FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What Obama Doesn’t Want You to Know About Uzbekistan

Death is usually a sad event. The passing of a world leader, particularly one who brought stability to a tense part of the Muslim world for several decades, is typically cause for concern.

The death of Uzbekistani president Islam Karimov is not typical.

For the majority of the long-oppressed citizens of Uzbekistan, the end of one of the world’s bloodiest and most corrupt dictators — and, to our eternal shame, an American ally — is cause for joy and gleeful celebration.

The SOB died 82 years too late.

Except for the time Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson called it “a small, insignificant state…Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan,” the hell on earth created by Karimov doesn’t get much coverage in the news media. Few Americans could find this backwater on a map to save their lives. Yet Uzbekistan, once known as the underbelly of the USSR, is incredibly important. Which is why the rich and powerful – military generals, energy company executives, Hillary Clinton – know all about it.

Unfortunately for the Uzbeks, these American elites’ interest in their country has made their lives unspeakably miserable. And unless something radically unexpectedly takes place, that’s likely to continue. Which is why, during this presidential election season, American voters ought to ask the candidates most likely to win (Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump) as well as those who should be most likely to win (Jill Stein and Gary Johnson) how they would change American foreign policy in obscure/important places like Uzbekistan.

American policymakers care about Uzbekistan because it is an energy giant: one of the largest producers of natural gas in the world, a significant supplier of oil, and the fourth-largest source of gold in the world. Sitting smack dab in the middle of Central Asia, the nation has undeniable strategic importance. Uzbekistan has the region’s largest population, its most sophisticated infrastructure and its biggest cities: Tashkent, a city of 2.3 million people, even has a subway.  It also has the blockbuster tourist attractions: the Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand should be on any world traveler’s wish list.

Uzbekistan is the only Central Asian republic with common borders with all of the others, as well as with perpetually troubled Afghanistan. Oil and gas pipelines to and from the biggest source of fossil fuels on earth, the Caspian Sea, crisscross this blisteringly hot, dry nation.

Given Uzbekistan’s tremendous oil, gas and mineral wealth and its geographically and geopolitically strategic importance, its citizens ought to enjoy a high standard of living. Instead, the average Uzbek subsists on $3 to $8 per day. Where does all that energy wealth go? Karimov, his family and croniessteal it. Gulnara Karimova, the deceased despot’s flamboyant chanteuse daughter, is accused of breaking in over $1 billion in bribes from telecommunications companies seeking permits to do business. Another daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is linked to shell companies that own gaudy multimillion estates in the U.S.

Cultural and ethnic heirs to Genghis Khan’s Golden Horde, Uzbeks are neither stupid nor lazy. It requires and incredibly brutal and ruthless military and police apparatus to prevent them from rising up and overthrowing their oppressors. So this is exactly what the Karimov regime has delivered since the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. (Karimov kept his job as boss of the Uzbek SSR, which he scored from outgoing Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.)

Uzbekistan is routinely awarded the world’s “Worst of the Worst” status for its extreme corruption and violations of fundamental human rights. Phones are tapped and militsia goons shake down motorists at innumerable checkpoints. Print and broadcast media are completely state-controlled. There’s a zero tolerance policy toward political opposition.

In 1999, Karimov said: “I am ready to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, for the sake of peace and tranquility in the country.” By which he meant his peace and tranquility.

Four percent of the population are subjected to slavery. At least 10,000 political prisoners are rotting in the nation’s prisons. Torture is standard and endemic; Team Karimov landed a rare spot in the news for boiling dissidents to death. In 2005, President Karimov asked security forces confronting protesters in the southern city of Andijon to wait for his arrival from the capital of Tashkent so he could personally witness and coordinate their massacre. An estimated 700 to 1200 Uzbeks were slaughtered. “People have less freedom here than under Brezhnev,” a U.S. official admitted.

Every now and then, some naïve US State Department official has issued a toothless tisk-tisk report documenting human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. But the Americans who run the show are obsessed with maintaining the country’s role in the Northern Distribution Network, a crucial aerial and ground supply line between the US and its European allies and the endless war against Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re willing to do pretty much anything to protect the NDN — including funneling weapons to one of the most disgusting regimes on the planet.

In 2012, the Obama administration quietly lifted a post-Andijon ban on weapon sales. One major shipment included a 2015 delivery of 320 armored personnel vehicles to Karimov – exactly the kind of equipment an authoritarian state uses to crush demonstrations. “Perhaps worse than equipping a government so well-known for abuses against its own people and for its defiance of international norms with such powerful military equipment,” said Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch, “is the message that the Obama administration is sending the people of Uzbekistan: that Islam Karimov has gotten away with it.”

American news accounts of Karimov’s death omitted America’s role propping him up.

It would be nice to hope that the flowers of democracy will sprout in the soil of the dictator’s grave. But years of suppression have destroyed the opposition groups that might have been able to step into power as part of a post-Karimov transition. The post-KGB security forces will continue to protect themselves and their kleptocratic bosses. Acting Uzbek president Nigmatulla Yuldashev will no doubt call for another of the country’s sham elections, which a hand-selected member of the ruling elite is predestined to win. And Obama will keep the military aid flowing.

This is the kind of thing that causes Muslims to hate us. It’s why we are a constant target of terrorism. But nothing is going to change there unless something changes at the top here.

More articles by:

Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail