Uzbekistan's Empty Promises; U.S. Aid There Must Be Linked to Respect for Human Rights

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 12, 2002 | Go to article overview

Uzbekistan's Empty Promises; U.S. Aid There Must Be Linked to Respect for Human Rights


Byline: Tom Malinowsk and Acacia Shields, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Bush is meeting today with the only world leader who honestly can say he has won the war on terrorism. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, now making his first visit to the White House, is a lucky man. Before September 11, his regime was threatened by a violent al-Qaeda-affiliated group known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, which raided Uzbek territory from Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban. So Mr. Karimov offered U.S. forces a base to strike at Afghanistan and, more reluctantly, a bridge to bring in relief. Now, thanks to America, IMU fighters in Afghanistan have suffered huge losses.

The IMU's leader, and Mr. Karimov's greatest enemy, was reportedly killed by U.S. bombing. Uzbekistan's ethnic allies in the Northern Alliance have gone from near defeat to a share of power in Kabul. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan's U.S. aid budget has tripled. It has new stature as America's closest ally in Central Asia. While America's war goes on, Uzbekistan's is virtually over. What makes Uzbekistan's triumph awkward for the United States is that it seems to undercut Mr. Bush's pledge that the war will advance freedom. Uzbekistan is a relic of the Soviet past - a place where government opponents are purged, jailed or exiled, where authorities hold Stalin-style public denunciations of "enemies of the state," where dissidents are forced into psychiatric institutions, and where Muslims are jailed and tortured for practicing their faith outside state controls.

Mr. Karimov himself came to power in a flawed election amid the chaos of the Soviet empire's collapse. Before his last "re-election," even his handpicked opponent announced he was voting for the incumbent president. When the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized Uzbek elections, Mr. Karimov offered a charming reply: "The OSCE focuses only on establishment of democracy, the protection of human rights and the freedom of the press. I am now questioning these values."

You might think there is a dilemma here: On the one hand, Uzbekistan is ruled by ruthless people; on the other, the country is vital to America's war effort. Indeed, Uzbekistan helped the United States defeat a state-sponsor of terrorism in Afghanistan. But it is itself a state-spawner of terrorism - a country that denies its people all peaceful avenues for dissent, thus driving opposition underground, into the shadows, right into the hands of radical Islamic groups. Uzbekistan's help in the war must be weighed against the harm these policies do. …

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