[BREAKING NEWS] He did it…

by Nathan Hamm on 7/13/2004 · 10 comments


Now it’s in the hands of Congress.

Two Three stories below the fold.


The United States on Tuesday withheld $18 million in aid from Uzbekistan, a military ally in its war on terrorism, as a punishment for what it has called unacceptable human rights violations.

The move followed human rights groups’ calls for the United States to block the funds, in a case that highlighted Washington’s dilemma in working with authoritarian governments to hunt militants.

The United States said it intends to continue military cooperation with Uzbekistan. The Central Asian nation allows Washington to use an air base for operations in neighboring Afghanistan.

“Uzbekistan is an important partner of the United States in the war on terror and we have many shared strategic goals. This decision does not mean that either our interests in the region or our desire for continued cooperation with Uzbekistan has changed,” the State Department said.

Congress required the Bush administration, which has been criticized for sacrificing human rights in pursuit of security, to certify that Uzbekistan had made substantial progress on human rights and democracy in order to disburse the aid.

Human Rights Watch said the decision to withhold the aid showed the United States was serious about pressing for improvements in Uzbekistan. The aid was intended to pay for programs ranging from law enforcement to improving the accounting standards of Uzbekistan’s central bank.

“There is still a carrot out there for Uzbekistan. The carrot is recertification and gaining stature on the international stage for coming through and making improvements,” said Rachel Denber of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Thousands of political and religious prisoners, mainly Muslim dissidents, are incarcerated on flimsy pretexts in Uzbekistan, according to human rights groups, who accuse the government of torture.

Uzbek officials have said torture is no longer systematic in the jails of the former Soviet state. But the United States has complained it is “unacceptable” that deaths in detention have gone unpunished.

The Independent

Uzbekistan, whose leader famously had a jailed opponent boiled to death, is to lose the bulk of its American aid because of its human rights abuses, prompting calls for Britain and the European Union to follow suit.

The United States plans to take the unprecedented step of cutting all military aid and some economic assistance, worth $18m a year, to punish the central Asian state for its harsh policies aimed at stamping out political dissent.

The decision was signed by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on Monday night, according to Washington sources. But the move must be approved by Congress, the State Department said last night.

“This is a major step for the US to take such a position and cut aid on human rights grounds,” said Human Rights Watch central Asia expert, Acacia Shields, speaking from New York. “The EU should now match the US in taking a similar principled position.”

The West’s patience with the country’s Soviet-era leader, Islam Karimov, has gradually run out after a high point in relations after 11 September when he was seen as a bulwark against Islamic radicalism.

Uzbekistan hosts a US military base which was used for missions in Afghanistan.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development scaled back lending to Uzbekistan in April to protest against the lack of progress on human rights and economic reform.

The US has been criticised for allowing its military agenda to appear to be driving relations with Uzbekistan rather than issues of democratisation and reform, which has only encouraged Mr Karimov to continue to ride roughshod over human rights. Britain’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has been in the forefront of attacks on Mr Karimov. Mr Murray, who has been censured by the Foreign office for his public criticisms of Mr Karimov, has publicly highlighted the contradiction between US support for the Uzbek regime and its invasion of Iraq for similar human rights abuses.

UPDATE: A little commentary too. The only reason I have to gloat about this is that, maybe, if I’m really lucky, Josh Marshall and Matthew Yglesias might eat some crow. In all, I am, of course, pretty pissed about this. I should probably chill out about it though until word comes back on Uzbekistan’s reaction and the Congressional vote.

UPDATE: Crap, I gotta run with this because it’ll lift my spirits.

Matthew Yglesias:

the administration has embraced dictatorships from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan to Pakistan in an unprecedented manner

Josh Marshall:

In Central Asia the administration has strengthened ties with coalescing autocracies like Uzbekistan, supporting and facilitating the intensification of domestic repression. No one even disputes this.

But for that to mean anything one would have to point to cases where we, or in this case, the administration made short-term geopolitical sacrifices to advance our longterm interest in democratization.

And I cannot think of a single case whether in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Russia or China or Uzbekistan or anywhere where that has happened.

I’m sure that, if pressed, Colin Powell would have to admit that he was crushed by their devastating critiques and had to grab the first available chance to redeem himself.


In a rare rebuke of an ally, the Bush administration announced yesterday that it will cut $18 million in military and economic aid to the authoritarian government of Uzbekistan because it has failed to take a series of promised steps to improve its human rights record.

State Department officials, who had been warning President Islam Karimov’s government for months that the additional aid package was in jeopardy, said they hope the move will send a tough message that political repression can be costly.

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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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praktike July 13, 2004 at 11:57 pm

Although I generally agree with you and Laurence here–and I imagine Powell actually does as well–I can see the perceived advantages for the Bush administration. For starters, it gives up nothing of substance if the security arrangement stands. And let’s face it, $18 million is a pretty small chunk of change. So this isn’t really about the money at all.

So the best explanation for this move must be to blunt domestic and international criticism and regain the perception that the US occupies the moral high ground. It may also serve to send a message to relatively moderate Islamists that we aren’t necessarily out to get them. HT-ers are probably a lost cause, but there are no doubt people on the fence who will be somewhat mollified.

If you look at the big picture–the subtle messages we’re sending in Azerbaijan, Darfur. the amnesties in Iraq and Saudi Arabia (can those be coincidences?), the rhetorical support for Turkey joining the EU (albeit clumsily delivered)–you have to think that we’re trying to show that our foreign policy is not against Muslims. And it will take the Karimov criticism off the table domestically. I can even see how turning around and using Karimov as a convenient whipping boy could serve the broader goal, even if it is the wrong policy for Uzbekistan itself.

But — I’ve been reading up on the Helsinki Accords, and it’s fascinating to look back and see how wrong the debate was at the time. You had Scoop Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan attacking Ford and Kissinger for “ratifying Yalta” or whatever. Not to mention the Solzenitzen controversy. And it’s certainly true that Kissinger was no supporter of human rights. But almost by accident, the groundwork for perestroika/glasnost was laid by the provisions that were put into the agreements. Were it solely up to Jackson, Helsinki would never have happened in the first place (see what happened with the Jackson-Vanik amendment for an example of Jackson’s idiocy). But were Kissinger not being beaten up from the right and the left, the human rights aspects of the Accords might not have been there in at all. Lech Walesa would never have been possible without both Kissinger’s willingness to cut a deal and the rhtorical fire of Jackson, Reagan, and Carter.

What does this have to do with Central Asia?

Well, one wonders if it wouldn’t be possible to put together a kind of Helsinki accords for the region. You’d basically accept that these countries are within the orbit of China, Russia, and Iran. You’d try to make some sense of the border disputes in the Fergana Valley. But at the same time, you’d make sure that some fundamental liberties made it into the deal. And there’d be some accountabilty mechanisms and local groups formed around them. Has such a concept been floated?

Laurence July 14, 2004 at 9:03 am

De-certification, in the long run, may help those in Uzbekistan who wish to move away from the United States, towards Russia and the old Soviet system.

It will certainly hurt progress in human rights.

Now, if I were Karimov, I would stop paying any attention to human rights, kick out the American NGOs, and invite the United States to pay heavily for the military bases it has been using rent-free.

If I were Putin, I would pressure Karimov to close down the US base, to increase Russian influence in Afghanistan and hurt the American war effort.

It was President Clinton and Secretary of Defense William Perry who began the strategic partnership with Uzbekistan, since they took the long view. When I taught at UWED there were photos of Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright.

Perhaps President Kerry might resume the Clinton policy of engagement?

Nathan July 14, 2004 at 9:15 am

Praktike, I agree with your explanations. I even think they are good reasons to follow through with the decertification. A lot of the reason I’m holding back on declaring that the sky has fallen is that I think there is a possibility this could be good in the long run. There are things that we offer that the Russians can’t, and the Uzbeks may decide they really want those things.

Personally, the heart of my concern over decertification had to do with the Uzbek reaction. The difficult balancing act of working with and against the Uzbek government could be shot (there’s a case for saying it pretty much was after the OSI shutdown).

So, I have a hard time deciding what I think about the decision until there’s a bit of fallout. This potentially could be wonderful if an offer of recertification is made for some important steps like allowing opposition parties to operate.

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