The Enemy of my Enemy...
or just another useful ally.
The Irish Times reports on the recent massacre of up to 500 civilians in the city of Andijan on Friday in Uzbekistan. "Mr Karimov's tyrannical rule will be unchallenged by Moscow but the killings will make it an acid test for the US administration. Mr Bush has never criticised Mr Karimov's government, mindful as he is of the very useful US military base in the country, not to mention its strategically-important energy resources. But the White House, along with other western governments, can ignore it no longer and must put pressure on Mr Karimov to let his people enjoy the freedom and prosperity that is their right." (1)
It is a sad day when it takes an event on the scale of Tiananmen Square's forceful 'military resolution' (If one accepts the modest estimate made by the NYT (2)) for Ireland's "newspaper of record," who's editorial policy is said to foster the "progressive achievement of social justice between people and the discouragement of discrimination of all kinds," to instigate even mild dissent.
Uzbekistan has enjoyed favourable assistance from the US and UK for many years now, acting as a strategic ally in the 'War on Terror'. An ironic fact considering Uzbekistan's disregard for it's own people's human rights. In 2002, Sen. Joseph Lieberman led a delegation of U.S. senators to thank Uzbekistan's president for his support in the US led war against terrorists
"But while [Sen. Joseph] Lieberman said the United States planned to work with Uzbekistan to improve business relations and attract foreign investment, he warned that "the state of democracy and human rights matters to us, and unless Uzbekistan continues to move in that direction there will be limits on the support that we can give."" (3)
But while Uzbekistan represents an excellent positionfrom a military perspective, it also benefits/suffers from having a wealth of natural resources.
"This is a very important part of the world with extraordinary natural resources, including particularly gas and oil," Sen. Joseph Lieberman said.
While making sure to address the human rights abuses maintained in Uzbekistan, it was found that these minor transgressions were not seen as a major obstacle in a devloping/sustaining a partnership. Therefore, while feigning promotion of democracy across the middle east, the US and UK actively supported the extension of a tyranical leadership. Whether this was news worthy or not, it certainly makes any support for their present ventures in Iraq and Afganistan void of any respectability.
"Organizations such as New York-based Human Rights Watch are alarmed that Uzbekistan's military cooperation may lead the United States to overlook the electoral abuses, torture and false imprisonment that the group says have been routine under Karimov.
"In Uzbekistan's current political conditions, there is no possibility for any free or fair vote or for an informed choice to be made at the ballot box," Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch's New York office said Thursday. (4)
The Uzbekistan leadership's commitment to human rights violations was also noted by the UK government during it's consideration of supporting the regime.
"Uzbekistan is a key player in a region of increasing strategic importance to the UK, so defence co-operation is important. However, while bilateral defence co-operation is effective, it is important to note that the Uzbek armed forces are not implicated in human rights violations." (5)
Here again, the strategic importance of the region compensated for the lack of respect for basic human rights. And yet Mr. Blair is still trusted with freeing the Iraqi people and setting them on a course to democracy. In Tony Blair's speech to US Congress, "Freedom not tyranny. Democracy not dictatorship. The rule of law not the rule of the secret police," (6/03 (6)) he presumably forgot to mention the exceptions.
Simon Thomas MP made several observations regarding the nature of the relation to be nurtured with Uzbekistan:
"Importantly, we are developing a dialogue on trade and economic issues. Uzbekistan is an attractive potential market and has substantial resources, including gas, oil, gold and silver. The previous high-level British visit to Uzbekistan, focusing on trade and investment, was undertaken in September by the lord mayor of London. As well as promoting the City of London's financial and business services, the lord mayor raised with Uzbek Ministers some challenges that face British businesses in doing business in Uzbekistan. In terms of deepening business-to-business contacts, which is a driver of necessary reform, that was an important initiative to undertake." (5)
While paying lip service to awkward snags like persecution:
"We are also monitoring the persecution of religious minorities in Uzbekistan. We understand that there are 7,000 religious and political prisoners—that is 7,000 too many. Of those prisoners, many are simply devout Muslims, whom we believe are often unfairly convicted of being extremists. We will continue to stress to the Uzbek Government the fact that falsely accusing citizens of extremist activity is likely to foster rather than discourage extremism." (5)
His advice neither taken by the Uzbek Government or the US/UK coalition.
If the US does decry from every hill top this gross act, will that excuse the years of support. For in this case one cannot even fall back on the trusted cursing of past administrations and the promise of change.
"I am delighted to be back in Uzbekistan. I've just had a long and very interesting and helpful discussion with the president ... Uzbekistan is a key member of the coalition's global war on terror. And I brought the president the good wishes of President Bush and our appreciation for their stalwart support in the war on terror ... Our relationship is strong and has been growing stronger." - US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Tashkent, February 2004 (7)
"At about 1pm, trucks drove into the square, and started shooting at the crowd. People rushed up to the armoured vehicles and asked them to stop shooting - but the soldiers just shot them.
About 350 civilians had also gathered near the college near the square. They were mostly women and children aged 10-16. The spetsnaz [special forces] took aim and fired at them, the armoured vehicles shooting at everyone who was there. Maybe they had orders to chase the militants, but I don't know why they opened fire. They killed the unarmed citizens of Andijan. The scariest thing was that if someone was lying down in the road shot in the arm or leg, the soldiers would make shots to their head." (8)
2. 21 June 1989 NY Times: Early estimates of 2600-3000 without basis. Survey of hospitals indicates about a dozen soldiers/policemen killed + 400-800 civilians.
3. http://multimedia.belointeractive.com (01-06-02)
4. LA Times (12/07/2001)