The recent discussion of Tajikistan may have been--with certain lapses--Cenasia's finest hour. Is it possible to replicate it for other republics? Let's try Uzbekistan, which is so pivotal to the future of the region.
Here are a few points for discussion offered in the hope that they will stimulate a good give-and-take.
President Karimov: His detractors say that he is nothing but a typical Communist apparatchik who is more intent on fostering his own cult of personality than in working for the good of Uzbekistan, that he has surrounded himself with a subservient apparatus which keeps him isolated from the people, that he will stop at no brutality to insure continuation of his absolute power. His supporters say that he is not so much an apparatchik as a skilled economist who is working devotedly to improve conditions, that his authoritarian stance is made necessary by the instability inherent in Uzbekistan's economic crisis and the potential of social and regional unrest. As for democracy, that is said to be Karimov's long-term goal but one that he is unable to realize for the moment because the opposition is dominated by untrustworthy demagogues who would destroy Uzbekistan if given the opportunity.
The elites: Optimists portray the elites as a sophisticated professional class, motivated by feelings of patriotic solidarity, who worked behind the scenes to break Moscow's grip on the republic and are today the best guarantee of a stable and prosperous future for their country. Pessimists see them as a sorry holdover from Soviet days, persons interested primarily in their own aggrandizement and opportunistically willing to betray the interests of their people in order to obtain it.
The economy: Pro-Karimov spokesmen point to the President's actions soon after independence in making more land available to citizens, which is said to have improved the country's food situation, to his support of privatization as manifested in auctions of state property (beginning last year in Namangan), and to his active pursuit of foreign business ties. Critics say that reforms are minor, that Karimov and Co. seek to maintain a stranglehold on the economy, as witnessed by their unwillingness to permit true private ownership of land or to break up the old industrial "dinosaurs" of the Soviet era. As for Karimov's pursuit of foreign business, it is said that investment in Uzbekistan has been largely stymied by bureaucratic red tape and corruption.
Islam: Loyalists argue that the Karimov regime is encouraging Islam by helping to provide believers with more mosques and by removing restrictions on religious education, but that the threat of "fundamentalism," aided and abetted from abroad, means that it would be detrimental to the state to allow organized Islamic political activity. The other side claims that so far the "fundamentalist threat" is largely an invention, that political restrictions are aimed mainly at hobbling secular, democratic Muslim elements who are a potential challenge to Karimov's dictatorial power, and that in the long run these policies are operating to radicalize Islam, making the "fundamentalist threat" a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The West: Should foreign democracies reduce aid and other involvements, making the Karimov government a pariah for its trammeling of human rights? Or should they assume that the long-term democratic evolution of Uzbekistan is best served by an active Western presence and downplay disapproval of Karimov's human-rights record? (Or would it be practical to adopt a two-tiered "carrot and stick" policy along the lines of the Western attitude to the Kremlin in Soviet days?)
...I haven't touched on some of the important issues (the environment, public health, clannic and regional divisions, Russians and other ethnic minorities, etc.). Perhaps others will raise them.
Date: Sat, 4 Feb 1995 00:28:29 -0500
From: Daria Fane <df82@COLUMBIA.EDU>
Subject: Re: Whither Uzbekistan?
The question posed about Uzbekistan's relationship with the ethnic Uzbek General Dostam is one that has been of interest to me for some time. Twice (once in 93, once in 94) I crossed the border from Termez into Northern Afghanistan, posing the question to Dostam each time. Both Dostam and Karimov have been less than forthcoming on the question.
The story has to be traced starting from the fall of Najibullah. Najibullah's fall started with General Momin, who was Tajik, was supported by Dostam (Uzbek) and then joined by Said Mansur (Ismaili). For the rest of 92 and 93 Uzbeks and Tajiks in the North of Afghanistan were working together, and Dostam and Masoud were aligned. It seems to me that in the beginning of this period Karimov was not very interested in Dostam. From what I have heard Karimov refused to meet with him when he came to Tashkent. It was rather the Uzbekistani KGB (KNB) that became the center of support of Dostam's Jombesh-i-melli. I think that support from Uzbekistan started mainly to give Dostam the push to switch sides and launch his January 1, 1994 attack on Kabul.
Uzbekistan does not like Tajik power in Kabul. Traditionally Kabul has been in Pushtoon hands. I think that when Rabbani went to Dushanbe in November 1993, Tashkent became concerned about the possibility of a Tajik alliance. Strategically this is linked to the idea that through Tajik power in Afghanistan a cultural zone of Tajik influence would grow that ultimately could lead to raising the question Karimov fears most -- Samarkand and Bukhara. Sometime during December 1993 the plan emerged for Dostam to switch sides.
I think that this suited both Uzbekistan and Pakistan, as well as Russia. ISI had traditionally supported Hekmatyar. Both had reasons to prefer the fall of the Tajik leadership in Kabul. If the Tajiks fell, power would return to the Pushtoons. This would give Pakistan greater influence in the center, and, incidentally allow Uzbek control in the north. For Uzbekistan a Pushtoon regime would be preferable, as they would be less concerned with Tajikistan and less likely to support the Tajiks. I think that Uzbekistan as well as Russia fear that if Rabbani/Masoud remain in power this will result in ongoing military support for the Tajik opposition.
I agree with the others who began the "whither Uzbekistan" conversation -- the situations are interlinked in a complex way. The question of relations between Tajiks and Uzbeks spans the triangle of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and the domestic problems of all three are related.
Date: Sun, 5 Feb 1995 16:49:10 -0500
From: Daria Fane <df82@COLUMBIA.EDU>
Subject: Re: WHITHER UZBEKISTAN?
In response to Sean Roberts' comments on Uzbekistan's stability, I think that it is necessary to point out the Uzbekistan's stability has been purchased by sacrificing certain basic political freedoms, such as the right to hold demonstrations and freedom of the press. President Karimov frequently boasts in his speeches that this stability will attract foreign investment. However in practice it has not worked that way. Instead of attracting foreign investment, the repressive atmosphere has driven away Western firms which now prefer to work in the relatively reform-minded Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan. The difference in number of foreign firms working in Tashkent vs. Almaty is striking.
In terms of domestic attitudes towards President Karimov, he has succeeded in making it dangerous enough and difficult enough for opposition parties to function that he has successfully silenced the political power of these forces. Of the key figures that were identifiable as sources of potential challenge to his regime (for example those who might have run against him in the 1991 elections), each has been systematically silenced -- beaten, arrested or driven out of the country. At that time, for example Mirsaidov might have won the election had he run, others who considered running but did not included Pulatov, the Mufti, and of course Solikh did run. All have been the targets of Karimov's wrath.
When I asked Uzbeks who could be a possible alternative to Karimov now, I found a general feeling that there is no political alternative. People had a lot of trouble coming up with suggestions for who might replace Karimov were he to suddenly die of a heart attack or something. While opposition does exist from both democratic and Islamic tendencies, I think that many in Uzbekistan do value the stability factor. While neighboring Tajikistan collapsed into violent civil war, Uzbekistan remained insulated from such eruptions, despite its legacy of ethnic violence (e.g. Fergana events June 1989 and other eruptions in 1990). The government justifies its authoritarian approach as its means to prevent the risk of violence. Still, I personally feel that in the long run, successful introduction of participatory democracy brings greater stability than repression, and that a more open society would help create an environment more favorable to the investment that would help bring the economic growth that Uzbekistan sorely needs.
I look forward to comments from other CENASIA participants on the question of whither Uzbekistan, and am particularly interested in views on the stability-authoritarianism tradeoff.