Red Mist Rising

by Nathan Hamm on 1/5/2006 · 14 comments

It seems it has been a long while since I’ve felt a strong need to comment on what passes for analysis of Central Asian geopolitics. But the hyperventilating and exaggeration being endorsed on Craig Murray’s blog. In some newfound interest in fairness, I’m tempted to emphasize that Murray himself is entirely capable of having a responsible, mature, and fact-based discussion of Western policy towards Uzbekistan. As true as that is, it is quite overshadowed by his encouragement of the romantic notion that his supporters in the blogosphere are taking part in some kind of revolt.*

Neither Murray nor the issues he brings up are exactly why I’m writing this post. Instead, it’s the reemergence of this kind of garbage. Where to begin?

In the summer of 2005, U.S. trained and funded Uzbeki police forces conducted a brutal crackdown on political dissidents, creating a few hundred refugees and massacring several hundred people.

Oh goodness… I hope it’s not too pedantic to take issue with the characterization of the Andijon massacre. I have a very hard time painting with such broad strokes and calling any of the protesters, let alone the gunmen, “political dissidents” as most understand the term. That’s not to take anything away from those out in protest throughout the week. But I think the use of the term “political dissidents” over protesters (or to be more accurate, “protesters and gunmen”) gives the wrong impression–one that makes the attack on the US in the sentence even stronger.

And on the charge that the US trained and funded the police forces, I have a few problems. First, does anyone know whether or not the units in Andijon were in fact trained by the United States? I’m sure the response is that it doesn’t matter as any training and funding is support. However, “funding” and “training” can mean a lot of things, and that any was given to Uzbek security services is often abused in polemics like the one under discussion to argue that the US is somehow complicit in or encourages the crimes of the Uzbek government.

What kind of wicked stuff did the US fund in the year before Andijon? Well, from the FY 2004 assistance report, there was stuff like,

… USG security-related assistance was focused on supporting efforts to improve the Government of Uzbekistan’s counter proliferation capabilities, continued fostering of regional cooperation, and improving border security via the portal monitoring program in order to reduce traffic of illegal narcotics and other hazardous, illicit items across Uzbek borders in FY 2004. The USG provided training, along with various types of detection equipment and security-related equipment to the Uzbek military to ensure inter-operability and communications clarity between Uzbek agencies in the event of suspect material being located at one of the border crossings.

A total of 42 Uzbek defense and security specialists participated in a wide range of resident and non-resident professional development courses and seminars at the U.S. Defense Department’s George C. Marshall Center in Germany, including conferences on topics such as cyber security, and economic dimensions of defense institution building.

In FY 2004, the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service held several courses in conjunction with the Anti-Terrorist Assistance (ATA) program, including the ILEA Budapest course on the “Role of Police in Combating Terrorism,” where Uzbeks took part alongside Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Kazakh counterparts; “Crisis Response Team; “Bomb Technician Exchange;” “Protective Operations Management;” and “Consultation-Protective Operations Management,” a regional event with participation of Kazakh, Tajik, and Kyrgyz counterparts.

And from a recent RAND monograph (PDF),

For the Uzbeks, this assistance included two armored cutters (for patrolling the Amu Darya River), radios, helicopter upgrades, language training, non-commissioned officer (NCO) training support, a military modeling and simulation center, psychological operations training, airport navigation system upgrades, and, according to some reports, joint construction with the United States of Il-114 aircraft.

People certainly are free to disagree with this kind of cooperation all they want, but this kind of rhetoric does no one any favors. Looking at the facts, the picture is not so clear. The US surely supported Karimov, but the thrust of US policy and statements from a broad assortment of officials makes clear that this support was not absolute. In the absence of any evidence that the US actually encouraged the type of brutal behavior seen at Andijon (or torture, for that matter), it’s simply irresponsible and unrealistic to imply otherwise. If one says that our actions sent signals of support to the Uzbeks, that is more a sign of our government’s misunderstanding of the Uzbek government (of which there has been plenty) than anything else.

Moving on, the author charges the US with having tried to cover up the Andijon massacre. By that, he seems to be referring to the Pentagon’s killing of NATO’s call for an inquiry. Where I come from, that’s not exactly what a cover up is. It’s also important to remember that by blocking the inquiry, the Pentagon was acting on its own and contrary to declared US foreign policy, a long-running problem in US policy towards Uzbekistan.

Instead, to my surprise, Karimov evicted the U.S. from its air base. The propaganda mills quickly tried to rewrite this into a “principled stand” from the U.S. … The “principled stand” came several years after the U.S. had enthusiastically aided and abetted the same repression and crimes it now stood tall against, and was not really a stand but a tepid reaction to popular protest. (Recall again that the U.S.’s blocked a NATO investigation.) The U.S. was evicted by Uzbekistan, we did not leave on our own in outrage.

The US was evicted directly after the refugee airlift, which was a concrete expression of a principled stand. The US also refused to participate in the Uzbek investigation of Andijon on principle. In fact, at the foundation of the US-Uzbek relationship was a commitment to liberal principles–a commitment that it would be fair to say the US perhaps did not strenuously enough hold the Uzbeks to and one that the Uzbeks certainly did not take seriously. And I stand by my argument that getting the Uzbek government to expel us rather than leaving in a huff is much more beneficial in the long run.

And to the issue of protest, repeated thusly,

First, there is no doubt that popular protest led to an end for the U.S.’s military and political support for Karimov.

I don’t know what to say other than bullshit. It is unadulterated vanity to believe that protesters scored a victory here (especially when they haven’t scored any victories of late on the things they actually go out and hold protests about). It’s silly that it would even be brought up as a serious point.

Secondly, it gives lie to the idea that U.S. foreign policy is based on human rights and spreading democracy around the globe. Much of U.S. foreign policy is about protecting interests and securing favorable investment clients for the rich, often at the expense of its rhetorical commitments, which are for little more than rallying domestic opinion.

I guess that on the flip-side, an examination of the author and his fellow travellers’ rhetoric and its results using the same standards of evidence reveals that their intent is to shackle the West so that tyranny and repression can reign supreme around the world.

And if this guy really thinks our policies are really usually about securing investment opportunities for the wealthy, I have no clue why Uzbekistan would be brought up. It takes a special kind of ignorance to argue that.

One of the nice things about Central Asia being out of the news is that these kinds of stories appear with much less frequency. It’s a shame that Murray’s document release has let loose the floodgates on stupid policy discussions on Central Asia.

*Yes, I’m well aware that the leak is illegal. They are here in the US too, but it’s exceedingly rare that anyone actually gets prosecuted for such things.

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This post was written by...

– 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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Rustam January 5, 2006 at 7:22 pm

Nathan I do understand Your point of trying to defend the US government’s policy towards Uzbekistan by trying to approach this issue objectively.
Having said that You have to admit that it was Mr. Murray and him only, who opened the eyes of the world community, gave international publicity to what was happening in Uzbekistan, which led to increased interest from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, BBC, DW, IWPR, ICG, Washington Post and others, which in turn resulted in the jolt in the US public opinion and some real pain in the ass comments from Congress. He was the one against whom Karimov and people in the WEST who quietly endorsed the regime could not say that the information coming from Uzbekistan concerning torture and gross human rights violations is biased, doubtful and baseless. They did not dare because he was Ambassador of Britain and regardless of how much Mr. Straw would like crush him he could not let the youngest Ambassador of the Britain to be brushed aside. And while Mr. Murray was giving speech in front of the diplomatic corpus and Human Rights organizations in the centre of Tashkent, write under the nose of Karimov, about the torture taking place in Uzbekistan and the fact that prosecution rate in the legal system of Uzbekistan is close to 100% as well as the fact that Oliy Majlis (Parliament) works only 12 days a year, US Ambassador was pledging assistance to Karimov’s regime in the framework of the War on Terror and Uzbek police force whose priority is of course is to serve and to protect not people but Karimov only, were undergoing the training “Role of Police in Combating Terrorism” in Budapest and CIA’s field officer was discovering the fact that Uzbekistan is the Centre of the Evil Empire and almost every citizen of this country walks with the a Koran and Jihad belt just in case they will see a US citizen and thanks to Karimov personally they did not get to US yet.
When it comes to the question of assistance for improving border security with aim of reducing traffic of illegal narcotics than I have to disappoint You because if You ask most of the knowledgeable people in Uzbekistan they will tell You who is so called Gafuraka, the mafia leader who is known to control the narcotics and arms trafficking in the whole country and who directly under the supervision of Karimov himself. The narcotics trade is state controlled, under the immediate responsibility of SNB. So did the assistance help to get to the root of the problem – not a bit.
Nathan, I thought that “protesters and gunmen” is the Laurence’s point of view, it’s his style of writing or You also trying to justify, sorry, to look it objectively, the killing of almost 1000 of innocent women, elderly and children, the use of overwhelmingly disproportionate use of brutal force!!!!!!
“Pentagon was acting on its own” – do You think that I or so many people who have been tortured in jails or died in Andijon give a damn to whether the Bush is the active partner or the Cheyney & Co or vice-versa? Whether it is Pentagon, Cheyney or his neocon American Enterprise Institute or Rand Corporation to that effect, who dictated this policy, what it gave Karimov is only one thing and one thing only ENDORSEMENT!!!!
I am sorry to say but I have to agree with Mr. Murray that after all, how he predicted then, the policy of endorsement or appeasement, how ever You want to call it, left the Bush administration with one thing – the feeling of being used, like a condom. Karimov used him and like many other dictators, he likes tougher partners like former KGB officer Putin, as ruthless he is and does what he says, says what he does. Does not sign into partnership treaties with Karimov which contain the stupid notions like democracy, human rights and economic liberalism, because knows that it will never be done and does not appear to be naïve and inexperienced in the sex with cold-blooded dictators!!!!

Nathan January 5, 2006 at 7:53 pm

Rustam, a few points:
1) Murray is not the genesis of Western knowledge of the situation in Uzbekistan. He became the ambassador in what, 2002? HRW’s first report on Uzbekistan is from 1993. IWPR’s was in May 2000. Searching LexisNexis, I found 847 items from the BBC mentioning Uzbekistan.

2) Closely related to the last point, I don’t get the hagiographies of Murray. At the very least, he has not discouraged them.
Far from denying as baseless allegations of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, the US State Department has long been fairly forthright about the fact.

3) While we’re on the subject of the State Department, read the Strategic Partnership agreement. I think it was extremely difficult to identify the pace at which these goals were to have been met. It certainly wasn’t instantly, and State Dept. officials made clear repeatedly that the relationship wasn’t all about security.

4) I agree that there are problems of corruption and that the border security training did not solve the problem. Did it improve the situation? Perhaps it did, as Uzbekistan has far fewer border control issues than it did a few years ago (in part because the war in Afghanistan has helped out on this front). But hey, Uzbekistan’s not a democracy either, so should we have not funded any democratization programs?

5) “Protesters and gunmen” is about as value-neutral as one can be. There were protesters in Andijon on May 13 and there were also men with guns attacking government buildings and executing hostages. I’m not passing judgment on them or excusing the disproportionate use of force of the government, but I’m also not pretending that it was just a quiet picnic.

6) On the matter of the Pentagon, I care deeply about the matter and it is of great importance. It was a foul-up with bad consequences, but it’s important to highlight that it acted in defiance of declared US policy. And if you’re going to call my government an “active partner” of the Uzbek government, you’d better cough up the evidence.

I’ll admit, our Uzbekistan policy didn’t work. Should we have not tried in the first place? Hindsight is always 20/20 and there’s nothing more tiresome than people coming in after the fact and declaring their great wisdom.

Now ask yourself, how would disengagement and criticism from 2002 on have improved the situation? That’s not to say that engagement and keeping quiet always makes things better, but it often stands a better chance. But, if we’re going to use comparisons to sex, the approach that you’re advocating leaves only the satisfaction of a hand skillfully-employed while only coming as close to one’s hoped-for ideal as one’s mind allows.

Laurence January 6, 2006 at 7:40 am

Nathan, Thank you for another very interesting post.

Rustam January 6, 2006 at 12:25 pm

Thank you Laurence for thanking Nathan, I guess I should thank him as well and I have to admit that I liked this part a lot “the satisfaction of a hand skillfully-employed while only coming as close to one’s hoped-for ideal as one’s mind allows”.
By the way, I wish you good health and success in the new and very promising 2006.
P.S. When I used the term “Bush active partner” I meant in the “civil partnership” between him and Cheyney & Co.

Matt W January 7, 2006 at 4:34 am

I don’t necessarily agree with the “protesters and gunmen”, classification either– this excludes perhaps the largest group– the bystanders (the zevaki– “gawkers”, anyone who has spent time in Central Asia can attest to the speed with which they gather, really regardless of risk of danger or injury). These were the people who just wanted to know what was going on, or heard the rumor that the President was coming to address a crowd. Gunmen were, by most thoughtful accounts, a tiny (albeit significant) part of the crowd.

Nathan January 7, 2006 at 4:48 am

Do you disagree for the same reason? I took him to think I was slandering them. I fully understand that there were bystanders there. What’s being lost is that the term I used, as unsatisfying as it appears to be to a couple of you, comes in response to the assertion that everyone there that day was a “dissident,” nevermind the protesters (who I don’t understand as “dissidents” as the word is commonly used) or gunmen.

And heck, if you look at how I used the term, it was to keep from lumping in protesters with those who perpetrated the violence. I don’t know what’s so controversial about that.

Matt W January 7, 2006 at 5:07 am

Nothing controversial, it was a minor point. Just trying to be percise. Nothing wrong with your general statements here.

Nathan January 7, 2006 at 1:37 pm

Just wanted to clarify as Rustam seemed to take my wording as an attack on the people.

David L January 8, 2006 at 2:33 am

As always, an interesting argument. Nathan, you say, ‘Uzbekistan has far fewer border control issues than it did a few years ago’. Not entirely sure what you mean by that. You think that narcotics-trafficking is less of a problem? I suspect the opposite is true. If you mean there are fewer incursions by IMU types, thats simply a chance in the external environment, and primarily the result of the IMU moving from Tajikistan to Afghanistan. None of this is down to US assistance, which is largely useless in terms of capacity, but may of course have some other sideaffects deemed to be worthwhile.

On the Pentagon, I think your views sound a little odd. Are you saying that DoD is outside any political control? And the implication (if I understood correctly) that State Dept officials were going around pushing the democracy elements of the Strategic Partnership in 2002-04, seems to be an exaggeration. The document was hardly mentioned after it was signed until Matt Bryza brought it up in 2005. Really, I don’t think State and Defense were so far apart on most issues at least until August 2004, and arguably mid-2005.

You’re right of course that Rustam is rather unfair to a lot of people to suggest Murray was the first and only critic of Karimov. There was plenty of stuff around before 2002.

Nathan January 8, 2006 at 3:32 am

I do think that what border issues that have improved are due to events outside of Uzbekistan. I thought I said something along those lines, but I may have neglected to.

I don’t think the DoD is outside political control, but I do think it was not being controlled. Central Asia policy is not the only place we saw fairly public head-butting between State and the DoD.

If I gave the impression that State was pushing the democracy elements of the partnership agreement very hard, that was not my intent. I don’t think they were not pushing them as many suggest. And, more often than not, their message was that everyone should just be patient and be positive. I wouldn’t say that they set the tone for the period, but there were moments during which the democracy elements were emphasized.

Azjon January 8, 2006 at 5:35 am

This is for Nathan.
Nathan I understand your “soft” feelings when it comes to Pentagon.However I think that Rustam is right about US being used as a “partner” when Karimov needed it. As you can see now Karimov is joining forces with Putin again. I think that in the near future we will also hear more about Iran-Uzbekistan cooperation. I’m far from thinking that US would knowingly support torture in Uzbekistan. But I surely belive that American money helped Karimov to beef up his police force and SNB.

Azjon January 8, 2006 at 6:05 am

To Nathan
Just as I told you about Iran and Uzbekistan. Check this out

“Iran-Uzbekistan joint economic commission

Saturday, January 07, 2006 – ©2005

LONDON, January 7 (IranMania) – Preliminary session of the Seventh Iran-Uzbekistan Joint Economic Commission, comprised of Deputy Iranian Commerce Minister and Deputy Uzbek Foreign Trade, Investment and Commerce Minister, was held,according to IRNA.
Iran’s Deputy Commerce Minister Mehdi Ghazanfari said during the meeting, “Iran has achieved numerous outstanding goals in fields such as petrochemical, oil and gas, construction, pharmacology and auto manufacturing industries.”

Mark my words man in some time we will hear about Uzbek uranium being used as a fuel for brand new Iranian reactors build by Russia. As of right now NUKEM is getting or was getting a lot of Uzbek uranium. also look at this: “During the Soviet era, Uzbekistan provided the lion’s share of uranium to the Soviet military-industrial complex.[3] The state-owned Navoi Mining and Metallurgy Combine (NMMC) in the city of Navoi oversees three in-situ leaching operations in Uzbekistan that produce U3O8. In 1999, NMMC produced 2,130 metric tons of product, or 6.8% of the total world output.[4] All uranium production facilities in Uzbekistan are under IAEA safeguards.[5]” (
In reality Uzbekistan can produce close to 3,500 metric tons of uranium sutable for further enrichment and usage.This newly blooming Russian,Uzbek,Iranian frienship really frightens me man.
Anyway we will see what happens.
My best regards

Curzon January 9, 2006 at 7:51 am

I’m a little late to this, but I just wanted to say — spot on, yet again. Don’t you ever get tired of being so correct?

Azjon January 9, 2006 at 4:01 pm

Hi Curzon
Yes I nailed this one didn’t I.LOL

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