Ambassador Komilov at UW

by Nathan Hamm on 4/18/2007 · 6 comments

Courtesy of read this story in Russian or Uzbek.

komilov.jpgUzbekistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Abdulaziz Komilov, spoke at the University of Washington last Friday evening. The speech was advertised as being on US-Uzbek relations in the context of Uzbekistan’s regional policy, though little was actually said on that topic.

Komilov began by discussing the geopolitical situation in Central Asia and the region’s place in the world. He said that the world should treat Central Asia as a key region for global security, and that international actors should view Central Asia as an arena for cooperation, not competition — a theme he mentioned a few times. Because of the removal of major threats from Afghanistan, Central Asia, he said, has many opportunities.

The ambassador was quick to point out that the region still faces security threats, though, and those he mentioned echo themes common to speeches to foreigners by Uzbek officials. He brought up five threats to the region.

  1. Active terrorist groups on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This obviously includes the IMU, but he also mentioned Al Qaeda. Quite odd was his assertion that Al Qaeda supports Hizb ut-Tahrir. My notes are not clear on this point, but his tone seemed to suggest a relationship between the two rather than shared ideals.
  2. Weapons of mass destruction. Komilov mentioned this threat in two contexts. The first was a general fear of proliferation, which I assume has mostly to do with Iran. The second was the fear that WMD could fall into the hands of terrorist groups who would then use such weapons in the region.
  3. Drug trade. This is a concern because of the link between drugs and terrorist groups.
  4. Fundamentalist religious groups. I should mention that the ambassador was a bit hard to hear, and therefore I missed some things. Obviously this point concerns Hizb ut-Tahrir first and foremost. However, if I heard him correctly, this threat was placed in broader terms that did not necessarily have to do with Islam. That’s a bit odd considering the last threat he mentioned.
  5. The crisis within Islam. Komilov said that tension between extremists and moderates is dangerous because it leads to a politicization of Islam. Extremism must be fought, he said, and the way to combat this is through education and promoting tolerance. (Tolerance is another important theme that came up a few times.) He said that Uzbekistan can play a key role in this effort. Meanwhile, he said that moderate Islam needs to be supported.

Moving on, he discussed how the world should engage Central Asia. The keys, he said, are for international actors to cooperate with Central Asian states on issues of shared concern and to be aware of regional states’ interests. Those include securing stability in the region, getting the international community to do more to solve Afghanistan’s problems, and building flourishing market economies.

Regarding current Uzbek policies, Ambassador Komilov said that Uzbekistan sees no alternative to democratic development, and he emphasized the importance of recent legislation such as the law on political parties. He also discussed the general thrust of Uzbek economic reform, implementing reforms while avoiding harm of reforms.

As mentioned, the section on US-Uzbek relations was brief, though this was what received top billing in the title of the speech. Komilov characterized the recent patch of poor relations between the US and Uzbekistan as a “pause” that was the result of “misunderstandings” and differences of opinion on “matters of internal development.” He cited some recent good developments in the bilateral relationship such as a new overflight agreement, new, unspecified, defense cooperation, and visits from Richard Boucher and Evan Feigenbaum. He noted that the US and Uzbekistan share opinions on opening Central Asia to the world, drugs, terrorism, and regional stability, suggesting that these can be grounds for cooperation.

In response to questions from the audience, he also talked about the following issues.

  • Pipelines: He said that the politicization of energy export routes is preventing the movement of resources and the development of new pipelines.
  • SCO: He said that Uzbekistan only wants to cooperate with the SCO insofar is it is line with its national interests. Uzbekistan views it as a security and economic cooperation and coordination group, not as a political and military alliance.
  • Turkmenistan: Komilov dodged a question on the political situation within Turkmenistan. He said that Uzbekistan hopes that things work out for the best there, and that Uzbekistan wants friendly relations with its neighbor.
  • Russia: The ambassador said that Uzbekistan wants a relationship of equals and respect with Russia. Uzbekistan is interested in Russia becoming a democratic and stable state. Also, Uzbekistan wants Russians living within Uzbekistan to stay.

As I mentioned, tolerance was a theme that came up a few times during the ambassador’s talk. This is, apparently, a big theme with the Uzbek government at the moment for whatever reason. (Perhaps they’re trying to steal Kazakhstan’s thunder.) The Uzbek embassy in Germany issued a very long press release on tolerance as the basis for stability yesterday.

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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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Bonnie Boyd April 18, 2007 at 7:52 pm

Nathan, this is quite excellent.
The Hizb-ut-Tahrir accusations always seem to crop up, and not just in Uzbekistan. Yet no one ever has any evidence. Can you expand a little more on those comments if possible?
Thank you,

Nathan April 18, 2007 at 8:11 pm

Not too terribly much… You’re right in noting that the accusations about Hizb ut-Tahrir are fairly common. We know they exist and are active, but that’s about it. You’ll hear various figures for the number of members in the region, but I’ve never put much stock in them. Most of those who the local governments would call HT members are, I am fairly certain, neither formal members, nor proponents of a caliphate so much as they are people who see a return to Islam as the answer to their society’s problems.

HT claims to be non-violent and to have some incredible formula that involves just a short spasm of incredible violence for realizing the caliphate. And then it’s all gravy — getting back at the Jews for… being Jews, I guess; demanding the infidel pay tributes or submit to Muslim rule; and so forth. I always kind of thought that if Lenin had been an Islamist, he’d have been a member of HT.

Understandably, this is a bit frustrating to members who want the caliphate sooner rather than later. And some of these cells have apparently moved on to violent Islamism. And I think this is where the allegation comes from. The Uzbek government faces greater threats from HT than from any other Islamist group, and the easiest way for them to gain support in their fight against HT is to link them to Al Qaeda. I think it’s almost certain that people who cut their teeth with HT moved on to Al Qaeda linked groups. But because there’s no hierarchical control within HT, their press shop over in Londonistan is quite justified in saying they have nothing to do with violence.

The short of it is that there’s no evidence for a direct link.

Rustam April 18, 2007 at 8:18 pm

For an Uzbek his words are the repeat of the same sh..t that has been repeated over and over again during the whole 16 years of independence.
One should have asked about what particularly did Kamilov’s government has done to curtail the narcotics trade, the results of “relentless efforts” of Karimov and especially when there are quite tough allegations from, for example Murray that it is his government who is supporting it.
When it comes to rise of radical Islam one should have asked what the impact he thinks the massacre at Andijon would have on this trend.
One could give hundreds of questions as above which would undeniably prove the worthlessness of his whole speech.

Laurence April 19, 2007 at 4:22 am

Nathan, Thank you for this report. I think Seattle is a Sister City for Tashkent–did that come up? BTW, Did you get to ask your question?

Nick April 19, 2007 at 7:11 am

Londonistan?! harumph! 🙂

Seriously, I came across HT on a fairly regular basis at SOAS – and I think your comparison with Lenin is a valid one. Just as salafists (as their name suggests) hearken back to a ‘golden age’ that ended with the death of Caliph Ali, so latterday Lenininsts (specially the Socialist Workers Party) view the early Bolshevik state as a paragon of a revolutionary society – and nevermind NEP, the famine, the purges, the Civil War etc.

However, a lot of it is just talk – and I wouldn’t use Melanie Phillips as the canary in the coalmine, so to speak. if someone farted she’d scream that we were about to be the victims of a chemical weapons attack.

Nathan April 19, 2007 at 9:32 am

Laurence, I didn’t talk to him as it was apparent he wasn’t going to answer anything even slightly sensitive. He did mention the sister city relationship, but only that the 35th (I think ) anniversary is coming up and that he’d like to hold events with the university to mark it.

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