By Chris Patten in the International Herald Tribune
To the list of the world’s most self-destructively repressive regimes we should add one name that is too often overlooked: Uzbekistan. Like North Korea or Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan suffers under a brutal authoritarian system that not only impoverishes and commits massive abuses against its own citizens, but also threatens to spread violent instability to its neighbors.
The international community needs to develop new strategies to prepare for such a potential meltdown in Central Asia. True, Uzbekistan represents no direct security threat to Europe or the United States, and the government in Tashkent is not at risk of imminent collapse.
But when the regime does snap in the medium to long term, this will have a significant impact on Western interests. It could, for example, prompt an aggressive Russian intervention in the region and stimulate the undercurrents of Islamist extremism that so far have been more of an irritant than a major threat.
Never a shining light of freedom since the former Soviet republic became independent in 1991, Uzbekistan under President Islam Karimov has grown increasingly authoritarian. This process accelerated on May 13, 2005, when state security forces opened fire on a demonstration of mostly unarmed protesters in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, killing hundreds. That massacre sparked a new surge of state repression against the survivors and their families, and Tashkent has been pressuring neighboring states to hand over refugees.