US to Blame for Uzbekistan's Regression: Rumsfeld
Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently published his memoirs, Known and Unknown. As The Bug Pit noted, the book contains a detailed -- but misleading -- account of the Andijan massacre which led to the US being evicted from the air base it had used near Karshi-Khanabad (K2).
Rumsfeld characterized the unrest in the Ferghana Valley in 2005 as "fomented by rebels," but as a definitive report from Human Rights Watch and a new report by exiles compiled last year indicate, in fact ordinary men, women, and children came to the town square thinking that officials might finally listen to their grievances.
While there were some armed businessmen who arranged a jail break of their colleagues whom they believed to have been unjustly imprisoned, killing several guards and taking some police hostage, most of the people gunned down by Uzbek special forces were unarmed civilians. Hundreds of people were killed, and the government has never allowed an investigation, which initially was requested by the US and the European Union and a condition for the EU's lifting of sanctions.
In his book, Rumsfeld cites a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment written at his request that concluded that Andijan events weren't an Islamist plot but about disgruntled townspeople whose "motivation almost certainly was anger and frustration over poor socio-economic conditions and repressive government policies rather than a unifying extremist ideology."
In a recent interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a reporter asked Rumsfeld if he stood by his characterization in his book that the Andijan events were "instigated by Muslim extremists," and cited the DIA memo implying other motivations.
I certainly stand by what I wrote in the book, and I would add that you can find scraps of intelligence that are on all sides of most issues and what it requires is analyzing and synthesizing and pulling those threads together and then coming to some judgments about what is likely...At the time, we did not have certain knowledge about what was going on. And my impression is there's still a good deal of debate as to what precisely the motivations were.
Western governments have accepted that the events in Andijan involved the shooting of numerous unarmed people; in fact, really the only people still questioning the assessment of this event are Uzbek government officials. While the US government no longer calls for an independent investigation, the State Department's Uzbekistan background note references the refusal of the government to heed the EU and US calls for an international investigation. Last May, Ambassador George Krol, now nominated as ambassador to Uzbekistan, in his capacity as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State South and Central Asian Affairs, said "Andijan is a tragedy that must not be repeated."
Yet in his interview, Rumsfeld says that the US condemnation of the massacre in Andijan may have pushed Uzbekistan into regression. He first notes the importance of assessing in which direction countries are moving, and says, "In the case of Uzbekistan, there was no doubt in my mind but that they did not have the kind of freer political and freer economic system we did but that they were moving in that direction."
He then concludes that US action pushed Tashkent into reversing this alleged better direction:
And instead, by our behavior -- I think prejudging what went on -- we not only damaged our security relationship with Uzbekistan, but in addition, we shoved them back to a more regressive stance, which I think the words of the leadership there clearly indicated
Obviously, a government that is capable of ordering troops to fire on unarmed civilians assembled in a square has already regressed to such a point that it could not be characterized as "moving in the right direction."
Even before the West uttered a word, this profoundly regressive act revealed just how much was wrong with the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, which should have earned Western condemnation much sooner.
So to characterize the US as being somehow at fault for pushing Uzbekistan into a dark ages that the regime was already embracing on its own is a curious kind of American exceptionalism. It implies that the US has more power than it really has to influence the regimes of Central Asia – for better or worse -- but it also then strangely serves as a ready excuse not to use such leverage as there is in the relationship to insist on real human rights concessions.