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Uzbekistan: Calls In U.S. For Stricter Policy

Casualties from the 13-14 May violence could be as high as 750 Since shortly after the attacks of 11 September 2001, Uzbekistan and the United States have been allies in the U.S.-led war on terror. There has been a U.S. military base in Uzbekistan for more than 3 1/2 years and Washington shares with Tashkent intelligence on Islamic militants. The United States also has helped train and equip Uzbek forces. But with the crisis in eastern Uzbekistan, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has not been reluctant to criticize the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Bush's supporters in the United States have long endorsed the alliance with Uzbekistan despite Karimov's poor human rights record, but now they say Karimov has gone too far. [For more on these events, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: Unrest in Uzbekistan --> /specials/uzbek_unrest/ ]

Washington, 19 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Perhaps one of Bush's staunchest supporters in foreign policy is Representative Dana Rohrabacher (Republican-California). So it comes as a bit of a surprise that he would become so outspoken in urging the president to take a harder line on the Uzbekistan crisis.

Rohrabacher says in a recent article, and in interviews, that it's time for the Bush to "get tough" with Karimov.

The congressman was not available for an interview yesterday because of pressing matters on Capitol Hill. But his deputy chief of staff, Donald Ernsberger, told RFE/RL that Rohrabacher can no longer ignore what he calls Karimov's poor human rights record.

"He [Rohrabacher], for example, is certainly aware that what they [the Uzbeks] have is a tyranny there, a despot ruling the place, a dictatorship, and he thinks we ought to be more critical of that," Ernsberger said.

So far, the U.S. administration and its supporters in Congress have overlooked Karimov's record, which according to the democracy advocacy group Freedom House has improved little, if at all, since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Last year, for example, the State Department, under a mandate from Congress, suspended $18 million in aid to Tashkent, citing this poor record. But only a few weeks later, the Pentagon gave even more money, $21 million, to Karimov's government to help neutralize its Soviet-era biological weapons.

On a visit to Uzbekistan at the time, General Richard Myers, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of staff, criticized the suspension of aid and praised Karimov's government for its cooperation with the Pentagon.
One analyst says this is no time for the United States to give Osama bin Laden more reasons to win the support of even more disillusioned Muslims.

According to Ernsberger, Rohrabacher believes this double standard has to stop. Ernsberger says the U.S. policy on Uzbekistan so far has been at the midpoint of a continuum -- he calls it a "line" -- at whose ends lie the need for an ally and the need to criticize an authoritarian government.

Ernsberger says Rohrabacher believes it's time for the Bush administration to take at least a small step toward criticism.

"Dana's view is that we ought to shift a little bit more toward the personal and the democracy end of that line," Ernsberger said. "And therefore we ought to be more critical of the kinds of behaviors we see going on there, even though we understand that both ends of the line represent important values in our foreign affairs."

Charles Pena thinks the Bush administration should do more. Pena is a defense analyst at the Cato Institute, a private policy-research center in Washington. He told RFE/RL that it made sense to welcome an alliance with Uzbekistan after the 11 September attacks. He says it not only gave the United States a military base near Afghanistan, but it also helped tilt an important Central Asian state toward the West.

Many in Washington policy circles say it is important to keep Uzbekistan out of the spheres of influence of its two huge neighbors, Russia and China. They note that both countries have expressed support of Karimov since last week's violence in Andijon.

But Pena says it is not necessarily a good thing for the United States to court Uzbekistan at the expense of Russia and China. In fact, he says, it could be a long-term strategic blunder.

Pena says there is no need to antagonize Moscow, now that Russia and the United States are on good terms. Similarly, he says, antagonizing a less-friendly China could be dangerous. What would be even worse, Pena says, is to support a government that abuses the rights of its Muslim population.

"It is exactly that kind of regime in countries with large Muslim populations that has helped to create the anti-American sentiment in the world that is the basis for some of the acts of terrorism that we've seen, including 9/11 [the attacks of 11 September 2001]," Pena said.

Pena says the Bush administration must move quickly to distance itself from Karimov, but not necessarily break relations altogether.

"I think we have [the United States has] to be prepared to have an arm's-length relationship with Uzbekistan if the regime moves down a path that clearly will endanger U.S. strategic interests and U.S. relations vis-a-vis the Islamic world," Pena said. "In fact, I think we should be doing that anyway [regardless of the current crisis in Uzbekistan], particularly because the Bush administration has set forth this policy of wanting to bring democracy to the world, in particular the Muslim world."

Pena says this is no time for the United States to give Osama bin Laden more reasons to win the support of even more disillusioned Muslims.

Click here for a gallery of images from the violence in eastern Uzbekistan on 13-14 May.

See also:

What Really Happened On Bloody Friday?

Where Does Crisis Go From Here?

Protesters Charge Officials With Using Extremism Charges To Target Entrepreneurs

Analysis: Economic Concerns Primary In Andijon

Background: Banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Faces Dwindling Appeal, Internal Divisions

Interview: Opposition Leader Tells RFE/RL About 'Farmers' Revolution'