The debate over an independent investigation of the May massacre in Andijan, Uzbekistan, has left America’s ties to Uzbekistan and the future of its base at Karshi Khanabad engulfed by turmoil. The European Parliament is raising the issue of EU sanctions on Uzbekistan, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has written President Islam Karimov on the subject of an independent investigation. Reports also suggest that the U.S. government is now orchestrating a campaign of international diplomatic pressure upon Uzbekistan. In retaliation, Uzbekistan’s government has imposed new restrictions on flights from Karshi Khanabad, including cargo flights, limiting them to daytime missions. The Uzbek media and members of Uzbekistan’s parliament have also loudly decried Western “double standards” and demands for an investigation.
Clearly the pressure upon the Bush Administration to come down hard on Uzbekistan and change the nature of its ties with Tashkent is mounting. This pressure is a response to the Pentagon’s reluctance to support an investigation, as it apparently opposed a resolution calling for such an investigation within NATO. Nor is this the first time that it appears U.S. policy toward Uzbekistan has seemed uncoordinated. In 2004 Congress cut off funding for the Uzbek government in the International Military Education Training Program, which brings foreign officers to America, to protest human rights violations. However, one month later Chief of Staff General Richard Myers made a scheduled visit to Uzbekistan, delivered increasing funding from other budgetary lines for other programs, and decried the Congressionally mandated cuts as short-sighted.
While General Myers made clear that the priority aim in U.S. policy in Central Asia and Uzbekistan is winning the war in Afghanistan — a goal that makes retention of the base at Karshi Khanabad of vital importance — the heightened importance of democracy as an operating principle of U.S. foreign policy is coming into conflict with that goal. Russian observers have seized upon Washington’s problems in framing an Uzbek policy to claim that a split exists within the administration and to speculate that Washington may lose the base in Uzbekistan, a development that Moscow would welcome. Karimov has also fueled such speculation by his new restrictions on flights out of Karshi Khanabad and adamant refusal to entertain an independent investigation. Moreover, by hosting a meeting of Russian spin-doctors to publicize a positive stance for his action at Andijan, and by winning loud Chinese support for his use of force, Karimov has further indicated his increased readiness to lean toward Moscow and Beijing at Washington’s expense (see EDM, May 20, June 14, 17).
While at the moment it cannot be determined how long America’s base in Uzbekistan will be able to function and under what conditions; to external observers American policy toward Uzbekistan looks like it is divided, ambivalent, and uncoordinated, despite administration claims to the contrary. This perception prevents Washington from being able to follow through on either of its goals, defeating the terrorists and/or enhancing democracy. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that it is urgently necessary to forge a coordinated inter-agency policy on Uzbekistan so that Karimov, his successors, or imitators cannot successfully play U.S. cabinet departments against each other.
The need for a coordinated policy vis-à-vis Uzbekistan is also urgent because Andijan will not be the last such episode in Uzbekistan’s foreseeable political future. In 2004 four other violent incidents took place against the Karimov regime, which enjoyed little public support in those cases. Given deteriorating economic conditions in Uzbekistan, it is unlikely that public support will be forthcoming for the next internal crisis. At the same time it is also clear that such incidents put the stability of U.S. policy toward Tashkent in question, along with America’s local military presence in the strategically important region.
(Stratfor.com, June 15; Narodnoe slovo, June 14; Najot, June 2; Kommersant, June 16; Uzbek Television Second channel, June 13; IRNA, June 16; New York Times, June 18; Washington Post, June 14; Los Angeles Times, June 13; Interfax-AVN, June 16)