March 30, 2004
Institute of War and Peace Reporting

Central Asian Leaders Exploit 'War on Terror'

Will US Policy Backfire in Central Asia?

American engagement with the Central Asian states - key allies in the "war on terror" - is being misrepresented and exploited by regional governments, whose actions are fuelling instability in the region, local and international analysts believe.

Authoritarian leaders especially in Uzbekistan, the main player, continue to ignore pleas for change in their human rights practices. They are misreading - sometimes wilfully - the signals sent by the United States that political reform is important, too, and continuing in the belief that as valued partners they can do pretty much as they like.

America continues to be a major donor of programmes to promote democracy and civil rights in Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and to a limited extent Turkmenistan. Officials argue they are doing a lot to encourage change in places like Uzbekistan.

But many analysts argue that these positive initiatives have now been so overshadowed by the military agenda, where a readiness to provide air bases and other facilities is key to improving relations, that regional governments feel empowered to ignore them and continue with poor policies that threaten to alienate their populations. . . .


[Acacia Shields, author of a Human Rights Watch report on Uzbekistan also released yesterday, said: "Our concern is that the government will turn to the 'usual suspects', including religious and political dissidents."--Andrew Jack, "Further unrest leaves 22 dead in Uzbekistan," Financial Times, March 30, 2004]

[Russia's Itar-Tass news agency on Wednesday said Uzbek security forces arrested 30 people on suspicion of involvement in violence blamed by the U.S.-backed government on Islamic "terrorists". But scepticism mounted over official explanations.

Human rights groups, which estimate that Uzbekistan has locked 7,000 Muslim dissidents in prisons where torture is allegedly practised, say they fear the blasts will serve as a pretext for further crackdowns on non-violent Muslims.--Michael Steen, "Uzbeks arrest 'terror' suspects," Reuters, March 31, 2004]

Editorial: "The Bombs of Tashkent," Washington Post, April 1, 2004

Eric Margolis, "U.S. ignores human rights record of new best friend," Toronto Sun, April 5, 2004

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