Rice in Central Asia

by Nathan Hamm on 10/11/2005 · 16 comments

Secretary Rice kicked off her trip to Central Asia with a slam on Uzbekistan.

“Uzbekistan is out of step with what is happening in this region as a whole,” Rice told reporters on the first leg of her flight to Central Asia. “The ability of Uzbekistan to progress economically and politically is going to depend on the freedom and creativity of its people, and that’s not happening.”

“As to the issues we have had with Uzbekistan on military access to K-2, we have been very clear: We will continue to fight the war on terrorism. We will continue to do it effectively. We have many ways to do it,” Rice said.

She also added that the United States does not need Uzbekistan and that there are alternatives. She gave a strong indication that Kazakhstan is where it’s at for the US in the region.

“The Nazarbayev government has a chance to be a real leader in Central Asia on both economic and political reform,” Rice said. “I believe he is someone who can be persuaded to use his leadership and his considerable popularity to move Kazakhstan to the next level and then lead this region.”

So, there are two messages regarding Uzbekistan’s importance. First is that at the moment the US does not view cooperation or bilateral relations with Uzbekistan important enough to make sacrifices for. Second is that in the opinion of the US (and surely this is an opinion shared by a growing number of people, myself included) Uzbekistan is no longer the most important country in Central Asia. Kazakhstan has surpassed it and is increasingly looking to be a viable leader in Central Asia.

At the same time, there is a subtle message to Kazakhstan that the US would like to see Kazakhstan more strongly commit itself to liberalization. And she believes (not unreasonably, in my opinion) that Kazakhstan is more likely to espouse and follow through on liberalization than its large neighbor to the south.

Meanwhile, in Kyrgyzstan the Secretary obtained an open-ended agreement for use of the Manas airbase. In the agreement, Kyrgyzstan recognizes the need for ongoing efforts to secure the stabilization of Afghanistan, contrary to past statements echoing declarations of truths by its SCO brethren.

She also said that Kyrgyzstan should enjoy strong partnerships with both the US and Russia.

And finally, Daniel McKivergan of WorldwideStandard.com says that Secretary Rice should add Azerbaijan to her trip because,

Just as former Secretary of State James Baker’s trip to the Republic of Georgia in July of 2003 helped advance democracy there, a brief stop in Baku on her way back to Washington spotlighting the need for a free and fair election may help deepen democracy in this important region.

Let me tack on a plea. I recall reading over the past few days that the US wants Kazakhstan (I think) to help us obtain observer status in the SCO. Did anyone else read that? Where? (I’m sure it’s somewhere in the recent news links.)

UPDATE: If I’m going to mention Kazakhstan today, it seems worth adding in this.

Though Ambassador Simmons evidently took the opportunity to downplay fears in Kazakhstan relating to its increasingly positive ties with the Alliance, seemingly ruling out the possibility of NATO forces being deployed to Kazakhstan in the foreseeable future, in many ways his trip has in fact secured an unprecedented level of practical cooperation with the Alliance. Behind the scenes, Simmons held forthright talks with Army General Mukhtar Altynbayev, Kazakhstan’s defense minister, exploring cooperation in defense, international and regional cooperation, and modernizing the Kazakh armed forces.

Also, NATO has decided to place a Central Asia representative in the region. Tugay Tuncer will be based in Kazakhstan, a decision made much politically easier by the falling out between Uzbekistan and the West.

UPDATE II: RFE/RL speaks to Dr. Rice. Includes audio.

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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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Laurence October 11, 2005 at 1:18 pm

Contra Dr. Rice, Uzbekistan is actually in step with her neighbors. Obviously, Karimov followed the lead of Kyrgyzstan. Evidence can be found in the 2003 Human Rights Watch World Report:

At least five demonstrators were killed and some ninety people injured, including forty-seven police officers, when violence erupted during a protest on March 17 and 18 in the Aksy district of Jalal Abad province in southern Kyrgyzstan. . . . According to eyewitnesses, police and security forces opened fire on an unarmed crowd of hundreds to halt the demonstration, without first allowing sufficient time for those gathered to disperse.

Current president Bakiyev was among those responsible for the Kyrgyz killings.

As Dr. Andrea Berg recently pointed out in Washington, the so-called “Tulip Revolution” has left Kyrgyzstan more fragile today than it had been under the Akayev regime.

Dr. Rice would do better for American public diplomacy by spending less time publicly insulting smaller, poorer and weaker nations with significant Muslim populations–and more time overseeing earthquake relief in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

IJ October 11, 2005 at 1:27 pm

Observer status for the US at SCO seems unlikely. A couple of months ago, Eurasia Daily reported that Kazakhstan supported SCO’s call for the US to leave Central Asia. However the prospects for multilateral NATO getting observer status, via Kazakhstan (a Partnership for Peace member) may be a better bet.

Brian October 11, 2005 at 1:56 pm

Insulting? Uzbekistan for months now has slapped the US accross the face with a barrage of articles, statements and testimony saying that amongst other things, America supports muslim terrorists, wants to steal Uzbekistan’s natural resources, doesn’t keep its word, is polluting the country and depriving locals of health and well being… and you’re worried about the government being insulted? While her speech was pretty candid, it was a lot more subtle than some of the things that have come out of the Uzbek media.

I don’t think you can say that Kyrgyzstan is equivalent to Uzbekistan. Yes, some protesters were killed. Yes, that was horrible. However, given the more fragmented & decentralized Kyrgyz politcal environment the blame might not lie fully with people in Bishkek. Whatever – right now in Kyrgyzstan I believe the average person can give his/her political opinion without being worried that police are going to haul them away to a psyciatric ward. As far as I know there are no political prisoners in Kyrgyzstan. What Andrea Berg said about Kyrgyzstan being more fragile right now supports what Rice has done. Rice is giving Bakiev the benefit of the doubt right now in order to foster some stability. There has been some NGO harrassment in Kyrgyzstan, but nothing close to the scale found in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan definitely isn’t out of step with, say Turkmenistan… but how can you say that what’s going on in Kyrgyzstan is similar to what’s going on in Uzbekistan? At the very least you had a change of power after a dozen years.

Laurence October 11, 2005 at 2:04 pm

I believe the Parliament in power in Kyrgyzstan now is the one the so-called “Tulip Revolution” intended to remove.

Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan’s policies are closer to each other today than they were a year ago; and both country’s systems resemble each other more closely than either the US or EU.

I belive Feliks Kulov was a political prisoner in Kyrgyzstan at the time the US administration was holding the country up, rhetorically at least, as a beacon of democracy during the Akayev era.

My point is that Rice should be at the earthquake site right now and seen on TV helping people, not hectoring and lecturing people whom she declares don’t matter to the USA. If the US really doesn’t need Uzbekistan, why not just let go and move on to do things we care about, and can do something about, like bringing aid to earthquake victims?

Brian October 11, 2005 at 2:18 pm

I don’t think that’s your point at all. I think your point is that you don’t think the Uzbek government deserves this kind of aggrevation.

Whether or not it’ll do any good, I think it deserves more of it.

Laurence October 11, 2005 at 2:23 pm

My point is that America deserves an effective foreign policy backed by effective public diplomacy–not wishful thinking, self-congratulatory moralizing, or self-defeating public posturing. The best use of Dr. Rice’s time and money for the United States would be to be seen helping earthquake victims in Afghanistan and Pakistan (both countries are officially allies in the Global War on Terror) right now.

I say what I think. The Uzbek government is not my concern. The American government is.

Nathan October 11, 2005 at 4:16 pm

My point is that America deserves an effective foreign policy backed by effective public diplomacy–not wishful thinking, self-congratulatory moralizing, or self-defeating public posturing.

Which it’s hard to say we’re doing when we say Uzbekistan’s not necessary to us, and that we see a bright future in partnership with Kazakhstan.

And I don’t think the State Department or the US government in general pretends Kyrgyzstan is any rosier than it is, but rather that it came to power claiming to be more democratic and that we intend to push them to live up to their rhetoric.

All things considered, it’s a much better use of Dr. Rice’s time and US taxpayer money to let her be the spokesperson for US foreign policy and let USAID and other more suited agencies handle earthquake relief.

Bertrand October 11, 2005 at 9:20 pm

I agree. First, I see Uzbek media every day and the barrage Brian mentioned is unbelievable. I’m waiting for the articles that accuse the U.S. as having CAUSED the earthquake in Pakistan. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them. For far too long the Uzbek government would push the U.S. and get no push back. Those days are over. Good.

Nathan is correct in saying overseeing earthquake relief is not the job of the Secretary of State. There is nothing useful she could do there, but a real risk that if she did go there and nothing seemed to improve, the U.S. would get the blame.

brian October 11, 2005 at 10:00 pm

One further thing, Laurence says that Karimov followed the Kyrgyz example of killing protestors because of that incident he mentions. I think it’s quite the opposite, he learned from Akayev’s mistake.

Akayev was overthrown on that day because he refused to order his soldiers to fire on the protestors in front of the Kyrgyz White House. I bet that’s the lesson that was learned back in Tashkent: if you aren’t ruthless, you’ll be overthrown. The Uzbek government was prepared for Andijan; that was their time to give a stern warning.

Matt W October 11, 2005 at 10:46 pm

Whatever you think about the “Tulip Revolution”, I think there’s little to be gained from saying the Aksy shootings were the moral/political/or-anything-else equivalent of Andijon. 1) five killed by armed police versus hundreds by mixed forces including light artillery; 2) the Aksy protestors were able to have their voices heard, staging several protest marches after the shootings; 3) there was no huge cover-up of the Aksy shootings.

Does Kyrgyzstan have some of the same problems as Uzbekistan? Yes. Might Bakiyev be moving the wrong direction on political liberalization, etc.? Yes, but a little early to tell. I think it’s terribly misleading, however, to imply that repression of political or economic freedoms in Kyrgyzstan is anywhere near approaching the scale or ugliness of the Uzbekistani model.

Whether Uzbekistan is more stable than Kyrgyzstan is arguable. Please do not, however, pretend that they are equally free.

Denzil Uz October 12, 2005 at 4:46 am

I’m afraid to look amoral or cynic, but let’s just assess this frankly:
1st. Dr. Rice’s visit is no more than an elementary sample of the old “divide and rule” tactics, which as you well aware far from moral and idea-promotion. Please, don’t be offended, but current moves by the US proves that Washington is not interested in the Central Asia as a solid and integrated player in the world politics, even it’s a best solution for avoiding so feared Russian and Chinese influence in the region. Seems its more simpler to use petty quarrels and play on mutual ambitions of the states, than to help (or just not impede) to unite them.
2nd. Actually, there is nothing extraordinary in such tactics (what other choices left?), but try to get rid of illusions – whatever this visit would gain, its temporary: A) there is more fear than trust among Dr. Rice hosts toward the US. Everyone has its own motives, which are also far from moral (Astana in the eve of elections, Bishkek after two of them and before the more unclear political morass, Dushanbe caught unawares of its geopolitical significance). Moreover, imho, there is no any trust. Especially, taking into account the recent “money for base” experience. B) What actually the concrete gains and aims of this visit are? Any suggestions?
3rd. One aim is quite clear – revenge. I.e., and I felt it from some comments here and in mass-media, Washington is eager to punish Uzbekistan somehow for “unprecedented slaps” (how dare!). (By the way, many years of slaps and pits to Uzbekistan in the Western media seems are not considered). You really think capitals around don’t understand that to avoid Tashkent is no less, maybe more, important than come to them? And you really suppose that Tashkent took it so painful?

Laurence October 12, 2005 at 5:25 am

It seems Rice has done the right thing, according to CNN (http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/10/12/rice.asia.visit):

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) — U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has arrived in Pakistan after saying Washington would likely add to the $50 million it has committed to the quake recovery effort.

“I do want to simply say to the Pakistani people and confirm with them that the international community and the United States and the people of the United States are with them in this terrible time,” Rice said.

Rice made her comments in Kabul, where she met Wednesday morning with Afghan President Hamid Karzai before traveling to Islamabad.

Pakistan is the latest stop on Rice’s tour of Asia, which was expanded to include the earthquake-damaged nation.

Rice is scheduled to meet with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

Better late than never…

Katy October 12, 2005 at 6:58 am

I’ve asked this before and I’ll ask it again: why doesn’t anyone care about Turkmenistan? Sure they have gas, but isn’t what Turkmenbashi is doing just as bad as what any other dictator is doing?

I like how the USA Today-esque articles only refer to Turkmenistan as some wacky country.

qadinbakida October 12, 2005 at 1:24 pm

Good point Katy. I don’t think T-stan is on anyone’s radar screen, but it’s worse than the lot of them.

And I agree about the point about AZ. I know Sec Rice is a busy gal, but AZ has an important election in 3 weeks, the fairness of which the US purports to care a great deal about. A mention might make the current regime at least thing twice before continuing with all the pre-election violations.

WLB October 14, 2005 at 9:31 am

I worry about reprecussions in Kazakhstan–while I think this is a great county with a lot of potential, and hands-down the freest country in the region, there’s a tendency on the part of the media to well, exaggerate and I see Rice’s statement that Kazakhstan is the leader of the region turning into “The most powerful leader in the world says Nazarbayev is the greatest leader in the world and everything he says is automatically true and good and the best possible thing to say.” It makes it harder to put pressure on them to conform to human rights and political freedoms.

Uzbek October 16, 2005 at 10:12 am

Yes, Dr. Rice is right, UZBEKISTAN IS OUT OF STEP.
I believe that her comments have landed where they were intended to, Yes we are out of step, we, Uzbekistan should have been NO.1 in the region, we should have had all this foreign direct investment, we should have received words of praise from the highest US government official to ever visit the region, WE because of our proudness of our national identity, of our culture, history, all these which all of us Uzbeks, students, pupils have been brainwashed by the Karimov’s government, through the compulsory “ma’naviyat va ma’rifat” lessons taught at school and Universities and from Karimov’s books, which as Mr. Murray states, all candidates to receive Master’s and PhD degrees at the Universities have to learn by heart. WE because we had better starting positions in terms of the level of economic development, Tashkent was the industrial as well as cultural and scientific centre of the Soviet Socialistic Central Asia not Alma-ata and not, at a time, a small village full of mosquitoes in the endless plains of Kazakhstan.
Furthermore, I do agree with method chosen, publicly insulting the Karimov’s government, after all her visit to Kazakhstan and her words, acknowledgement of the overall economic and political developments in Kazakhstan, the fact that Astana has transformed itself during 5-6 years, establishment of middle class, Kazakhstan being the only power in the region and the role of No.2 is only left for Uzbekistan, all this without her comment regarding the Uzbekistan being out of step, is on its own is insulting, insulting to Karimov who from the initial years of independence took totally different reform approaches in pretty much all aspects of political, socio-economic life, he wanted to become the No.1 in the Central Asia and now what he has is the first official acknowledgment of the inevitable, that he screwed up everything that he stood for.
With all due respect for Dr. Andrea Berg who as many so called experts say that all these revolutions brought nothing good in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and by commenting in this way try to paint gloomy picture do not propose what to do for people who live under this oppressive regimes. For them it is better to keep the status quo, if Your advice would be to keep Karimov and his bloodthirsty mafia in Uzbekistan, to continue to have this tension in the atmosphere, more people disappearing, torture in the penitentiary system, no partial judiciary, no separation of power between judicial, executive, judicial as well as mass media, disregard to rule of law for limited number of untouchable citizens, monopolization of economy, of export and import operations, voluntary privatization, disregard to civil society, rule of the fear, corruption almost in all branches of the government, selective application of law, robbing of the citizens by the means of agricultural policy and the economic policy as a whole, disregard to the child rights, and many, many more, then the answer would be NO!!!!!
How can You say that “Parliament in power in Kyrgyzstan now is the one the so-called “Tulip Revolution” intended to remove” after what this parliament and the government of Bakiyev have done. Disregarding the intense pressure Karimov has applied, his thereat to cut off the natural gas, which he eventually realised, the pressure from Moscow and China, it did allow UNHCR to evacuate victims of Karimov organized massacre, it hold on to the international obligations, the comments allowed to be voiced by the Human Rights Ombudsman of Kyrgyzstan and his opposition towards Kyrgyz Prosecutor General, and later dismissal of Prosecutor General by Bakiyev himself, although Bakiyev perfectly understood that it might result in a lot of trouble for him, because those who are familiar with the region understand well what it is to oppose the views of usually bloodthirsty prosecutor generals and even Presidents think twice before any moves that might slightly touch upon the interests of Prosecutor Generals, does not it prove that the government in Kyrgyzstan has made a firm decision to abide by universal values of human dignity and human rights, that it would never order to gun down peaceful protestors in Karasu???
I agree with the Brian in his comments to the comments of Laurence – “America deserves an effective foreign policy backed by effective public diplomacy–not wishful thinking, self-congratulatory moralizing, or self-defeating public posturing”. How can the US turn around and leave after publicly being slapped on the face by Karimov, how can You leave a country with more than 26 million in the geopolitically important Eurasian heartland, do You think that people of Uzbekistan will not remind You of this one day.
And again in response to Denzil Uz comments I would say that what is bad to slap the government of dictator; I would do even more, more sanctions, targeted to his daughters and his mafia. Denzil Uz, You think that it does not have any affect on the Government, I say it does, recently we had the latest warning to reporters and journalists from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, saying to change the methods, tactics and wording they have chosen in covering the trial, which again proves that Karimov pays a lot of attention to what the world is saying about him for two reasons, firstly because You never know what the stupid US Congressmen or EU parliamentarians can come up with and secondly Uzbeks in Tashkent and around the world are watching, reading, it is working to build the pressure and to create a momentum.
I disagree with Your idea that the Dr. Rice visit was undertaken without any concrete, well thought aims and therefore it generated nothing, DISAGREE, because again HOPLESSNESS SCENARIO in action, what do You offer, go to Russians or Chinese, or Iranians, who made it clear that they do not give a damn about Uzbek people, to Human Rights and all that nonsense, with whom is better for us Uzbeks currently, who would help us NOW? Any ideas or offers? Nothing – this makes Your approach hopeless.
You say that – there is more fear than trust among Dr. Rice hosts toward the US. Everyone has its own motives, which are also far from moral (Astana in the eve of elections, Bishkek after two of them and before the more unclear political morass, Dushanbe caught unawares of its geopolitical significance) – what I would like to ask is that what about when Putin visits these countries? I never see the outpouring of love and brotherly emotions and feelings of kinship; I don’t see the countries giving up their own motives when Putin drops by once in a while.
Dr. Rice’s visit at least serves to keep the pressure on Karimov, to direct the world attention to how the Laurence wrongly put it to the massacre and oppression in small, poor and weak nation with significant Muslim population somewhere in Central Asia, at least people in the West are learning of the existence of this kind of country, pronounce its name correctly and its bloodthirsty dictator, and Denzil Uz this point I wanted to make last time when I talked about Sub-Saharan Africa.

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