On September 28 and October 1, President Islam Karimov reaffirmed Uzbekistan’s readiness to support American retaliatory strikes on terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Chairing a meeting of Uzbekistan’s Security Council on October 1, Karimov was shown on state television as stating that his country “supports the determination of the United States to finish this evil and plague of our century,” and that “Uzbekistan wants to make its own contribution to the liquidation of terrorist camps and bases in Afghanistan, and is ready to make its air space available for this purpose.”
Karimov’s statements coincided with U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton’s visit to the region. The exact dates of Bolton’s stay in Uzbekistan have not been disclosed. On September 30, Karimov was officially reported as having spoken by telephone with U.S. President George W. Bush and with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is assumed that Karimov coordinated his steps with Bush ahead of the October 1 decisions of the Uzbek Security Council, and that he informed Putin in advance of the expected decisions.
In his address to the U.S. Congress, Bush named the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as one of the targets of American-planned antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan. That decision helped pave the way for Uzbekistan’s alignment with U.S. policy. Karimov, however, needs reassurance on two counts: that the strikes be effective so as to remove the threat to Uzbekistan, and that the United States protect the country against possible future counter retaliation from either the Taliban or the Afghanistan-based IMU.
Moscow, displeased by Uzbekistan’s alignment with the United States and still seeking to discourage it, is now hinting that Tashkent cannot count on Moscow to contain new threats from Afghanistan once the Americans have left the region. As Russian military officials told Izvestia on September 29, “it is not only Central Asian countries that have a right to act on their own: Russia has that right too. For example, Russia is free to decide on the extent of its assistance to Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, if the Taliban attack them.”
In this situation, Karimov is seeking reassurance that the United States will not leave Uzbekistan exposed to new threats from the south, once the American-led antiterrorist operation in the region is completed. Addressing a session of the Tashkent city council, televised live nationwide, Karimov set three prerequisites to Uzbekistan’s support for the planned U.S. strikes. Only the second prerequisite was clearly and explicitly formulated: guarantees for the security and inviolability of Uzbekistan’s territory and borders. Karimov named “the most powerful UN member countries”–implying mainly the United States and Russia in the first place–as the source of such guarantees to Uzbekistan.
Almost certainly, Karimov is concerned about a possible repetition of IMU’s raids against Uzbekistan via Tajikistan. In the last two years, the IMU mounted those raids with the patent tolerance of the Tajik authorities and of Russian border troops.
Karimov’s other two requirements were phrased obliquely. They seemed to envisage nonparticipation of Uzbek ground troops in operations on Afghan territory and “strengthening the capabilities of our army and border troops.” This latter formulation apparently implies military assistance to Uzbekistan. The circumstances seem right for the Bush administration to make up for the Clinton administration’s decision to withhold any meaningful military assistance to Uzbekistan, a decision which only helped increase threats to security in Central Asia (Jahon, Uzbek radio and television, Western news agencies, September 26-October 1; Izvestia, September 29).
MOSCOW READY TO RAISE KURSK, RISKS DECRIED.