SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Obama Doesn’t Want You To Know About Uzbekistan

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Victims of the massacre at Andijon, Uzbekistan, 2005

Death is usually a sad event. The passing of a world leader, particularly one who brought stability to a tense part of the Muslim world for several decades, is typically cause for concern.

The death of Uzbekistani president Islam Karimov is not typical.

For the majority of the long-oppressed citizens of Uzbekistan, the end of one of the world’s bloodiest and most corrupt dictators — and, to our eternal shame, an American ally — is cause for joy and gleeful celebration.

The SOB died 82 years too late.

Except for the time Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain called it “a small, insignificant state…Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan,” the hell on earth created by Karimov doesn’t get much coverage in the news media. Few Americans could find this backwater on a map to save their lives. Yet Uzbekistan, once known as the underbelly of the USSR, is incredibly important. Which is why the rich and powerful – military generals, energy company executives, Hillary Clinton – know all about it.

Unfortunately for the Uzbeks, these American elites’ interest in their country has made their lives unspeakably miserable. And unless something unexpected takes place, that’s likely to continue. Which is why, during this presidential election season, American voters ought to ask the candidates most likely to win (Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump) as well as those who should be most likely to win (Jill Stein and Gary Johnson) how they would change American foreign policy in obscure/important places like Uzbekistan.

American policymakers care about Uzbekistan because it is an energy giant: one of the largest producers of natural gas in the world, a significant supplier of oil, and the fourth-largest source of gold in the world. Sitting smack dab in the middle of Central Asia, the nation has undeniable strategic importance. Uzbekistan has the region’s largest population, its most sophisticated infrastructure and its biggest cities: Tashkent, a city of 2.3 million people, even has a subway. It also has the blockbuster tourist attractions: the Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand should be on any world traveler’s wish list.

Uzbekistan is the only Central Asian republic with common borders with all of the others, as well as with perpetually troubled Afghanistan. Oil and gas pipelines to and from the biggest source of fossil fuels on earth, the Caspian Sea, crisscross this blisteringly hot, dry nation.

Given Uzbekistan’s tremendous oil, gas and mineral wealth and its geographically and geopolitically strategic importance, its citizens ought to enjoy a high standard of living. Instead, the average Uzbek subsists on $3 to $8 per day. Where does all that energy wealth go? Karimov, his family and cronies steal it. Gulnara Karimova, the deceased despot’s flamboyant chanteuse daughter, is accused of raking in over $1 billion in bribes from telecommunications companies seeking permits to do business. Another daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is linked to shell companies that own gaudy multimillion estates in the U.S.

Cultural and ethnic heirs to Genghis Khan’s Golden Horde, Uzbeks are neither stupid nor lazy. It requires and incredibly brutal an ruthless military and police apparatus to prevent them from rising up and overthrowing their oppressors. So this is exactly what the Karimov regime has delivered since the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. (Karimov kept his job as boss of the Uzbek SSR, which he scored from outgoing Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.)

Uzbekistan is routinely awarded the world’s “Worst of the Worst” status for its extreme corruption and violations of fundamental human rights. Phones are tapped and militsia goons shake down motorists at innumerable checkpoints. Print and broadcast media are completely state-controlled. There’s a zero tolerance policy toward political opposition.

In 1999, Karimov said: “I am ready to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, for the sake of peace and tranquility in the country.” By which he meant his peace and tranquility.

Four percent of the population are subjected to slavery. At least 10,000 political prisoners are rotting in the nation’s prisons. Torture is standard and endemic; Team Karimov landed a rare spot in the news for boiling dissidents to death. In 2005, President Karimov asked security forces confronting protesters in the southern city of Andijon to wait for his arrival from the capital of Tashkent so he could personally witness and coordinate their massacre. An estimated 700 to 1200 Uzbeks were slaughtered. “People have less freedom here than under Brezhnev,” a U.S. official admitted.

Every now and then, some naïve US State Department official has issued a toothless tisk-tisk report documenting human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. But the Americans who run the show are obsessed with maintaining the country’s role in the Northern Distribution Network, a crucial aerial and ground supply line between the US and its European allies and the endless war against Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re willing to do pretty much anything to protect the NDN — including funneling weapons to one of the most disgusting regimes on the planet.

In 2012, the Obama administration quietly lifted a post-Andijon ban on weapon sales. One major shipment included a 2015 delivery of 320 armored personnel vehicles to Karimov – exactly the kind of equipment an authoritarian state uses to crush demonstrations. “Perhaps worse than equipping a government so well-known for abuses against its own people and for its defiance of international norms with such powerful military equipment,” said Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch, “is the message that the Obama administration is sending the people of Uzbekistan: that Islam Karimov has gotten away with it.”

American news accounts of Karimov’s death omitted America’s role propping him up.

It would be nice to hope that the flowers of democracy will sprout in the soil of the dictator’s grave. But years of suppression have destroyed the opposition groups that might have been able to step into power as part of a post-Karimov transition. The post-KGB security forces will continue to protect themselves and their kleptocratic bosses. Acting Uzbek president Nigmatulla Yuldashev will no doubt call for another of the country’s sham elections, which a hand-selected member of the ruling elite is predestined to win. And Obama will keep the military aid flowing.

This is the kind of thing that causes Muslims to hate us. It’s why we are a constant target of terrorism. But nothing is going to change there unless something changes at the top here.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.)

 

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About Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.

8 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Obama Doesn’t Want You To Know About Uzbekistan

  1. «But nothing is going to change there unless something changes at the top here.»

    But Ted, you, if anyone, should know that the United States government does not «do» human rights, save as an excuse to invade various countries when their leaders do something which doesn’t jibe with US policy. As you pointed out, «… the rich and powerful – military generals, energy company executives, Hillary Clinton – know all about it [i e, Uzbekistan]», not least about the abuses that you describe above, and are merely waiting to dig out the catalogue for publishing in the New York Times or the Washington Post, if and when the time comes to invade the country….

    The best we can hope for from the US as regards Uzbekistan (and most of the world as well) is relative neglect – alas, as the situation in, e g, the Ukraine and the South China and East China Seas, makes evident, that is unlikely to happen ; the «indispensable nation/government» feels its position as would-be global hegemon threatened….

    Matters are unlikely to improve after 20 January 2017 – either in the United States or in Uzbekistan….

    Henri

  2. As gloomy a picture as Ted paints of the corruption, brutality and sheer desolation of Uzbekistan, I have always been fascinated by the country. I have always wanted to visit Samarkand and Bukhara. I have always wanted to see Tamerlane’s stomping grounds. I have bought travel guides to the country ( the few that exist) and read Ted’s travelogues and books on his journeys to Central Asia. It’s been an enduring fascination for me to travel there. I should have done it before I was married with kids though cause it sounds like I could very well end up in a pot of boiling water, accused of being a US “spy”. I have too much to lose now. It felt like that possibility was closed forever. When I read about the health issues and eventual death of Karimov, the faint hope of visiting came back. I am sure it will be “new boss, same as the old boss” like Ted describes, but you never know what will happen to a country like Uzbekistan during such a transition.

  3. “the underbelly of the USSR”

    In this context this phrase can mean one of two things: an area vulnerable to attack OR a hidden unpleasant or criminal part of society. I sadly suspect that Ted meant to imply the latter.

    “Tashkent, a city of 2.3 million people, even has a subway.”

    All this infrastructure and a high standard of living was provided by the Soviets.

    “So this is exactly what the Karimov regime has delivered since the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.”

    Yes, this point should be repeated again and again.

    ” ‘People have less freedom here than under Brezhnev,’ a U.S. official admitted.”

    Much, much less freedom, security and quality of life I would add. And you know it’s gotta be really bad when a U.S. official has to grudgingly admit this!

    “The post-KGB security forces will continue to protect themselves and their kleptocratic bosses.”

    Emphasis on POST! Why mention the KGB at all? Is it to instill a sense of nefariousness? The KGB were in no way comparable to the wickedness of the CIA and its client intelligence agencies.

    “Acting Uzbek president Nigmatulla Yuldashev will no doubt call for another of the country’s sham elections, which a hand-selected member of the ruling elite is predestined to win.”

    Sounds very familiar. Looking forward to seeing who will “win” in the U.S. “elections.”

    • > Sounds very familiar

      a-yup, it certainly does. Ted says something that might possibly be construed to be tangentially critical of the USSR, and up pops Trolecenter to tell us of the glories of Holy Mother Russia.

      > Yes, this point should be repeated again and again.

      No, it shouldn’t. We got it the first 99 times.

  4. There is no way to know what Trump will do from his words, since he has slain more hobgoblins than Gandalf (of course, Gandalf slew fairy-tale hobgoblins, while Trump slays Emerson hobgoblins). From his actions, Trump will do his best to destroy renewable energy and promote fossil fuels, but we don’t have much useful information about what Trump will do about foreign affairs (unless you count his courting of his foreign wives). Trump has SAID he will not send US troops to war against Russia or China, but can we believe him? (I’m guessing we can, but I can’t be certain.) Will he bother with Uzbekistan at all? Is the US giving them materiel, or selling them materiel? If it’s giving, Trump will probably stop it. If it’s selling, he’ll probably continue.

    With Secretary Clinton, we can be certain that it will be More of the Same with regards to Uzbekistan.

    (Plus, she’s promised to get rid of Putin and the evil, lying Russian Propaganda Channel which occasionally features some cartoonist with a thick New York City accent, but it’s not clear what impact that will have on Uzbekistan.)

    ***

    Mr Rall failed to mention that Tashkent has the oldest Quran in the world! Uthman sent it to Kufa in Iraq. Tamerlane took it to Samarkand. The Soviets took it to Leningrad, then returned it to Tashkent to pacify the Soviet Muslims, and it is there to this day. (And images are available on the Internet.)

  5. Brutal regime … check. Oppression … check. Incarceration of dissidents … check. Human rights abuses … check. Got oil … CHECK!

    Sounds like “ally” to me. If the locals become troublesome after the untimely death of our friend, we can always claim that they hate us for our freedoms. I’m sorry – what was the problem again?

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