Thinking About Post-Karimov Uzbekistan

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by Joshua Foust on 3/7/2012 · 1 comment

Scott Horton is absolutely right about this:

NATO should be honest about Islam Karimov’s Uzbekistan—indeed, honesty presents cost-cutting opportunities… Islam Karimov won’t live forever—it would be surprising if he were still alive a decade from now, or if his family continued to cling to power. NATO’s operations in Uzbekistan will inevitably benefit him and the family—this is an unavoidable truth—but in the future it will be important to be able to demonstrate that the relationship built with Tashkent was based on respect not for the kleptocrats who presently rule there, but for the Uzbek people. And in this way, NATO will be true to itself and to the values it espouses.

Unfortunately, he’s VERY VERY VERY WRONG about this:

NATO’s drone war, which is effectively an aggressive targeted-killings operation, has also prioritized IMU personnel on Afghan soil and in Waziristan and other parts of Pakistan. It’s likely that these strikes involve considerable dialogue between U.S. drone operators, the CIA and JSOC, and Uzbek intelligence, concerning targeting, strike assessments, and impact. In sum, the U.S. and NATO are fighting Islam Karimov’s war for him, at no expense to him, while wielding weaponry far more sophisticated and lethal than anything that Uzbekistan commands.

If you are even vaguely familiar with the drone campaign in Northwest Pakistan, this will leap out at you as so bizarrely wrong that it’s either the result of worrying ignorance or active deception on Horton’s part. A bullet list:

  • NATO is not operating drones in Pakistan or in Afghanistan. They are primarily operated by the United States Air Force in Afghanistan and the CIA in Pakistan.
  • The primary target is the insurgency in Afghanistan and al Qaeda first, and the Pakistani Taliban second in Pakistan. In neither country is the IMU a primary target, nor is the IMU “prioritized” especially in Pakistan where it is a marginal, tiny force.
  • The CIA and JSOC do not receive or coordinate on targeting data with the Uzbek security services — Horton initially presents this as speculation but then treats it as factual. It is not. The CIA has its own assets and gathers its own intelligence in Pakistan. JSOC does not operate drones in Pakistan, and in Afghanistan has its own sources & collection. Neither has a need for the SNB.
  • The SNB has not provided the U.S. with intelligence since about 2002 or so. It might be a year or two later but pretending like a thing that happened 8 years ago is directly relevant to new policies today is pretty damned silly.
  • So the U.S. is fighting its own war. Nor Karimov’s. If the U.S. were “fighting Karimov’s war for him,” it would be targetting the activists, rights reporters, and journalists the regime treats as its primary threat. Not the IMU. So Horton is wrong on that anyway.

Horton also mischaracterizes the nature of U.S. engagement, selling it as a NATO effort (it is not). The U.S. does not pretend Uzbekistan is anything other than a dictatorial, abusive regime — unless he thinks the annual State Department human rights reports are just lies and no one really believes them. For seven years, Uzbek officials were excluded from travel to the EU because of the Andijon massacre; those restrictions only eased when the U.S. and the EU needed to bargain to gain access to Uzbekistan for the NDN — something Horton acknowledges will require compromise but then demands the west not compromise for.

Point after point, Horton gets the setup right, but flubs almost all of the details and speculates wildly—so wildly, again, that I’m genuinely curious if he’s really that ignorant or is just dishonestly spinning reality because he thinks no one will call him on it. Neither one really reflects well on him.

I think Horton probably thinks by expanding the target of his ire from the U.S. to NATO he can inspire broader thinking. But by being so astoundingly wrong about so much of the US/German-Uzbek relationship, Horton manages to do what even Human Rights Watch has done in the last year or so: try so hard to spin a tale that he undermines the very point he wants to make.

Look, the engagement with Uzbekistan is difficult enough, and requires enough compromises with an abusive regime, that you don’t have to make things up about it for it to look bad. Why activists and some journalists insist on making things up escapes me, but all they accomplish in doing so is ensuring the U.S. government will never, ever pay attention to their criticisms. And that’s a real loss.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

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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{ 1 comment }

Dmitriy Nurullayev March 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm

insightful.. what do you think about the recently lifted restrictions and karimov’s visit to the E.U.?

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