Halfway There, and Other Uzbekistan Stuff

by Nathan Hamm on 4/6/2004 · 2 comments

“We can no longer conduct business as usual.” –EBRD head Jean Lemierre, referring to the bank’s investments in Uzbekistan. The details are a bit vague, but the bank will scale back its involvement in Uzbekistan because of failures to improve the human rights record and commit to economic reforms.

The bank won’t withdraw from the country, but instead “focus its activities on the private sector and those public sector projects that finance cross-border activities or clearly benefit the Uzbek people,” the EBRD said in a statement.

“We will stay engaged to push for reforms,” Lemierre said, adding that local humanitarian groups had asked the bank to remain involved.

I look forward to seeing what exactly the details are, but it definitely sounds like they are going to move away from giving money to the state and start investing directly in the Uzbek business and NGO sector.

I hope the US follows suit. The statements by visiting Congressmen are kind of a mixed bag that don’t clarify a whole lot.

Margaret, of Uzbekistan Upside Down, has some interesting news from the ‘stan.

…things are very much normal, in a pre-last week kind of way. The bombings and shootings are barely mentioned, except by expats emailing around newspaper articles and editorials, or seeking defense attorneys for new detainees. I am very happy that our public defender centers have agreed to represent people who were detained in some connection with last week’s violence; our Ferghana defenders have already eight such clients. I’m a bit worried for the lawyers and the threats or at least extreme pressure they are likely to receive.

Good luck to these lawyers. I applaud them for their courage and wish them success and safety as they defend these clients. Even if their clients are guilty as sin, I’m glad that there are lawyers willing to put their asses on the line in the interests of fair trials.

Anyway, there is no further word on who or what was behind any of what happened, except last week’s governmental assertions that they were connected to international terrorists. I suppose Central Asia will soon be out of the American press; but it’s been nice to see Uzbekistan finally in print as other than one of the countries (many of which most Americans can’t identify) in the Coalition of the Willing. But it’s also unfortunate that the coverage portrays people as nervous and particularly vigilant, because that isn’t the impression of those of us who are actually here. I suppose if you want a story, though, you’ll find someone to give it to you.

At risk of making one of the constant sub-currents of The Argus a dislike of journalists, let me just say that, well, I can’t stand journalists. This disgrace to reporting tried to do the same thing to me, refusing to believe that I wasn’t scared to be in Uzbekistan immediately following 9/11.

I also received an email forwarded to me from Tashkent that confirms that the police are going door to door to check papers and see who’s living in each apartment. Maybe they’ll get an accurate census out of this.

In other news, Uzbek police claim they’ve caught the ring-leaders of the attacks.

This article from the Heritage Foundation is so full of factual errors that the author should feel intense shame:

  • IMU founded in early 90s (actually the late 90s)
  • IMU is a branch of al Qaeda (more of a fellow traveller, but they have been reported as a branch for the sake of over-simplicity)
  • There’s no doubt they’re behind the attacks last week (when there’s plenty of speculation it was a new group)
  • Karimov crushed the IMU in ’99 (they were still making incursions across the border as far north as the Chimgan area in 2000 and 2001, and anyway, the US crushed the IMU)

This is all apparently to make the argument that al Qaeda is a movement now whose ideas are spreading far afield. While it’s a scary thought, guys like Juma Namangani and Tohir Yo’ldosh were fanatics in the late 80s and pretty much all those who felt the same way felt that way in the early 90s as well. Uzbeks may be angry, but by and large, they are not the types of people to be too interested in the violent establishment of a new caliphate. Most of them justifiably feel like their lives would be much better were Karimov to go away, and a small number see Wahabbism as the best replacement (remember too that Wahabbism is foreign to Central Asia and mostly a new phenomenon introduced with Saudi and Pakistani money through the Ferghana Uzbeks who settled in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the 1920’s and 30’s).

I wish I had more time to argue with this op-ed point-by-point, but let me make a few general points. US policy in Central Asia has not contributed to the rise of militant fundamentalism and violent opposition. It hasn’t done nearly enough to push back the tide, but the primary responsibility must lie squarely on the local governments’ shoulders. We could get into the whole argument of the US supporting them, but at the end of the day, it is the local cop or official shaking down people going about their business that is fueling rage. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the local governments to fix this, and there’s only so much the US can do. It’s easy enough to make almost the same argument about US responsibility if aid is cut, so this line of thought shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Our policies do need much more focus and nuance though.

Also, while the US is very influential in the region, I wouldn’t say they are the major, dominant foreign actor. Richest, yes, but I feel Russia has a lot of influence that people forget about because Putin keeps it stored up in the attic.

It is interesting to note that the mahalla system (it’s pretty much like a neighborhood watch, credit union, council of elders, and local charity rolled up into one) will be used to watch for “suspicious people”. I say this is interesting because the system has been criticized in the past for its complicity in being a snitch for the state in the past. I’m specifically referring to a Human Rights Watch report from a while back, but their site seems to be down right now, so I can’t offer the link.

That’s all for now, but I guarantee there will be a lot more.

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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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buermann April 7, 2004 at 5:35 pm
Nathan April 7, 2004 at 11:14 pm

Thanks, you rule!

I lived in a very Soviet city, and the Mahalla was there, but kind of this thing that was just there. In Navoi at least, most people seemed not to notice it too much either.

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