Society Magazine

Uzbekistan’s Quiet Rapprochement with the US

Posted on the 21 June 2012 by Window On Heartland @WindowHeartland
Uzbekistan’s quiet rapprochement with the US On Thursday this week, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) concluded in Khuzhand, Tajikistan, its ninth counterterrorism joint military exercise. Code-named “Peace Mission 2012,” the drills involved over 2,000 troops and 500 units of military equipment and machinery from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, and were the first of its kind held in the Central Asian country. Although the exercise demonstrated the capabilities of the Shanghai Pact in deterring and crushing the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism in Central Asia, Uzbekistan’s ambivalent stance towards the Organization poses a potential threat to cooperation in the region.
Ahead of the exercise, Tashkent made clear that the Uzbek military would not participate. Uzbekistan’s decision is likely due to ongoing tensions with Tajikistan over water issues and visa regimes in the two countries, though it is not the first time Tashkent refuses to take part to SCO annual war games. This time, nevertheless, Uzbekistan not only opted out of “Peace Mission 2012,” but also refused to allow Kazakh troops to enter its territory as they headed to Tajikistan to participate in the exercitation, thereby exposing President Islam Karimov’s regime to the risk of regional isolation.
Uzbekistan’s reluctance to get involved in the military initiatives of the Shanghai Pact might be dictated by the country’s desire to defend its independence from renewed Russian expansionism. As argued by former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzeziński in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, “Uzbekistan, nationally the most vital and the most populous of the central Asian states,” as well “the prime candidate for regional leadership in Central Asia,” represents the major obstacle to any renewed Russian control over the region. Its independence is critical to the survival of the other Central Asian states, and it is the least vulnerable to Russian pressures.”
Not surprisingly, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tashkent became an asset for the US-led coalition that intervened in Afghanistan, offering Washington an air base at Karshi-Khanabad without asking for payment. Despite close military cooperation, relations between Karimov’s regime and the Bush administration deteriorated rapidly after the May 13, 2005 Andijan Massacre, when Uzbek authorities fired into a crowd of protesters in the Ferghana Valley city, killing hundreds of people. In response to Western criticism of the repression, Tashkent ordered the expulsion of US forces from the Karshi-Khanabad air base, and improved ties with China and Russia.
                            KARIMOV AND US SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON AT A MEETING IN TASHKENT IN OCTOBER 2011 Uzbekistan’s quiet rapprochement with the US After years of poor US-Uzbek relations, the strengthening of the Moscow-Beijing axis and the alignment with it of both Kazakhstan and Tajikistan make a rapprochement with the United States the only way to enhance Tashkent’s geopolitical role. Several meetings between Uzbek and US officials have already been held in the last year, showing that both Tashkent and Washington are aware of the importance of improving bilateral relations. During his recent visit to Uzbekistan, on June 12-13, US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns held bilateral meetings with senior officials to discuss Tashkent’s efforts to support regional security and the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
During the talks, Karimov stressed the gradual strengthening of the complex Uzbek-American relationship, describing the visit of Burns as a an illustration of the improving dynamics of bilateral cooperation between the countries on a growing number of issues that Tashkent and Washington have to solve together. The Uzbek president also said that Central Asia holds a special position in relation to the problems that occur in Afghanistan and the situation in the world, while Burns confirmed the interest of US leadership in the further expansion of ties with Uzbekistan in the political, economic and humanitarian fields.
Facing the reassertion of Russian power in the former-Soviet space and the continuous strengthening of relations between Moscow and Beijing, Uzbekistan is seeking to re-establish constructive relations with the United States, also worried about the growing Sino-Russian cooperation. In this sense, Tashkent’s shrinking stance within the SCO might be a tacit signal of its readiness to cooperate with the US to enhance a strategic partnership, essential for the long-term interests of both countries. Once again, Washington is therefore forced to choose between defending human rights or its national interests, a choice from which depends the future position of the United States in that huge, strategic region described by Brzeziński as the “Eurasian Balkans.”

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog