Uzbekistan To Get U.S. Night-Vision, GPS, Body Armor
Uzbekistan is slated to get some new night vision goggles, bulletproof vests and GPS equipment from the U.S., a State Department official has said. A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. formally notified Congress that it intends to again start giving Uzbekistan military aid, which had been halted since 2002 because of concerns about human rights. At the time it wasn't clear what exactly would be given to Tashkent under the waiver, but now the State Department has described in a little more detail what is under discussion here. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, at a press conference on February 1:
Examples of the kinds of things that this waiver was given for – this will enhance the Uzbeks’ ability to counteract transnational terrorism and all – things like night vision goggles, personal protection equipment, global positioning systems. It’s defensive in nature, and it’s also supportive of their ability to secure the routes in and out of Afghanistan.
It's not clear that there is in fact any significant threat to the NDN in Uzbekistan. The closest thing so far, initially called a "terror" attack by the Uzbek authorities, appears more and more to be looking like an inside job. More likely, this is the pretext that the Uzbekistan government is using to justify the aid, knowing that that will resonate with U.S. policymakers; their real interest is likely geopolitical, that is showing Russia that they have other options for security other than Moscow and the CSTO.
At the press conference, Nuland also addressed the question of human rights and this aid:
QUESTION: And there are some critics that will say that this sort of – this is giving the Uzbek Government a free pass on alleged abuses they committed. Is there any response to that sort of criticism for taking this action?
MS. NULAND: Well, we certainly reject the notion that anybody’s being given a free pass on human rights. As you know, the Secretary was in Uzbekistan in October, had a chance to work on the full range of our bilateral and regional issues, but also spoke very frankly to President Karimov, to members of his government, about our ongoing interest in support for human rights, reforming the system, our concern about individual cases. So this is part and parcel of our diplomacy.
She also spoke out very clearly the day before in Tajikistan about our specific concerns about the rights of minorities, the rights of children, the rights of women, about the court system, all of these kinds of things. So nobody is shying away from having the tough conversation. That said, we also have other interests and things that we need to protect in our relationship with Uzbekistan.
The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the waiver, cites the State Department saying there has been progress in human rights:
Recent months have seen a thaw, and Mrs. Clinton has visited Uzbekistan twice in the past year-and-a-half. A waiver package sent to Congress on Jan. 20 included an assessment by the State Department that points to some limited progress on human rights in Uzbekistan.
The country has, for example, taken some steps to curtail illegal labor trafficking, and released some imprisoned political activists, said Emily Horne, a State Department spokeswoman.
"We do not want to overstate Uzbekistan's progress on human-rights issues, but it is appropriate to note positive developments just as we discuss setbacks," she said.
I'm not sure about that first paragraph: the waiver language the State Department sent to The Bug Pit did not contain anything positive, or any reference to trafficking or political activists. But anyway, it seems there is still some internal debate within the State Department about whether or not to emphasize the positive on Uzbekistan's human rights record.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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