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Central Asia Report: October 18, 2001

18 October 2001, Volume 1, Number 13

JOINT U.S.-UZBEK STATEMENT ANNOUNCES 'QUALITATIVELY NEW RELATIONSHIP.' One week after U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent, the United States and Uzbekistan released a joint statement on 12 October describing the contents of an agreement that formalizes their bilateral cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The statement revealed that the intergovernmental agreement had been signed on 7 October, but not where or by whom. Karimov promised on 5 October that the agreement would be made public to demonstrate that "we have no secret details, no covert negotiations with the United States," Reuters reported. Nevertheless the legal document itself remained classified, and the terse statement on 12 October, while referring to the establishment of "a qualitatively new relationship based on a long-term commitment to advance security and regional stability," was vague on certain key issues.

To support humanitarian relief efforts to the Afghan people, "the Republic of Uzbekistan has agreed to provide the use of its air space and necessary military and civilian infrastructure of one of its airports," the statement said. Karimov last week promised to open Hanabad air base, located in the south of the country some 200 kilometers from the Afghan border, to U.S. aircraft and helicopters but only for search-and-rescue missions and humanitarian purposes. In fact, the first cargo of humanitarian aid for Afghanistan arrived in the country on 12 October, Uzbek TV reported. However, according to the statement the two sides "also commit ourselves to eliminate international terrorism and its infrastructure." While declaring that Hanabad would be used for humanitarian purposes, the statement significantly slipped in the words "in the first instance," thus leaving open the possibility that it could be used by the Pentagon in more overtly military ways in the future. That said, on 12 October the Uzbek Defense Ministry reiterated in a press release that "no ground combat or bombing of Afghanistan will be launched from the territory of Uzbekistan," and added that local military forces required no help in repulsing any assault on the country, Interfax reported. Meanwhile approximately 1,000 servicemen of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division had already landed at Hanabad, AP reported on 14 October. The next day's edition of "Time" magazine said that 2,000 soldiers from the division had arrived. How many servicemen will eventually be deployed is unknown. Uzbek Presidential Press Secretary Rustam Jumaev denied the "Time" report, saying that only 1,000 U.S. personnel were at Hanabad, they were merely air field maintenance crews "provided by the United States for humanitarian and rescue missions," and there were no American military units in Uzbekistan, RIA-Novosti said on 15 October. Western sources have also continually reported the presence in Uzbekistan of American special operations forces, despite consistent denials by Uzbek officials.

The most attention-grabbing part of the joint statement was its final sentence, which said that U.S.-Uzbek counterterrorist cooperation "includes the need to consult on an urgent basis about appropriate steps to address the situation in the event of a direct threat to the security of territorial integrity of the Republic of Uzbekistan." Over the last month, Karimov has repeatedly alluded to his country's need for some sort of "guarantee" of its security and borders before it could fully commit to the U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban. On 5 October Rumsfeld said "there have been no specific quid pro quos" offered in exchange for Uzbekistan's support, Reuters reported. A State Department official said the agreement did not entail a mutual defense pact or formal treaty, AFP reported on 12 October, citing a member of the State Department. A senior U.S. administration official told "The New York Times" on the same day, "It is not the kind of blood oath that we take in NATO." An unidentified American official insisted to the "Financial Times" on 12 October that Washington's agreement with Tashkent did not amount to a security guarantee, saying, "We have not used that word."

Yet Karimov's chief spokesman, Rustam Jumaev, certainly did, telling the same newspaper that "Uzbekistan has the right to ask for guarantees from all the members of the antiterrorist operation. But this type of agreement has been made only with the U.S." Whatever the undisclosed details, it represents an unprecedented level of commitment on Washington's part to defend an ex-Soviet republic. Furthermore, that commitment is likely to be "long-term," as the intergovernmental statement indicates. Observers at Hanabad have reported that, while a large tent city has sprung up to accommodate American troops temporarily, the amount of solid new construction going on indicates that they will be stationed there a long time, certainly months and maybe years. In retrospect, it is clear that Rumsfeld was signaling the possibility at his Tashkent press conference on 5 October, when he said, "It should be clear to everyone that our interests, U.S. interests in Uzbekistan, are long-term interests." And this counterterrorism agreement may only one step toward a broader relationship developing between Washington and Tashkent. According to the State Department, the agreement was somehow separate from a verbal deal struck by Rumsfeld and Karimov during their face-to-face discussions, AFP reported on 12 October.

In fact, the two sides have been secretly working together against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban for a number of years, "The Washington Post" disclosed on 14 October. Primarily Tashkent has shared intelligence about Afghanistan, the newspaper said. On the military front, however, in addition to acknowledged cooperation between Uzbek and American troops under the aegis of NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program, U.S. special forces have been training Uzbek soldiers. Moreover, the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and last year's attack on the "USS Cole" in Yemen, gave special impetus to an intensified relationship between American and Uzbek security services as the attacks were traced back to bin Laden's organization operating out of Afghanistan, according to the newspaper.

Meanwhile Russia has been showing signs of fretting that its influence in Central Asia could be undermined by the newly-declared U.S.-Uzbek special relationship. The chairman of the Russian Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs, Boris Pastukhov, insisted to RIA-Novosti on 15 October that Uzbekistan "won't overstep the line which it would pay for with its independence and sovereignty," suggesting he was nervous that Tashkent would do precisely that by becoming too cozy with Washington. To address similar apprehensions voiced recently by Russian political commentators in the media, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice assured the Russian daily "Izvestiya" on the same day that Washington is aware of Moscow's serious interests in Central Asia and does not "harbor any plans aimed at squeezing Russia out" (see "RFE/RL Weekly Magazine," 15 October 2001).

Insofar as Washington has committed itself to defend and advance Uzbekistan's security, it began to fulfill that promise on the very first night of attacks on Afghanistan, when facilities belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a terrorist group with ties to bin Laden that has called for Karimov's overthrow, were apparently hit by American bombers. IMU facilities in Balkh Province near the Uzbek border, a troop garrison in Kunduz commanded by IMU leader Juma Namongoniy, and an IMU training base at Dasht-e Shur were all targeted, a Eurasianet report noted on 12 October. Not only was the IMU specially mentioned by U.S. President George W. Bush in his speech to the Congress on 20 September for its affiliation to bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, but it appears on the State Department's list of global terrorist organizations, and has recently been added to the UN's updated terrorist blacklist, the Uzbek newspaper "Pravda vostoka" reported on 13 October.

The Pentagon has been choosing other targets, apparently, with Uzbekistan's security in mind. After Western and Russian news agencies reported a deployment of 10,000 Taliban fighters near the Uzbek border, officials in Tashkent kept denying the news although a Foreign Ministry spokesman eventually commented on 12 October that such a large troop concentration "would be a dangerous tactic for the Taliban, because they would become targets for U.S. bombing raids," AFP said. The Taliban, who have threatened to retaliate against Uzbekistan for cooperating in a U.S.-led military operation against them, have already massed troops along the Uzbek border at least once in October and were dispersed by American bombs, RIA-Novosti said on 11 October. On the same day the newspaper "El Pais" reported that the Taliban had been reinforced with about 12,000 Muslim volunteers and mercenaries from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere.

Notwithstanding Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's denial of any "specific quid pro quos" owed to Karimov, it became clearer last week what Uzbekistan stood to gain from its collaboration with the anti-Taliban operation. The World Bank announced that Uzbekistan can expect new loans, debt relief, and further benefits from international financial institutions, and was sending a top official to Central Asia for talks, UzReport news website reported on 15 October. "The Wall Street Journal Europe" reported on 11 October that the European Bank for Reconstruction of Development (EBRD) intended to increase its investments in Central Asia to $300 this year from $220 million last year, and to pour still more money into the region in 2002. The newspaper also noted that the rapid signing of three mining deals worth a total of $360 million testified to an upsurge of interest in Uzbekistan on the part of Western investors as well as political support for Karimov's regime by Western governments. The deals -- signed on 27 September, 3 October, and 4 October -- were respectively for: Australia's Multiplex Mining Co. to develop the Zurmitan gold deposits; America's Newmont Mining Corp. to increase its stake in developing the Kyzylalmasai and Kochbulak gold deposits; and Israel's Metek Metals Technology to form a joint venture with Uzbek companies to develop the Sautbai and Sarytau tungsten deposits.

Many analysts have worried that, as the price for its counterterrorist cooperation with America, Tashkent (no less than Moscow or Beijing) is expecting Western public criticism of its authoritarian regime and human rights abuses to be toned down. According to "The Washington Post" on 14 October, the U.S. State Department has argued against embracing Karimov as an ally when some 7,000 political prisoners are in Uzbek jails, charged with trying to undermine the constitution and locked up in the name of national security -- while the Defense Department, on the contrary, has tended to think that such a tightly-controlled country made it conducive to securer operations and troop safety. It would seem that the Pentagon has won that round. But on 11 October Amnesty International released a report entitled "Central Asia: No Excuse for Escalating Human Rights Violations," in which it warned that just such an escalation would occur if governments in the region "use the 'war against terrorism' to further undermine respect for human rights." Uzbekistan must not treat the war as a pretext to "continue its clampdown on Islamic and secular political opposition groups," Amnesty International said, and identified alleged supporters of banned Islamic groups, Afghan refugees, and ethnic minorities as groups that were particularly at risk in the region. Practically on cue, last week in Tashkent nine alleged members of the illegal Islamist Hizb-ut Tahrir ("Freedom") party were given stiff sentences of nine to 12 years, the Uzbek newspaper "Halq so'zi" reported. As well as being accused of supporting Hizb-ut Tahrir's calls for reviving an Islamic caliphate in Uzbekistan, the defendants were found guilty of unspecified and, according to observers at the trial, unsubstantiated connections with bin Laden.

CUT OFF GAS AND WE'LL WITHHOLD WATER, KYRGYZ TELL UZBEKS. At a press conference on 15 October in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek, First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev acknowledged to his countrymen that recent negotiations in Tashkent over Kyrgyz payment for supplies of Uzbek natural gas "have not solved the problem," Interfax reported. He also warned that a cold winter could be looming. "The problem" to which Tanaev referred is the fact that Bishkek admits that it owes Tashkent $659,000 in cash and $1.5 million in commodities including hydroelectricity in exchange for previous gas deliveries, in violation of an interstate agreement signed in December 2000 (see "RFE/RL Kyrgyz News, 15 October 2001). The Kyrgyz government has blamed the shortfall in turn on the failure of its own domestic gas consumers to pay their debts. According to the deputy head of the state-run Kyrgyzgaz gas company, Mahamatkan Yusupkanov, his company is owed about $3 million by commercial enterprises and $2 million by individual consumers, Kabar news agency reported on 15 October. On the same day the news agency noted that Kyrgyzstan's total foreign debt was almost $1.5 billion at the beginning of August, about $30 million of which must be paid by the end of this year.

A poll reported by Kabar on 22 August said that 51 percent of Kyrgyz recognized the republic's "natural gas crisis" was due to its inability to pay its gas debts. But 64 percent felt that the crisis was the government's fault, and 84 percent of the urban population learning of Bishkek's plans to privatize the energy sector opposed them on the grounds that electricity charges would probably go up.

Talks on debt restructuring, held in Tashkent immediately after Uzbek officials threatened on 12 October to cut off gas to Kyrgyzstan, broke off without an agreement, raising fears of a reprise of last winter's situation when the republic was left without gas for two months. Kyrgyzstan had counted on receiving 300 million cubic meters of gas this winter, according to Interfax. But Tanaev has retorted with a counter-threat. He suggested that Kyrgyzstan would increase its electricity consumption this winter, necessitating extra electricity generation at the Toktugul Hydroelectric Station. Since the Toktugul reservoir, situated in Kyrgyzstan's mountains, stores water that is crucial to Uzbekistan's irrigation requirements in spring and summer, the release of extra water in winter -- when it will flow down to Uzbekistan and pass uselessly through unplanted fields -- means that insufficient water would be left for its crops next year when it actually needs it. While thus threatening Uzbek agriculture with ruin, Tanaev noted that Tashkent too owed debts to Bishkek. The Uzbek side has regularly failed to deliver the full amounts of oil and gasoline with which it is supposed to pay for Kyrgyz water and electricity according to a barter agreement, Kyrgyz radio said on 15 October.

The radio further reported that on 15 October, following the failed talks in Tashkent, Uzbek Prime Minister Utkur Sultanov called into doubt the legality of Bishkek's decision to treat its water as a commodity to be sold, claiming that it contravened international norms. Kyrgyz President Akaev signed a bill "On the Interstate Use of Water Installations, Water Resources and Hydro-Facilities" that imposed charges for water usage on July 23. That immediately prompted a protest similar to Sultanov's from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev -- whose country, like Uzbekistan, is a downstream user of Kyrgyzstan's water. Tanaev said earlier in October that Kazakhstan also had outstanding debts for water it had received which exceeded $17 million, and that Bishkek consequently intended to reduce its water deliveries, Kyrgyz radio reported on 5 October. Analysts have been pointing out for a long time that the clashing interests between Kyrgyzstan and its downstream neighbors about how, and when, the water in the Toktogul reservoir should be used could provoke a regional crisis. A tit-for-tat scenario, whereby another winter without heat in Kyrgyzstan was followed by Uzbek or Kazakh crop failure due to insufficient irrigation, would count as a regional crisis.

NAZARBAEV RELATIVE ACCUSED OF WIELDING 'AN INFORMATION TRUNCHEON.' Unusually for Kazakhstan's generally acquiescent parliament, Deputy of the Mazhlis (Kazakh parliament's Lower House) Tolen Toqtasynov spoke out against President Nazarbaev and his family on 10 October, accusing the president's son-in-law, Rakhat Aliev, of abuse of power as deputy chief of the National Security Committee (NSC, formerly known as the KGB), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The charges were made in an open letter to Nazarbaev, read aloud at a plenary session of the Mazhlis in the nation's capital, Astana. Alluding to government plans announced in September to drastically increase spending on the country's defense and security forces, Toqtasynov wondered aloud whether the NSC's swollen budget would really go toward legitimate security purposes -- "or will its priorities be to organize political surveillance within the country" and "combat dissidents?"

Toqtasynov further accused Aliyev of owning or at least exercising control over the most of the country's television, radio, and print-media together with his wife, the president's daughter, Dariga. He said that Aliyev was in charge of "the nation's largest media holding company" that encompassed practically all the best-known media outlets in the country, including Kazakh Commercial Television (KTK-TV), Russian Radio, and the newspaper "Karavan." He referred to the situation as "excessive media market monopolization" that could easily be turned into "a kind of information truncheon with which to beat dissidents." Toqtasynov tactfully and ingenuously concluded his letter by saying he was sure that Nazarbaev knew nothing of this, possibly because his aides had shielded him from the information.

It is unlikely that Nazarbaev is unaware of his family's prominent public profile. His other son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev, runs one of the country's largest banks, while daughter Dariga is head of the state news agency, Khabar.

On the following day, KTK-TV editors denied that the channel was owned by Aliev, calling the claims "groundless and politically motivated" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2001). However, the executive chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RPPK), Amirzhan Qosanov, entered the fray on 12 October and contended that his fellow parliamentarian's charges were all true. Most significantly, Qosanov announced that the RPPK planned to issue what he called a "White Book" comprehensively detailing "the special operations against the Republican People's Party and its leader, organized by Rakhat Aliev." The RPPK's leader-in-exile, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was sentenced in absentia by the Kazakh Supreme Court to 10 years in jail on various charges, including abuse of power, in a trial that itself was "politically motivated," according to many observers.

Meanwhile in Kyrgyzstan, President Askar Akaev told the parliament in Bishkek on 16 October that, in order to root out terrorism and extremism in the country, he was adding $4.7 million to the budget of the national security services, RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service reported.

CPC PIPELINE FINALLY ONLINE. After several postponements since its intended start-up date of 6 June, on 14 October the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) began operating its 1,580-kilometer pipeline between the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, Interfax and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The first tanker was loaded with 35,000 metric tons of Kazakh crude at the sea terminal and set off for Italy, although officials said the operation represented only a trial run and industrial operation would start up sometime before the end of the year. The pipeline's current annual capacity is 30.8 million tons, but is set to rise to 73.7 million tons a year by 2015, AP reported on 15 October. Delays in getting the $2.6 million pipeline online, ever since Kazakh Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev ceremonially cranked a spigot to begin filling it with oil last March, have been variously blamed on water in the pipe, missing hoses, arguments with Russian customs over transport tariffs, and disputes with Russian producers wanting to use the CPC pipeline to export their own oil of an inferior quality to Kazakh crude. The tanker-loading ceremony was originally scheduled to take place in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nazarbaev, but in the event none of the major dignitaries came, the "Moscow Times" reported on 15 October.

Nevertheless, spokesmen for the consortium -- whose shareholders include the Russian government with 24 percent, the Kazakh government with 19 percent, and U.S.-based major ChevronTexaco Corp. with 15 percent -- were quick to hail its belated start-up as a victory. According to ChevronTexaco press materials, company Vice Chairman Richard Matzke said the pipeline's functioning should signal to international investors that they can confidently do business in Russia and Kazakhstan, Interfax reported on 15 October. Like most of the oilmen present, Matzke was not worried that the disturbances in Afghanistan would affect hydrocarbon projects in western Kazakhstan, merely referring to "a heightened sense of awareness," reported "The Wall Street Journal Europe" on 16 October.

At the launch ceremony, U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans used the occasion not only to talk up American business but to praise Russian President Putin for his economic reforms and openness to foreign investment, AP said on 15 October. While thanking Putin for his support for America in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks, Evans said that, "It's obvious to the business community that under President Putin's leadership, this country is moving toward developing a market-based economy." As analysts have noted, Kremlin leaders are expecting some sort of quid pro quo from Washington, no less than Central Asian presidents, in exchange for their decision to support the U.S.-led operation against Afghanistan. That could include not only flattering speeches about Putin but more muted enthusiasm by the Bush administration for a planned $3.5 million Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that would circumvent Russia and is often seen as competing with the CPC.