Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Monday, May 16, 2005
 
Trouble in Tashkent

Saurabh at Rhinocrisy does a good job of pointing out how we should all be paying more attention to Uzbekistan. I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what went down this weekend, partially because reports are so murky and journalists have been expelled from the region. But apparently in Andijon, Uzbekistan, on Friday a mass demonstration somehow converged with a 2,000-strong jailbreak and the notoriously oppressive dictatorship fired on the crowd, killing anywhere from 50 to 500 people. (New York Times article.)

The Uzbeki dictator, Karimov, allows us--the United States--to maintain a base, and in exchange clearly expects our silent cooperation. The base is nominally important to us because of Afghanistan, but also because it's a "lilypad" surrounding a planned U.S.-built hydrocarbon pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian sea. There is a lot of suspicion that we also use Uzbekistan for the despicable practice of extrordinary rendition, essentially outsourcing torture. With items like boiling two men alive on his resume, Karimov is unusually qualified. (See this Guardian article by the former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, who says he was sacked for trying to stop MI5 from exploiting Karimov's skills; link from Rhinocrisy.) Karimov labels all opposition as Islamic extremism and waves his flag from alliance in the war on terror, and we seem to be going along for the ride. (If we are doing some backstage maneuvering to make this all better, that's great, but it's not what's being perceived by the billions watching us.) Many of the people of Andijon might have been much more interested in having a remotely free market for the commerce they need to survive.

By blindly labelling them as Islamic terrorists we may only succeed in making them yet another recruiting tool for actual Islamic terrorists. This is basically a textbook example of problematic American foreign policy: Support a dictator for extremely narrow economic and military gain, thereby helping that dictator violently oppress his own people, and creating a breeding ground of America-haters. And then the lack of journalism makes sure that the average educated, politically active American has no idea what's going on in his or her name.

The narrative doesn't have to go exactly this way though. Even if we can't change the way the Administration reacts, we can at least try to make it more clear to the world that some American people are paying attention and that we aren't thrilled about this. You can find out more about what's going on from Wanderlustress, a Peace Corps worker in Uzbekistan, and blogs Registan and blogs Registan and Scraps of Moscow. If the American reaction bothers you, write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Write to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the LA Times, encouraging them to invest more in reporting on Central Asia. If you vote in Nebraska, Rhode Island, Virginia, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee, New Hampshire, Alaska, Florida, or Indiana, you have a Majority (Republican) Senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bug them. Bug your friends and relatives from those states. (Bug the Democrats too. Minority Senators are supposed to still have plenty of powers of oversight, even though this State Department likes to break the law and ignore them.) Let more international news forums like the BBC and The Economist know what you think as well.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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