What Effect Would German Withdrawal from Afghanistan Have on Relations With Uzbekistan?
While human rights advocates in the U.S. have been warning about U.S. cooperation with Uzbekistan over the Northern Distribution Network since the NDN was set up last year, these discussions have been going on much longer in Germany. The German military has used a facility in Termez, on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border, since 2002, as a rear supply base for their NATO troops in northern Afghanistan. But that could be ending. Last week, Germany's foreign minister said his country would start withdrawing troops next year.
Back in 2006, Der Spiegel reported on Germany's involvement in Uzbekistan, and the tension that created between Germany's devotion to human rights and its military strategy:
[H]ow many million Euros should Germany invest in a corrupt country, knowing full well that the population hardly ever benefits from the money? And is it acceptable that the commander of the German air force squadron is even barring German journalists from entering the base -- in response to "discreet pressure from the Uzbeks," as military officials in Potsdam in charge of the Uzbekistan mission coyly explain? Is it acceptable that in banning the journalists, the German military is exempting a mission from public scrutiny that is subject to parliamentary supervision at home?
Berlin's dialogue with the regime in Tashkent is "as immoral as its dialogue once was with Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Serbian butcher Slobodan Milosevic or Iraqi criminal Saddam Hussein," says Uzbek journalist Galima Bukharbayeva, who fled to the West after barely escaping Andijan with her life.
With equal condemnation, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung writes that Germany "bought itself a special status in Uzbekistan." The Free Democratic Party, one of the opposition parties in the Germany parliament, warns against trading "human rights for transport benefits." And the parliamentary Left Party submitted 29 requests for information over whether the expansion of the Termez airport doesn't send the "wrong signal" to the Karimov government.
The German government sent its human rights official Günter Nooke to Tashkent in June. After Nooke's visit, the parliament ruled that human rights principals were "not impaired," and that the "human rights organizations operating in Uzbekistan" had even "expressly welcomed" the Germans' presence.
More recently, Germany was behind the lifting of a European Union arms embargo against Uzbekistan, which was directly attributed to Germany's base at Termez:
Andrew Stroehlein, a spokesman for the International Crisis Group, told Deutsche Welle that Germany led the way in lobbying against the prolongation of the sanctions, which include lifting an arms embargo.
He said Berlin was looking to keep its Termez military base in southern Uzbekistan alive by doing away with the embargo, both to supply its troops in northern Afghanistan but also to promote its own political prestige in the region.
"Central Asia is one of the few parts of the world where the other big players in the EU members don't have post-colonial interests," Stroehlein told Deutsche Welle.
"This is one of the areas where Germany has set out to be a leader, so it would be very embarrassing for them to be kicked out."
This is far more explicit than anything the U.S. has been accused of doing for the sake of the NDN. So it'll be interesting to see whether Germany, as it begins to pull out of Afghanistan, starts to change its tone on Uzbekistan.