Uzbek Conscripts Pay for Shorter Army Service

As the annual call-up for Uzbekistan’s armed forces gets under way next month, many young men will apply to serve for a shorter service.

If they pay 1.6 million soms, equivalent to about 600 US dollars, they are enlisted for just a month instead of the standard one year. After that, all they are required to do is appear for muster once a year. They count as reserves who can be called up until they are 27 if the situation requires it.

After this early release from the forces, they still get the advantages that come with serving in the military – a direct route into jobs in the police and the tax and customs services. In this authoritarian state, such jobs offer good pay and influence.

The Expert Working Group, an independent think tank in Tashkent, estimates that six out of ten conscription-age men are opting for shorter service.

For young men like Anvar, 22, from the capital Tashkent, it is an easy choice. After finishing university, he was keen to join the police – “a solid job where you get respect”, as he puts it.

“They wouldn’t take me unless I’d served in the army,” he said. “So I had to pay and serve one month.”

So short a period does not really produce trained soldiers, as Anvar freely admitted.

“Of course I didn’t learn anything. I can’t even assemble an automatic rifle,” he said. “But the main thing is that I have a ‘military ticket’ and I’ve started work and continue in state service.

Another short-term conscript, who did not want to be named, said he had since joined the tax service. He described his month in the military as “fun”.

“They didn’t let us touch any weapons. They said we wouldn’t get to be any good anyway,” he said.

An army officer dealing with personnel in Tashkent said increasing numbers of young men were taking the one-month option, adding with regret that they were doing so merely to advance their careers in civilian life.

“The number of professionals is falling rapidly. The young men coming out of the army are extremely ill-prepared, and wouldn’t be up to dealing with a real military threat,” he said.

A defence ministry official, who similarly did not want to be named, said Uzbekistan’s military capacity was becoming a concern given the potential for instability spilling over from neighbouring Afghanistan once international forces withdraw in 2014.

“Will our soldiers and untrained reservists be able to handle the threat?” he asked.

Another ministry official, however, dismissed such concerns. The one-month servicemen in the reserve were not counted as proper soldiers when the army’s strength was evaluated, he said.

“The core of the Uzbek army is strong and competent. We fear no threats,” he said. 

 This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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