious daughters, it will be meaningless.
Russia and China are eager to fill the vacuum of US withdrawal. Russian foreign minister Lavarov has already announced they will continue to supply arms to Uzbekistan. Russia immediately reacted to Andizhan with full support for Karimov and ludicrous claims of Chechen involvement. Putin is yet again displaying his antipathy to democracy throughout the former Soviet Union ‘ and that includes Russia. Under Putin more than 100 independent journalists have been murdered, independent television has been quashed and any oligarch suspected of nurturing democratic views has been persecuted.
The UK is tomorrow conducting EU talks with Putin, and it is time we stopped pretending the man is a democrat. His murderous policy in Chechnya is as misguided an attempt to fight terrorism as Bush’s invasion of Iraq ‘ and in neither case is terrorism the real motive.
The trial continues in Uzbekistan of the 15 people accused of fomenting the uprising in Andizhan. Like all of Stalin’s show trials, they have conveniently pleaded guilty. In Karimov’s torture chambers, everyone confesses. The show is being conducted for the benefit of the domestic audience. I am not making up what follows ‘ it is the Uzbek government case, presented at the trial.
The prosecution claims that the rebels consisted of the Islamic militant group Hizb-ut-Tehrir, supported by the Taliban, and by Chechen rebels. Finance was provided by the US Embassy in Tashkent, and both CNN and the BBC were involved in the plot from the outset, conspiring to present the rebels as peaceful protestors who wanted democracy.
Obvious, isn’t it? The US were secretly on the Taliban side all along, and CNN are well known for their Chechen links, while the whole thing was masterminded from the BBC by the Teletubbies.
If it were not so serious ‘ and fifteen democrats face the death penalty ‘ it would be laughable. But what should seriously worry us is that the Russians purport to believe this rubbish too. Will Blair have the guts to confront Putin with this nonsense? Of course not.
The absurd love affair between the UK and Karimov is thankfully over. We kissed him, and he’s still a frog. The intelligence co-operation with his obnoxious torturers, which I complained so strongly against, is now finished ‘ by the Uzbeks. They have served notice to quit on the US base. The frog jilted us.
It was blindingly, staringly obvious three years ago that Karimov would never reform. His obnoxious regime is based on slave workers bonded to state farms and state mines. Our government insisted, against all the evidence, that he was moving towards democracy and capitalism. In my last meeting with an FCO minister, in May 2004, I was carpeted for not welcoming the reforms of our ally. The reforms existed only in Karimov’s propaganda and in the incredibly thick heads of New Labour ministers. The next month I wrote a strong telegram to Jack Straw saying we should no longer accept duff Uzbek intelligence, obtained by torture. I was removed as Ambassador because it was impossible for me to maintain friendly working relationships with the Karimov regime.
In truth, it was wrong to try. Finally, I think they see that. It is of no comfort to say ‘I told you so’ when your career is ruined.
Another question gives me still less comfort. The demonstrations in Andizhan had been building for weeks before the massacre. State propaganda had, two days before, announced that President Karimov had gone there in person to take charge of the emergency. Why was the British Embassy not there watching? I have no doubt, and nobody who knew me in Uzbekistan could doubt, that had I still been Ambassador I would have been in that square. I had previously overturned official barriers and driven through the guns to get to an opposition meeting in that Valley.
It was, of course, this penchant for actually doing things that made the FCO want rid of me. Much better for Jack Straw’s FCO to refuse to enter New Orleans to help British nationals until all the right forms have been signed. They left stranded Brits in the Superdome without help for four days. The FCO had told grieving tsunami relatives that if they couldn’t afford to ship the body home, better a quick local cremation. Overturning official roadblocks to help democrats fight dictatorship? Not on the agenda, old boy.
Could a Western Ambassador in the square have stopped the massacre? I don’t know, but it haunts me every time I think of the dead men, women and children of Andizhan.