SZ-Interview with Uzbek opposition leader
"Terror is used to enrich the country"
Muhammed Salih considers President Karimov's fight against Islamists to be staged - West should suspend aid
23 May 2005
Muhammed Salih , 55, Uzbek writer, is leader of the Democratic Freedom Party Erk. This is one of the two most important opposition movements in Uzbekistan, alongside the movement Birlik (Unity), from which it split off in 1990. In 1993 Salih had to leave the country and today he lives as refugee in Norway.
SZ: Uprising in Kyrgszstan, unrest in Uzbekistan: Will these developments lead to democracy or, as some fear, to the next Islamist dictatorship?
Salih: What is taking place here is a change in social structure, a spontaneous popular uprising. Some of the Western criticism here reminds me of the debate ten years ago. The Western countries at the time were satisfied with the democratisation process in the Soviet Union and had no higher expectations, feared, even, "too much progress". A revolution should not be considered. But it came to a breakthrough anyway. Considering the fact that democracy is no privilege of selected races, the West should have no problem with promoting younger democracies. After all, what should we do? Should we turn to China for support for our democracy movement? Or to Russia to get support in acquiring the freedom of opinion? No. This time the West must believe in a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy in Central Asia.
SZ: The Uzbek President Islam Karimov however warns against Islamist tendencies.
Salih: The existence of islamist groups in Central Asia can not be ignored - the regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov contributes to them finding a place in the country. After the democratic oppositional groups were forbidden, they were replaced by Islamists. The West however praises Karimov as a "fighter against terror". But the terror stands in relation to Karimov's regime and army. Many states help the "allies against terrorism" with all means, like never before - to such an extent that terrorism already constitutes a source for national enrichment [for the Karimov regime].
SZ: The Islam in Uzbekistan, like in all of Central Asia, is considered moderate. Before the Soviet era it was suffused with Sufism, the Islamic mysticism.
Salih: The peoples of Central Asia have for decades practised an adaptable, open form of Islam. [..] This part of the continent has no radical Islamic roots. We host suffused atheists, who see a danger in all religion. Both they and the suffused Islamists, too, are prisoners of their own fanaticism. Outsiders and those with different convictions are declared enemies and eventually put down. Today thousands of torture victims pay for that.
SZ: How does Karimov instrumentalize the supposed islamic danger?
Salih: The cause for the unrests is not primarily to do with the Islamic forces, but with the devastating social conditions. But Karimov has deliberately and premeditatively provoked the rise of the radical Islmism and has in so doing acquired aid from the US and the West. To represent the Islamists as the basis of the democratic opposition and to subsequently crush that opposition - that has been the tactic of Karimov since 1992. The danger in this region does not stem from the radical Islam, but from Karimov and his regime. In a possible election, the "radical Islamists" would not even get one percent of the vote, because they lack a basis. They were never in question as the alternative [to Karimov], that was always the democratic opposition. And it is the likely election victory of the opposition that Karimov truly fears.
SZ: How can the West act to support the movement for democracy?
Salih: The United States of America are agitating through a Senate decision with the "Act of Democracy" against the Byelorussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, a similar decision should be introduced also concerning Islam Karimov. Especially after the speech of the American President George W. Bush at the beginning of his second term in January, in which he promised "peace for the whole world". It suffices for us, if the Western world gets off its policy of double morals and in the future doesnt support the dictator anymore. The unrests are heralding the fall of Karimov. If the West stops its support for the dictator, the regime can be overthrown in short term - and we want to bring along this overthrow peacefully and without bloodletting.
Rather than overthrowing the Uzbek government, isn't the path of least resistance trying to influence Karimov before takling more striingent (dangerous) methods?
Don't you think the people of Ubekistan would suffer more than Karimov if we stop the paltry 10 mil? [..]
What is the difference in the statement the US made and the one you insist we sign on to?
when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. [..]
We have learned that governments accountable to citizens are peaceful, while dictatorships stir resentments and hatred to cover their own failings. We have learned that the skeptics and pessimists are often wrong, because men and women in every culture, when given the chance, will choose liberty. [..] And we have learned that the demand for self-government is often driven and sustained by patriotism, by the traditions and heroes and language of a native land. [..]
freedom is the only reliable path to peace. If the Middle East continues to simmer in anger and resentment and hopelessness, caught in a cycle of repression and radicalism, it will produce terrorism of even greater audacity and destructive power. But if the peoples of that region gain the right of self-government, and find hopes to replace their hatreds, then the security of all free nations will be strengthened.
We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations, appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability. We have learned our lesson; no one's liberty is expendable. In the long run, our security and true stability depend on the freedom of others. And so, with confidence and resolve, we will stand for freedom across the broader Middle East.
I was speaking about the 10 mil. I don't think it would adversely affect Karimov, but the loss of it may seriously impact the health and welfare of the citizens.
My question belie my view that if we have a toe-hold with a dictator--why not try to work change through him, rather than put the people through violence...IF IT IS UNNECESSARY.
It may or may not be unnecessary.
And after all, Uzbekistan is no Saudi-Arabia either. In SA, the moment they held sort of free elections on a local level, the fundamentalists won almost every single seat at hand. And justifiably, posters here, you too, applauded it anyhow.
It was the crack that will bring the wall down. I celebrated a bit early. <YAY!>
But if the current SA order does indeed go down within a few years, as you predicted in another thread, the subsequent regime will likely be strictly and fiercely Islamist.
I really disagree. There is a bit of a Renaissance brimming. A Middle Class is coming up. Sufism is growing and asserting itself--though they're getting tortured and disappeared for it. If the Wahhabis are taken from power--and they will be when Saud collapses--the people will demand autonomy. No one wants oppression. The people in the street...nimh--they are ordered to prove their allegience to Allah in these ways. I wouldn't dream of saying none of them are legitimate in their beliefs--but do note that life under Wahhabism is commensurate to life under the Taliban...Saddam. Its brainwashing on a scale we can't conceive of.
Apart from all that, I also see it as a question of preserving your own sanity, myself. You dont want to co-operate with a regime that literally boils its political prisoners to death. In any way
A little gruesome for my taste, yes.
3 senators seek inquiry into Uzbek violence
By C.J. Chivers
The New York Times
MONDAY, MAY 30, 2005
MOSCOW In the strongest statement by American officials since Uzbekistan carried out a bloody crackdown earlier this month against a revolt and anti-government demonstration in the city of Andijon, three U.S. senators on Sunday called for an international investigation into the violence and issued a strong rebuke of the authoritarian regime.
The senators' statement came amid new details of the conduct of the Uzbek security forces during and after the violence, including accounts from families that wounded victims have disappeared from hospitals in Andijon in recent days and that troops had opened fire on a civilian ambulance during the crackdown, killing three people inside.
The latest accounts further undermined the insistence of Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan's president and an American ally in counterterrorism efforts, that his troops operated with restraint and precision, and that civilian deaths were caused by the armed men behind the revolt.
Uzbekistan now says 173 people died in the uprising and crackdown on May 13, including 36 government troops. That number is an increase of the previous official count of 169 and is due, the government says, to the deaths of four more troops from injuries suffered that day.
The government count has been widely criticized as low; human rights groups, opposition parties, survivors and relatives of the dead have all said that at least several hundred civilians were killed by troops who fired with rifles and machine guns into dense crowds.
Appearing in Tashkent, the capital, where the senators met with members of four opposition parties, the delegation called the crackdown "shocking" and "a tragedy" and suggested that given Uzbekistan's long-standing record of repression and gruesome human rights abuses, the bloodshed was not surprising.
"History shows that continued repression of human rights leads to tragedies such as the one that just took place," said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. He later added, "When governments repress or oppress their people, sooner or later, if they have no avenue of expressing their desire for freedom, violence takes place."
The statement, made in the presence of the U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan, marked a significant shift in tone. The senators also did not characterize the armed gunmen or escaped prisoners who started the revolt as militants or terrorists, as some American officials have in previous statements.
Uzbekistan has repeatedly described the men it fought as international Islamic terrorists, a characterization rejected by witnesses, who said the gunmen were local men who had been pushed to violence by the unrelenting repression and corruption of Karimov's regime.
McCain said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, which has 55 member nations, including Uzbekistan, should conduct the independent review. The European Union, the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the OSCE and several Western governments have also called on Uzbekistan to allow an outside review, an idea that Karimov has rebuffed.
The United States, balancing its interests in the region with accounts of the indiscriminate use of force by an ally, has been gentler, saying that any investigation should be transparent and have international participation, but also making clear that it intends to continue cooperating with Uzbekistan on counterterrorism efforts.
In addition to McCain, the delegation included Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire. Its reception was chilly. Neither Karimov nor members of his government met with the group.
As the senators increased the American pressure, more details of the violence emerged from survivors and family members of the dead.
A photographer working independently for The New York Times in Andijon met with relatives of two men, a doctor and ambulance driver, who they said were killed in their ambulance by Uzbek troops who destroyed the vehicle with gunfire as it neared a checkpoint on May 13.
The consistent accounts of the relatives lent a measure of support to similar accounts from survivors in a refugee camp in Kyrgyzstan who have insisted that injured people were killed by troops, and medical care was limited on May 13.
Several families in Andijon also said that victims lucky enough to make it to hospitals on May 13 have since vanished, apparently in government sweeps.
Members of one family said their relative, whom they called Ibadulo, has been missing for a week.
They used to bring him food at the regional hospital, but have since been told he is no longer on the list of those registered there.
Two days ago, his wife spent a day waiting for information on his whereabouts, but received no news. "We wait," she said. "That is all."
Yola Monakhov contributed reporting from Andijon and Tashkent.
Commentary > Opinion
from the May 31, 2005 edition
The dangers of being Uzbekistan's best friend
By Lawrence A. Uzzell
FISHERSVILLE, VA. - The bloody suppression of an uprising in Uzbekistan dramatizes how Islam Karimov's regime is now more of a liability than an asset to Washington's long-term strategic interests. If we want to avoid a "clash of civilizations" with a billion Muslims, the United States can no longer afford to be this anti-Islamic dictator's closest ally.
In 2001, Uzbekistan was an essential staging ground for the war that toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But today it matters more as an example of US hypocrisy about human rights. It seems that a Soviet-style police state can brutalize its own people with impunity as long as it has good relations with the Pentagon.
Despite Mr. Karimov's efforts to block journalists from the sites of the massacres in Uzbekistan's Andijon region, it is now clear that hundreds of civilians were killed - many of them peaceful demonstrators. Though the insurgents also used deadly force, killing policemen and taking hostages, some of those hostages were slain by Karimov's own troops who sprayed crowds with automatic weapons fire.
The Andijon atrocities follow years of repression that have increasingly alienated the Karimov regime from its own people. The regime makes no serious effort to distinguish between Islamic extremists and moderates, imprisoning thousands on trumped-up charges of "terrorist" activity. Karimov's secret police are champion users of torture in investigative proceedings - reportedly including the torture of foreign captives delivered by the CIA.
Last month the Forum 18 News Service published its latest survey of religious freedom in Uzbekistan. It is clear from the findings of its Central Asia correspondent Igor Rotar that the State Department's quiet diplomacy has failed. Unregistered religious activity is still illegal, with believers often punished simply for holding prayer meetings in private homes, Mr. Rotar reported. It is almost impossible for minorities to register new congregations, with only one (a Jewish community) receiving official registration during all of 2004. Religious literature is censored: Imported books such as Bibles have been confiscated and destroyed. Muslims cannot travel as pilgrims to Mecca without specific permission from the state. All missionary activities are banned.
Last autumn saw a new surge of prosecutions of Protestants, Rotar found. The regime continues to "see any informal group of Muslims as a potential terrorist organization and sentence its members to lengthy prison terms. It is clear that the majority of Muslims arrested after the terrorist attacks in March and April 2004 were 'guilty' only of meeting to read the Koran and talk about God," he reported.
The US advisory commission on international religious freedom recently recommended that Washington add Uzbekistan to its official list of "countries of particular concern" - the world's most brazen persecutors of religion. The commission also urged that aid to the Uzbek government "be made contingent upon establishing and implementing a specific timetable for the government to take concrete steps" in observing human rights standards.
That would be a dramatic change from what happened last summer. As required by US human rights law, the State Department cut aid to Uzbekistan by $18 million. Within weeks, the Pentagon gave Karimov a new infusion of $21 million.
Unlike Ukraine, Uzbekistan offers no plausible scenario in the near future for genuine freedom. Karimov's successor might be a member of the current elite, or a leader of a powerful regional clan, or a Taliban-style Islamic extremist; the longer Karimov continues to crush all opposition via brute force, the more likely it will be the latter.
Washington need not take radical steps to bring down this hated despot, but it should be putting him at arm's length. Both he and other dictators - and their victims - need to see that the US does not remain best friends with those who torture and murder their own people.
Lawrence A. Uzzell is president of International Religious Freedom Watch, an independent research center that investigates state-enforced religious conformity. He spent seven years in Russia monitoring religious freedom in the former Soviet Republics.
Uzbek Police Detain Opposition Activists in New Crackdown, Party Leader Says
By Aziz Nuritov Associated Press Writer
Published: May 30, 2005
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) - Police detained dozens of opposition activists over the weekend in a fresh crackdown on dissent after this month's violent uprising in eastern Uzbekistan, an opposition party leader said Monday.
At least 20 activists who had come to the Uzbek capital for a party meeting were detained Monday, and other party members were arrested earlier, said Vasilya Inoyatova, leader of the outlawed Unity Party.
"Within the last two days, police have detained dozens of our party members, saying we are hiding terrorists involved in the recent uprising in the Fergana Valley," Inoyatova said, referring to the eastern valley where the uprising occurred. Inoyatova told The Associated Press that she, her husband and 26-year-old son were among those arrested.
Inoyatova and her relatives were released after several hours at a police station, she said. She didn't know what had happened to the other detainees.
Two public defenders from the trial of the 23 religious businessmen that triggered the unrest were also arrested Saturday in Andijan on unknown charges, Inoyatova said. The two are activists of the Ezgulik human rights group which she also leads, she said.
The uprising erupted in Andijan on May 13, when militants overran a local prison and government headquarters and thousands of their supporters rallied in the streets. Uzbek authorities say 173 people were killed, but deny police or soldiers opened fire at unarmed civilians.
Rights advocates say up to 750 people were killed. If the higher number is true, it would be one of the deadliest crackdowns on a street demonstration since the Chinese government cleared Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Separately, human rights activist Surat Ikramov said Monday that police were preventing him from leaving his home in Tashkent and that he had received calls from many other activists who had been either detained or forcibly isolated in their homes.
On Sunday, Inoyatova and representatives of three other outlawed opposition parties met U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John Sununu, R-N.H., who added their voices to Western calls for an international investigation of the bloodshed.
Authoritarian President Islam Karimov has rejected such an inquiry, saying Uzbek authorities would conduct their own review. He has blamed the unrest on Islamic extremists, accusing them of killing hostages and using civilians as human shields.
The U.S. legislators said the Uzbek government's harsh response to the unrest had made it difficult to maintain the relations that Washington would like to have with its ally in the war on terror. Uzbekistan hosts hundreds of American troops at an air base near the border with Afghanistan.
I feel like I may need to say--with these geopolitical upheavals, I generally start by questioning the general opinion. I have read some, but not enough to make a comfortable, definitive statement of opinion on this situation. I'm still thinking and reading. When I come out of what may seem like...left field...or seem to be leaning in a direction due to my line of questions...understand that when they are questions...they're just questions--accumilating as much information as I can about all angles.
U.S. Opposed Calls at NATO for Probe of Uzbek Killings
Officials Feared Losing Air Base Access
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 14, 2005; A15
Defense officials from Russia and the United States last week helped block a new demand for an international probe into the Uzbekistan government's shooting of hundreds of protesters last month, according to U.S. and diplomatic officials.
British and other European officials had pushed to include language calling for an independent investigation in a communique issued by defense ministers of NATO countries and Russia after a daylong meeting in Brussels on Thursday. But the joint communique merely stated that "issues of security and stability in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan," had been discussed.
The outcome obscured an internal U.S. dispute over whether NATO ministers should raise the May 13 shootings in Andijan at the risk of provoking Uzbekistan to cut off U.S. access to a military air base on its territory.
The communique's wording was worked out after what several knowledgeable sources called a vigorous debate in Brussels between U.S. defense officials, who emphasized the importance of the base, and others, including State Department representatives at NATO headquarters, who favored language calling for a transparent, independent and international probe into the killings of Uzbekistan civilians by police and soldiers.
State and Defense department spokesmen, asked to comment about the debate, said that Washington has one policy and that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- at the ministerial meeting -- verbally endorsed previous statements about the incident by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush.
Other officials said the disagreements between Defense and State officials reflect a continuing rift in the administration over how to handle a breach of human rights that has come under sharp criticism by the State Department, the European Union and some U.S. lawmakers.
Rice has said publicly that international involvement in an inquiry into the killings in Andijan is essential, and she has declined an Uzbek invitation for Washington to send observers to a commission of inquiry controlled by the parliament. Three U.S. officials said Uzbek President Islam Karimov has retaliated against her criticism by recently curtailing certain U.S. military flights into the air base at Karshi-Khanabad, in the country's southeast. The U.S. military considers the base a vital logistics hub in its anti-terrorism efforts.
Four sources familiar with a private discussion among the ministers on Thursday said that the Defense Department's stance on the Brussels communique's language placed it in roughly the same camp as the Russians -- but for different reasons. The Russian position, as spelled out by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in statements before and after the ministerial meeting, is that the incident, although alarming, was "inspired" by Afghanistan.
Ivanov said it is NATO's responsibility to control terrorism there more aggressively, but added: "We do not want to . . . put any extraordinary pressure on anybody" about the shootings.
The Defense Department position, articulated before the meeting began by Mira Ricardel, the acting assistant secretary for international security policy, was that "the NATO-Russia communique may not be the most appropriate place" to demand an international inquiry into the massacre, she confirmed in a telephone interview. [..] Another official privy to the deliberations described her opposition to mentioning the word "investigation" as unequivocal.
The British view was that the communique was an ideal venue for making the demand, since Uzbekistan prizes its existing military links to NATO and a call by defense ministers would carry substantial weight. One U.S. official said Britain was prepared for a time to hold up the communique if the language was not included.
[..] a senior diplomat in Washington said that "there's clearly inter-agency tension over Uzbekistan. . . . The State Department certainly seems to be extremely cool on Karimov," while the Pentagon wants to avoid upsetting the Uzbekistan government.
A senior State Department official, who called The Washington Post at the Defense Department's request, denied any "split of views." But other government officials depicted this week's spat over the communique as a continuation of frictions that erupted last summer, when then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell would not certify that Uzbekistan had met its human rights obligations. The decision led to a cutoff of $18 million for U.S. training for Uzbekistan's military forces.
Weeks later, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, and criticized that decision as "very shortsighted"; he also announced that the United States would give $21 million for another purpose -- bioterrorism defense.
More recently, the senior State Department official confirmed, State and Defense officials disagreed about a cable addressing Uzbekistan's continued participation in the military's Partnership for Peace program. After the Andijan massacre, the State Department had proposed a blanket suspension of cooperation. But the Defense Department recommended a case-by-case review of cooperative programs -- the position that prevailed.
[..] There are stirrings of dissent on Capitol Hill about placing access to the air base at the center of U.S. policy, however. Six senators warned Rumsfeld and Rice in a letter last week that "in the aftermath of the Andijan massacre, America's relationship with Uzbekistan cannot remain unchanged."
The senators -- Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), John McCain (R-Ariz.), John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) -- added that "we believe that the United States must be careful about being too closely associated with a government that has killed hundreds of demonstrators and refused international calls for a transparent investigation." They suggested that the administration explore alternative basing arrangements "in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and elsewhere in the region" to give Washington more flexibility.
The European parliament, in a statement Thursday, went further, calling on Washington to halt negotiations with Uzbekistan over long-term access to the base and urging Uzbek authorities "to bring those responsible for the massacre in Andijan to trial." [..]
June 14, 2005
MEMORANDUM TO: OPINION LEADERS
FROM: DANIEL MCKIVERGAN, Deputy Director
SUBJECT: U.S. Policy on Uzbekistan
I would like to draw your attention to an op-ed by Senator John McCain on U.S. policy towards Uzbekistan, "When Decency and Expediency Clash," in today's Financial Times (see below). Sen. McCain argues that the "brutal crackdown" last month in eastern Uzbekistan, where Uzbek forces may have killed hundreds of unarmed protestors, should prompt a clear and direct response from Washington:
"Either the government of Uzbekistan must make immediate, fundamental changes in the way it operates, or America's relations with it must change fundamentally.... To do otherwise risks damaging America's credibility as the US puts even greater priority on the promotion of human rights and democracy abroad....
"Using sticks and carrots to encourage positive change may not be successful, but it would put the US on the right side of history. It would show the Uzbek people that we support their freedom, not simply our narrow security interests, and would actually strengthen our security in the long run. For if we have learnt any lesson from the attacks of September 11 2001, it is that, where repression and despair rule, extremism and violence breed."
However, it is clear from press reports (see "U.S. Opposed Calls at NATO for Probe of Uzbek Killings," Washington Post, June 14, 2005) that Bush administration officials are divided on what to do about Uzbekistan. The Defense Department is skittish about rocking the boat with the Uzbek government and losing access to an important military base being used to support the war on terror. Meanwhile, other elements within the administration are worried that ignoring the brutal behavior of the Uzbek government will significantly damage the credibility of President Bush's policy of promoting democratic governance around the world.
Admittedly, there is no easy choice when such foreign policy priorities come into conflict with each other. And it is a fact of history and statecraft that difficult choices and compromises must sometimes be made. But, that said, the fundamental question to be asked in this case is whether the American military's use of the Uzbek base is a necessity or not. It might be useful; but is it necessary? If it's not, then as Sen. McCain writes, "the US has no choice but to re-evaluate all aspects of its relationship with Uzbekistan."