U.S. set to give Uzbekistan a free hand to repress its people
[Image: AP/Wide World Photos - Donald Rumsfeld and Islam Karimov]
Sabrina Tavernise wrote yesterday in the NY Times about how the
Western governments say further ostracizing Uzbekistan by extending sanctions -- America's come up for consideration in June -- will cause it to close back up, increasing instability in a region of vital energy transportation routes and strategic proximity to the war in Afghanistan.
A newly softened tone has already paid political dividends. After Andijon and a volley of criticism from Washington,
Uzbekistanejected the United Statesfrom a military base that was supplying the war effort in . Though there are not yet plans for the base to reopen, the Uzbeks have allowed the Americans limited access to a German base at Termez, and Afghanistan Uzbekistanrecently offered NATO the use of its railway to ship goods to . Afghanistan
That highlights the difficult questions that relations with
Uzbekistanraise for American foreign policy: How much influence should the try to exercise -- if any at all -- over another country's behavior? And will that country be receptive, given the abuse, indefinite detentions and closed tribunals that have been part of the United States ' record in recent years? United States
Two points need unbundling here.
As the gateway to
Afghanistanand Iran, and an area where both Chinaand Russiavie for influence, the five Muslim countries of Central Asia -- the other four are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistanand Turkmenistan-- have a strategic importance to the well out of proportion to their size. United States is the region's heart, with its most religious population, and also, at 28 million, its largest. Uzbekistan
The killings in Andijon tested that strategic bond for the
. The government of President Islam Karimov acknowledged 187 deaths but dealt so viciously with those who gave information about it -- a gravedigger who spoke to an Uzbek journalist was stabbed to death shortly after publication, and the journalist fled the country -- that the true figure was impossible to establish. Human rights groups put the toll around 750. United States
Western nations pressed the government to allow an independent investigation. The European Union imposed a visa ban on officials involved in the crackdown, and the
resettled a large number of refugees and is considering a visa ban of its own. Yet, three years later, the Uzbeks have not budged. In a five-part report in 2006 it said perpetrators of the uprising -- "terrorists" and "bandits" -- were responsible for the deaths of the 62 "civilians," or nonparticipants, who it acknowledged were killed. United States
. . .
So when European and American attitudes toward Mr. Karimov began easing late last year -- the European Union partly suspended the visa ban in October, and in January, Adm. William J. Fallon, the most senior American military commander in the region, visited Tashkent, the first high-level visit in two years -- many human rights advocates were bitterly disappointed.
"To be honest, they abandoned us," said one, a former ecologist who fled
in April because he believed that a criminal case was being prepared against him. He has not been identified for safety reasons. Uzbekistan
Supporters of engagement with the Karimov government argue that punishing the country with sanctions leads only to less leverage over its policies.
is simply too important to ignore," said one Western official who said diplomatic rules forbade him to use his name. "People on the ground want contact with foreigners. They value it. Once you go into isolation mode, you lose the ability to engage with the rest of the population." Uzbekistan
President Karimov, like Kim Jong Il, knows well the shallowness of U.S. commitment to human rights and how easily manipulable and craven its leaders are when dealing in parts of the world that have never sent emigrants in significant numbers to the U.S. or been targeted by the U.S. military. Knowing well that U.S. actions in a place so unfamiliar to the American public will face little domestic scrutiny, the savvy, unscrupulous Karimov can calculate just which buttons to push to get what he wants.
Now when the U.S. predictably comes crawling back, finding
itself in need of support in the region with two interminable wars going on nearby,
Karimov will let them, but on his terms, which don't involve acknowledging any
wrongdoing, past or present.
This, unfortunately, represents the extent of U.S. commitment to democracy and human rights.
Indeed, some Uzbek human rights advocates say that Mr. Karimov has increased the pressure on them since the warming with the West began. In December the authorities arrested a poet, Yusuf Juma, on what human rights advocates and family members say were trumped-up charges, after he and his sons held up hand-lettered signs in a one-family protest against Mr. Karimov's candidacy. In April, Mr. Juma was sentenced to five years in prison.
In March the authorities broke up a small group of protesters who had been gathering for weekly demonstrations since last year. The government then seized the offices of the group, Human Rights Movement of Uzbekistan. Two members fled.
"The silence of the West gave a good opening to Karimov to arrest my father," said Alisher Yusufjon Ugli, the poet's son.
Andrea Berg, an expert on Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, said that without the threat of sanctions, "
has no incentive to improve human rights." Tashkent
But at a time when the
United Statesis fighting an increasingly complicated war right next door in , some analysts argue that realpolitik must prevail. Afghanistan
"It's a really bad set of choices that the
U.S.faces," said Martha Brill Olcott, a Central Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in . "If we didn't have a war in Washington we might have the luxury to take a moral stance." Afghanistan
If one only takes a moral stance when one has the luxury
of doing so, it's not a very convincing stance. In
a better world, analysts would say of our foreign policy, "If we didn't
have moral obligations to the people of Uzbekistan, we might have the
luxury of fighting wars of choice in the Middle East."
quite the prison colony it is reputed to be. Despite the political arrests and brutality in prisons, the overwhelming majority of citizens are more concerned with making ends meet than with fears that the secret police will knock down their door. Uzbekistan
"You can't compare
Uzbekistanand North Korea," said a European who has lived in for years, and who was not identified for safety reasons. "Not every right is violated all the time. It's not that systematic." Tashkent
Since there is really no country (
By the end of 2007, after Andijon and the ensuing crackdown on civil society, a large portion of foreign nongovernmental organizations and news outlets were forced to stop their work. Ms. Innoyatova, the human rights worker, estimates about 900 organizations closed. In an Orwellian twist, government-controlled nongovernmental organizations sprang up.
. . .
The Bush administration's counterterrorism practices since 2001 have eroded its moral authority with countries like
, analysts said. "The Uzbekistan U.S.doesn't have the kind of leverage it had," said Sarah Mendelson, a Russiaexpert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in . "We've got this elephant in the room." Washington
In Andijon, the policy of forgetting is rigorously enforced. On the anniversary, newspapers ran headlines about sports competitions and the grain harvest. Even those who took part in the uprising seemed to have rehearsed the government line.
"The past is in the past," said one participant, who lived in
Baltimoreas a refugee but returned to in 2006. "People don't want to remember." Uzbekistan
Some Uzbeks don't have the luxury of forgetting, and the rest just don't want to be locked up and tortured. But it seems the