Much ado has been made about the U.S. decision to reengage with the government of Uzbekistan as a part of a regional strategy to both lessen American dependence on Pakistan and possibly chart some sort of regional strategy going forward. Human rights groups are, naturally, aghast at the idea because the Uzbek government is a horrific abuser of its people (I think the polemic track they’ve adopted for criticizing this policy is wrong precisely because it undermines their much stronger argument about the Uzbek government itself). But doesn’t change the fundamental conundrum the U.S. government faces, which is how it can accomplish the broader and more important goal of reducing the American presence in Afghanistan without relying on Pakistan while also trying not to forget about human rights.
This agreement with Tashkent, however, is often described in apocalyptic terms that badly overstate what it is and is not: heated statements from activists like the International Crisis Group, willfully misleading articles by journalists, and commentary elsewhere on the Internets have made it seem like the U.S. is about to start training the Uzbek military and give them (in Eurasianet’s case) B-2 bombers as compensation for using some railroads.
The text of the national security waiver for Uzkeistan, however, says otherwise. On page 466 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, Section 7063, posted above, you can see the language that governs this new agreement with Tashkent. After language stipulating the process by which the waiver is granted and how often it must be renewed and how the government will report that to Congress, the bill says very plainly:
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 for the purposes of the application of section 7075(c)to this Act, the report shall be submitted not later than October1, 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.
Emphasis mine. Despite the hoopla about how the U.S. will participate in Uzbek repression, the text of the law governing the arrangement indicates that that just won’t be the case. So can we start talking about the strategic and regional choices they have, and how they can work toward having better options, instead of bickering about something that just isn’t there?