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Karimov The Good

Voice of moderation: Uzbek President Islam Karimov
Voice of moderation: Uzbek President Islam Karimov
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has a history of criticize first, ask questions later when discussing regional goings-on.

In the late 1990s, with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) seeking to overthrow him and establish a regional caliphate, Karimov harangued legislators for being lax in combating the threat of Islamic extremism.

"If you don't have the will to do it, give me a gun and I will shoot them in the head myself," Karimov told parliament.

In the summers of 1999 and 2000 -- when the IMU, operating out of bases in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, launched raids into Kyrgyzstan -- Karimov expressed outrage at the Kyrgyz government for not showing more zeal in fighting them off and preventing them from entering Uzbekistan.

In May 2005, after antipresidential rallies in the Uzbek city of Andijon were brutally suppressed by government troops, Karimov alleged that the bloody unrest in the Ferghana Valley city was fomented by militants who had trained in Kyrgyzstan and crossed over into Uzbekistan.

No surprise then that in the aftermath of the violence that erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan on June 10, Karimov repeatedly blamed "outside" forces for inciting interethnic clashes between Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz. The intention, he claimed, was to try to drag Uzbekistan into a regional conflict.

But then Karimov began to take on an unexpected role: a voice of moderation.

With anti-Kyrgyz sentiments running high in Uzbekistan, Karimov doused any talk that Uzbekistan might intervene militarily in defense of ethnic Uzbeks across the border. Karimov offered messages of peace and reconciliation, saying during a trip to the southwestern Uzbek city of Bukhara that the killing of innocent people was a barbaric act beyond any imagination.

Karimov also warned the people of Uzbekistan against washing blood with blood, saying attempts at revenge would end up in more bloodshed and destroy many more lives. The authoritarian president called on his people to seek peace and dialogue with their Kyrgyz neighbors and find a common language with them.

And this week, after a constitutional referendum in Kyrgyzstan gave interim leader Roza Otunbaeva a sorely needed legitimacy boost, Karimov offered his congratulations "as well as sincere wishes of peace and harmony, stability and prosperity to the friendly people of Kyrgyzstan."

Karimov also expressed confidence that an "impartial and fair" investigation of the unrest would be conducted, one that "would show the commonality and unity of interests between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek people, who have been living in southern Kyrgyzstan for many centuries."

At the same time, he predicted, the investigation would "reveal the true face of the provocateurs and external elements who are willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of innocent people to achieve their goals."

Impressive stuff.

Does it mean there is a chance that Karimov might look in the mirror and finally allow an open investigation of the Andijon massacre as well?

-- Farangis Najibullah and Bruce Pannier