An update on the Uzbek-US relations. The stick and the carrot policy again?
Observers regularly comment on how the US Administration has been sending persistent signals to Tashkent on its willingness to restore the bilateral relations and become friends again. World's first promoter of democracy and human rights, the United States never criticizes Islam Karimov for excess and indiscriminate use of force in Andijan or for the show called election of the president in Uzbekistan anymore. US officials elaborate on "certain progress" instead.
This trend was particularly undeniable during "Law Enforcement, Human Rights, and Security", a joint Uzbek-American forum the US Embassy arranged in Tashkent on March 13. Human rights activists, journalists, and the socially active were invited to the forum.
US Ambassador Richard Norland began his speech with the premise that the situation with human rights in Uzbekistan showed no significant changes for the better in 2007. That done, however, the diplomat proceeded to elaborate on certain progress in the human rights sphere allegedly noticed in Uzbekistan.
"We perceive signals that certain non-governmental organizations may be permitted to resume human rights observance monitoring and efforts to develop civil society. Regardless of the past suspicions concerning their activity, that is," Norland said. "Certain web sites are available again to Internet browsers [the diplomat never said which web sites]. Some human rights activists are released from prisons..."
The US diplomat then condemned the critics who obstinately refused to see positive changes in Uzbekistan.
"Correct as they are to point out that better progress is needed, critics sometimes miss the marks of progress that are already clear," Norland said. "Even more importantly, they sometimes underestimate the importance of cooperation and interaction. Regardless of the calls for foreign political isolation we also hear, the human rights activists and others constantly tell us that they want to expand their contacts with the world beyond and contacts of the world beyond with Uzbekistan. They told me that they view the mutual progress we've been witnessing for some time already as one of the results of this cooperation. I'm convinced that more profound cooperation may result in even more serious progress."
It may be added that the annual human rights review the US Department of State published the other day does not call the Uzbek authorities corrupt (unlike the Russian authorities, that is). As for the imitation of the presidential election (usurpation, actually), the document pays it slightly more attention than is focused on the problematic position of homosexuals in Uzbekistan or on the fact that "some homosexuals were compelled to leave the country" under duress.
Norland even presented the official US view on the sensational report that the Americans might return to Khanabad.
"There is the so called German air bridge from Germany to Afghanistan via Termez," he said. "General officers use this bridge too. For example, there is a German General Rams in NATO who has an American for political advisor. Whenever his boss needed to visit Afghanistan and used the route via Termez until now, this American advisor had to make it to Afghanistan via Dubai. He couldn't take this shorter route via Termez, in other words. We discussed the matter with Uzbekistan not long ago, and asked the Uzbeks for the permit for this man to accompany his general to Termez and so on. The government of Uzbekistan said that the Americans, civilians or military personnel, working for NATO (not for the US, that is) might use this bridge too. It's a more convenient route, you know. It is necessary to remember that what is happening in Afghanistan is important. It is important for all of us, and it is a matter of human rights too. All of the international community should support Karzai's government and whatever it has been doing to expand its power. Moreover, whatever NATO has been doing there is expected to promote precisely this. On the other hand, we have no plans at all concerning military involvement of Uzbekistan in the matter."
The US diplomat then asked those present if they thought sanctions against Uzbekistan were necessary from the standpoint of potential isolation of the country. He also wanted to know if those present thought the effect on these sanctions on the situation with human rights would be positive.
"The sanctions should be tightened," Surat Ikramov of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists said. "And not only because of the events in Andizhan the authorities would dearly like to forget. The European Union is willing to forget them too and to be led on the leash by this murderous regime. The European Union and the United States are a formidable force nobody can stand against. They could force the Uzbek authorities to do a lot - and not just release several political prisoners. As for these latter, the authorities release five prisoners and immediately imprison a dozen people. They released three people from jail this year, but nobody can say how many others will be jailed yet. How come nobody remembers about thousands of religious and political prisoners? A human rights activist, I refuse to put up with it. The government of Uzbekistan should be told to put an end to these repressions."
"The human rights situation is worsening. Tighter sanctions against Uzbekistan are needed," Yelena Urlayeva of Human Rights Alliance said. "We arranged a picket in front of the Prosecutor General's Office earlier today. The protesters numbering 30 people or so were attacked by a bunch of women purporting to be Gypsies. The women had something heavy in their carryalls, and two protesters were hospitalized. That's how the authorities operate."
"That's a dilemma between keeping the sanctions and resuming the dialogue," Shuhrat Ganiyev from the Fast Response Group for Torture Prevention said. "There is no simple answer to the question. There was political bargaining when the release of five of six people from prisons was bartered for something or other. On the other hand, it is pointless to deny existence of the opportunity to resume the dialogue we have nowadays."
Following that, Norland asked those present to vote on two issues: for preservation of sanctions and for abolition of sanctions in return for certain steps on the part of the government of Uzbekistan (the US diplomat said it was highly important to him). Those present did vote after some prodding. Most opted for the stick and the carrot policy, i.e. alleviation of sanctions in return for some concessions from the authorities in the human rights sphere. The diplomat must have found it quite to his liking. Norland immediately closed the meeting and invited those present to help themselves to some coffee and cookies.
"That's big-time politics for you," one of the guests muttered under his breath.