A Menu of Poor Choices

by Joshua Foust on 12/28/2011 · 43 comments

Joshua Kucera is absolutely right:

This is a difficult needle to thread, but Washington has so far largely succeeded. The U.S. has kept the supply lines running while compromising little on its principles. The yearly State Department human rights reports have remained consistently critical, even as military cooperation has blossomed. Human rights advocates in Uzbekistan — a small, beleaguered community — still say that, for the most part, they feel like the U.S. Embassy is an ally.

But this balance is difficult to maintain, and lately there have been signs that America may be wavering. The defense budget authorization act passed on Dec. 15 by Congress removed restrictions on military aid to Uzbekistan that had been in place since 2004 because of the country’s odious human rights record. Asked about that decision, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there had been “progress” on human rights and political freedoms, which, while not a realistic assessment of the situation, technically speaking is true.

Well, maybe except for that last bit. Assessing the human rights situation in Uzbekistan is a tricky business. No one argues with the very basic fact that the Karimov regime is one of the most horrific rights abusers on the planet. But how can Secretary Clinton be “technically true” in saying that there’s been some progress on human rights, while also not being realistic?

Josh and I bickered a bit about this over twitter (his feed, @joshuakucera, is worth following). He thinks the rights situation in Uzbekistan has gotten worse, and bases that on his trips to country, as well as conversations with activists and journalists who live there.

Here’s the thing: Josh very well could be right that activists and journalists think the rights situation has gotten worse. It certainly has for them, but has it gotten worse for ordinary Uzbeks? That’s a much harder question to answer.

The challenge in making rights assessments in a place like Uzbekistan is the terrible quality of information on hand. No one can collect data systemically, which leaves a researcher or analyst at the whims of the few sources he or she can get to talk. That’s why, for example, Nathan Hamm can find Uzbeks who think things have gotten better (though he clarifies they usually mean economically instead of freedom), while Josh can find people who think things have gotten worse.

Because there is little concrete data in the major human rights assessments—I’m referring to Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the State Department—we’re often left with a subjective assessment of how things are changing. There’s no question the human rights situation is worse now than it was, say, in 1991. But is it worse than, say, 2006?

Josh said so in his piece quoted above. It’s a difficult thing to argue. Few rights organizations have a presence there anymore, which makes data collection extremely difficult. HRW focuses strongly on the plight of rights activists, which obscures the daily existence of ordinary Uzbeks (which is not to say that the treatment of rights activists is unimportant, it’s just a terribly narrow segment of Uzbek society). Amnesty hasn’t issued a report since 2010, but even that was a frankly generic set of complaints about the Karimov regime that’s remained relatively unchanged since 2004 or so. The State Department’s extensive human rights report for 2010 noted many of the same horrors we’ve seen in previous years, with some tiny, marginal (and largely symbolic) progress in a few limited areas.

Maybe we have to wait for the 2011 year in review reports to start really saying if there’s been a rights degradation or improvement, but my feeling is the rights situation in Uzbekistan is largely unchanged and will probably remain so for the immediate future. A few high profile cases (which are, to repeat, absolutely horrifying and unforgivable) do not really say a lot about the broad situation in the country. Most of the problems that State and HRW document concern violations of due process, religious persecution, and police brutality—horrors that do not often get encapsulated by the majority of the vocal activists westerners usually focus on, but which do affect normal Uzbeks. For them, things don’t seem all that much worse or better, which makes assessing the morality of U.S. engagement all the more difficult.

This crucifix is not among the methods of torture the government of Uzbekistan employs against its citizens.

The thing is, the current U.S. plan to engage with Tashkent—hype about not selling B2 bombers notwithstanding—is a strictly transactional arrangement. I’d be surprised if it lasts much beyond 2014, whatever the New Silk Road talk you hear from the State Department. Noting that it’s not a particularly happy choice, as Josh does, is perfectly cromulent. The U.S. has no good choices in the region, because we don’t have any leverage over these regimes but we do need them to get out of Afghanistan. But even while we note the paucity of choice, can we ask what else there might be?

I don’t know of anything. I remain convinced that, while Uzbekistan is not a good choice for engagement, it is a better choice than Pakistan (and the only real alternative anyway). So while we should always remain aware of the abuses of the countries the government must work through to achieve bigger goals (and winding down the war in Afghanistan really is a bigger, more important goal), we should also keep in mind that there’s really nothing else they could do.

Final thought: if the rights situation really did degrade during the last five years of U.S. disengagement, does it naturally follow that U.S. re-engagement would lead to further degradation? I don’t follow that logic, but it seems to be the assumption behind much of the carping. Maybe a commenter will patronizingly explain how I have it all wrong and should stop shilling for the Defense Department?

Nah, I wouldn’t be that lucky.

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This post was written by...

– 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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Joshua Kucera December 28, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Josh – thanks for this. The world needs more blog posts with ledes like this one. I still think the human rights situation is worse now than it was a few years ago. I don’t know of any comprehensive report that would prove that, but the massive preponderance of evidence suggests that the human rights situation there is worse. Whether or not they are economically better off is irrelevant: the U.S. doesn’t pretend to condition its cooperation with foreign countries on their wealth, they way it does with their human rights and democratization record.

And my argument still stands even if the situation had gotten any better, because as you and everyone else acknowledges, it’s still terrible by any metric. I may not have made my point clearly enough (and the editors chopped one paragraph that may have helped) but I think that merely by talking about human rights in the context of Uzbekistan debases the U.S. As I’ve said on your blog before, I think there’s no point in considering the political/human rights effect of U.S. military assistance to Uzbekistan — there isn’t any. (That is not necessarily the case in Kyrgyzstan or elsewhere in the region.) So the question is, how does the U.S. engage in a way that makes the U.S. look the least craven and hypocritical? And engaging the subject of human rights at all publicly, pretending that that is at all a factor in relations with Uzbekistan, damages U.S. credibility.

If they’re really concerned about a quid pro quo for the NDN, nice statements about human rights in Uzbekistan would seem to not be very useful: I don’t think Karimov cares. He just wants the U.S. off his case on how he runs his country, and probably some business/kickbacks for his family members and alies. To psychoanalyze a bit, I think these statements (about “progress”) are made more for liberal U.S. politicians (like Clinton and Kerry) to convince themselves that they’re helping the human rights situation by engaging.

So, the comparison with Pakistan is a false choice. You have to deal with Uzbekistan. But there are good ways and bad ways of doing that.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 10:13 am

Indeed! Hey, when you’re right I think it’s worth pointing out 🙂

However, I do quibble with your framework that it is the State Department which is choosing to discuss human rights. That hadn’t really happened the first three years of outreach, first over Termez and now over more substantive issues.

No, the demands to be vocal about human rights come from the human rights community, not from inside the State Department. So that’s really where your complaint about trying to say something about human rights making the U.S. look hypocritical needs to focus. Because those officials and diplomats saying it would almost certainly rather ignore the issue.

And the comparison with Pakistan is not a false choice. Ever since that massive open letter about the reengagement decision, the human rights community has said that dealing with Uzbekistan — and it’s worth nothing more than a few of them assert, falsely, that Clinton either said nothing about human rights or that she said so littler it’s meaningless blather — was a cost too high no matter what. I recall vividly, and angrily, arguing with a representative of the International Crisis Group who said that there were no circumstances under which the U.S. could morally engage with Uzbekistan, but declined to acknowledge that that meant the alternative was Pakistan. So it’s worth continuing to bring up the Pakistan alternative because many (I’d even say most) of the people arguing against it just don’t realize what the real choices are.

Joshua Kucera December 29, 2011 at 12:33 pm

I think you’re vastly overstating the influence of human rights groups on U.S. policy. Human rights advocates can advocate all they want, but it was Clinton and Kerry and their staffs who have said these things, so they’re the ones responsible.

And this Pakistan thing is a straw man. The open letter you cite doesn’t call for breaking relations altogether, it only objected to giving new concessions (specifically the FMF) without getting more concessions from Karimov. While you can quibble with that position, you haven’t represented it accurately here. If someone argues that the U.S. should completely break relations with Uzbekistan, they are not being serious and you shouldn’t treat them seriously. And you shouldn’t dismiss all critics of U.S. policy in Uzbekistan as somehow adhering to that position.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 1:48 pm


Clinton & Kerry mention human rights because of the political costs among their constituencies (which are liberal and largely support & amplify the messages from human rights groups). Clinton in particular brings it up because U.S. law, which was enacted in part because of political lobbying, advocacy, and pressure applied by those same rights groups, requires her to. Kerry does, in part, because he maintains support among that community.

So to pretend that the HR community plays no role, or even a peripheral one here is, at best, really missing the history of how these policies and laws have evolved.

As for Pakistan, it is most certainly not a straw man. The bit about concessions is built on the assumption that the U.S. has leverage against the Karimov regime that simply does not exist.

And lastly, I keep bringing both of these topics up in relation to your piece because you blamed the officials enacting laws crafted by people who are complaining about them being insufficient. I think you’re missing the bigger picture. It’s fair game to bring that up.

Don Bacon December 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Oh goody, the U.S. now has a vital war supply line controlled by Russia, not exactly a close ally, with the U.S. and Russia having major differences on ballistic missiles, Georgia, human rights, bogus elections, etc. In Afghanistan, of all places, which was once a U.S. trap for USSR! You can’t make this stuff up.

Sarah Kendzior December 29, 2011 at 7:14 am

I enjoyed both sides of this inter-Josh debate, which I am catching up on now. I agree that the situation may have “improved” since 2006, but only because 2006 was the immediate aftermath of a post-Andijon crackdown that was unprecedented in brutality and scope. Joshua K’s point that the situation is still terrible by any metric should be heeded. I doubt data will emerge that will satisfy either side of this debate – but the paucity of data itself speaks to the closed, authoritarian nature of Karimov’s regime.

I thought the main question Joshua K. raised in the NY Times piece – “If Clinton were to say: ‘No, we don’t agree with how Uzbekistan’s government runs its country. But we need their help in Afghanistan, and so we’re temporarily putting our differences aside,’ would anyone object?” – is intriguing; I’d like to hear more responses on that.

Ian December 29, 2011 at 7:50 am

Uzbekistan would probably object. I’m surprised no one has raised the possibility (maybe they did, I’ve not followed the twitters closely) that this is the one major condition Tashkent put on its continued participation in the NDN (no evidence for it, except the bizarro-denialism public language of the State Department). If Clinton were to say what you’re asking her to, maybe this deal doesn’t happen; US hypocrisy would be what Uzbekistan is buying.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 10:20 am

Uzbekistan might object, as Ian points out. It could be that they want U.S. endorsement of their “progress,” one could even speculate that it is to get the cotton boycott dropped (though from a business perspective it’s been ineffective so I really doubt that’s why, it’s most likely vanity and travel bans).

But look, Clinton HAS said that Uzbekistan has a poor record. She’s been unequivocal about it, and that’s why Josh can also note that human rights activists in Tashkent still feel like the U.S. is an ally. When human rights groups complained about Clinton’s visit to Tashkent, for example, they were mad that the State Department hadn’t informed them, and at the very existence of such high-level visits — even while acknowledging that she included in her remarks comments on both the minor progress and the major problems remaining in Uzbekistan.

So Clinton actually has done what Josh wanted her to do, just not plainly or strongly enough. Welcome to statecraft, where you sometimes have to tone down the truth in order to get something else done. We do it all the time for other countries, including China (one of the worst human rights abusers on the planet as well, though that hasn’t dampened our trade relationship).

But that seems to be a lot of the complaining here. Something is happening they don’t like, but the ways people complain about it aren’t quite realistic even if possibly technically true (sound familiar). I’m really curious how else the U.S. government could achieve the objective everyone agrees must happen — withdrawing from Afghanistan while minimizing contact with Pakistan (and its death squads) in the process — while also being vocal or even dismissive about human rights issues. Legally and politically that just ain’t gonna happen.

So what’s all the whinging for?

Ian December 29, 2011 at 10:59 am

The cost to the US is higher than just “welcome to statecraft.” For two more years of NDN, you cede quite a bit of moral force in the region, or what other commenters have summed up as hypocrisy. Egypt is the looming shadow here; people are willing to accept that the US has to deal with economic superpowers, but they question the need to treat the smaller dictators with anything but a strong set of values.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 11:05 am

Kind of. Egypt isn’t an “economic superpower,” per se, but it’s difficult to imagine the U.S. being able to do much in the Middle East without involving or dealing with Egypt. Similarly, it’s difficult to imagine doing much in Central Asia without involving or dealing with Uzbekistan.

But it’s more than that. In this case, Uzbekistan holds the cards. We need them and they really don’t need us, at least not as badly. So they can extract things from us and we lack the means to extract much from them, so long as we need the NDN for other purposes. So in that case, yes, it’s hypocrisy, but no more so than the hypocrisy involved when a government has to make a choice about which policies it prefers over others.

That’s what you’re describing. The USG prefers withdrawal from Afghanistan over pressuring Uzbekistan on human rights. It doesn’t mean it hates human rights, but that goal has to be set aside while the more important goal is achieved first. People can question that all they want, but it doesn’t change the equation.

Which is also why I titled this post “A Menu of Poor Choices.”

Ian December 29, 2011 at 11:16 am

It’s difficult to imagine the U.S. being able to do much in the Middle East without Egypt, but start imagining. I have a hard time believing Egypt in 2013 will be a help, and part of the reason is that we sold human rights for a security constellation no one thought would last anyway. But that is beside the point. The argument it really looks like you’re making is that we should have started the withdrawal in 2008.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 11:18 am

And indeed, I do actually think that. I wouldn’t have agreed with it at the time, but in hindsight it would have been the correct (and better) decision.

Ian December 29, 2011 at 11:27 am

But doesn’t it seem to you that treatment we are giving Uzbekistan is as short-term in its outlook as the wishful thinking on the Pakistan partnership that still reigned in 2007-8 (which, combined with the proselytizers of best-case counterinsurgency, is why we’re still there)? There are obviously no good choices, but why not choose the one that’s going to pay off better 10 years from now?

And, and this is just a question, why is the withdrawal tied to NDN? I thought the NDN was more about getting supplies in. Maybe I don’t have a firm enough grasp on the logistics of withdrawal.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 11:31 am

Okay, I’ll bite: what is the better option that will “pay off better 10 years from now?” What’s your alternative?

As for the NDN… there is a substantial logistical component to the withdrawal. Ideally, the government wants to get out all of the computers, portable equipment, vehicles, and other materiel (think of the massive amount of stuff that’s inside a single PX at a big box FOB) that running a war requires. Contrary to popular belief they don’t want to just leave everything behind and write it off as a loss. So it has to go somewhere, and flying it all out is murderously expensive. And they’d rather not have it held hostage to either the trucking mafia in Pakistan, or the insurgents who’d torch it anyway, or the government who’d hold passage hostage to other concerns. So they’re left with Uzbekistan, the only other country with sufficient rail capacity to handle the logistical requirements.

Ian December 29, 2011 at 11:44 am

To your bite, this morsel: don’t sell them guns or give them special training.

Regarding using trains and trucks to move it all (to Europe, presumably?) how much more expensive would it be to just leave everything there and repurchase the left items back here? I say that only semi-tongue-in-cheek; if we go by the $400/gallon gas estimate that went around this summer, it seems like leaving computers and rebuying them here might make more economic sense. And they’ll be useful to whoever runs the country in 2015. Plus, no whoring out of values.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 11:51 am

I appreciate the morsel but that’s hardly an alternative policy. Who ever said the USG is selling them guns? Even Eurasianet’s embarrassing piece on the used equipment sales policy didn’t specify that there would be weapons sales, it just assumed that there would be (and made substantial errors of fact in describing the program so I have no faith in their analysis anyway).

And what special training? Is any training in your mind normal training or is it all special? Are you working off facts or assumptions in this morsel?

Same question for the bit about logistics. Gas is $400/gallon because it has to be manually shipped in, often from the U.S., and is destroyed during use (through combustion). You get no further value from gasoline once it’s used. Computers, desks, magazines, and cooking equipment are a different matter entirely. It’s way more economical to ship them back than to just abandon them and get zero further use from them in the future.

Ian December 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm

If we waive the restriction and you build it, they will come and buy from you. By special training I mean the kind of thing we see in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan set up by Special Operations Command. These things unfortunately play big in our public message to the people of these countries.

I’d prefer a better calculation than the ink on the back of my hand, but my personal opinion is that the cost of short-term acquiescence to Karimov is yet higher than the percentage of burned containers in Khyber.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Okay, that…. wasn’t really an answer. But that’s okay, this shit is hard and I don’t really have any good answers either.

Just, keep in mind that the relationship with Pakistan — including the drones — carries substantial costs beyond the logistical ones you asked about. To be realistic and fair, the reason we’re considering Uzbekistan as an alternative is because our other activities there have made shipping material home through Pakistan untenable. If your argument is that going through Uzbekistan would carry a similar cost I’d love to hear it, because right now I’m not convinced based on what we know.

Don Bacon December 29, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Speaking of withdrawal, currently the NDN only allows for one-way transit of goods to Afghanistan, though discussions are reportedly under way to expand the NDN to support two-way transit of cargo leaving Afghanistan via the northern routes.

K1 December 29, 2011 at 8:43 am

There’s a lot of things going on with Uzbekistan and the NDN. According to some Wikileaks they wanted assured volumes of local procurement, and US diplomats wondered if Termez was about showing Moscow a thing or two as much as anything else:
But it seems to boil down to saving face for the Uzbeks — ‘stop harrassing us and you can have your NDN.’ If and when the war in Afghanistan is over, maybe the US will become more vocal. Or maybe they won’t. But for the time being, and you can call it hypocritical if you want, there won’t be a lot said about human righst issues in Uzbekistan as it simply is not expedient or timely from a US perspective to do so. Bigger fish to fry. I wouldn’t object to Clinton being straight up in the manner described by Joshua Kucera. I don’ think if anyone in State or DoD was to have a good think about it they would conclude they like how Uzbekistan is run. The odd State Department caveat about wanting to see more progress on this or that doesn’t really cut it as robust HR policy and only adds to the perception of hypocrisy. However Ian has it right I think, hypocrisy is the ultimate price Tashkent demands. State Department is damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t. But hey, it could be worse, at least a blind eye and some flattery is free to dish out, initially at least. On a different note: How come the US gets all the flack for petting Karimov? Anyone care to discuss the Germans?

EJC December 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm


You raise some good points in your blog post and subsequent responses.

Just to cover again some of the key points:

1. What is the alternative to Pakistan in sustaining our troops in a landlocked country?? If not Uzbekistan, then who?

2. The debate gets caught up in very short-term perspectives — we should look beyond Karimov and think strategically about Uzbekistan and Central Asia. That is, the country is centrally located in Central Asia with the largest population, with it being the hub of ground transportation across the region, with ethnic Uzbeks living in all other Central Asian states including AFG.

3. Drawing from #2, our engagement thus far has been episodic and thus you can’t expect many results in a sine wave approach to engagement. Kucera maybe right about Karimov being unchangeable but we need to look beyond the nomenklatura types that run Uzbekistan (and the rest of the region) and this requires persistent engagement, tempered by prudence.

4. The HR community, on purpose or by accident, is portraying itself as dogmatic, zero-sum oriented as the rulers they despise. For people who are supposedly highly educated, this situation is worrisome. Boycotting countries get one thing for sure – no influence.

5. Finally, and a point many would argue against or at least put their fingers in their collective ears, as long as Putinism dominates Russia and we can do resets and the like with a place that tolerates killing media types, uses radiological materials to kill regime opponents in foreign countries, employs double jeopardy to lock regime opponents w/o the cries of boycotts, sanctions, and other punitive measures from the HR crowd and their like minded colleagues in the White House, then we can really expect the “near abroad” to be really that much different — national in form, Putinism in content (thus why all the Central Asians are closely watching what happens in Moscow with the protests)?

Ian December 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm

#1 Josh is saying the NDN is the key to *not* sustaining our troops in Afghanistan.

#4, which has also been pick up by Kucera above: no, my sense is that the human rights/NGO community is not saying to boycott. I’m sure they’d like the Uzbekistan government to allow them to reopen their offices in Tashkent. But we’ve agreed to sell them guns without that.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm


No one has agreed to sell Uzbekistan guns. Please stick with the facts here, and not your assumptions. Guns are right now not on the menu for Uzbekistan.

Ian December 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm

I’m more than happy to be corrected: “The defense budget authorization act passed on Dec. 15 by Congress removed restrictions on military aid to Uzbekistan that had been in place since 2004 because of the country’s odious human rights record.” We removed these restrictions against aiding the Uzbekistan military without getting IREX, American Councils, NDI, IRI, and other offices back open again.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 2:07 pm

And corrected you shall be: removing restrictions on military aid is not “selling guns,” which requires a separate legal process. Equipment (such as vehicles), spare parts, and training are all covered under the aegis of military aid. No one has yet floated the idea of selling them guns.

So to repeat: please stick with facts, not assumptions.

Ian December 29, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I genuinely thought I corrected myself. But the point here is that we have been unsuccessful in getting the Uzbekistan government to remove its restrictions against things as simple as US cultural/educational organizations, much less improve their behavior.

Joshua Foust December 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I agree. And if you recall, I don’t think the USG should bother caring because it’s just not relevant to what they’re trying to accomplish.

Which is why many human rights people have been labeling me “effectively pro-Karimov” lately. Anyway.

EJC December 29, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Here is the language in the FY2012
Foreign Operations Appropriations Act about security assistance to Uzbekistan:

Sec. 7064. The terms and conditions of sections 7075(a) through (d) and 7076(a) through (e) of the Department of State, «Foreign Operations», and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2009 (division H of Public Law 111-8) shall apply to funds appropriated by this Act, except that the Secretary of State may waive the application of section 7076(a) for a period of not more than 6 months and every 6 months thereafter until September 30, 2013, if the Secretary certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that the waiver is in the national security interest and necessary to obtain access to and from Afghanistan for the United States, and the waiver includes an assessment of progress, if any, by the Government of Uzbekistan in meeting the requirements in section 7076(a): Provided, That the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations not later than 180 days after enactment of this Act and 12 months thereafter, on all United States Government assistance provided to the Government of Uzbekistan and expenditures made in support of the Northern Distribution Network in Uzbekistan, including any credible information that such assistance or expenditures are being diverted for corrupt
purposes: Provided further, That information provided in the report required by the previous proviso may be provided in a classified annex and such annex shall indicate the basis for such classification:
Provided further, That for the purposes of the application of section
7075(c) to this Act, the report shall be submitted not later than October 1, 2012 and for the purposes of the application of section
7076(e) to this Act, the term “assistance” shall not include expanded international military education and training.

State Dept has allocated $100k of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant funds to Uzbekistan for FY12. This is a small amount of money in military assistance and the first time since 2004 this as occurred. Josh F. is correct about weapons. This just isn’t in the cards and there is much, much more to military/security assistance than weapon sales. I would recommend to all who want to more about this topic to seek out the Foreign Military Training report that DoD/State prepares and is posted on State’s website.

Again, our focus in this region should be strategic which may mean decades. If we want to have an effect on the security apparatus in Uzbekistan (and this means competition with Russian/CSTO and Chinese/SCO models/methods/mentoring) we have to be in this for the long haul. Pakistan should be casue in point with the imposition of the Pressler amendment in the 1990s we have a generation of Pakistani military officers, the most important and perhaps the only functioning institution in the US with a VERY strong anti-US bias that has been fueled by the past 10 years of our presence in AFG. The last time we had intense (at relatively low levels for US security assistance) was in 2003. A lot has happen since then. in the US an officer entering the military in 2003 would be at the beginning point of the “mid-career level” — rank of Major.

Perhaps the human rights community should re-think they strategies on how to work with authoritarian regimes. Maybe more micro-projects like consumer rights that help the lives of the vast majority of Uzbeks rather than focusing on just electoral politics.

The argument shouldn’t be why the NDN is bad or immoral or why a one year waiver on providing assistance that is only tied to the NDN is wrong, but rather, the argument should be how can we in democracy/human right community leverage these small yet perhaps important opportunities to engage with the Uzbek people.

Dilshod December 29, 2011 at 9:35 pm


Sarah Kendzior December 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm

The people who label you “effectively pro-Karimov” are insane. They should look through the archives of this site and read the dozens of articles you have written critiquing the regime, particularly your articles related to Andijon. I know *you* already know this but I want to get my opinion out there. One of the refreshing things about this post and the responses, generally speaking, is that there has been some attempt to separate your views of the regime from your views on what policy is most effective. I’m glad many seem to recognize the distinction, because to call you pro-Karimov is an offensive fallacy.

Ian December 30, 2011 at 7:55 am

A) I think in my disagreeing with Josh I did a good job not calling him names like “effectively pro-Karimov”

B) I thank EJC for the full language of the bill, and actually I think the small amount of money at stake here (not guns–presumably this is the first step in a dance that leads to closer military relations, though, right?) is entirely symbolic. But it enhances the point I’m making that symbolic steps would better directed toward the civil sphere.

C) To what human rights community with offices in Uzbekistan, and to what opportunities, is EJC referring in her last para?

MJ December 31, 2011 at 1:26 pm

I don’t think people in the HR community are calling Foust “effectivly pro-Karimov” but Foust likes to present it that way in order to style himself as a matyr burning in the fire stoked by what he refers to as the “human rights industry (I still haven’t really understood what he means by that). Foust is not pro-anything, rather he is contra anything that is not written by him.

Rather than calling him pro- or contra something I think It’s better to just ignore him. Certainly neither his background (no serious academic training, lack of methodological skills, little Russian, no Uzbek, Tajik, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, very little on-the-ground regional experience, previous employment with the DOD, etc) nor his overall destructive MO (takes somebody else’s work, polemically pulls it apart, peppers his comments with snarky little remarks suggesting that the author is dumb or biased, aggressively comes down on anybody disagreeing with his approach in the comments and voila, done is the standard Registan.net piece – 99% of his pieces don’t say much more than “look, I’m Joshua Foust, I’m smart and YOU are f***ing stupid) certainly do not recommend him for inclusion in any serious debate or forum.

So as far as I’m concerned he’s just a hater. Actually it’s been a while since I have seen anything good that he wrote on Central Asia that would have been based on his own research. Which is not surprising, since he’s never really there for longer than weeks or four weeks and doesn’t speak any of the pertinent languages (maybe Russian to the extend that he can order a meal).

Anyway, that people actually read Foust’s posts and take him – and his still-employed-by-the-DOD sidekick Nathan – serious represents much more what is generally wrong with the policy circus in DC than any report or story that he comes down on. But what can you do, haters gonna hate.

Nathan December 31, 2011 at 2:43 pm

For what it’s worth, I don’t work for the DoD. I’ve been hired to do consulting work for the DoD based on my experience in and training on Central Asia. Incidentally those are some of the same reasons I’ve been hired by the likes of OSI, TOL, and Global Voices.

That said, if you’re lumping Josh and I together as an undifferentiated whole, you’re clearly unfamiliar with the differences in the content we produce.

Since you know something of my employment history, would you mind dropping me a line and telling me who you are? I have a good idea with whom you’re affiliated based on the content of your comment, but it’d be swell of you to confirm it.

Don Bacon December 31, 2011 at 6:03 pm

That’s not the Joshua Foust that I am familiar with. Quite the opposite, in fact.

And I resent the claim that because I take him serious(ly) I represent something that is wrong.

So stow it, MJ.

MJ January 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Don, so the Joshua Foust that you are familiar with has spent ample time on the ground in Central Asia, is fluent in Russian and one or more of the local languages, treats other authors and analysts with genuine respect even when disagreeing with them and has contributed significant things to policy discussions on the region that were based on his own research rather than taking somebody else’s and tearing it apart? Fair enough, I respect your opinion. But let’s agree to disagree in this case.

Metin January 4, 2012 at 12:14 pm

No one likes criticism. It looks like that this is sometimes the case in free and open societies.

Metin December 30, 2011 at 2:07 am

“…many human rights people have been labeling me “effectively pro-Karimov” lately”…

this seems to be a ‘normal’ response – anyone who disagrees with us is either crook or regime apologist.
In fact, this aligns them with extremists (communists/terrorists/religious fundamentalists) responsible for massive human rights abuses and crimes.

Don Bacon December 29, 2011 at 7:42 pm

It’s not only State pushing the New Silk Road, the Kerry report also devoted a lot of space to it. The road now has its won acronym — NSR. So NDN = NSR. But Pakistan’s out so is Iran in ,as a terminus? And how would that work? Chabahar and not Gwadar?

SANJAR UMAROV December 30, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Memphis based US Logistics company with significant experience in transporting non-lethal cargo in Afghanistan offer transport service of 20′ and 40′ containers to/from Afghanistan by new alternative rail way route: http://ca-dialog.org/us-logistics-company-with-significant-experience-in-transporting-non-lethal-cargo-in-afghanistan/#more

SANJAR UMAROV December 30, 2011 at 4:04 pm

a/m is regarding TM NDN

Don Anderson December 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm

I have to laugh and cry at the same time. Our love of theoretics here makes anyone who has ever worked with the Karimov’s Brave New World and transport there(which is what we are talking about essentially) mutter to themselves just a little bit. This is how the cookie crumbles on this “NDN” stuff.

Who are we working with? The Karimov Government? The Russian Government? The Transport Mafia (?) mainly. Transport through both countries is hardly a “sovereign” issue. Karimov has Chieftains, who liase with the Putin’s Chieftains, and the various (often Chechen outliers) who charge a “put rate” (and outrageous egregious overcharge) on any container moving via the lines. Part of this gets paid to Karimov/the Sovereign…and most goes to buying golden cellphones in Paris and apartments in Moscow(along with champagne).

Karimov would just love reading all of this. He does not care. Our mental gyrations about “human rights” and “progress” as established by benchmarks mean nothing to him either. From his perspective, this is just a nice short term revenue stream for him and the Chieftains of transport, in charge border to border, until they hand the revenue stream to the Russians and so it goes.

We read too much into things that mean less and less to anyone other than ourselves. 100K of FDN? He spends twenty times that on new 4WDs for his Princes every month. Means nothing to him at all.

We miss the essential always. We love the esoteric. The fate and misfortune of Uzbek citizens never ever plays into any of this. Maybe…we make ourselves feel better by portraying it this way but it means nothing. The Security Jails fill up or let out depending on how much pressure the Goons feel they need to apply based on their “monthly security plan” in each Oblast. This is how it has worked since Tovaricsh Stalin, and has worked quite well as far as they are concerned. IF they want to protest in Moscow so be it, but in Uzbekistan “they do things by the book.” They have things under control at all times. By the Book.

SEC Clinton is just as clueless, any visit to Tashkent is just another photo op. She could be doing a campaign stop on Staten Island for all she knows.

Talking about structuring some sort of long term “strategic” vision is also “Lost in Space” kind of thinking. Sounds nice, but just not realistic. We have never had a more ill prepared SECSTATE in terms of anything more than a paper thin understanding of where we work and the “whys” of each of these countries. In terms of a “manager” and hand shaker all is fine, but there is no policy anywhere anymore. Sounds just like Arkansas at some time in the near past. Chicken anyone?

The Transport Planners in SECDEF are also laughing. They have two operations planned. One a realistic appraisal of what they “wishlist” to move via Pakistan, and another given problems with the Pakistani route (which is quicker and much cheaper than the post Soviet Mafia State rates…the Pakistani Islamic Mafia guys are MUCH more honest).

The NDN is no big ball of wax. The whole movement plan really adds up to much much less than was transported in. A large portion is going to the Afghans, with provision for a “ready Brigade” pre positioned in stock in country, like we do in Qatar, Kuwait, Israel, KSA, Bahrain etc. Main movements will be drawndown when the Surge forces finally begin depart. Getting out is a piece of cake compared to getting in.

NDN is mainly a planning tool with an eye to force maintenance in the future, especially if the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Mullah leadership kicks off faster than the end of Adminstration NEXT. Of course, this is based on the faint hope that the Taliban Government II kicks off after a “decent interval” so we can get all this stuff out. PX stocks are not even contemplated in this. They will just drawdown and resupply as required since the requirement will be going way down soon.

NDN sounds cool and all that, but not central to anything, vital or long term at that. But when that is all you have left to play with after the ectasy of the War on Terror, you play with what you can. A bit on the Sad side I would imagine?

Don Bacon December 31, 2011 at 2:25 am

And then there’s this:
news report, Dec 27, 2011:
Iran plans to export one million tons of oil products annually to Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported, citing an agreement between the two countries. The products include gas oil, jet fuel and gasoline, the official news agency said, citing the accord signed yesterday by the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Co. and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Commerce.

During one dissipated life period I worked in telemarketing. I didn’t want to use my own suggestive name so I took the pleasant name “Don Anderson” and I did right well with it, about 200 times a day for several years. Thanks! It’s all yours again.

Mamurov January 3, 2012 at 5:58 am

It’s interesting to read how you contemplate on things “getting better” (marginally, theoretically, whatever) for an average Uzbek. I have been living in this country for several decades and I can honestly say that the things did not get better. Even for an average Uzbek, the things are getting worse (unless you are going to Russia for work). What are the sources that one can talk to to claim that the things got better in Uzbekistan? Political elite? Ok, sure, things are going great for them.

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