A Big Uzbekistan Post

by Nathan Hamm on 4/4/2004 · 4 comments

First off, the AP has gotten in touch with a former IMU member in my Uzbek hometown of Navoi. In a post on Tohir Yo’ldosh, I relied heavily on an RFE/RL story that used this guy for details on the state of the IMU. Seems that the Deutsche Welle reporter who first dug him up has started passing around his name.

Anyway, Uigun Saidov, who took an amnesty offer because he was tired of fighting, still wants an Islamic state in Uzbekistan, but he also says he doesn’t see the hand of the IMU in the recent attacks. There are some interesting details in the story about his training with the IMU, including of a mention of something that’s always bothered me about the Russian military:

He said he had been trained at an IMU camp in neighboring Tajikistan’s Tavildara region – a former stronghold of the Tajik Islamic opposition that fought the secular government in a mid-1990s civil war.

Later, he said he was flown to Afghanistan in a military helicopter belonging to Russian troops stationed in Tajikistan.

“Our leader Juma Namangani had good ties with Russian military,” he says. “They supplied us with weapons, clothes and other things.”

Take it for whatever its worth. I’m certain this has a whole lot more to do with corruption at the lower levels of the military (Land Beyond the River mentions the Russians renting tanks to both sides in the Tajik civil war). Nevertheless, it is a factor in my belief that US influence, domination, whatever you want to call it, is a much more benign force than Russian (and I don’t know enough about Chinese military discipline to offer much of an opinion).

The Christian Science Monitor has a story on why women played such prominent roles in last week’s attacks. I don’t know quite how I feel about this article. I don’t doubt, and at least seem to recall repeatedly saying, that the root cause of all dissent in Uzbekistan is the corruption, lack of political and economic opportunity, the abusive police–in general, hideous governance. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to pull the “poverty and oppression breeds terrorism” out of the garage. Sure they are factors, but if they were all it took for people to start blowing themselves up, there’d be almost no one left in a place like Uzbekistan. The women involved in the attacks probably are comparable to Chechnya’s “black widows.” Their husbands were arrested and some likely tortured to death simply for attending religious services lacking the state’s blessings. In my experience, that’s going to be an Uzbek who’s fairly committed to their faith. For me, it’s much easier to believe that religion–a particularly poisonous form of it–cultivated the seedlings of anger and despair in the hearts of these women into suicide bombings. They did have to get the explosives from someone…

While there is widespread anger among Uzbek Muslim women about the fate of their relatives – and even a history of suicide, that has in the past translated into cases of self-immolation in police offices – hooking up with militants was not easy.

“Where could an ordinary woman find these explosives?” says Rana Azimova, a human rights activist. “Muslim Uzbek women do not commit such acts. Women with men arrested ask God for patience, and expect a better life in Heaven.”

And damn, I thought the whole, “Uzbekistan is Iraq” thing would have died down by now, but it hasn’t.

But the administration’s tight new embrace of one of the world’s most repressive regimes–in Uzbekistan–shows that this is cynical at best. Uzbekistan is a Central Asian nation bordering Afghanistan. It’s about the same size as Iraq and also has 25 million people. It lies in the center of a region with rich, untapped oil and gas reserves that U.S. energy companies are eager to exploit.

Tried to slip one in there, didn’t they? C’mon, try a little harder, if you want to try to pass these countries off as identical because they are swarthy, oppressed, and awash in oil, make sure they both have oil. While Uzbekistan is a major gas producer, it’s proven oil reserves are less than spectacular. Might as well talk about us wanting to steal their gold, even if it is recycling the conquistador story. At least Uzbekistan has a lot of it. Of course, the author covers his less than precise knowledge by saying Uzbekistan is in a region with a lot of oil and gas. That is true, but all of these states have done a pretty slick job of spreading around the contracts and their affections between the US, Russia, and China so as to not get sucked in too much by any one party.

And, I think this next part is why I’m tired of fighting against the Iraq/Uzbekistan comparison (which oversimplifies the case for war),

While few Americans are aware of the situation in Uzbekistan, they are helping to pay for it. In 2002, the U.S. gave more than $500 million to the Uzbek government, of which $79 million went directly to the police and intelligence services that are accused by human rights organizations of carrying out most of the abuses. This year, the Bush administration has increased direct military and economic aid to Uzbekistan.

Everything up to that last sentence is verifiable, even if it is misleading to suggest that the $500 million was aid (actual aid in ’02 was closer to $300 million, the rest was, I’d assume pay for the base near Qarshi). However, there were these 365 days between 12/31/02 and 1/1/04 that are kind of left out. Total assistance for 2003 was a comparably paltry $86.1 million, slightly more than what they received in 2001 (PDF). They could conceivably lose almost all of it this month. That decrease (over $400 million in one year) isn’t a “tight new embrace of one of the world’s most repressive regimes.”

I have other quibbles (such as, even Rumsfeld has publicly shunned Uzbekistan’s offer to make Khanabad airbase a permanent US outpost–we only want places to which we can quickly deploy, not permanent bases), but like I said, I’m getting tired of this.

Moving on, there’s more news on aid. The EBRD will decide this week, whether or not to continue aid. The State Department will make a similar determination by the end of the month. Uzbekistan’s foreign minister is asking both to continue aid, making the absurd claim that Uzbekistan has made improvements in the human rights arena.

I’ve become pretty pessimistic about the whole mess that is Uzbekistan lately and kind of had one of those lightbulb moments a while back. For me, the question of aid to Uzbekistan shouldn’t even be about how it’ll encourage reforms anymore. It’s now about how it affects our (and I’m including the Europeans in this “we”) credibility in the entire region. Our unwillingness to throw a righteous fit when our partners back out of deals only makes it easier for the human rights situations to degrade in places like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakstan. Cut the aid for these people. Be dramatic about it. Let the Uzbeks know we’re serious (in fact, a joint EBRD-State Department announcement would be fabulous). Then come back to the table with an offer to peg aid levels to performance goals and be committed to follow through. If you want to know what I’m looking for, read the ICG’s suggestions for all parties involved.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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PF April 5, 2004 at 9:15 am

Thanks for this and posts like it. I really appreciate your informed eye on the news. I only wish I had something to contribute myself.

Dan Darling April 7, 2004 at 11:42 am

Wasn’t Namangani a former Russia soldier? If so, he couldn’t he have had contacts with his former comrades-in-arms who were still serving in the Russian military?

Nathan April 7, 2004 at 12:16 pm

Dan, bingo!

You get the gold star on that one. Back when he still had the Slavic patronymic, Jumaboi Khojiev was a Soviet paratrooper (if I’m remembering correctly) who fought in Afghanistan and became disillusioned with the Soviet Union and drawn to the mujahideen.

I don’t have the book here at work that I’m thinking of, but I recall that the units stationed in Tajikistan were simply available to the highest bidder. He’d also been out for quite a while by the time he showed up to fight, but he certainly was well-versed in the military culture of the Russian troops.

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