Islam Karimov and the Goldfish
The author’s collage
Several Uzbek mass media outlets unexpectedly started beating the war bells over the last several days. Alert! The motherland is in danger! Russian and Central Asian mass media outlets echoed said concerns in reprinted articles with hints of dysphoria. This time around the chief alarmist is Ubaydullo Hakimov, supposedly a “former law enforcing agency officer” and “currently a security expert.”
“An unidentified analyses department officer” at the Uzbek national security service sings along: “Hey, get up! We are facing an unexpected danger! Damned IMU shall attack us any minute from beyond the Pamir Mountains! As soon as snow on mountain slopes melts and mountain paths reveal themselves, the hordes of armed cap-a-pie militants will stream into the Fergana Valley!”
The “analyst” sings back: “No, the enemy is not awaiting warmer days, the enemy is transporting its thugs already!”
As if by magic security services in Moscow snatch at least IMU member every day. (There is no magic, of course, unless one calls Uzbek KGB “magicians” for coming up with non-existent threats and criminals.) Unlike their Uzbek peers, Russian rights activists are genuinely surprised by the standard set of accusations (attempts to overthrow the constitutional order, etc.); however, Russian rights activists’ surprise does not qualify as an acquitting grounds… Yes, we are dealing with such a horrendous issue, you know…
Against this backdrop, a few question arise: Why did these militants become so active all of a sudden? What prerequisites were fulfilled for that to happen? What genuinely feasible goals does the IMU have for the Fergana Valley?
It is obviously difficult to come up with appropriate answers for these questions; maybe they do not exist to begin with. Do we not remember how many times these bandits aimlessly and unsuccessfully attempted to infringe upon our garden of independence? Is the Uzbek-Afghan border that poorly protected that large illegal armed formations can penetrate into Uzbekistan facing no obstacles this spring? And if only small groups can achieve that, what are they really capable of? Can they carry out a significant terrorist act? Imagine, the large and heavy cargo they would have to haul on their shoulders over the mountain passes to cross three borders. We are talking about weapons, explosives, communications gear, food and other necessary items. And they will have to carry them on shoulders, since transportation animals could be detected by reconnaissance sorties.
However, any militant exhausts his limits, should he try to do anything more than running around in the mountains with machine guns, shooting a little, making some noise, and probably getting killed or captured. Have they really failed to learn from their mistakes? You know, even if they do attempt to barge into our villages and towns of our wonderful valley, brave police officers – each guarding every ten meters – or local activists will catch them, tie their hands and bring to where they belong!
I can, therefore, safely claim that even if there is a danger of Islamist militants’ assault on Uzbekistan, it certainly is not an extraordinary one and does not even break the Top 10 spring-related problems. Then why did the central authorities have to stir all this anxiety via mass media and scare ordinary citizens? I believe it makes sense to assume that these former and current security officials’ claims are part of a different and big political propaganda campaign. What campaign, you ask?
The main direction in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy, of course, is the NATO-ISAF forces withdrawal from Afghanistan and the opportunity to retain some of their weapons and military equipment.
I imagine that Uzbek politicians and servicemen pictured for themselves that fantastic opportunity to retain excellent ground weapons, backed by modern anti-aircraft equipment and guided by unmanned aerial vehicles. By extension, they also picture their superiority on the potential theater of military action… By a “potential theater” I do not mean a big war, but a local border-relate conflict wherein said weaponry will play a significant role and will ensure a swift and easy victory. Islam Karimov’s dreams are finally come true – he can soon become a real Central Asia Tiger!
As soon as the probability of NATO’s withdrawal via Uzbekistan was revealed, Uzbek diplomats approached their colleagues with a quite modest request:
“We assume an obligation to assist you in everything and provide any cooperation you need. Could you guys then pay us a little more than to other countries for transiting your cargo?”
“Be not sad,” the American diplomats replied. “Godspeed. You shall have a boost in payments.”
After some time, the Uzbek diplomats receive new orders from their president to talk to the “newly made friends” again.
“Would it be possible to make it so that you leave some of your military equipment behind for us? But be not worried! We only wish to have that, which does not hurt humans.”
“Be not sad,” the American diplomats replied. “Godspeed. You shall have ‘non-lethal weapons’ and other stuff.”
But headwinds arose...
The Uzbek diplomats knocked on the diplomatic doors in Washington DC again:
“You know, we talked back in Tashkent and we now want good and expensive weapons: Attack choppers, howitzers, armored vehicles that can resist explosions, military GPS and stuff like that.”
The Americans groaned a little, but agreed: “Be not sad,” they replied. “Godspeed. You shall… actually we shall talk here first amongst ourselves.”
While they are pondering over this, others are expressing anxiety and worry. These “others” are Russia and other immediate neighbors of Uzbekistan. Moscow is not very much concerned about the new “military outfit” Uzbekistan is about to have. It is just that whoever provides a country with weapons later calls the shots… both literally and not. Uzbekistan neighbors are not comfortable about this idea either. God forbid, even in a small skirmish the mettlesome Islam Karimov could inflict so much damage that even Nikolay Bordyuzha’s CSTO would not be able to prevent.
However, I believe, we should not worry that much, because firing a modern howitzer requires more knowledge than using a mattock! A very serious preparation is required indeed. Thousands of Uzbek officers and tens of thousands of soldiers will need to be schooled to use the complicated and sophisticated military equipment and gain necessary skills. And we are talking about servicemen that believe studying President Karimov’s works is the apogee of learning. Also, imagine the amount of manuals to be translated into Uzbek. Moreover, the entire battle tactics will need to be reconsidered along with putting together new military charters! Such an almost insurmountable work will require at least a decade! The army’s “new outfit” always requires blood, sweat and unending years of training. “C’mon” or “Yes, sir!” alone will not suffice, and that is all what Uzbek servicemen are capable of.
President Islam Karimov must have already asked his loyal soldiers: “Can you, my brave fighters, handle the new weapon? Can you master a super-modern equipment in a super short time?”
“Sir, yes, sir! Have we not learned assembling American cars from different pieces? How much more complicated could their tanks or cannons be?”
It is characteristic for such cases that the majority of American advisors and consultants (a very serious ones!) is categorically against providing Uzbekistan with lethal weapons.
They explain their fears by:
- “Islamic extremism” threatens Uzbekistan’s temporal and secular authorities from within, not from abroad;
- Even if there arises a real threat of militants emerging from Afghanistan, it would make much more rational sense to strengthen the Central Asian countries’ border services, not their national armies;
- No one can guarantee that the military equipment in question will be utilized for its purposes and not sold to a third country;
- One should avoid embracing such misanthropic regimes, such as Karimov’s, and discredit oneself before the global community;
- Et cetera.
To neutralize such and other similar rationales, the Uzbek press has launched the brouhaha and ballyhoo. “Watch out! Knives in teeth! The IMU is knocking on our doors! How can we counter them without weapons?!”
Meanwhile, Islam Karimov sends his emissary, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, to Washington DC and told him: “Look, Abdulaziz, how can you be so naïve and stupid! Go and bow before John Kerry. ”
Minister Karimov did just that: “Show mercy, Mr. Kerry! There is nothing I can do with this president. He is no longer happy with howitzers alone! He wishes to put his hands on UAVs! And he wishes you completely re-arm his entire army! And he wishes Defense Minister Chuck Hagel becomes his errands boy…”
Dear readers! If you wish to know my humble opinion on the matter, please read on.
The aspects of a massive transfer of arms from NATO to Uzbekistan will now be discussed in diplomatic and journalist circles for a long time. But no one will be able to give definitive and final answers. That is because the current America, despite its strength and influence, is incapable of solely and independently resolving all issues Central Asia is facing. Specifically those problems that could tip the extremely fragile strategic balance in the region.
That is why, I assume, President Karimov and his sudden urge to wield modern weaponry will soon become a mere bargaining chip for a US-Russian dialog about the Central Asian region.
“Look, Vladimir, we are giving up this ‘bad fellow’ Karimov. So, what do you have for us? Bashar Assad, perhaps? Or someone else?.. Also, can we start jointly deciding as to who should now rise on the throne in Tashkent?”