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US Cannot Back Down on Andijan Probe Call – Uzbek Expert
Tashpulat Yoldashev. (Photo: IWPR)
In the five years since the Andijan violence of May 13, 2005, Uzbekistan’s relations with the West have gradually revived, even though the independent investigation demanded by the international community has not been forthcoming and the country continues to face criticism for its human rights record.
NBCentralAsia asked Tashpulat Yoldashev, an Uzbek political analyst and dissident now based in the United States, for his assessment of the current state of Uzbek-US relations.
Yoldashev served as a Soviet diplomat in the Arab world before being dismissed from the foreign ministry of post-independence Uzbekistan for his dissident views. Facing persecution, he left the country and is now resident in the United States. He continues to research and publish academic papers on Uzbek domestic politics.
Inga Sikorskaya, IWPR editor for NBCentralAsia: How would you describe the current state of Uzbek-US relations?
Yoldashev: The Afghan situation is the driving force behind Uzbek-US relations. The US administration is trying to address the problems facing Afghanistan by reviving the economy, developing the transport network and dragging Afghanistan into the modern world.
It’s pursuing purely pragmatic goals here.
Uzbekistan has been offered several large construction projects – laying a railway, a highway, tunnels and bridges from the Uzbek border town, and Khairaton on the Afghan side, to Kabul and other large cities. The current road and rail bridge crossing the border between the two towns is very overloaded, and there are plans to construct several more bridges spanning the Amu Darya river to link Afghanistan with Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan.
A range of agreements and contracts, around 50 in total, are expected to be signed during Uzbek-US talks in Tashkent this summer.
NBCA:In your view, to what extent is the Andijan question on the agenda of visits and meetings between officials from the two countries?
Yoldashev: If the official Tashkent were to agree to release prominent prisoners of conscience including the poet Yusuf Juma, journalist Salijon Abdurahmanov, and human rights activist Aghzam Turghunov, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might head the US delegation to the forthcoming talks. While Tashkent remains unwilling to even mention Andijan in official documents, Washington will re-state that its demand for an independent international investigation into the bloody massacre remains unchanged.
NBCA: What are the key areas of cooperation at the moment?
Yoldashev: They have a common interest in coordinating efforts to combat religious extremism and terrorism, drug trafficking, and other challenges of relevance to both countries.
NBCA: There is to be a second round of bilateral consultations this summer. What are the factors that might impede the development of a more active partnership?
Yoldashev: What’s impeding this is Tashkent’s refusal to accede to the international community’s demand for an independent investigation into the Andijan massacre; there’s also the repression of dissidents, and the lack of free speech and press freedom.
Hence, Washington will – as it should – raise issues around granting accreditation to international human rights and humanitarian groups and western media organisations in Uzbekistan, ending the persecution of independent journalists and rights activists, granting visas to the United Nations thematic rapporteurs, and allowing international human rights organisations access to the prison system.
NBCA: Since bilateral ties started improving, there has been talk of the US military returning to Uzbekistan, which it left in autumn 2005. Do you think Washington is considering this option, and what might bring a decision on this closer?
Yoldashev: I am certain that the possibility of deploying US forces at Karshi-Khanabad [airbase used by the US in 2001-05] is not going to be discussed at the forthcoming talks. At the moment, it is really more to the Americans’ advantage if they can use the Uzbek transport network, including the airports at Navoi and Termez via other countries like South Korea and Germany, without needing to deploy US forces on Uzbek soil.
Interview conducted by Inga Sikorskaya, chief editor for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan under the NBCentralAsia project.
This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing CentralAsia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.
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