Last week, President Islam Karimov came to New York to participate in the UN General Assembly (UNGA). His staff put out the rumor via the semi-official uzmetronom.com that he would meet with President Barack Obama. In the event, another regional leader, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, got to meet with the American president but President Karimov, who is also helping the U.S. deliver non-lethal materials to Afghanistan on the Northern Distribution Network, was not scheduled. President Roza Otunbayaev of neighboring Kyrgyzstan also met with President Obama for a wide-ranging discussion of issues including the Manas fuel-supply issue, EurasiaNet reported.
Even so, President Karimov met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, resolving to increase trade and educational exchange. While the spotlight has been on both American and Russian bases in Kyrgyzstan and speculation about U.S. training centers (ultimately cancelled), or the Russian-led base of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in southern Kyrgyzstan (still not approved), Germany has quietly renewed its lease on Termez, the base in Uzbekistan near the Afghan border that is crucial to ferrying NATO troops and supplies to the war zone.
In his speech before the General Assembly, President Karimov called for an "objective" international investigation of the June violence in Kyrgyzstan, ferghana.ru reported. Central Asian observers couldn't help but note the irony, as the Uzbek leader had vigorously opposed any attempt to organize an international investigation into the tragic 2005 events in Andijan.
A terrorist attack last week in Rasht District, Tajikistan in which 25 soldiers were killed has underscored the need for a concerted response to the threat of militants in Central Asia. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group linked to Al Qaeda and blamed for many attacks in northern Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the assault, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Tajik service reported. The IMU is also blamed each time any violence occurs in Uzbekistan, but given Tashkent’s harsh suppression of information, it has been difficult to determine whether offshoots of that group, or even in-fighting among government agencies, are in fact to blame. Rasht is a major drug trafficking route between Afghanistan and Kyrgystan's narcotics capital, Osh, and Moscow has been hinting it would like to retake control of security of the porous Afghan border, EurasiaNet reported. The Rasht incident provides an opportunity for the CSTO’s Rapid Reaction Force to spring into action, but Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon, like Uzbekistan's President Karimov, has been leery of increased Russian involvement in his country, which may explain why he met with NATO while in New York at the UNGA.
With deployment stalled of the Police Advisory Group of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) over negotiations with the Kyrgyz government, the two other security organizations in the region appear to be moving into the breech. Last week, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which has hitherto been more involved in economic support than peace-keeping, said it will provide Kyrgyzstan with security assistance in the south, ITAR-TASS and ferghana.ru reported, citing the Federal Russian Security Service's (FSB) Center for Public Relations. Uzbekistan is a member of the SCO, but unlike its posture regarding the CSTO, it does not appear to have opposed SCO plans to step up exchange of information on separatist and extremist groups and take other unspecified "complex measures” for security.
Meanwhile, the CSTO, which declined a request by the Kyrgyz interim government to come to help protect civilians in Kyrgyzstan in June, is saying that it will also supply a "complex of measures" also not defined. CSTO was supposed to provide equipment and training to forces in the south, but this has been delayed. Nikolai Bordyuzha, chief of the CSTO said that the June violence in Kyrgyzstan was an internal conflict, but that both financial and military assistance were being provided to Kyrgyzstan to prevent further outbreaks of violence.
The plans for both increased Chinese and Russian involvement in Central Asian security have not been unexpected. In August, EurasiaNet reported that China took part in an unprecedented joint military exercise with Kazakhstan, practicing air maneuvers and missile launches from Chinese to Kazakh territory. In an interview with Armenian Public TV before the informal CSTO summit on August 20-22 in Yerevan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Central Asian leaders, which did not include President Karimov, would discuss the formation of peace-keeping troops. CSTO had previously had no mechanism for peace-keeping and many times during the June pogroms said that the newly-created Rapid Reaction Forces were set up to repel only external aggression, not pacify domestic rebellions. But Lavrov said the peace-keeping role should be strengthened. When pressed about whether that meant responding to something like the April or June violence in Kyrgyzstan, Lavrov cautioned against "oversimplifying" the issue and invoked the principle of "non-interference" in internal affairs, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.
In March, the UN accepted the CSTO as a regional security organization, and in September, Bordyuzha said at the UN that he anticipated that Russia would increase its peace-keeping activities in the world while also working for early prevention of conflict, trend.az reported. Other developments, such as Russia’s recent refusal to sell weapons to Iran and a re-focus on regional security, seem to indicate the possibility of more CSTO activity in Kyrgyzstan.
Anyone trying to bring stability to the south has to contend with Melis Myrzakmatov, the obstreperous mayor of Osh. RFE/RL’s Bruce Pannier reports that counterintuitively, given his hostile relationship with local Uzbeks, the mayor bragged about his friendship with President Karimov. While President Karimov has called for the OSCE police mission, Myrzakmatov has opposed it, and has gloated at the inability of the central Kyrgyz leadership to remove him from office.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatov said in a September 24 statement that she is alarmed by "unrelenting judicial pressure" on independent journalists in Uzbekistan. In a letter to Foreign MInister Vladimir Norov, Mijatovic expressed concerns in particular about Abdumalik Boboyev, a freelance reporter for the U.S.-funded broadcaster Voice of America and Vladimir Berezovsky, the chief editor of the Russian-language vesti.uz information website and Central Asian correspondent for Russia's Parlamentskaya Gazeta.
A profile in The New York Times of former Uzbek political prisoner Sanjar Umarov, head of the reformist Sunshine Party, shed light on the horrors of the Uzbek prison system. Umarov was released under an amnesty last year and came to the U.S. He described being beaten constantly and thrown in punishment cells with excessive cold or heat; prison guards throttled him so hard that his vocal cords were permanently damaged. Even so, Umarov retained his optimistic spirit and had a simple proposal to try to reduce torture: "Lots of video cameras. Like in Wal-mart." With the taping of their deeds, prison personnel might become more accountable.
The first casualty of the cotton season took place last week as seven men returning from the fields were killed when their jeep rammed into a slow-moving tractor-trailer with a load of cotton bales, ferghana.ru reported. Reports indicate that in some schools, a third of the students are missing as they have gone to the fields to pick cotton for 5 cents a kilo. Cotton is currently selling for as high as a dollar a pound on the New York exchange.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick compiles the Uzbekistan weekly roundup for EurasiaNet. She is also editor of EurasiaNet's Choihona blog. To subscribe to Uzbekistan News Briefs, write firstname.lastname@example.org