Asking The Right Question

by Nathan Hamm on 7/14/2004 · 7 comments

[NOTE: I will be adding additional stories as they become available in this post–Nathan]

RFE/RL’s decertification coverage asks the right question: will there be any practical impact?

It’s really hard to answer that question. The most realistic answer is “maybe.” If Europe follows suit, it might make a difference.

At the same time, considering that we gave $86 million last year, the Uzbek government can’t be too upset losing $18 million. It’s entirely possible that the Uzbek government doesn’t really see the loss of aid as a big deal. Further, they are in a pretty good position to ask for a lot more than $18 million in direct aid (there’s still a lot of indirect aid, direct payments, and weapons-related military spending) to seriously change their act.

What might be the biggest positive impact?

Vatanka of the Jane’s group agrees that the decision is unlikely to affect bilateral relations, noting that both sides see an advantage in maintaining good ties. Vatanka predicts the Uzbek government will probably make some token changes, but none that would jeopardize the hold the current regime has on the country.

“[The Uzbek government is] willing to do something about it as long as it doesn’t reduce the grip on power that President [Islam] Karimov has,” Vatanka said. “Sure, you might see reform coming out of Uzbekistan, but it wouldn’t be anything structurally significant as far as the state machinery is concerned. External pressure — as important as it is in the case of Uzbekistan — is not going to be the decisive factor. I think what will bring about reform in Uzbekistan will relate to the internal dynamics of policymaking in Uzbekistan.”

On the positive side, the programs that will help change the internal dynamics are still funded. What my fear has always been in the decertification debate is that deciding to cut aid will lead to the expulsion of these programs. I’m cautiously optimistic this won’t be the case, but we’ll have to see.

UPDATE: Joining OTB Traffic Jam

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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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Andy July 15, 2004 at 3:48 pm

I’m somewhat sceptical, too, about how much practical impact the loss of aid will have. I very much doubt it will have a dramatic impact, although it might loosen Karimov’s grip on power somewhat over the years. EU joining in would help too and, actually, they have to an extent – remember the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development has severely limited the aid it gives to Uzbekistan now). I posted about it on the Argus in April sometime, but I’ve lost the link.

I’m a little worried though, that the main impact will be that Karimov loses some of his ability to buy off opposition to his regime. $18 million isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but it is still $18 million less with which to bribe people. In the short term this could destabilise the region, as some disaffected groups begin to (surreptitiously) support the Islamicized opposition.

Short term damage to US interests for long term gain, perhaps?

Alisher July 18, 2004 at 4:32 pm

I agree that 18 million USD is not a very big sum even for a not very rich Uzbek governement. However, I am not sure that this could destabilise the region, because some groups wouldnt get the money. Moreover, I dont see any longterm gain for the US in the destabilisation of Uzbekistan. Maybe I am wrong, but I think Islamists are a much worse evil for Uzbekistan than the current Uzbek government. I lived in Namangan during those times when wahabbis headed by Juma Namangani were conducting public lynchings of people they considered as criminals. And this sort of fundamental Islam is only destructive. During my studies at the UWED in Tashkent, I have known some members of Hizbuttahrir. My impressions: first of all, all they wanted to do was to establish a Caliphate. They had no idea what will they do after they establish this Caliphate. They didnt have any economic or social reform program. All their ideology was based on destruction. They identified themselves by their enemies. It is something like: I exist because there is my enemy. And their Enemy was the West and the US in the first place. So, I dont think the US will benefit if even moderate Islamic groups will come to power in Uzbekistan. An ordinary, average Uzbek is Muslim only by his origins and social historical traditions. His contemporary administrative mentality, his philosophy of life have nothing to do with radical Islam.

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