Uzbekistan News Roundup: Andijon & Beyond

by Nathan Hamm on 5/26/2005 · 9 comments

First up, the International Crisis Group has released a report on the Andijon uprising with dire predictions for Uzbekistan’s government.

What occurred in Andijon was not an anomaly, but the latest, albeit most deadly, manifestation of the growing dissent and instability within Uzbekistan. The many warning signs were consistently ignored.

Although the situation in and around Andijon seems to have stabilised in recent days, it would be naïve to assume the challenges to Uzbekistan’s stability have lessened. The anger and frustration which found their most violent manifestation in Andijon are tangible throughout the
country, and the situation is not likely to improve without immediate political and economic reforms. The regime’s claims to the contrary, the danger comes not from extremist groups, Islamist or otherwise, but from the continuing lack of reform. “The old command system is
rotting — you can practically smell it”, one local says. “Reform is the only thing that can save the situation”. The EU’s External Relations Council has likewise urged the Uzbek government “to carry out domestic reforms, which are essential for the social and economic development and the achievement of democracy and stability in the country.”

I think their final paragraph of the report is overblown and naive. I have a hard time taking one quotation and extrapolating from it the national sentiment. I also have a hard time believing that the ICG is doing anything but being dishonest for the sake of writing a nice sentence. Sure, our policies have been lacking and need to be reformed, but it still remains to be seen exactly what we can do to make a difference. And, if what we’ve done so far is an abject failure, I don’t see what option we have but to abandon our involvement in Uzbekistan altogether.

That being said, the report is well worth reading.

On to the rest of the news.

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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 May 26, 2005 at 11:11 am

“I also have a hard time believing that the ICG is doing anything but being dishonest for the sake of writing a nice sentence.”


I’ve always thought highly of the ICG. I see no need to impune their motives here.

Nathan May 26, 2005 at 11:25 am

I think highly of them too. Doesn’t change that I think they exaggerate at times.

That last paragraph on page 17, which I didn’t excerpt, is glossing over quite a bit that I would expect them to know. It might be too much of me to say that the author did so intentionally. It probably was done on autopilot–it is, after all, the standard line on Uzbekistan from a lot of NGOs. Doesn’t change that there’s no reason to do so other than to have a purty-sounding conclusion. I expect better of ICG because the do take time to research and present a balanced picture.

If they are going to assert that there is widespread public sentiment that the US is strongly backing the Uzbek government, I’d love more than just one quotation from one interview and ICG’s “dude, totally, believe us on this one” in the footnote.

I would also love more than just an offhand “we’re a failure” remark. Maybe a discussion of what the failures have been and, call me nuts, identification of where there have been successes. That last sentence–an absolute throw-away line–suggests that western foreign policy has been across the board bad. I don’t think the record supports that. ICG typically offers bullet-points with suggestions. None here, and the suggestion is we need to abandon everything we’ve done in the past. That’s simply untrue, and they should know better.

praktike May 26, 2005 at 4:11 pm

OK, gotcha. Yeah, where were the recommendations?

Nathan May 26, 2005 at 4:16 pm

Beats me. I wish they’d had some. The world could use some. Actually, I thought the ones from the USCIRF from before any of this happened were pretty good. Apparently not everyone was failing to pay attention as ICG said.

david l May 26, 2005 at 5:56 pm

Nathan, I wouldn’t like to call you nuts, but just what are those successes again? I hear that line a lot, but never quite know what is being referred to? There’s nothing wrong with admitting a policy has been a failure (its a failure for the most part because of GoU) and also there is a perfectly good intellectual case for saying nothing can be done to change the situation, and the US should protect its own interests by getting as far away from this lot as possible. I happen to think some things can be done, but we shouldn’t believe there is a magic policy answer to everything.

Nathan May 26, 2005 at 6:15 pm

Small, small, small ones. Some that I can think of off the top of my head are the release of Ruslan Sharipov, a drastic reduction in the number arrested after the 2004 bombings as compared to the 1999 bombings, accepting (but extremely inconsistenty) outside investigation of some torture cases, improvements on the exchange rate. I probably should dig up more. It would be an interesting exercise.

Now, I’ll admit that these don’t mean a whole helluva lot to most Uzbeks. Further, I think the Uzbek government has done a splendid job of swallowing up and making irrelevant any gains that may have meant something.

You’re right though, there are limits to what we can do. I think we need to accept that. I am stubborn though and am habitually given to think there’s a solution to every problem. I do think there are new approaches that might be worth trying, but we shouldn’t expect anything too fast or even that things will turn out how we want.

david l May 26, 2005 at 6:55 pm

its a tough exercise to find successes, and perhaps in a way rather meaningless, and of course impossible to calculate what would have happened otherwise. But I think even the most optimistic observer would probably agree that things have got worse in most areas since late 2001, certainly on the economy. And that’s been the result of government policy, not external factors (although overpositive commentary from some delegations – fmr treasury sec O’Neill for one – did give some in the GoU the mistaken impression that they were doing the right thing). All we really know from the past three years is that politeness hasn’t worked, and that much of the style of US interaction – based largely on some spurious cultural training that suggests Uzbeks should never be disabused of anything for fear of offending them – has not always been appropriate. What Uzbekistan needed was a political appointee, some Texan business type who would have stirred things up a bit.

I think the US will end up disengaging largely from Uzbekistan anyway, eventually, but basically pushed out rather than as a result of its objections to govt policy. Which seems a shame. If you’re going to go anyway, you might as well win some PR points in the process.

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