Magazine article Insight on the News

Uzbeks Need Help, Not Lectures. (Fair Comment)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Uzbeks Need Help, Not Lectures. (Fair Comment)

Article excerpt

Uzbekistan has emerged on the world scene as the chief ally of the United States in Central Asia and a key player in the war against al-Qaeda. This fact was showcased by the cooperation pact signed by Uzbek President Islam Karimov and U.S. President George W. Bush in the White House. The declaration on strategic partnership and cooperation established rive separate categories of practical goals that moue beyond the sphere of military security and into that of creating an open democratic system of a market-based economy. The declaration is the culmination of a relationship that has suffered from the extremes of U.S. State Department indifference and finger-pointing lectures by human-rights mavens.

In recent weeks the hand-wringing has received plenty of space in the mainstream press, and journalists were in an accusatory mood at the Blair House on March 13 as they pelted Karimov with questions about his plan for improving human rights. Karimov responded with a list of his previous steps for establishing relations with the International Red Cross and Amnesty International, and described the continuing threat from the Jordanian-founded Hizb at-Tahrir-Islami or Islamic Liberation Party. This secretive group seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state throughout Central Asia and the Middle East.

Sodyq Safaev, first deputy foreign minister and former Uzbek ambassador to the United States, concedes that problems exist concerning human rights, but "we need practical help, not just lectures," he says.

One example where the United States can offer concrete assistance is in the area of drug enforcement. A narcotics connection to the radical Islamic threat has been documented, and it is one of the top problems Uzbekistan faces. According to Safaev, a kilo (2.2 pounds) of heroin that sells for $1,000 in Kabul will fetch $10,000 in Tashkent, $100,000 in Moscow and the enormous price of $240,000 in London. It is not only a means of making money for underground terrorist organizations but "part of the radical Islamic terrorist strategy of narcotic aggression. The goal is to create as much disorder as possible," he says. The purpose is to weaken states and encourage corruption, especially in Western countries, according to Safaev.

The United States clearly is in a position to practically assist Uzbekistan in combating narcotics. This is especially important with Uzbekistan's young population. Today, 70 percent of Uzbeks are younger than 30 and, of that number, 50 percent are younger than 18. These numbers require Uzbekistan to open itself up to the world and become a more democratic country with a market-driven economy. …

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