Uzbekistan: Mixing oil, arms, & human rights

War on terror (or by terror)

During President Bush’s recent trip to the Baltic states, we heard a familiar refrain. “We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations, appeasing or excusing tyranny,” said Bush in Latvia, “and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability.” Meanwhile, over in the Uzbekistan (one of the lesser-known “stans”), the Bush administration has been doing just that ever since the days following 9/11. Uzbekistan has it all: huge untapped oil reserves, convenient location next to today’s hotspots, and a willingness to lease a military base to the US for 25 years. Trouble is, it also has a post-communist dictator, Islam Karimov, who (to put it lightly) doesn’t care much for those democratic ideals the US is trying to push in the region. “[Political dissidents] must be shot in the forehead,” said Karimov some time ago. “If necessary, I’ll shoot them myself.” Karimov has built a reputation over time for instructing his security forces to boil, rape or asphyxiate political prisoners. So for veteran Uzbekistan watchers (all three or four of them), there was no surprise when Uzbek officials gunned down hundreds of people in Andijan that were protesting the jailing of several Uzbek businessmen (whom the crowd managed to free before being slaughtered). Also not surprising was the tepid response by Western officials. “We have some concerns about human rights in Uzbekistan,” explained White House official Scott McClellan, “but we are concerned about the outbreak of violence, particularly by some members of a terrorist group freed from prison.” This line – that Islamic extremists are fomenting unrest in the former Soviet republic – is the same justification used by Karimov for his crackdown. The insurgents weren’t religious fanatics, according to one of the freed businessmen, who said they seemed like ordinary people who complained mainly about corruption and poverty. But when Uzbekistan is cooperating so well in the secret rendition program the US set up, don’t expect to see much pressure from President Bush to ease up on the crackdown. “The Uzbek government has promoted itself as a partner in the US-led campaign against terrorism,” said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. “[Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld should tell Karimov that real partners in that fight abide by the rule of law, and give people peaceful avenues for expressing themselves.”

Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of

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