RFE/RL certainly seems to think so.
Uzbekistan seems to trail not only Kazakhstan — which is now Central Asia’s wealthiest country — but others as well.
Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Tashkent and a fierce critic of President Karimov’s regime, tells RFE/RL that in the fight against dissent, the Uzbek regime is the most brutal among all Central Asian countries and even harsher than Turkmenistan.
Oh, him. Nathan has made his disdain of the man painfully obvious, and I feel little desire to venture into the reasons Murray is an unreliable source on Uzbekistan. But his presence makes me question everything else in the piece, which is mostly just quoting Murray again and again.
At the moment, Uzbekistan, undoubtedly is heading into further political and economic isolationism,” he said. “And things are simply going to get worse. You can keep people managing to just live at a very low level and you can keep the very wealthy people and President Karimov still managing to steal huge amounts of money from the economy provided that [currently high] gold and cotton prices maintain and the regime keeps its grip on power. But ultimately that’s going to lead to violent upheaval.”
Except that’s the opposite of what’s happening. Similar to the ripple effects of Tiananmen Square, the Andijon massacre, and the many smaller acts of brutality that make up political life in Uzbekistan, demonstrated that any act of defiance will be met with a swift, fatal government response. Uzbekistan’s ever-closer ties with Russia and China through the SCO are good evidence that, rather than becoming increasingly more isolated, the country is actually becoming less so, albeit with the “wrong” countries. Islam Karimov has firmly switched his country’s from a marginally western to a Sino-Russian alignment; this creates trouble for England and the U.S., but not really for anyone else.
Or, look at it on a larger scale: Uzbekistan, as a firmly consolidated authoritarian state, poses little risk of collapse. Karimov maintains such a tight hold on the economy and politics of his country, there is almost no chance of the state failing, save a large-scale catastrophic event (like invasion). Much like Cuba, Burma, or even Iran, Uzbekistan, despite the occasional peep of unrest, is in very little danger of collapsing with its current leadership.
As for the threat of Islamic extremism, well that’s another story. There was a brief spate of it in the mid-90’s, but for years extremist groups haven’t been nearly the issue they have been in neighboring Afghanistan. Part of this is that even political dissent is quashed under the banner of “stamping out extremism,” leaving very little wiggle room for any new religious groups.
While it’s nice to fantasize about the downfall of a dictator, especially one as brutal as Karimov, such fantasizing can be dangerous, especially when it begins to advocate policies with far-reaching implications. During the Andijon crisis, pundits in the west were calling for the overthrow of the Karimov regime, something I believe to be disastrous. Much like the mainstream analysis, RFE/RL is missing the point, which isn’t that Uzbekistan is on the verge of collapse, but that it is not.