Robert Blake, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, is scheduled to be in Uzbekistan on February 17-18 for the second Annual Bilateral Consultations between the United States and Uzbekistan. As the Obama administration seeks to reengage President Islam Karimov’s government in Tashkent, Blake should ensure that Uzbekistan’s respect for basic individual rights is a central topic of discussion.
A number of issues make Central Asia in general, and Uzbekistan in particular, strategically important to Washington. Large reserves of natural gas and Uzbekistan’s central location make it commercially important. Uzbekistan has also emerged as a critical cog in the effort to stabilize Afghanistan. It serves a key role in the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a web of land and air routes used for the transport of non-lethal goods to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. An Uzbek-Afghan rail link is under construction and Uzbekistan is currently providing some of Kabul’s electricity.
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Patrick Griffith is an attorney with Freedom Now, an organization that advocates on behalf of prisoners of conscience, and serves as international pro-bono legal counsel for Akzam Turgunov.