Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I Know I Don't Speak the Language, But...

Due to overwhelming popular demand, Exit145 will continue to follow what is happening in Uzbekistan.

As has been widely reported, Sens. McCain, Graham and Sununu were in Tashkent over the weekend to meet with members of the Karimov regime and leading opposition groups. The U.S. delegation was turned down by the government, but used the press conference with the opposition to conduct Senatorial finger-wagging in the direction of Karimov amid fresh reports of disappearances and brutality.

"History shows that continued repression of human rights leads to tragedies such as the one that just took place," Senator McCain said. He later added, "When governments repress or oppress their people, sooner or later, if they have no avenue of expressing their desire for freedom, violence takes place."
This is a start, but more needs to be done. The NY Times and Gateway Pundit seem to agree with the position that Exit145 has taken here and here. Transitions Online offers a hard-line approach to the situation: pull out of the military base on the border of Afghanistan, sever ties to the current regime and force Karimov to play by someone else's rules.

Some in the West may feel Uzbekistan’s oil and gas are more important than blood. But they must now be suffering severe doubts about their ability to get their hands on any more gas or oil. On 26 May, Karimov agreed a $600 million oil deal with China, a move that sent a clear political message: China had just gave its wholehearted support to Karimov’s policy.

That decision of Karimov’s merely underlined trends that have been becoming clearer ever since Georgia’s revolution in November 2003: Karimov has been moving away from the West, seeking a rapprochement with Russia, and forging closer ties with China.

Karimov's recent visit to China and the apparent snub of McCain, et al, amount to a virtual line in the sand. It may be time to call his bluff.

Better than unconstructive engagement would be to treat Karimov like his neighbor, Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niazov – as a pariah. The two were always similar; Niazov was simply more clearly eccentric, more colorful, and actively sought out isolation. At Andijan, Karimov has gone beyond anything that Niazov has ever done. Now, Karimov too is seeking isolation from the West. Making Karimov a pariah is therefore also making a virtue of necessity.

The virtues are, firstly, that the onus would be on Karimov to make a new effort to revive the only Western relationship that may still matter to him, the relationship with Washington. Rice has said that "I think Uzbekistan does not want to endure further isolation from the international community”; she should test the notion. Secondly, it would give the United States an opportunity to show that its perceived national interests are not more important than its loudly proclaimed national values. President Bush has given one of his top staffers, Karen Hughes, the task of improving America’s image in the Islamic world. That is a tough sell when the White House seems so reluctant to condemn a crime as heinous as any seen in years. It also ensures a skeptical response when Bush asserts that people across the Caucasus and Central Asia "are demanding their freedom – and they will have it." At present, Central Asians will find it hard to see how they might gain their freedom courtesy of the West; many may instead simply see democracies as hypocrites – and condemn democracy as a result.

That highlights one of the tragedies of Andijan: one of the few things that the West can currently do for ordinary Uzbeks is to draw attention to and condemn the crime in Andijan – and it seems to be squandering that opportunity, an opportunity that is also an obligation.

It does not take a regional expert or Phd. to question the tactics of the Bush administration thus far. If backchannel diplomacy was in effect immediately following the events of May 13, that is clearly no longer the case. As mentioned, sending McCain to the Uzbek capital will begin to draw attention to the situation. Let us hope this is only the beginning of a policy shift away from what had begun to resemble a compliant attitude.

Additional Info: Islam Online has a brief background on Islam's role throughout the history of Uzbekistan while Registan.net has been posting frequently on current developments. Also, it seems that the 'refugee' situation has had some unexpected related effects on civil society in Kazakhstan.



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