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Uzbekistan: Opposition Leaders Meet Outside Washington

  • Bruce Pannier

For the first time in 15 years, representatives of the various Uzbek opposition parties have come together to discuss a common strategy. Last week, outside Washington, D.C., exiled leaders of unregistered secular opposition parties and movements as well as representatives from Uzbekistan gathered to discuss ways to democratically wrest power from the current government.

Prague, 20 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Uzbek opposition leaders assembled in Alexandria, Virginia, earlier this month under the slogan, "He who cannot get a grip on himself is in no condition to win."

The gathering brought together representatives of such parties as Birlik, Erk, Ozod Dehkonlar (Free Peasants), and the independent human-rights organization Ezgulik.

Farhod Inogamboyev, a former financial adviser to Uzbek President Islam Karimov's daughter Gulnora, was one of the conference's organizers. He explained the rationale behind trying to coordinate action among the various groups.

"For more than a decade, Karimov's regime has been successful enough to keep the opposition fragmented and keep them fighting amongst themselves and by doing this the regime has benefited greatly, portraying to the world that there is no capable opposition to the current, existing regime of Karimov," Inogamboyev said.

No opposition party is registered in Uzbekistan. Since 2002, when U.S.-led coalition troops operating in Afghanistan started using a base in Uzbekistan, unregistered secular parties such as the Erk Democratic Party, Ozod Dehkonlar, and the Birlik Democratic Movement have been active publicly.

But such groups have very limited opportunities to assemble. The few protests they have held were quickly organized and just as quickly broken up.

The group in Alexandria agreed to cooperate in ousting the current Uzbek regime from power using peaceful means and to hold a congress later this year.

The leader of Erk, Mohammad Solih, who has lived outside Uzbekistan for a decade, says the group agreed on most points in Alexandria.

"It would not be a mistake if I said our opinions were united," Solih said. "Only a few details were left unresolved. In my opinion, within the next three or four months a coordinating congress will be held and I think these details will be resolved."

And Babur Malikov, a former ambassador to the U.S., now a leader in Ozod Dehkonlar, said the congress the opposition plans tentatively for October is open to groups who were not represented in Virginia.

"Some 10 or 12 people gathered (10 July) in Alexandria, near Washington," Malikov said. "We met and there made the firm decision to hold an all-Uzbek congress. All the opposition groups can participate in this congress. It's open to everyone and during the congress we will define our strategy. I think this is a big event in the history of the Uzbek opposition."

That history has not been one of strong cooperation. In fact, it is precisely that lack of cooperation that made the meeting in Alexandria something of a milestone. Still, Erk leader Solih indicated that the groups are already considering a future where they will be competing, not cooperating.
"For more than a decade, Karimov's regime has been successful enough to keep the opposition fragmented and keep them fighting amongst themselves and by doing this the regime has benefited greatly, portraying to the world that there is no capable opposition to the current, existing regime of Karimov." -- Inogamboyev


"Our aim is, temporarily, we will be together until the regime is long gone from power," Solih said. "The result of our struggle, if we succeed, will be elections, democratic elections. Then every party can nominate their own candidates or some parties can unite into a bloc and nominate candidates for the presidential and parliamentary elections."

These parties will first need to be registered, something at which they have not succeeded despite numerous efforts to do so.

As Inogamboyev said, the opposition is hoping for help from the world's democracies:

"(We made an) appeal for support mainly from the Western democracies, from Western governments, particularly from the United States, first of all to recognize and support the Uzbek democratic opposition, secondly to acknowledge that it is not only Islamic fundamentalism that is an alternative to Karimov's government," Inogamboyev said. "Furthermore, we appealed also to the United States to stay engaged in the region and not to withdraw its military forces."

Inogamboyev said the Uzbek opposition wanted U.S. forces to stay in Central Asia to balance the growing influence of China and Russia in the region.

But how much support these groups have inside Uzbekistan?

Currently, there are five registered political parties, all of which support Karimov. Then there's the banned Islamic opposition. The voice of the secular opposition is drowned out between the two.

Political analyst Alimardan Annayev said some in Uzbekistan simply do not expect much anymore from the secular opposition:

"Unfortunately, maybe on the other side of the ocean they can unite but will this be beneficial for people my age (middle aged)? I cannot see it," Annayev said.

Changing such opinions may prove the most difficult challenge for Uzbekistan's secular opposition.

(Khurmat Babadjanov and Shukrat Babajanov of RFE/RL's Uzbek service contributed to this report)
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