Gutless diplomacy will cost us when Karimov regime falls
Now that Uzbekistan is finally boiling over, it’s heartening to know that millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are being used by dictator Islam Karimov to kill his rebelling citizens.
You didn’t know that? It’s old news. In 2002, British ambassador to Tashkent Craig Murray publicized Karimov’s appalling torture—and the fact that the U.S. and Great Britain used Uzbekistan to torture terrorism suspects—and the British Foreign Office fired him and tried to silence him. But the press picked up on Murray’s courageous rendition of Karimov’s sordid abuses. Back in May 2003, Nick Paton Walsh of the Guardian (U.K.) pointed out the hell that Uzbeks endure:
Independent human rights groups estimate that there are more than 600 politically motivated arrests a year in Uzbekistan, and 6,500 political prisoners, some tortured to death. According to a forensic report commissioned by the British embassy, in August two prisoners were even boiled to death.
The U.S. condemned this repression for many years. But since September 11 rewrote America’s strategic interests in Central Asia, the government of President Islam Karimov has become Washington’s new best friend in the region.
The U.S. is funding those it once condemned. Last year Washington gave Uzbekistan $500 million in aid. The police and intelligence services—which the State Department’s website says use “torture as a routine investigation technique”—received $79 million of this sum.
Mr. Karimov was President Bush‘s guest in Washington in March . They signed a “declaration” which gave Uzbekistan security guarantees and promised to strengthen “the material and technical base of [their] law enforcement agencies.”
You didn’t know about Karimov’s visit? EurasiaNet’s Kenan Aliyev explained at the time:
Uzbek President Islam Karimov is maintaining a low profile during his visit to the United States, apparently out of a desire to keep controversy over Uzbekistan’s human-rights record to a minimum.
Karimov was scheduled to meet with U..S Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld early March 13, then travel to New York for several appointments, including a discussion with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
On March 12, Karimov had a 45-minute White House meeting with President George W. Bush. After the meeting, Karimov left the White House without pausing to speak with gathered journalists. In general, Uzbek Embassy representatives have been reluctant to divulge information about the visit, and media access to members of the visiting Uzbek delegation has been extremely limited. U.S. officials have likewise provided only general information concerning the Karimov visit, declining to reveal specifics about discussions.
You can be sure that the next regime in charge of Uzbekistan will remember not only that Karimov’s government has boiled prisoners to death but also how the Bush regime has propped him up.
Bill Clinton‘s crew would occasionally condemn human-rights abuses in Uzbekistan, but our military help to Karimov began during Clinton’s regime, as Bob Kaiser of the Washington Post reported back in August 2002 in a prescient piece titled “U.S. Plants Footprint in Shaky Central Asia”:
During the 1990s the United States began to quietly build influence in the area. Washington established significant military-to-military relationships with Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Soldiers from those countries have been trained by Americans. Uzbekistan alone will receive $43 million in U.S. military aid this year. The militaries of all three have an ongoing relationship with the National Guard of a U.S. state—Kazakhstan with Arizona, Kyrgyzstan with Montana, Uzbekistan with Louisiana. The countries also participated in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.
“We wanted to extend our influence in the region, and promote American values, too,” said Jeffrey Starr, a Pentagon official who was responsible for these relationships during the second Clinton administration as deputy assistant secretary of defense.
Under Bush’s handlers, any half-hearted attempts to pressure Karimov were forgotten after 9/11, and we stepped up our training of Karimov’s military.
The Uzbek people will remember that—in their nightmares. As the U.N. news service IRIN reports from a refugee camp (see photo) across the border in Kyrgyzstan:
The refugees told IRIN they wanted to stay in Kyrgyzstan in order to escape persecution in Uzbekistan.
“What we witnessed in Andijan was slaughter—a regime capable of that is capable of anything,” said a woman who had left her two children behind in the city when she fled for her life early on Saturday morning.
The next government of Uzbekistan will be Islamic—you can bet on it. As Bagila Bukharbayeva of the Associated Press writes this morning from Korasuv:
The leader of a group of rebels claiming to control this Uzbek border town said Wednesday that he and his supporters intend to build an Islamic state and would fight back if government troops attempt to crush their revolt.
“We will be building an Islamic state here in accordance with the Koran,” Bakhtiyor Rakhimov told The Associated Press while leaning down from the back of a horse.
That’s just one town and one horseman. But this is no game. Robin Williams (see photo) won’t be back here any time soon. This is just another chapter in the Great Game, and we’re on the wrong side, in a more obvious way than we were in the recent (and successful) populist revolt against Kyrgyz dictator Askar Akayev. Akayev didn’t get our strong support because he balked at cooperating with the Bush regime’s War of Terror. Karimov, on the other hand, has been one of our stalwarts, a part of the “coalition of the willing.”
That must be troubling to the thousands of U.S. soldiers stationed in Uzbekistan, especially at Karshi-Khanabad, where the New York-flavored troops have given the “streets,” where they pitch their tents and build permanent structures, such names as Fifth Avenue, Wall Street, and the Long Island Expressway. (That’s old news, too, reported by the Washington Post‘s Kaiser.)
Here in America, New Yorkers complain about the traffic jams on the L.I.E. as they go to the Hamptons for polo matches. But in Uzbekistan, the New York-based soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, who proudly travel on their own L.I.E., are faced with horsemen of a different color.
How much longer will we be keeping our permanent-looking base at Karshi-Khanabad? Will it survive if Uzbekistan, currently ruled by a hardline secular regime, is taken over by a hardline Islamic regime?
Our soldiers sit in the midst of 25 million angry Muslims long repressed by a dictator we’re arming and have kept in power. A question for Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney: Will you dispatch troops from the base to help Karimov “maintain order”?
The dictator is keeping his usual tight grip on information, so we don’t know what’s happening with this inevitable, bloody revolt against his rule. As IRIN puts it:
A Western diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous, told IRIN that a government-organized trip to Andijan—the scene of mass killings by Uzbek forces on Friday—had been “completely stage managed by Tashkent” in order to prevent foreigners and journalists from gaining information to support claims that more than 500 people were gunned down in and around the city’s central square. “We were not allowed to talk to local people, see hospitals or morgues, or move freely around the city,” the diplomat said.
Sooner or later, though, Karimov will fall, and we may still be clutching at his coattails as he plummets.