The Uzbek government is cracking down on rights activists before Dec. 27 parliamentary elections, Human Rights Watch charges—while criticizing the West for staying silent. Uzbekistan this year mended ties with the West that had been all but severed after harsh repression in 2005. HRW charged Dec. 10 that Uzbek authorities in Karshi and Margilan have detained human rights advocates to prevent them from meeting with an HRW researcher. In Karshi, the HRW researcher was also attacked by an unknown assailant, then detained and forced to leave the city. “The attack appeared to be a setup,” HRW stated. Additionally, seven human rights and political activists were detained last month, three of whom were also beaten, when they attempted to meet with a political opposition leader.
Uzbekistan remains an important link in the supply route for US troops in Afghanistan. Western governments and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have have praised it for rights progress. (HRW, Dec. 10; Reuters, Dec. 14)
General David Petraeus, commander of the US Central Command, visited Uzbekistan on Aug. 18. As a result of his talks in Tashkent, the US and Uzbekistan signed an agreement on military and technical co-operation, which had been iced since 2005.
The agreement provides for the training of Uzbek military forces by the US, and has triggered press speculation about alleged talks concerning the return of US troops to the Karshi-Khanabad base, where American foces were stationed from 2001-2005. These reports have been denied by the US. Washington does say that Uzbekistan remains a vital transport corridor to Afghanistan, and the US has gained access to the airfield in Navoi, Uzbekistan. The US has also managed to maintain military access to the base at Manas, Kyrgyztsan. (Center for Eastern Studies, Aug. 31)
Last month, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Krol visited Uzbekistan, to discuss ostensibly non-military matters. Speaking to reporters, Krol stressed the US does not intend to use military bases in Uzbekistan and there had been no talks on the return of US troops to the Karshi-Khanabad base. But he again acknowledged Uzbekistan’s role as a corridor to transit “non-military” goods (e.g. construction materials, fuel, etc.) to Afghanistan. (Uznews.net, Nov. 23)
Earlier this year, Russia opened its airspace to US supply flights to Afghanistan. A Central Asian route to Afghanistan has become critical since the Taliban insurgency has effectively closed the route from Pakistan through the Khyber Pass.
See our last post on Uzebkistan and the Great Game in Central Asia.