The Unicorn Principle and Regional Strategy

by Joshua Foust on 10/25/2011 · 22 comments

There remains a lot of pushback against the idea that the U.S.’s decision to re-engage with the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan represents a least-bad option for the region. Writing a guestpost at my friend Steve LeVine’s blog, Russell Zanca argues:

Like-minded thinkers see Uzbek military forces as competent and trustworthy military partners. Furthermore, Foust himself asserts that there are times when cooperation between U.S. military forces and even those of authoritarian states, such as Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, lead to a softening of how military and police forces handle domestic disturbances.

I am wondering if this was manifest in how Egyptian police recently dealt with Coptic protesters in Cairo. Those who think similarly must know that U.S. and Uzbek military forces have been working together since the mid-1990s, and yet in 2005 Uzbek military units had no compunction about killing hundreds of their countrymen in the city of Andijan. If these examples show that U.S. engagement improves the conduct of the armed forces of dictatorships, I suppose I simply don’t grasp how awful these armed forces might behave without our assistance and cooperation.

This is misreading my argument, which was that Security Assistance can lead to increased professionalism (not that it always does), and that increased professionalism would be good for Uzbekistan. In fact, former political prisoner Sanjar Umarov has argued that quite explicitly: that some monitoring and professionalization would actually substantially reduce the amount of abuse in the Uzbek system. (For the record, despite the recent incident with the Copts, the U.S.-trained professionalism of the Egytpian Army is widely credited with allowing the revolution that toppled Mubarak to proceed with relatively little violence.)

Furthermore, it was not quite “Uzbek military units” that opened fire on the protesters in Andjon. According to an OSCE survey of refugees, it was a mixture of Interior Ministry forces and the police, and some military vehicles, that were identified firing into the crowd. This is not a defense of the massacre, but it is important when using it as an argument that the details are correct. The OSCE was running a police mentorship program at the time; while it has serious problems, no one blames the OSCE for the behavior of the Uzbek police (and there is some evidence that better training has led to marginal improvements, though nothing significant). As Cornelius Graubner argued quite well, “programs must contain meaningful human rights and good governance components, not just technical innovation.” I couldn’t agree more.

Which is probably why Secretary Clinton and her staff have been up front that they also will be pushing for human rights and good governance issues as a part of the new engagement policy. I share Nathan’s skepticism that this will result in anything other than marginal improvements. But marginal improvements are better than zero improvements, which has been the result of the last six years of isolation, protest, and hectoring-from-afar (as well as the cotton boycott).

The big problem I see with the opposition to engagement is that it is focused entirely on Uzbekistan, with almost no regard for the broader political and regional context. The State Department is pushing this engagement so that the U.S. can withdraw from Afghanistan without empowering the international terrorists who run Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. The implicit argument that denying the ISI the ability to launder U.S. money and equipment to launch terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, is a bad thing because it won’t change the plight of Uzbeks is badly shortsighted.

The human rights argument about what to do in Uzbekistan are, at best, a sideshow. Ending the military subsidies to Pakistan and shifting the military’s supply chain to Uzbekistan is a massive net-gain for the entire region. Literally everyone, including Uzbeks, will benefit by starving the Pakistani beast. Moreover, it will make the war in Afghanistan more likely to end on a less-bad note, since the continuing dissolution of the U.S.’s relationship with Pakistan won’t necessarily prompt a catastrophic, sudden withdrawal.

Critics like Russell Zanca, or ICG’s Andrew Stroehlein, do not place their arguments in the context of the war in Afghanistan, which is the context the U.S. government is using. They just say engagement is bad because it won’t really help Uzbeks. They’re right about the latter part. But in the real world, where you cannot just cross your arms and pout that you don’t like your choices and wish for something better, you have to make choices. Engagement with Uzbekistan, and disengagement from Pakistan, will do the least amount of harm, which is all we can hope for at this point. It is the only real option U.S. policymakers have left.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 22 comments }

Don Bacon October 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Professionalism — like midnight house raids, bombing wedding parties and shooting kids? The entire US experience in Iraq since April 2003 has been characterized by a brutal military occupation with huge civilian displacement and thousands of casualties, with some torture thrown in. Afghanistan is similar.

Russell Zanca October 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Josh, Josh, Josh…

Sorry, pal, but I have just a little too much experience with Uzbek military folk as well as police from Uzbekistan who have trained with the Chicago PD–among other American municipal police forces–to buy any of the stuff you’re trying to sell about needed oversight, and the softening of police actions.

Incidentally, this just in: dozens of Coptic Christians are still dead, and Mubarak’s forces killed them.

Frankly, it has nothing to do with individual soldiers and cops–Uzbek, Kenyan, Uruguyan, etc. It has everything to do with orders from the top and fear for positions, promotions, etc.

In PO-lice states, most uniform servicemen do not act on their consciences, but on their fears. Are you really going to try to pretend that Andijan might have been different had it not been OMON troops?

For the record, my shortened piece on Steve’s blog was indeed about Afghanistan on the U.S. effort to save Afghanistan from the Afghans. As you know only too well, I have written on your Registan and other sites that the U.S. must disengage as fully and as rapidly as possible from Afghanistan militarily, if the country has any hope of ever developing normally. I do support engagement necessary to prevent it from becoming another Taliban state and/or a haven for Islamist terrorists.

Right now we are fighting to prop up that POS Karzai, who just announced that he would side with good ol’ Pakistan, if the U.S. and Pakistan ever were to engage in hostilities. QED, brother!

You may say I am crossing my arms, but what I am really trying to come out against is the continuation of the long collusive lie between the U.S. and Uzbekistan: We’ll pretend we give a darn about your horrible two decades of oppressing your people, and then we can be cooperative partners to develop Afghanistan and keep you guys free.

As I said and will keep on saying, we are developing a track record in Central Asia of fighting terrorism by coddling a terrorist-dictator.

Joshua Foust October 25, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Russell,

Thanks for the quick response. After reading your comment, I’m left with the following conclusions: the Egyptian military are not perfect, Uzbekistan is a bad place with few good options, and we should withdraw from Afghanistan. I agree with all of those points and said so very explicitly in this piece.

I’m still lost at what you think we should do, however. The thing with the Egyptian military is indicative: yes, Coptic Christians were killed. How many Egyptians were not killed because a professional army held its fire during a revolution? That’s the real test here. Even Arabists who dislike American involvement in the Middle East credit American Security Assistance with the restraint the Army showed earlier this year. That is difficult to discount. It’s not whether the Egyptian Army is perfect, or even up to our standards, but better than it would have been otherwise. There is overwhelming evidence that this is the case — not perfect, but an improvement.

Your piece about the nature of oppression in Uzbekistan is misguided as well. We have a very poor understanding of how the elites there work, and released dissident prisoners like Mr. Umarov have said very clearly that they didn’t feel all of their mistreatment was due to orders from top, but rather from an unaccountable and unmonitored system. Click through the links to consider witness testimony from Uzbekistan’s prison system before making blanket general statements, please.

Lastly, you can declare you’re not crossing your arms, but there are only so many ways to disengage from Afghanistan. One is by continuing the absolutely toxic, violent relationship with Pakistan. The only other option, literally the only other option, is working with Uzbekistan.

The world is not a perfect place, Russell, so use your vast experience of police states and explain to me why Uzbekistan is a worse choice to Pakistan. Because whatever your feelings on the matter, those are the two choices facing policymakers. Uzbekistan or Pakistan. I choose Uzbekistan. If you choose Pakistan, I want to know why?

And no, there is no “neither.” Not in the real world, which is where I prefer to live.

AJK October 25, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I’ve disagreed with you before on this, but the tweet of “what are our other options?” makes me feel like there’s a game of three-card monty going on with your stated goals of the NDN.

What is the goal of the NDN? You say, and I agree, that the purported goal is to have to rely less on Pakistan, an unreliable partner, in the fight in Afghanistan. And the hope is that showing Pakistan that all everything won’t be transported through them will make them bargain more (and more reliably) on what their role will be in Afghanistan. I am not knowledgeable enough about Pakistan or game theory to really discuss this in depth, but I will say that there’s a whole other interesting aspect of taxonimizing Pakistan as part of Central Asia.

My concern with the NDN and Uzbekistan’s role is the explosion of corruption and unintended consequences that will ensue. Expanding the Afghanistan war effort in Uzbekistan seems to be taking on more risk with negligible gain. I do not mean risk as any sort of “Oh, IMU boogeymen are going to bomb the rail network” or something, I mean an exponential rise in transport costs. And for what? To teach Pakistan a lesson that they’re not indispensable?

It just kind of reeks of solving a problem by creating a bigger one. And as I said before, logistics has not been a stumbling block in Afghanistan, but getting all of ISI and the Pakistan state and the whole coterie of folks in NWFP has been. And I’m not sure how a multi-billion thumb of the nose is going to improve in that regard. I think you agree with me if I say that it’s a marginal gain. I think you just disagree when I say the cost and potential cost is great enough to outweigh said gain.

And the whole “reality” bit is strange. As you’ve seen, there’s a wide variation of opinions here. Just because I am a bit more cautious in this regard doesn’t mean I’m having a meal of snozzberries and tribblejerkey while playing catch with my pet Cerberus.

Joshua Foust October 25, 2011 at 8:08 pm

AJK,

I’ll bite. How does decreasing reliance and funding in Pakistan and shifting some of that to Uzbekistan “create a bigger problem?” The government of Uzbekistan has never funded international terrorism, sold nuclear weapons to Syria and Iran, or ballistic missile technology to North Korea, the way the government of Pakistan has.

The Karimov regime is violent, but only to his own people. When he had the chance to intervene militarily in Kyrgyzstan last year, Kairmov very pointedly withdrew his troops from Uzgen and Jalal-Abad. His regional malice is nothing compared to Pakistan.

So how is it that engaging with Uzbekistan to allow us to put more pressure on Pakistan ends up creating a bigger problem?

AJK October 26, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I think you and I are arguing past each other.

Is the point of the NDN to solve Pakistan or Afghanistan? Is the argument that NDN leads to a better bargaining position with Pakistan leads to a better outcome in Afghanistan and a safer world? If true, then I can see the interest in it, but I think it’s fair to say that that’s attenuated.

On the other hand, funneling millions if not billions of dollars in military materiel through Latvia, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan seems to open up an awful lot of corruption on a huge scale. This is my primary concern, not the relative moral value of Uzbekistan vs. Pakistan.

Is the ends of establishing better bargaining position with Pakistan worth the means of opening up an avenue of corruption through the FSU? I personally do not think so. I do not think that the bargaining position will change positively or dramatically, and I think that the very real risk of the corrupting influence is worth it. I am sorry for not making myself clearer earlier.

Nathan October 27, 2011 at 7:45 am

How much extra corruption do you think there actually is though? This is a place where there are already well-established, very lucrative opportunities for the corrupt to make money off of oil, gas, cotton, and drugs. If we’re talking about the NDN adding to that incrementally so that kickback schemes can be worked out that result in some smoothing out of goods being moved through the region, I think we can live with that.

Russ Zanca October 25, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Hi Josh,

Thanks for your response, too. I wanted to get back sooner, but had to craft a midterm exam for my Central Asia class.

It’s nice that we agree on some issues, especially when I consider how “misguided” I am. So Pakistan sucks and Uzbekistan sucks, we can all agree. But the Foustian Bargain is that the Uzbeks suck less, so we should side with them becuase those of us living in the real world must decide one or the other: what’s it gonna be Zanca?

While I sweat out my ultimatum, would you be kind enough to tell me what the end game is in Afghanistan for the U.S. military? I’ll presume there is one and you think it can best be achieved by working with the Karimovities.

While thinking this one through, I’d like to take on your assessment of Uzbek security services based on your copious interviews with human rights activists. It isn’t the PO-lice state so much, it’s disorderly psychotic and sociopathic renegades because “we don’t know enough about how the elites work in Uzbekistan.” Really? So all of that scholarship by folk like Ilkhamov, Fumigalli, and Trevisani hasn’t given you any inkling? Of course, modesty prevents me from tacking on Zanca to that list of scholars who work on elites in Uzbekistan.

Let’s say you are correct, and I remain misguided. Then it looks as if your argument is tantamount to Karimov having little control over his military, police, and security forces. Do you seriously believe this?

So after about 16-17 years of the U.S. and other European countries entering into all manner of training and education programs for military and police in Uzbekistan, it’s just a matter of keeping those ties and developing them further, is that right?

How about the work of the ABA and journalists associations from the U.S. in Uzbekistan, Josh? What good have they done in nearly two decades worth of bilateral exchanges and professional-to-profesional development.

I could bring up Central America during the 1970s and 1980s, and all the excellent rubbing-off effect that those highly trained and skilled officers from Guatemala and El Salvador and Honduras gained from working closely with the U.S> Army at Ft. Benning–what was it…School of the Americas?

Obviously, if you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past two weeks, you know I won’t choose Pakistan over Uzbekistan, my real-world friend. Just wondering why you would choose to work with Karimov to support the budding nation-state in Afghanistan whose idiot leader would side with Pakistan should the U.S. get into hostilities with the Pakistanis.

When I know what it is the U.S. intends to achieve with its military in Afghanistan, I may re-evaluate my understanding of bilateral relations with tyrants who terrorize their own citizens.

The Paks cannot be supported because they are tyrants, but because their decent leaders cannot control the military men and others who support terrorism.

Shoot, am I being too non-committal for you? Sorry.

Joshua Foust October 25, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Russ,

The SOA example is a bit red herring, in part because it is no longer the 70s or 80s, and WHINSEC has actually won praise for its inclusion and focus on human rights and legal training of Latin American militaries (Colombia in particular is a showcase example they trot out). Please work in the present tense when arguing against Security Assistance.

The Afghanistan endgame right now is to withdraw most combat troops and leave a small training contingent behind for the Afghan security forces. I don’t agree that that’s the best policy or even sustainable in the long run, but the Obama administration has been pretty unambiguous on that, and it’s what they’re making plans around. You seem angry I’m not referencing enough scholars on this topic; maybe do your own reading on this before using it as an excuse to pout with your arms crossed.

Meanwhile, I must note that you still aren’t engaging with the very basic question of “given the toxicity of the Pakistan relationship, what are our other options beside Uzbekistan?” I’ve read much of the work you cite on Uzbek elites, yet they still don’t behave in a way we can predict. I must also note that you’re similarly not engaging with witness accounts of how the security services perform, again with the understanding that more monitoring has resulted in fewer abuses (and this is over time, in multiple cases).

Answer that and I’m pretty sure also dropping the affect, and we’ll start making progress. Remember: I am not and have never suggested engaging with Uzbekistan will make things good, only maybe a bit less bad. And that misses the point anyway, which is how the U.S. can withdraw from Afghanistan without further enabling and exacerbating the horrible relationship with Pakistan.

Russell Zanca October 25, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Red Herring–SOA. We’re ignoring precedents. Fine.

We only focus on the present. Past is past and doesn’t matter.

Okay, so you never addressed any of my remarks about nearly two-decades worth of programs–military and civilian–to improve the abuses and lack of freedoms in Uzbekistan. Don’t they matter, or is that also all in the past?

We are leaving a small security force behind to train the Afghans. Ok, this is avowed Obama policy, but I don’t understand how Afghanistan achieves stability from this. If what you are supporting is a future of fruitful development for the Central Asia region based on a better working relationship among international partners, then the buck has to stop somewhere. The U.S. has the right, guided by foreign policy principles, to make agreements based on standards of decency. When and if measurable progress were to be made in Uzbekistan, then a partnership makes sense. My position is that stabilizing Afghanistan will be extremely difficult by partnering with Uzbekistan unless all three states articulate similar goals and action plans.

I couldn’t care less what scholars you reference on the topic, but if you claim expertise on the Afghan situation, I am merely asking what the plan is for improving Afghanistan via partnership with Uzbekistan.

As for affect, you enjoy characterizing those of us who say no to a partnership with Uzbekistan without Karimov improving his politics fast as “pouting.” Why is it pouting to demand more of your country in terms of thinking about the next decade or so in Central Asia rather than the next year? Why do you say one is pouting when one intends to stand for something better?

Heck, I do not discount the remarks of a human rights activist that if thugs are monitored they will more than likely be less abusive. I am all for that. In fact, Josh, if the Uzbeks agreed to let the U.S. and other western or democratic countries monitor they way they treat prisoners of conscience, I would say you have a deeper basis for partnering. What I dislike is your implication that because Umarov said something to this effect, then we know U.S. involvement with Uzbekistan will lead to better conditions for people. For 20 years it hasn’t, I want to know what is different about the results of the latest visit by SS Clinton.

Lastly, what’s to say (for the sake of argument) that if the U.S. makes a full break with Pakistan tomorrow, and then sides with Uzbekistan, hell won’t break loose? I’d feel better about taking some risk if (experiences in Uzbekistan and of studying Uzbekistan aside) we had received concrete guarantees from Karimov backed by agreements about improving social, economic, and political life for 27 million rather than the usual hot air about human rights and freedom.

Overall, I applaud SS Clinton for bringing up his crimes against the Uzbek people, but partnership requires a lot more.

As you positioned yourself, you’re content with “maybe”. I’m not.

Joshua Foust October 25, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Russell,

I’d be much happier with this exchange if you responded to what I write, rather than what you want me to write.

About the SOA: it’s not the same institution it was in the 70s. WHINSEC is how the U.S. does SA in Latin America. Do you ascribe to them the same disregard for human rights SOA had? Are they lying when they say they focus now on human rights, and is everyone else lying when they say WHINSEC mentorship has improved some aspects of the human rights records in mentored security sectors? Address the facts, not your assumptions about the facts.

The same applies to Uzbekistan. Did Uzbekistan’s human rights record improve, stay the same, or deteriorate under U.S. engagement? Under U.S. isolation? We all know and agree their record got worse during the last six years of isolation. Their record improved sometimes and got worse sometimes during the heaviest period of U.S. engagement from 1999-2004 (at least, according to the State Department reports). Is that a tenable situation, then? Should we continue an isolation policy that seen things get far worse, or should we try something else that at least has a chance of making things less worse? Your posturing on the record doesn’t address this point, either.

Your dichotomy between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan makes no sense. The U.S. war in Afghanistan has not improved the security situation. Do you think we should stay, if leaving means engaging with the Uzbek regime? If so, what say you to the Afghans who suffer from such a decision? If not, what is your calculation for the best course of action, and as a policymaker how do you justify that from a budgetary, physical, and life-value perspective? Should we continue to kill U.S. soldiers because Karimov is a bad man?

This is the heart of the matter. I don’t know how many times I need to restate that the renewed engagement has nothing to do with human rights in Uzbekistan. That is, at the most optimistic take, a sidenote to the other discussions. Focusing on that topic so relentlessly misses the point, in addition to obscuring the much bigger problem of Pakistan’s choices the last decade.

Which brings me to your question of what to do if we disengage with Pakistan. What hell hasn’t broken loose there? I’m curious how, exactly, you think the situation could get worse. Moreover, it is the supply line through Pakistan that has prevented the U.S. from taking stronger action against Pakistan’s support of international terrorists — and whenever Pakistan has protested strongly enough, supplies have stopped anyway. Removing that piece of leverage Pakistan has against the U.S. will allow other instruments to be brought to bear, including sanctions, punitive reprisals to include directly striking government forces we photograph assisting militants (and yes, we do have documentary evidence they do this), and so on. It will not allow Pakistan to hold the U.S. government to its support of terrorism.

No matter how bad things are in Uzbekistan, Karimov does not have nuclear weapons, does not sell nuclear and ballistic technology to other rogue regimes and other supporters of international terrorism, and does not actively sponsor the murder not just of U.S. troops but thousands of Afghans each year. That you would hold all of that hostage for some marginal changes in the human rights situation in Uzbekistan is not only puzzling but deeply worrisome.

Have some perspective. We cannot substantially change anything in Uzbekistan, but we can change things in Pakistan by using Uzbekistan to alter the regional security calculation—which WOULD change Afghanistan for the better. You continue to ignore this very basic consideration, even though it is driving U.S. decision-making. So please, tell me: what would you do instead? Don’t just say everything is a bad idea. People with real responsibilities outside the university in real life have to make choices. What choice would you make here?

Russell Zanca October 26, 2011 at 8:46 am

Josh,
Please see my response interlinear. Sorry if this is a bad format—but easier to engage points.

Russell,
I’d be much happier with this exchange if you responded to what I write, rather than what you want me to write.
Josh,
Cuts both ways, doesn’t it?

About the SOA: it’s not the same institution it was in the 70s. WHINSEC is how the U.S. does SA in Latin America. Do you ascribe to them the same disregard for human rights SOA had? Are they lying when they say they focus now on human rights, and is everyone else lying when they say WHINSEC mentorship has improved some aspects of the human rights records in mentored security sectors? Address the facts, not your assumptions about the facts.

Yeah, the SOA training that rubbed off so well on the death squads of Central America continued well into the 1980s. You might talk to your fact checkers, but, hey, what’s an extra decade. I know, it’s all in the past. Since I never mentioned WHINSEC, why on earth would I accuse anyone of lying?

The same applies to Uzbekistan. Did Uzbekistan’s human rights record improve, stay the same, or deteriorate under U.S. engagement? Under U.S. isolation? We all know and agree their record got worse during the last six years of isolation. Their record improved sometimes and got worse sometimes during the heaviest period of U.S. engagement from 1999-2004 (at least, according to the State Department reports). Is that a tenable situation, then? Should we continue an isolation policy that seen things get far worse, or should we try something else that at least has a chance of making things less worse? Your posturing on the record doesn’t address this point, either.

This whole paragraph is so phony, and your use of State D. reports is selective. Having lived in rural areas of Uzbekistan during the “engagement” years—unlike you—the reporting from actually living Uzbeks is that political and religious freedoms in addition to rural economy, became markedly worse. Out of a population of more than 25 million, do you know how many Uzbeks live in the countryside, Josh? About 65%-70%. This was the era when Karimov considered Uzbekistan to be under profound threat from Islamists. As I tell my students, under the Taliban, a man could be beaten for having shaved wheras in Uzbekistan men routinely got picked up and beaten for not shaving. It coincides with the period of terrorist attacks on Uzbekistan. Rumsfeld & Co. were only too happy to be engaged without giving two turds for the way the regime treated the populace. The culmination of the engagement was Andijan in 2005. Then it occurred to the U.S. it couldn’t conduct biz as usual with the murderous regime.

Your dichotomy between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan makes no sense. The U.S. war in Afghanistan has not improved the security situation. Do you think we should stay, if leaving means engaging with the Uzbek regime? If so, what say you to the Afghans who suffer from such a decision? If not, what is your calculation for the best course of action, and as a policymaker how do you justify that from a budgetary, physical, and life-value perspective? Should we continue to kill U.S. soldiers because Karimov is a bad man?

Trying to make sense of this discordant graph, but it isn’t easy. A lot of Afghans have “suffered” for a very long time. And whenever the U.S. leaves, the suffering will continue. The U.S. military since 2001 has made life better for some, made it worse for some, and resulted in the deaths of some. Afghanistan is a state whose leadership has jurisdiction over a few square blocks of Kabul—maybe. As a policymaker, I would think long and hard about the billions being pissed away in Afghanistan while the domestic economy continues deteriorating, and we have very little to show for ten years of engagement with the Taliban and propping up Karzai.

This is the heart of the matter. I don’t know how many times I need to restate that the renewed engagement has nothing to do with human rights in Uzbekistan. That is, at the most optimistic take, a sidenote to the other discussions. Focusing on that topic so relentlessly misses the point, in addition to obscuring the much bigger problem of Pakistan’s choices the last decade.

It does, apparently, factor as a sidenote for a guy like you who marginalizes the importance of engaging dictators and aiding and abetting routine anti-democratic actions, including the widespread use of torture under conditions of arrest and incarceration

Which brings me to your question of what to do if we disengage with Pakistan. What hell hasn’t broken loose there? I’m curious how, exactly, you think the situation could get worse.

Um, do you read the NYT? The other day there was a report about how angry U.S. troops were that they keep receiving hostile fire from Pakistan, in western Afghanistan. The reporting said there have been many more attacks from Pakistan this year than last, for example. This is an instance of how a total abandonment of engagement with our unreliable friends in Pakistan can make things worse.

Moreover, it is the supply line through Pakistan that has prevented the U.S. from taking stronger action against Pakistan’s support of international terrorists — and whenever Pakistan has protested strongly enough, supplies have stopped anyway. Removing that piece of leverage Pakistan has against the U.S. will allow other instruments to be brought to bear, including sanctions, punitive reprisals to include directly striking government forces we photograph assisting militants (and yes, we do have documentary evidence they do this), and so on. It will not allow Pakistan to hold the U.S. government to its support of terrorism.
No matter how bad things are in Uzbekistan, Karimov does not have nuclear weapons, does not sell nuclear and ballistic technology to other rogue regimes and other supporters of international terrorism, and does not actively sponsor the murder not just of U.S. troops but thousands of Afghans each year. That you would hold all of that hostage for some marginal changes in the human rights situation in Uzbekistan is not only puzzling but deeply worrisome.

This reads as a false dichotomy—“worrisome” as it strikes you. You have no ability whatsoever to prove or even provide a scintilla of evidence that engaging with the Uzbeks will improve the U.S.’ ill-defined mission in Afghanistan. But if a guy like me isn’t onboard, then, obviously, I support terrorism against the U.S. and the proliferation of nukes to rogue states. Silly.

Have some perspective. We cannot substantially change anything in Uzbekistan, but we can change things in Pakistan by using Uzbekistan to alter the regional security calculation—which WOULD change Afghanistan for the better.

I thought you said, in earlier posts that we can through “constructive engagement.” Scratching my head now.
You continue to ignore this very basic consideration, even though it is driving U.S. decision-making. So please, tell me: what would you do instead? Don’t just say everything is a bad idea. People with real responsibilities outside the university in real life have to make choices. What choice would you make here?

I said it already. Read more carefully, please. I never say everything s a bad idea. I say engaging with the Uzbeks without concrete results is bad policy.

Joshua Foust October 26, 2011 at 11:40 am

Russell,

There are some errors in the timeline.

“The culmination of the engagement was Andijan in 2005. Then it occurred to the U.S. it couldn’t conduct biz as usual with the murderous regime.”

Actually, the U.S. began withholding assistance and ratcheting up pressure on Tashkent in 2004, in response to a campaign of protest by various international orgs and an increase that year in political arrests. Andijon happened after the U.S. had begun withdrawing money and legitimacy from the regime. And the U.S. did not decide to remove itself from Uzbekistan afterward, the regime in Tashkent did in response to U.S. complaints over the crackdown.

“As a policymaker, I would think long and hard about the billions being pissed away in Afghanistan while the domestic economy continues deteriorating, and we have very little to show for ten years of engagement with the Taliban and propping up Karzai.”

Why do you assume policymakers haven’t thought long and hard about what to do about the waste? And you still haven’t answered the very basic question in that paragraph: what would you do instead? More thinking doesn’t cut it — they have to do something. What should they do?

“Um, do you read the NYT? The other day there was a report about how angry U.S. troops were that they keep receiving hostile fire from Pakistan, in western Afghanistan. The reporting said there have been many more attacks from Pakistan this year than last, for example. This is an instance of how a total abandonment of engagement with our unreliable friends in Pakistan can make things worse.”

Picking nits: that would be Eastern Afghanistan. And while the NYT may have finally picked up on this story, I was working for the Army in Eastern Afghanistan in 2009 and taking fire from Pakistan was a several years old story. It’s escalated recently, in part because of the OBL raid, and in part because militants have begun using uncontrolled areas of the border to launch attacks going both ways that provoke violent responses. We routinely launch artillery barrages into Pakistan as well. It’s a two-way street. And again: how exactly does that get worse? You didn’t answer that.

“You have no ability whatsoever to prove or even provide a scintilla of evidence that engaging with the Uzbeks will improve the U.S.’ ill-defined mission in Afghanistan. But if a guy like me isn’t onboard, then, obviously, I support terrorism against the U.S. and the proliferation of nukes to rogue states. Silly.”

I didn’t phrase this precisely enough. Uzbek lets the USG decrease its reliance on Pakistan, which gives it and the international community more leverage for punitive measures in response to their international terrorism. And I never said you supported terrorism, nor did I mean to imply it. I do wonder how you are ordering priorities for the region, though, especially given Pakistan’s behavior. What matters more to you?

“I thought you said, in earlier posts that we can through “constructive engagement.” Scratching my head now.”

I’ve been pretty clear from the start that constructive engagement with uUbekistan can bring about marginal improvements. It has in the past, and there’s no reason to assume it won’t in the future. I have never even implied that working with Uzbekistan would fundamentally alter its politics or its human rights record — that has always been an assumption not grounded in the text.

“I say engaging with the Uzbeks without concrete results is bad policy.”

I never got that. Do you mean concrete results in Uzbekistan? What about regionally, like in Pakistan? I’m still lost on how you’re ordering your priorities and what you expect the consequences of staying out of Uzbekistan and staying in Pakistan to be.

Russ Zanca October 26, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Josh,

Thanks for the exchange. I’m written out for the time being, and have to move on.

Don Bacon October 25, 2011 at 8:16 pm

For what it’s worth, I choose Pakistan because:
–Pakistan is understandably irked at the US/India kinship in A-stan
–w/o Pak support there will never be a settlement in A-stan
–Pakistan will soon become the largest Muslim country, w/nukes
–alienating Pakistan will drive it closer to China
–all the commerce from central Asia must transit Pak to India

So the answer is for the US to back India out of Afghanistan and align US/Pak joint security interests, not scrap them, and reach a political settlement soonest.

Don Bacon October 26, 2011 at 12:02 am

Pakistan was just elected to the United Nations Security Council.

S.U. October 26, 2011 at 12:37 am

There are information what 37-motorized infantry brigade and 4486 military unit refused to open the fire to crowd in Andijan May 13, 2005. They was also executed lately…

Russ Zanca October 26, 2011 at 9:39 am

I’ve never heard this, S.U., but it is good to know.

If you happen to know if such a unit and or/brigade was trained directly under U.S. military personnel, then Josh’s argument would look more valid, and I would concede that in this instance I am wrong.

Xenophon October 26, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Well, I linked to what I guess was the original article on this topic at Registan and just posted a reply without noticing that that was three week ago, so I’ll repost in this queue for what it’s worth:

Foust: “And the deal in Uzbekistan is meant to satisfy one purpose only: Afghanistan.”

Why do you assume this?

I don’t agree. AQ is now largely ineffective with a minimal presence in Afghanistan, and the various Pashtun resistance factions have always posed a negligible strategic threat in and of themselves. An AQ resurgence of some sort is certainly possible, but that will always be true, so that line of reasoning is bereft of any strategic endstate in Afghanistan–just more temporizing.

But there is another issue: The larger Eurasian Great Game with China and Russia. We are continuing the competition with these two, China in particular, for power and influence in Central Asia. Without the Afpak corridor, we have no access to Central Asia except the route granted to us by Russia which can be withdrawn at any time.

Central Asia has two principal strategic features of interest: The energy resources of the Caspian Basin and, even more importantly, its potential use as China’s alternative access route into the Middle East. There are two ways for China to project influence into the Persian Gulf: Via the Indian Ocean which we control OR through Central Asia.

Over the long term, it’s not Uzbekistan that supports ops in AfPak; rather, its the AfPak corridor that affords access to Uzbekistan and Central Asia more generally. Why the Afpak corridor? What other access do we have? We can’t depend on Russia or the South Caucauses. China is obviously not an option. That leaves either Iran or AfPak.

The neocons envisioned that our overthrow of Saddam would soon be followed by the overthrow of the Iranian government. We would then have had easy access to Central Asia from the Persian Gulf through Iran AND we would have had Iran as the bulwark of our position in the Persian Gulf, allowing us to block any strategically viable Chinese position from developing there and retaining our ultimate trump card of strategic control over Persian Gulf hydrocarbons.

That’s one reason why Afganistan was ignored so long–until, that is, it became clear the the neocon ME strategy had failed. That’s why interest in Afpak has risen over the last three years. The Afpak corridor provides a way to project influence into Central Asia and a way to extract resources, bypassing Iran, until such time–if ever–as we have achieved regime change there. Of course, the unwillingness of the Pashtuns to submit to our geostrategic desiderata is the fly in the ointment. So, I am not asserting that this strategic gambit will work, only that that, in my opinion, is what we are attempting in Afpak and Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is the most culturally, politically, and militarily dynamic country in Central Asia AND it is positioned such that it can potentially act as a strategic block to any sustained Chinese attempt to dominate the Central Asian avenue to the ME as we dominate the sea route. But of course, if we don’t have some sort of reliable access–which the NDN is NOT over the long term–we must give up our geopolitical ambitions for Central Asia. That would be a huge strategic victory for the Chinese.

Our morally hypocritical relationship with Karimov–after “punishing” him once–is of a piece with our position in Bahrain, our support for Mubarek practically up to the moment his was ejected, our support for Saudi Arabia, etc, etc. Don’t bother trying to rationalize it in any other than purely strategic terms (unless it really makes you feel better).

The Great Game has many layers and wrinkles and Afghanistan or even Pakistan cannot simply be looked at as ends in themselves.

S.U. October 27, 2011 at 12:29 am

In my opinion the biggest mistake after Andijan was do not include Karimov into the list of sanctioned persons. He is chief comander and he obviosely ordered to open the fire: this is fact! If Karimov was sanctioned – in 2006, during the Saddam’s trial and especially in November 2006 (death penalty) Karimov’s era would be finished…

Speaking about military cooperation: forget about equipment! US consultant should explain to Uzbek military what they should no open fire to civilian, even after receiving the order from comander ! Also to BARS unit, who now under SNB this should be well explained. After Andijan high SNB and military officers ( who knew the Andijan’s reality)had feeling ( desided) what they will not obey to criminal order to open the fire to civilians, but i can’t say what low officers will also refuse.

Abdurakhim October 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm

So many words. Very simple equation. US wants out of AF in the quickest, easiest way possible. They don’t care about the vacuum post-AF. China is already filling in (see CNPC investment in AF gas deposits, copper mines). Roads from TJ to AF paved with CN money. USA wants out out out of trillion dollar holes. Let RU and CN finance the future headaches. US presence in AF was actually a peaceful interlude between wars. UZ? Embargoes? Human rights? Huh? All of US (DOD/DOS/POTUS now and future) wants CA as a very distant vision in the rear view mirror, fading fast…bye bye. No intrigue, no Great Game. Sorry.

Xenophon November 8, 2011 at 9:20 pm

“No intrigue, no Great Game. Sorry.”

The quickest, easiest way for the US to exit Afghanistan would be to announce a date and then execute. Do you see that happening? The US may be forced out by a combination of financial difficulties and strategic failure, but it won’t be a willing departure any more than it was in Iraq. The only thing that might change that would be a successful overthrow of the Iranian government. Not likely.

The only thing you say that makes any sense is your observation about the Chinese economic presence. And somehow that translates in your mind into no Great Game?? LOL.

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