Sanjar Umarov on US Exit

by Nathan Hamm on 8/1/2005 · 20 comments




The recent controversy surrounding US airbases in Central Asia has once again focused the attention of political analysts on the “Great Game” being played out in Central Asia by Russia, China and the US. And, like over excited sports commentators at a football match, many analysts have been busy trying to outdo each other with their “insights” on what is behind this or that play on the field. While it is tempting to fall for such a colorful image, there is no Great Game to be played in Central Asia and those who choose to view today’s challenges in such a light fundamentally misunderstand the dynamics of our region and place personalities over strategic realities.

In reality, the strategic interests of Russia, China and the US in the Central Asian region are remarkably similar. In the first place, none wishes that another gain hegemony over the region’s energy and mineral resources. All are united in combating both narco-traffcing and Islamic extremism. And finally, all recognize the need for stability and the strengthening of governmental institutions. Where they differ is on the means to secure these strategic objectives.

With regard to my country, Uzbekistan, the differences between the US, Russia and China regarding the best way to achieve their common objectives stem, in my veiw, from the same mistake each has made, or is about to make. Each country developed an excessive reliance on a personal relationship with the local “strong man” in the service of a short-term gain. Russia has over invested in Islam Karimov in the hope of continued stable gas supplies. The US made a similar over investment in the hope of assistance in the war on terror. China now risks making the same mistake in the hope of gaining privileged access to our energy resources. The current difference between the US, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other, is that tragic events in Andijan forced the US to admit its mistake in over investing in Islam Karimov. Russia has yet to recognize its loss; China is continuing to make losses.

Our challenge now, the challenge of the citizens of Uzbekistan, together with the governments of Russia, China and the US, is to correct past mistakes and look to the future. A future where our mutual relationships will be based on our shared national interests, not on side deals made with the strong man of the hour. Uzbekistan’s national interests, when represented by a legitimate Government, are identical to the common interests of Russia, China and the US. Uzbekistan needs to further develop our rich energy and agricultural resources. Uzbekistan’s citizens want to live in a secular state, free of the curses of drugs and drug trafficking. Finally, Uzbekistan’s citizens dream of the day when our government institutions work on the basis of law, not personal dictate.

Unfortunately, while thoughtful citizens reject the idea of the Great Game, old thinking in some quarters still prevails. Today, President Karimov is still trying to play the Great Game by making a show of “tossing out the Americans” from the airbase at Karshi. This is, however, a game being played out in the interests of one man. The people of Uzbekistan are tired of playing games. But, we do look forward to the day when Russia, China and the US realize that their common strategic interests in Uzbekistan out weigh the narrow, personal interests of Uzbekistan’s President. The sooner these great countries recognize their shared interests, the sooner we all can begin work on establishing real stability and prosperity in Uzbekistan.

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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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Kisa August 1, 2005 at 2:13 pm


Nathan August 1, 2005 at 2:16 pm

Care to elaborate? I don’t agree with all of it myself, but…

Kisa August 1, 2005 at 2:20 pm

I think that this statement proves that he is NO POLITICIAN. Big ambitions!!! Coalition consisting of 4 people. We’ll see what happens.

ScoobyDoo August 1, 2005 at 5:42 pm

Dear “Kisa”

Please stop making a fool out of yourself.

Seriously, you’re only embarrassing yourself by such insightful and prophesizing comments.

squid123 August 1, 2005 at 5:54 pm

He’s trying to follow the “Chalabi” model, talking up his democratic credentials while demonizing his enemies, to credulous idealists holding simplistic views of the world but wielding massive military power. Hopefully it won’t work a second time.

Nathan August 1, 2005 at 6:15 pm

That’s quite a bit of hogwash. I’ve found Umarov’s statements far from what “credulous idealists” (a characterization indicating the author’s own simplistic notions) want to hear. Also, quite different from Chalabi, Umarov’s in Uzbekistan.

Go through my archive and read what he’s had to say. The simplistic conflation simply doesn’t work.

A.U. August 1, 2005 at 6:20 pm

Dear Squid123:

Although I haven’t read much about The “Chalabi” Model you’re talking about.

As far as I know Mr. Chalabi was a big mistake, because too many Iraqis didn’t support him, most probably because he lived outside of Iraq for too long. Maybe you don’t know, but Mr. Umarov lives in Uzbekistan.

Brian August 1, 2005 at 6:36 pm

Please note that Umarov isn’t really saying that other analysts’ perceptions that this is a new Great Game is incorrect, he’s saying that it shouldn’t be: “Today, President Karimov is still trying to play the Great Game by making a show of “tossing out the Americans” from the airbase at Karshi.”

Although I think he’s vague, idealistic, and doesn’t offer anything really new in this piece, I find it hard to disagree with the fact that the USA, Russia and China could find a lot of common ground in Central Asia.

I don’t think it helps to call him an ‘idiot’ after this piece. Maybe it would sound more eloquent in his native language.

Bertrand August 2, 2005 at 1:13 am


Your constant knee-jerk reaction to anything Mr. Umarov says or does makes it fairly clear who you are. You should examine your own motives before criticizing those of others.

One of the ongoing problems with Uzbekistan is that various elements of the opposition – such as it is – spends as much time kicking dirt on one another as they do seeking real solutions. Until that stops, real progress is going to be hard to come by.

In the end, I think you know as well as I do that criticizing familial relationships is a bit disingenuous on your part.

I’m not commenting as an Umarov supporter, just an observer who thinks he at least deserves some credit for trying to do something, something that he is already paying for, as opposed to simply sniping from the safety of asylum in the U.S.

Kisa August 2, 2005 at 9:09 am

First of all “ScoobyDoo”: please explain how I am “making a fool” out of myself. And your baseless attack here doesn’t make any sense.
To Bertrand:
I don’t need to explain myself. If I make some comments in regards to Umarov, it is probably because there is a reason. The opposition IS uniting in the form of the Democratic Congress. Why doesn’t Umarov join THEM?, if he is such an oppositioner? If you would have known me better, there is no other person who is FOR the consolidation of opposition and who is tired of hearing these comments they make about each other. However, Umarov is a different case here. OK?

Bertrand August 2, 2005 at 9:57 am


No, NOT okay. That’s the point. I’m pretty sure I know what your “reason” is and it’s not any better than the reasons of any of the others who are taking potshots at one another. It’s all about personal and familial animosity and that simply doesn’t cut it.

I didn’t say you should explain yourself. I said you should examine your own motives. If you are TRULY interested in the consolidation of opposition, and TRULY tired of hearing the comments they make about one another than you’d stop being among those making the comments. That’s my point.

The fact is, there are something like five “coalitions” of Uzbek opposition right now, which doesn’t say much about actual consolidation. When they ALL sit at the same table, and stop criticising one another, maybe they’ll have some credibility.

Simply put, it’s not up to you (or to me) to decide who is legitimately opposition.


Kisa August 2, 2005 at 10:09 am

“I’m pretty sure I know what your “reason” is and it’s not any better than the reasons of any of the others who are taking potshots at one another.”
Please do tell!

ScoobyDoo August 2, 2005 at 10:54 am

Kisa – Nigina Malikova ?

Kisa August 2, 2005 at 11:41 am

Sorry, but you are mistaken

Brian August 2, 2005 at 12:15 pm

Regardless… it took over a decade for Erk and Birlik to finally cooperate, correct? And why? Not because of conflicting ideals, but because of stubborness and personal hatred – you could say because of idiocy. So calling someone an “IDIOT!” for writing an opinion doesn’t really help cooperation does it?

The silly thing is that no one, not Umarov, not Muhammad Solih, not Mr. Polat, is in any position of power to affect change in Uzbekistan right now. So there isn’t really much the opposition can do, is there? The one thing it CAN do is to behave like responsible adults and not bicker and argue like children all the time. If Umarov doesn’t want to join the Erk/Birlik coalition that’s too bad, but instead of attacking him why don’t you try to present your own ideas that show how much better your coalition is.

People can and do change their minds, but calling someone an idiot certainly doesn’t help.

Kisa August 2, 2005 at 12:26 pm

I think that I have a right to say whatever I want. If I express my opinion, it is MY OPINION. If I called him an “IDIOT” then that’s what I think of him, if you think otherwise, that’s your business.

Brian August 2, 2005 at 1:45 pm

I agree, you absolutely do have a right to express your opinion. Yet, I have a right to express my opinion about your opinion.

I’m not saying you’re wrong… maybe Umarov is an idiot. To tell you the truth, I haven’t fully formed my opinion of him yet. All I (and I believe Bertrand) are asking is for you to tell us WHY Umarov is such an idiot.

Of course you don’t have to explain yourself – no one is making you – but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to want to have an intelligent discussion about why Umarov is a bad person or not.

So what’s so bad, or idiotic, about him?

Anna Vladi September 26, 2005 at 11:42 am

We get it; you have an opinion! It is another fact that it is based purely on your narrowminded beliefs that supported by thin air. You never been to Uzbekistan or any other former USSR countires for that matter and have no idea of the beliefs that Mr. Umarov may have or people that come from there. I on the other hand live in US and come from Kazakhstan + I personally know Mr. Umarov. I think that Uzbekistan needs a leader that has ties with other countires and has a view of the world not from Uzbekistan but from a 4000ft level. He is an extrememly educated person very openminded and very intellectual. He would never call someone an IDIOT just b/c he does not agree with their opinions or beliefs. You do need to examine your own beliefs b/c so far i have not seen any constructive critisism. All you did is passed judgement on someone where you yourself did not even understand what he is trying to do.

Ravshan October 24, 2005 at 3:35 am

These are very interesting comments. Sort of like armchair football. Please let me tell you about the players and what is really happening on the field. Sanjar Umarov is trying to reform the economy and help those living on less than $2 a day and working in agriculture a fair shake and rights to a decent life [not having to pay taxes and bribes to every petty bureacrat/mafia boss and other important things such as ownership of property. Unfortunately after a successful trip to te US, Russia and Brussles he was arrested with current where abouts unknown.

As far as any other form of “opposition” or “democratic” coalition, I have yet to see any real form, mostly from my expereince of attending what events they have, they appear to follow the same clan oriented agendas that keep Uzbekistan on par with Bangladesh and other countries in terms of development.

I think it is time for a real dialogue for the sake of the 26 million Uzbeks who are suffering from the game that Russia, China, the US and to some extent Iran is playing within Uzbekistan.

Privatename October 18, 2006 at 9:04 am

I think you guys got brains. I heard that Umarov was a very successful entrepreneur until he was arrested on embezzlement charges. He was actually the co-founder of the Uzbek telecommunication Uzdunrobita but was probably frustrated by Gulnara Karimova’s corrupt means of taking control over his company. I may admit that Umarov seems to be an intelligent man, however, his motives weren’t intelligent and logical at all. Uzbekistan has no democracy, and who knows maybe at this transitional period we need a tight grip of a government to maintain stability against extremists (consider the Tajikistan civil war cause that was promoted by democracy and think about the terrorists)… Umarov should’ve have realized that he was making a mistake like all other “prominent” opposition party leaders by straightly going against the status quo of the Uzbek government. See, if you want reforms in the government, there is no way you can make a change by democratic means and there is 0% chance of a color revolution occuring in Uzbekistan because the government is very, very strong and repressive, at least at this time. Personally I am for “correct” democracy but I am not against the Uzbek government’s authoritarian regime. Yes, I’ve lived in Uzbekistan for many years and I am pretty young as well – I have many experiences about politics of Uzbekistan because I’ve met a lot of politicians, hokims and etc. in my life as a teenager. Umarov might have logical reasonings about what ought to be done but I think it was not wise on his side to go directly against the government. If Umarov were to succeed Karimov (I know this sounds primitive), he had to maintain good relations with the governement because only the supporters of the government will have an opportunity to experience influence in Uzbekistan, right? So you guys shouldn’t go against Kisa cos she probably supports the government and is against all opposition groups. Personally I won’t say that Umarov is an idiot at all, in fact he seems to be an intelligent man, but I must admit that he is a very unwise man for his age. If you want reforms in a country like Uzbekistan at this time, you should not swim against the current and learn from other people’s mistakes. This is what I think and I know that this logical. Let me know if my comment doesn’t makes sense.

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