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Uzbekistan: Survey Shows Waning Support For War On Terrorism

A new survey shows support in Uzbekistan for the U.S.-led war on terrorism is dropping. While 60 percent of people surveyed still support the war and Uzbekistan's alliance with the United States, this is down from near-unanimous support at the end of last year. RFE/RL spoke with one of the survey's organizers who said many people are disappointed that the economic and political benefits of participation in the U.S.-led campaign have not materialized. Some Islamic groups see the war not as a fight against terrorism, but a war against Islam itself.

Prague, 24 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A new survey in Uzbekistan shows public support is falling for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The survey, by the Ijtimoiy Fikr public-opinion center, shows approval for Uzbekistan's support for antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan has fallen to around 60 percent of respondents.

A similar survey last October, at the beginning of the war on terrorism, showed around 90 percent approval for the campaign and for Uzbekistan's close cooperation with the U.S. The surveys focused on the attitudes of younger people.

Marat Khadjimukhamedov, the opinion center's deputy director, told RFE/RL that support for the war is falling since the war on terrorism has had little or no effect on the lives of ordinary people. "The majority of Uzbekistan's population lives in rural areas and they are not interested in these issues, in principle. American policy doesn't bother an ordinary villager. America causes interest in their lives only from the point of view how of much U.S. can help us to solve our problems," Khadjimukhamedov said.

The survey does not try to answer why support appears to be falling, but it's clear that for many people, the anticipated economic benefits of Uzbek cooperation have not materialized.

Khadjimukhamedov draws a distinction between common people and intellectuals. He said intellectuals tend to pose a lot of questions about the motives behind the war, about the American military presence in Central Asia, and about its possible consequences. Their opinion is neither pro- nor anti-American.

The opinion expressed by one Uzbek teacher exemplifies this attitude. "I don't expect anything from America. Because I -- not my neighbors -- only I can improve my house. My father, even if he gives me a million dollars, can't do this. If I don't want to change anything, I may lose this money easily. That's why I never look at America as a savior."

In conversation, intellectuals voice disappointment with how little influence the U.S. appears to have had on the government of Islam Karimov concerning efforts to liberalize the economic and political systems. One person expressed a typical attitude by saying, the "euphoria that we had at the birth of the new U.S.-Uzbek alliance is gone, and we understand now that U.S. interests in Uzbekistan do not expand beyond Washington's own interests."

Uzbekistan was the first among Afghanistan's neighbors to offer its support and cooperation in the war on Afghanistan-based terrorists. For that cooperation, it earned warm appreciation and praise from a number of high-level Washington officials, who later became regular visitors to Tashkent. On his first trip to Uzbekistan on 5 October 2002, just a few hours before the first American attacks on terrorist bases in Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld articulated this appreciation. "We have just completed a fine discussion where I expressed the appreciation of President [George W.] Bush to the president [Karimov] for the cooperation [Uzbekistan has] offered so generously and spontaneously, and [its] recognition of the importance of this worldwide effort with respect to countering terrorism," Rumsfeld said.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the strongest feelings tend to come from the members of Islamic groups that make up an estimated 5 percent of the country's population. They increasingly see Uzbekistan's cooperation in a negative light.

Groups such as the banned Islamic group Hezb ut-Tahrir believe that Karimov's goal in cooperating with the U.S. is to crush the Islamic revival in Central Asia, which he fears is a threat to his rule.

A woman who has had members of her family imprisoned for belonging to Hezb ut-Tahrir explained this attitude by saying: "We don't expect anything good from America. We've heard that the U.S. ordered Karimov to kill all the Muslims in prison. This news is widespread among people here and not without reason. Karimov asked that his own security be guaranteed if he has to do that. But Americans haven't given him that and then Karimov promised that all imprisoned Muslims would die one by one within two years. More and more dead bodies of Muslims are being returned from prisons these days, not only in our neighborhood but in Tashkent too."

The survey indicates that a further decline in support can be expected unless more Uzbeks see positive gains from their country's cooperation with the United States.