Saving Central Asia from Uzbekistan 3

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.

The Andijon shockwave continues to reverberate across Central Asia. In the immediate aftermath, hundreds of people tried to escape persecution by fleeing over the border to Kyrgyzstan, which, already close to becoming a failed state itself, was shaken very nearly to its breaking point.

Thanks to decades of Soviet policies and post-Soviet support for regional integration, Central Asian countries are strongly interlinked, so Uzbekistan’s neighbors are vulnerable to any instability next door. Weak and struggling, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are essentially dependent on Uzbekistan for energy and transport. Even relatively prosperous Kazakhstan could be seriously troubled if violence were to drive Uzbeks across its border.

Western policies meant to encourage the development of political and economic openness in Tashkent have failed, and the emphasis now has to change.

Although efforts should certainly be made to continue to apply pressure through targeted sanctions, voluntary trade restrictions and an international investigation of the Andijon events, the European Union, the United States and other donor governments such as Japan need to acknowledge that they have almost no influence with the Karimov government and few levers with which to change this in the short term.

The emphasis rather should be on longer term measures, amounting essentially to a lifeboat strategy to maintain political activity, civil society and educational opportunities in the expectation of future change, and an effort to reduce the impact any future instability in Uzbekistan would have on its neighbors.

In particular, the key external players should consider a number of new policies.

Donors should beef up media development targeting Uzbekistan, to support journalism training in the region and broadcasting into the country from abroad, including news and educational programs.

Independent news gathering inside Uzbekistan is incredibly difficult and dangerous, but there are still journalists and human rights activists who are willing to take the risk. They deserve support.

The international community also needs to expand the capacity of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan to cope with the economic and political fallout from Uzbekistan, including help in crisis planning, pre-positioning of resources to handle refugee flows, improving policing and border security and increasing aid to those responsible for emergency situations.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would be strengthened by assistance for hydropower projects, particularly small-scale schemes, and improving roads from Almaty, Bishkek and Dushanbe to China, Russia and Afghanistan. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would also benefit from schemes to shore up government institutions.

Uzbekistan may not blow up today, but it remains a powder keg. The world needs to prepare the Uzbeks and their neighbors for the turbulence ahead.

Lord Patten of Barnes, former European Commissioner for External Relations, is chairman of the board of the International Crisis Group.

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3 thoughts on “Saving Central Asia from Uzbekistan

  • Richard II

    The article was written by:

    "Lord Patten of Barnes."

    A Lord wrote the article. Everyone, stand up! He's a LORD!!

    I cannot take "LORD" Patten seriously when clearly he wants to distance himself from the masses, from ordinary people, from peasants, of which I'm sure there are plenty in Uzbekistan.

    When "LORD" Patten grows up and does everyone the courtesy of using a proper name, maybe I'll do him the courtesy of reading his articles.

  • Richard II

    This post is only relevant to the article above in the sense of people in positions of power and privilege fooling the rest of us that they are thoughtful, caring individuals.

    I hope no one minds me posting this. I'm just tired of people wondering whether Bush and Blair are really decent people.

    I reckon Bush and Blair could nuke the world, and still talk themselves out of being judged as evil.

    Here's an interesting article for anyone who didn't read my previous post:

    "Bush Taking Anti-Depressants to Control Mood Swings"

    This article highlights how sadistic Bush is:

    "Dr. Frank diagnosed the President as a 'paranoid megalomaniac' and 'untreated alcoholic' whose 'lifelong streak of sadism, ranging from childhood pranks (using firecrackers to explode frogs) to insulting journalists, gloating over state executions and pumping his hand gleefully before the bombing of Baghdad' showcase Bush's instabilities."

    That's Bush all over: exploding live frogs for a prank!

    What's happening in Iraq right now doesn't bother Bush, because, from an early age, George W. became inured to bloody messes.

    Bush has certainly gloated over state executions. In an magazine interview, Gary Bauer, GOP presidential hopeful in 2000, said of Bush:

    "'I think it is nothing short of unbelievable that the governor of a major state running for president thought it was acceptable to mock a woman he decided to put to death,'"

    Bush apparently mocked the words of Karla Faye Tucker, who killed two people with a pick axe:

    "'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, 'don't kill me,'"

    Bush claims he found "God" when he turned 40, and that "God" cured him of his alcoholism, set him on the straight and narrow (and supposedly also put him in the White House). Karla Faye Tucker also claimed to have found "God". But in her case, Bush deems her a liar, executes her, and has a whale of a time while doing so.

    The only explanation for such seemingly rank hypocrisy is Bush knew Karla was lying because "God" told him. The only justification for Bush's display of sadism is "God" had also told him that Karla was going to "Hell" and he was going to "Heaven", so gloat away my dear mortal child – shake off those shackles of Christian virtue!

    And anyone who believes that, will believe anything.

    Article here about the colossal number of executions Bush has presided over – 152 – more than any other governor, in fact:

    Bush doesn't even spare the mentally ill:

    How many lives has Bush taken in Iraq? How hard has Bush tried to prevent the bloodshed?

    If someone of the same character as Bush had to decide on a fate for Bush, what would it be? No prizes for guessing!

    They say, you can judge a man by his friends. Blair has a very well known friend. His name is George W. Bush.

  • Richard II

    I'm afraid this post is also off topic, but my main source for information about Uzbekistan is this site, so there's not much I can add.

    This is an interesting article, however, something I haven't read about before: how gay people are treated in Iraq now that America has "liberated" them. This is sure to please Bush and his "Christian" supporters:


    "…you have situations where Badr Corps thugs will drag someone into the street and begin beating them, and they are then surrounded by crowds of Shia passers-by who cheer them on. It's a very desperate situation.

    "…bodies are discovered with their hands bound behind their backs and bullets in the back of the head.

    "The gay activist I spoke to in Baghdad, with practically tears in his voice, was begging the West to, 'Please, we need protection!' When gay activists have gone to the U.S. authorities in the Green Zone, I was told, 'We are laughed at, and they don't care.' They treat the gay Iraqis who are begging them for protection with contempt and derision, which is rather scandalous."

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