Details of the quid pro quo governing US-Uzbek relations are emerging. In return for Uzbekistan's strategic support in the anti-terrorism offensive in Afghanistan, the United States stands to provide Tashkent with comprehensive economic support, according to a memorandum signed by the two countries in Washington. The United States hopes the aid will foster economic reforms in Uzbekistan. But some observers question whether the Uzbek government has the political will to implement reforms, and whether the US government has the determination to see the deal through.
The Uzbek government's announcement that it would open the Friendship Bridge connecting Uzbekistan and Afghanistan dominated the headlines during US Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Tashkent on December 8. The bridge opening will help speed deliveries of humanitarian assistance to hungry Afghans.
Powell also reportedly passed along a diplomatic letter from President George W. Bush to his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, in which the United States expressed an intention to greatly increase assistance to Uzbekistan. The letter also suggested Washington would provide strong backing for Uzbek attempts to develop an "independent" foreign policy, essentially helping Tashkent break out of Russia's sphere of influence.
The secretary of state told a news conference that his country's interests in the region were permanent. "As regards our interests, unconditionally, they are long-term and President Karimov and I have exchanged views on this. Our interests in this region should be permanent and these relations will continue after the [Afghan] crisis," Powell said.
Prior to Powell's arrival, official Uzbek newspapers December 6 published the text of an economic cooperation agreement, negotiated during talks in Washington at the end of November. More than any other official statement or document, the economic cooperation agreement answers long-asked questions about what Uzbekistan receives in return for its decision to permit US armed forces to use its military installations. Before the publication of the text, Uzbek officials had been tight-lipped about the nature of US-Uzbek cooperation. Karimov avoided questions about the existence of a trade-off with the United States.
According to Uzbek accounts, the agreement expresses a joint desire to establish "qualitatively new long-term relations" between Uzbekistan and the United States, "based on the similarity of aims in fighting international terrorism and
Farida Harba is a freelance journalist based in Central Asia.