Why is Washington standing by Uzbekistan’s dictator Islam Karimov, even as he massacres his own people 500 of them so far? “They shot at us like rabbits,” says one Uzbek who escaped the carnage in Andijan, where Uzbek troops fired directly into a crowd of thousands, killing “hundreds,” according to news accounts. The whole world recoiled, but White House spokesman Scott McClellan echoed staunch U.S. ally President Karimov in answer to a question at the daily press briefing:
“We have had concerns about human rights in Uzbekistan, but we are concerned about the outbreak of violence, particularly by some members of a terrorist organization that were freed from prison. And we urge both the government and the demonstrators to exercise restraint at this time. The people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government, but that should come through peaceful means, not through violence. And that’s what our message is.”
We won’t see any U.S.-backed and funded color-coded “revolution” in Uzbekistan against the viciously repressive neo-Soviet regime headed up by Karimov, the former head of the Uzbek Communist party. Go here for a documentary history of the Bush administration’s nervous yet thorough support for the Uzbek strongman. What is really inexcusable, however, is that the Bushies are trumpeting a charge that has no apparent reality outside of the Uzbek regime itself.
At a Tashkent press conference, Karimov repeated the assertion his propagandists have been making ever since the Uzbek secret police began their crackdown in the eastern city of Andijan at the beginning of this year, when 23 prominent businessmen were rounded up and jailed on charges of aiding and abetting “terrorist” organizations. According to Uzbek prosecutors, the 23 are associated with what Karimov called “a faction of Hizb ut-Tahrir,” a radical Islamist group founded in 1953, in Jerusalem, by Taqiuddin al Nabhani, an appeals court judge. Now spread throughout Western Europe, Central Asia, and even reaching into China’s far west, it calls itself the “Party of Liberation” and means to establish a worldwide caliphate, ostensibly by peaceful political means.
The 23 entrepreneurs are all supposedly members of a secret organization known as “Akramia,” named after its founder, Akram Yuldashev, author of an allegedly subversive tract, Yimonga Yul (“Path of Faith”), who, according to analysts such as Alisher Khamidov and others, argued that nonviolent tactics would never succeed in Uzbekistan. Khamidov’s thesis, which has seeped into various news accounts of the events precipitating the massacre, is that “Akramia” was essentially a radical split-off from Hizb ut-Tahrir led by Yuldashev, supposedly a former member.
Khamidov cites a single authority for this history of “Akramia,” the alleged criminal conspiracy of Islamists behind the events in Andijan: Dr. Bakhtiar Babadjanov, author of Islam in the Social and Political Life of Uzbekistan. Dr. Babadjanov is described by Khamidov as a “Tashkent-based political scientist,” but one wonders what it is like being a “political scientist” in the neo-Stalinist world of Uzbek academia, where no criticism of the Great Leader is permitted and reams of turgid prose are churned out to justify a system that boils its opponents alive.
The truth is that the concept of the semi-mythical “Akramia” originating as a split-off from the Party of Liberation, spread by Karimov’s international amen corner, is nonsense, as the Web site of Forum 18, an organization that defends victims of religious persecution worldwide, clearly proves. In an interview with relatives and associates of the accused businessmen, reporter Ignor Rotar shows that efforts to quash any economic as well as political initiative motivated the authorities to frame and imprison the “Akramists.” Even their alleged name is a lie, as Bakhrom Shakirov, father of one of the now-escaped prisoners, explained:
“‘The word “Akramia” was applied to us by the authorities, but we call our circle of people with a similar outlook “Birodar,”‘ he told Forum 18, citing the Uzbek and Farsi word for ‘brotherhood.'”
According to Shakirov, Yuldashev did not agree with the Hizb ut-Tahrir concept of establishing a new caliphate and was emphatically anti-political:
“Yuldashev’s main idea was that every Muslim should aspire to personal perfection and that then the world would gradually change for the better.”
Contrary to the rantings of the Uzbek prosecutors and pro-Karimov commentators who seem to insinuate their message in nearly every account appearing in the Western “mainstream” media Yuldashev’s 1992 pamphlet, Yimonga Yul,
“Did not touch on political issues, but considered general moral themes, arguing for the superiority of Islamic philosophy. A circle of sympathizers formed around him, who tried to follow Islamic guidelines in their own lives.”
Forum 18 reporter Rotar sets the record straight on Yuldashev’s now-famous pamphlet:
“Yuldashev’s brochure contains no call to seize power violently, and a Russian translation by the Andijan-based human rights activist Saidjakhon Zaynabiddinov was posted on the centrasia.ru Web site on 25 August 2004. ‘Anyone who reads Akram Yuldashev’s brochure carefully will understand that the accusation that this philosophical tract calls for the violent overthrow of the authorities is simply absurd,’ Zaynabiddinov told Forum 18 in Andijan last November, dismissing the dozens of references in the court verdict against Yuldashev which cited the pamphlet as the main proof against the author.”
What Khamidov cited as evidence that Yuldashev was planning a localized revolution “based [on] his tactics on the formation of cells that grouped individuals from the same professional background” turned out to be a Muslim mutual aid society that employed as many as 2,000. When the 23 were arrested, their assets were seized and everyone in town was out of work. This was the final straw as far as the general populace was concerned. What happened in Andijan had little to do with Islamic “extremism,” mythical “Akramists,” or a “green revolution.” The rebellion was sparked by the same sort of issue that set off last year’s riots in Kokand, the hub of the restive Ferghana valley, which broke out with gusto on Nov. 1.
A crowd of up to 10,000 took to the streets, burned police guards, and beat government officials intent on enforcing the dreaded “Regulation No. 387,” which stipulates that anyone dealing in imported merchandise must have personally brought the goods into the country. The rioters were traders at the Yangi Bazaar and their dependents, all of whom would have been put out of business by this utterly senseless decree. What’s striking about the genesis of the Kokand rebellion is that a more economically wrongheaded regulation could hardly be imagined: unless, that is, a ruler is trying to deliberately impoverish people, all the better to keep them in their place.
The popular response was swift and violent. As the Institute for War and Peace Reporting put it, the Kokand rising was “a sign that many Uzbeks are no longer prepared to put up with government restrictions on business.” The attempt to characterize the economic activities of the 23 entrepreneurs who founded Birodar as a political conspiracy bent on “terrorism” is cut from the same cloth as “Regulation No. 387” the pathological paranoia of a neo-Communist tyrant, a Stalin in miniature.
Even as mainstream news organizations detail the horrific scene on the streets of Andijan strewn with body parts, bits of brain, and drenched in the blood of women and children and record eyewitness accounts of hundreds of bodies stacked high they uncritically repeat the factoid that Yuldashev was arrested on charges of “terrorism” and sentenced to 17 years in prison. The connection to alleged Islamic “radicalism” is invariably made. Forum 18 has the real story:
“In 1998 the authorities planted drugs on Yuldashev and arrested him. In April that year Andijan city court sentenced him to two and a half years’ imprisonment on charges of possessing drugs. At the end of December the same year he was released under an amnesty. However, he was re-arrested the day after the bomb attacks in February 1999 in Tashkent and was sentenced by the same court to 17 years in prison. No proof was offered in court that he had organized the Tashkent attacks.”
In Uzbekistan’s kangaroo courts, you don’t need proof to send someone to prison for 17 years. The allegations about “Akramia” and the alleged contents of Yimonga Yul are taken straight from the Uzbek authorities’ indictment (as is the alleged link to Hizb ut-Tahrir) and repeated in various “news” stories as fact. This is like taking Andrej Vyshinsky‘s indictment at the Moscow trials of the 1930s without a single grain of salt which is precisely what happened, come to think of it, in that instance, too.
“They’re not content that my innocent husband is locked up in prison, but are trying to make out of him some kind of bin Laden,” complains Yuldashev’s wife Yedgora, and this is the essence of the message that the U.S. government is sending, so far.
This line that the main problem isn’t Karimov, but the alleged danger of a radical Islamic revolution is trotted out by the Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen, albeit with some important modifications. Cohen describes Andijan as “a hotbed of Islamic extremism” but nevertheless admits that the details concerning “Akramia” are a bit dubious:
“It is not clear exactly how extremist the organization really is reports vary. Public evidence of its terrorist activities is sparse. However, the recent operation in Andijan, which included seizing a military base and disarming a contingent of government troops, seems to have been well-planned and executed without regard to civilian casualties. The threat of radical Islam in Central Asia and especially in impoverished and radicalized Fergana Valley, which straddles Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is significant and growing.”
We are then treated to a mini-dissertation on the influence of Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the revelation that Uzbeks are “sick and tired of Karimov,” and the suggestion that perhaps it is time for the U.S. to ease him out of there. But, alas, “the time left for Uzbekistan to change course may be running out.” That appears to be the case. The unrest is spreading fast, and its present course is not predictable, but of one thing we can be sure: if President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus that “outpost of tyranny,” in Condoleezza Rice’s phrase mowed down 500 civilian protesters, the White House surely would not be urging restraint on the part of the demonstrators. Instead, they would be calling for Lukashenko’s ouster, all the while pouring money and resources into yet another one of their color-coded coups. They’d have the Belarusian bully up on charges before the International Criminal Tribunal so fast his head would spin, but Karimov who isn’t just a bully, but is now a mass murderer is highly unlikely to meet such a fate.
On a trip to the region last year, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld brushed aside Uzbekistan’s reputation as an Orwellian hellhole where torture is routine and political freedom is entirely absent, and instead lauded Tashkent’s “stalwart support” for American aggression in the Middle East, citing Uzbekistan as a “key member of the coalition’s global War on Terror.” Karimov has unreservedly supported the invasion of Iraq, and prior to Rumsfeld’s visit there was open speculation in the Uzbek government-controlled media that the U.S. would be invited to establish a permanent base in the country. Rumsfeld, for his part, didn’t deny it.
As I pointed out last year, U.S. support for Karimov’s neo-Communist regime including foreign aid to the tune of several millions in military and economic assistance would eventually demonstrate “why our endless ‘war on terrorism’ is doomed to not only fail, but to create the sort of ‘blowback‘ that is a windfall for America’s enemies.”
Amazingly, Karimov has his American fans among the neoconservatives, most prominently one Stephen Schwartz, a writer and now the director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, who has authored several articles for the Weekly Standard and David Horowitz’s Frontpagemag defending Karimov, notably lauding the regime’s crackdown on dissident Islamic groups:
“Since September 11, the United States no longer accepts the claim that the free exercise of terrorist agitation, incitement, and organization outweighs the benefits of legal sanction. Here, the ‘fallacy of prior restraint’ has been replaced by a reliance on the doctrines of ‘probable cause’ and ‘preemption.’ That is, extremist rhetoric provides sufficient probable cause to take preemptive action to prevent bloodshed.”
“By their radicalism, groups like HT that do not presently carry out acts of violence nonetheless prepare an environment conducive to violence.”
It’s a neoconservative reinterpretation of the First Amendment that he’d dearly love to impose in this country, but in the meantime, Schwartz is all for giving it a test run in Uzbekistan. Human rights groups that warned U.S. support to Karimov would backfire were disdained as “naïve” by the all-knowing Schwartz, who averred:
“In the struggle to liberate Islam from the grip of the Wahhabi-Saudi mafia, Karimov should have our backing.”
The Andijan massacre and whatever massacres are to come might leave Schwartz as Karimov’s sole defender, but as I pointed out in 2001: the Uzbek lobby has deep roots, not only among the neocons and the Bush administration, but the Clintonites as well. Uzbekistan has some of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world, and what’s more, it occupies a key geographical nexus in the region, one that could be the connecting bridge between the oil reserves of Central Asia and the energy-hungry West.
It was a Democratic administration that first set up a special government agency to develop the so-called “Silk Road” oil pipeline, but Washington conservatives were in on it, too. As I pointed out on Inauguration eve, 2001, it wasn’t for nothing that the big party being thrown for “movement” conservatives was being held at the Uzbek embassy in Washington, D.C.:
“What we have to look forward to, as we contemplate the meaning and direction of this changing of the guard in Washington, is the quick escalation of Middle East tensions, but not necessarily (at first) in Israel, or even Iraq. The ‘Afghan threat’ was touted by the Clintonians, who even rained down a few rockets on that mountainous redoubt of the Taliban fundamentalists, and the same administration has been the architect of the Osama bin Laden conspiracy theory, which attributes virtually all terrorist activity in the Middle East to the shadowy and reportedly ailing elderly mastermind. Now the Bush administration is sure to pursue this line of attack with renewed vigor and determination: no wonder the Uzbeks threw such a festive Inaugural party. President Ramirov and his allies in the region are expecting another sort of pipeline to open: the foreign aid gravy train. Never mind all those bothersome ‘human rights’ amendments that make foreign aid conditional on whether or not a recipient routinely employs torture, controls the press, or allows political opposition after all, the use and disposal of such enormous energy reserves is in our ‘national interest.’ And, we have to fight ‘terrorism’ and the evil bin Laden right? How long before U.S. soldiers, in alliance with our NATO allies, are guarding Big Oil’s investments in Uzbekistan and the other ex-Communist fiefdoms of Central Asia?”
That was posted on Jan. 22, 2001. Okay, so I failed to predict 9/11. I’m hardly alone in that. It’s fair to say, however, that the rest of my prediction was right on the money and that today, the interventionist chickens are coming home to roost and only the final act in this scenario remains to be played out to a bitter and bloody end. Are we heading for a showdown in Central Asia?
The insertion of Western troops into the former Soviet republic would be a major thorn in the side of the already reeling Russian bear, and would strike a real blow at Putin. A Western military presence ostensibly to keep “order” and provide “humanitarian” aid would close a major gap in the ongoing encirclement of Russia. Whether this is done through NATO, the OSCE, the EU, or some combination of all three, as in Bosnia and Kosovo, or unilaterally by the U.S., is an issue interventionist policy wonks might want to work out among themselves. However, the likelihood that this will be raised as a real possibility increases as the Andijan rebellion spreads.
That would be the worst possible outcome. U.S. intervention propped up a neo-Communist dictator for all these years and enabled him to cut down hundreds of his own people without so much as a pretense of remorse. More intervention will exacerbate the consequences of our actions, not undo them. Here’s another idea: let’s give it back to the Russians.
Instead of engaging in a lot of idle and largely nonsensical talk about how the breakup of the old Soviet Union was a “catastrophe,” let Putin try to repair some of the damage himself. Put a hold on those Western “peacekeepers” and let the Russians back into their own backyard. Not that they can afford to take on such a burden, but Putin could possibly be persuaded that he couldn’t afford not to.
Russia’s reentry into its “near abroad” means the “Silk Road” oil pipelines won’t bypass Moscow’s grasp, after all and the big Western oil companies won’t get first dibs. The overriding goal of U.S. policy in the region since the early days of the Clinton administration will have been overturned at a considerable savings to us, in terms of lives as well as tax dollars.
Let the Russians rediscover the costs of Empire and let them bear the burden of policing a volatile and essentially ungovernable region. Foreign peoples ought to be encouraged to solve their own problems: it builds character.
Let the Russians and the Uzbeks and the Ukrainians, the Belarusians, and the Kyrgyz clean up their mess. We have our own to deal with.
America’s bipartisan foreign policy that socializes the risks and privatizes the profits of a mercantilist militarism is simply not sustainable, either morally or materially. It will break us financially, or it will bankrupt us morally. We’re on a fast track to Doomsday in any case.