The Cold Shoulder

by Nathan Hamm on 5/30/2005 · 1 comment

You may have seen yesterday that Senators John McCain, John Sununu, and Lindsey Graham were in Tashkent yesterday. It’s worth adding to the news of their trip that Uzbek officials refused to meet them.

They had nothing to say that the Uzbek government wants to hear, but listening would be wise. To put it bluntly, the Uzbek government is living in a fantasy world right now. The flat out denial to admit as possible that unrest in the country is the result of poor policy is inexplicable to me. Why? Well, this.

As I see it, revolutions of this type always include several factors, and the Western clout is not what I call the decisive one.

Domestic protest potential is the most important factor. It accumulates gradually and the process takes years. State policy in the socioeconomic sphere is the second most important factor. Stability of the government’s contacts with the population and whether or not they have a normal dialogue is very important too. There can be nothing worse than the relations between the regime and the people that resemble a conversation between a deaf and a mute. This is not how relations are built between the authorities that feel their responsibility and the population that elected them in the first place.

Well, the people aren’t mute, so the regime must be deaf. And blind too apparently. Hell, let’s throw mute on there since they show no interest in talking to anyone about it. Deaf, dumb, and blind might work for pinball, but not running a country.

What really burns me is that it doesn’t have to be this way and as of last year, it looked like, despite some silly economic decisions, the government genuinely was slowly reforming. And it’s not as if McCain & Co. are there to hurt the Uzbek government. Quite to the contrary, just about every critic from western officialdom has said that it makes no sense to stop working with the Uzbek government–it’s not going anywhere. Instead, it’s an extremely opportune time to remind the government why it needs to reform.

But no, the government seems to be falling back into its old pre-2001 ways. In terms of foreign policy, there were clues that this might be what was brewing. It’s only made a little more official by refusing to meet with visiting senators and getting rid of the Peace Corps [I can almost guarantee no more groups will be sent for quite a while].

And then there’s the crackdown and reprisals against dissidents–who, I must note, the government was much more tolerant of in recent years. Police beat, arrested, and took passports from members of Birlik and Ezgurlik in Karshi. A mob lynched human rights activists in Jizak (this story is particularly disturbing to me). And about 50 Birlik members were arrested in Tashkent threatened with prosecution for assisting Islamic terrorists. Some human rights activists are beseeching people not to participate in demonstrations “o as not to provoke the regime into senseless cruel violence.”

Sadly, it appears that the Uzbek government’s response to any critics–domestic and international–is to treat them all as if they are plotting a coup and to give them the cold shoulder.

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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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