For Uzbekistan, the military and diplomatic alliance with America is much more than a marriage of convenience. President Islam Karimov aims through this alliance to accomplish fundamental national objectives, long- as well as short-term, to wit:
–solidifying independence from Russia,
–defeating Islamist terrorism and associated security threats from the outside,
–obtaining U.S. and other Western military and economic assistance,
–stimulating Western investment in conjunction with the military presence,
–buttressing national secular development, and
–securing overland transit routes for Uzbekistan, via post-war Afghanistan, to Pakistan and the open seas.
Underlying this agenda is Karimov’s understanding that Russia is unqualified to function either as a bona-fide regional policeman or as a motor of economic development, and that Moscow’s zero-sum-game approach to Central Asia had, prior to September 11, inhibited the regional countries as well as Washington itself from pursuing full-fledged security ties in the interest of stability and economic development. Almost certainly, the top leaderships of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan largely share Karimov’s understanding of the situation. Yet, Uzbekistan’s comparatively greater strength and its location made it possible for it to break out of the “red line” that Moscow had wanted drawn around ex-Soviet Central Asia.
Karimov’s objectives may, however, be compromised unless his government understands the need for introducing economic and political reforms. As this early stage in the U.S.-Uzbek alignment, the military and security agenda and the democracy-human rights agenda can easily fall out of synch because of the immediate exigencies of war. These agendas are in fact complementary; to treat them as competing agendas would be to risk the defeat of both.
At the moment, the American-Uzbek alignment rests primarily on common military and security interests, including a U.S. military presence. If open-ended as it now seems, that presence can form a favorable basis for developing a many-sided economic and political relationship. Agreements reached by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Tashkent on October 5, followed by U.S.-Uzbek agreements signed on October 7 and 12, have laid the basis of military and security cooperation. U.S. military activities in Uzbekistan, and operations out of Uzbekistan, are shrouded in secrecy not only for military considerations but equally for political ones. Yet, as predicted (see the Monitor, October 8), the actual extent of U.S.-Uzbek military cooperation is already exceeding that suggested in the cautious wording of the published agreements or Uzbek official statements. But even the published text of the October 12 agreement justifies an American official’s subsequent remark that “this is quite historic: it is the first time that something like this has been done [by the United States] with any country that was part of the Soviet Union.”
Uzbekistan, unlike Pakistan, provides a politically stable basis for U.S. military operations. Uzbek mainstream Muslim opinion seems at the very least quiescent, with anecdotal evidence mainly indicating varying degrees of acceptance or support of those operations. Uzbekistan’s official Muslim clergy is firmly on board the Uzbek-American relationship and U.S. policy in the region. Through statements in the mass media and instructions to local imams, the top religious hierarchy is supporting the message of the U.S. and Uzbek governments. It tells Muslims that the antiterrorist war is not a war against Islam, that terrorism in the name of Islam is in fact anti-Islamic, that the Taliban or Osama bin Laden and other terrorists have no authority to declare Jihad, that they violate Islam in doing so, that Islam does not excuse hospitality to terrorists, and that the American-led antiterrorism campaign helps ensure Uzbekistan’s stability.
The head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Uzbekistan, Abdurashid Kori Bahromov, has condemned the Taliban and “international terrorists” in Afghanistan for declaring Jihad against the Muslim country of Uzbekistan. The Spiritual Board has endorsed the goal of eradicating terrorism from Afghanistan. Under instructions from the Board, local imams are making the condemnation of terrorism the main theme of Friday sermons in mosques. The U.S. embassy in Uzbekistan is cultivating regular contacts with senior clergy. The approaching Ramadan holidays, with suggestions that American military operations be suspended during that period, may soon test the durability of the clergy’s and Muslim believers’ attitudes toward the antiterrorist war (Roundup based on recent reporting by Western news agencies, Uzbek Television, Zhahon, Khalk Sozi, UzReport.com; Ahmed Rashid, “Efforts to win hearts and minds in Uzbekistan,” Eurasianet, October 29; see the Monitor, September 18, 24, 26, October 2-3, 8; Fortnight in Review, September 28, October 12).
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