Vladimir V. Putin (front) and Islam Karimov

In the past, British writer Rudyard Kipling described the clash between the manipulated-by-the-Czarist-and-Victorian empires peoples of Central Asia as a “great game”. A similar game is now being played by three parties: the United States, China and Russia. After the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, power is no longer stable in Kirghizstan; the opposition is becoming stronger in Kazakhstan and people talk about massacres in Uzbekistan. The western media talks about the possibility of a “green revolution” (that is, Islamist) and total chaos in the region.

Uzbekistan is in the “Caspian Sea basin”, a gas and oil rich zone. The CARs (this is the term used by English speaking people to define the Central Asian Republics) are the typical representation of the Third World oil producing countries in which the hydrocarbon sector has nothing to do with society and increases the inequalities instead of favoring collective enrichment.

Bermuda is the first recipient of Kazakhstan’s exports (16% in total). In the case of Uzbekistan, Switzerland is second with 8.3% [1]. These figures are related to the establishment of active oil societies, which according to the legislation are outside the borders, in extremely flexible countries in the fiscal area.

After adapting Spykman’s Rimland theory to the new political context created by the collapse of the USSR, American strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski advised the establishment of specific relations with three countries: Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. “The hydrocarbons of the Caspian Sea are an instrument to, in geo-political and economic terms, absorb Central Asia and Transcaucasia in the world market and eliminate all possibilities of post-Soviet imperial reintegration”, wrote Brzezinski then, outlining Washington’s objectives in the region [2].

Even when it seemed they won the first two chess games (Ukraine and Azerbaijan), Washington’s hawks might have lost the third one in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan was not subjected to shock therapy and did not follow globalization. Otherwise, this country would have been plundered by the oligarchs, as it happened in Russia. The local system is State capitalism, a typical element of the end of the Soviet period, adapted to a semi-feudal agriculture.

When the USSR existed, Uzbekistan was one the largest Islamic centers. There were madrases in Tashkent. Due to the repression against political parties, some radical though no violent forms of Islam were imposed as the main political forces, as well as in many Arab and Asian countries. Palestinian origin el Hizb ut-Tahrir became the most influential organization in the CARs.

After May 12, 13 and 14, 2005 events in Andizhan, nothing have been heard of the insurgents. Their identity is still unknown and the power has done nothing but labeling them as Islamists and criminals. Today, the country is controlled by two clans: that of Samarkand and that of Tashkent. The Fergana clan, very influential in the past, has been kept away from the power though it seems it has established an alliance with Muslim groups to recover its past relevance.

Gulnara Karimova

This group could face the president’s daughter ambition, Gulnara Karimova, whose industrial empire (especially the “Zeromaks” company) continuously grows and is de facto ranked second as the most important element of power.

But, more than a possible instability of his country, what worries President Islam Abduganievitch Karimov the most is his image in the Western media. Karimov is very aware of the importance of the Fergana valley, especially because it was due to its riots that he made it to the presidency with the help of the local elites. However, Shukuralla Mirsaidov, the leader Karimov allied with, discredited himself when he supported the 1991 coup d’état against Mijail Gorbatchov. When he realized he was alone, Karimov led his government to an eastern despotism feeding his tyranny with examples of the local history.

The Andizhan clashes

The first Muslim riots in Andizhan took place in 1898 and were against the Czar’s army. The acts of violence against Armenian and Jewish people are common there as well as the clashes between Muslims. In 1989-90, the city witnessed the massacres of Turkish Meskhets. Violent, though not armed demonstrations are frequent there.

The May 2005 acts of violence made the front page of every newspaper of the world. The media campaign which accompanied them was one of the best examples of the end of the XX century manipulation, like the Racak and Timisoara events. It is obvious that press reports have nothing to do with reality even though, as we will show here, parts of it are known.

The first riot, which led to repression, was aimed at freeing 23 businessmen imprisoned months before, who were members of a political and religious brotherhood called Akramia. According to Alexei Makarkin, Akramia symbolizes the existing alliance between the Islamist groups and the mafia clan of the Fergana valley which tries to recover its former authority.

Witnesses affirmed a hundred people with automatic and telescopic sight rifles, as well as Makarov pistols (made in Russia), assaulted the prison and killed 52 officers. They then plundered the arsenal of the near-by Russian military base where 159 Kalashnikov rifles and 300 old RGD-5 fragmentation grenades could be found. Afterwards, they attacked the prefecture and took control of the building and held hostages. In order to get a more precise description of the facts, one could see the anonymous testimony of one of the detainees the attackers took out of the prison; a testimony published in the web site Fergana.ru [3] and taken up by the Turkisk Weekly, the weekly of the secular Turkish think tank “International Strategic Research Organization” [4]. The witness, known as “Rustam” mentioned the presence of members of his own refugee movement in the Kirghizian border where they plan large-scale actions, a not completely assumed jihad. Sources closed to the Russian Ministry of Defense said that some 50 foreigners coming from Asian countries, including the CIS, were among the dead or captured persons during the riots.

Separatism has always been strong in the Fergana valley for the economy of this area has been traditionally based on drugs due to the geographic design of the border imposed by Stalin. In order to have a broader idea of what this means, the 1997 annual report of the Geopolitical Drug Observatory (GDO) can be consulted [5]. The capitals of all Central Asian republics near the border of the neighboring republic are “watched” by its capital or a city with a garrison.

None of these countries has the necessary capacity to guarantee its own territorial integrity and an impassable geophysical border always separates the capital from the second important city of the same country. Water is another problem these desert regions have and it increases the interdependence of the states. The drug can come from Afghanistan or Pakistan. The route it follows begins in Kirghizstan, in Osh [6] (where the “Tulip revolution” began), and goes through Uzbekistan, especially Andizhan which is only 50 km away to then head to Tashkent. The Chinese region of Xing Kiang, oil-rich (also called “East Turkestan” by those who fight to separate it from China), is only 200 km away. For Beijing, the independence of this region is unacceptable. According to Ding Peihua, an expert on Central Asia in the Shanghai Academy of Sciences, many separatists have their headquarters in Uzbekistan.

Andizhan is a rather prosperous city. The businessmen members of Akramia set there a minimum wage which is a lot better that the official one. This is the reason why the government accuses them of “endangering the constitutional grounds of Uzbekistan”. The traditional trade, of an informal character, represents a destabilizing threat in those regions where all kinds of traffic are present and which are characterized by the existence of clans and the influence they have on the several secret religious brotherhoods.

President Karimov denounced a “media attack” against his country. Viatcheslav Ivanov, director of Politika, aggress with him [7]. For the latest, the report that said peaceful demonstrators were repressed was false. The political scientist referred to 300 well organized islamist-akramists who launched the first attack against the prison. For him, the absence of marks in the glazed building next to the central square has proved most of the victims were killed or wounded when corridors were made so that the boievikis could abandon the place. The former editor in chief of Izvestia, Vitaly Tretiakov [8], was also in that country which is considered by Russians as part of the “near-by foreigner”. He confirms that “there were no shots at all against the peaceful demonstrators. 95% of the accusations against the Uzbek government were absurd and groundless.”

Bakiev, whose coalition is now teetering and who suffered a sort of a coup on Friday, June 17 despite his image of immaculate democrat, still supports the authorities of the neighboring country.

The International Crisis Group, as well as Human Right Watch and Freedom House, affirmed people were unarmed and urged president George W. Bush to suspend the negotiations about American military bases. Uzbekistan ordered an investigation and, as part of an independent effort, invited the regional powers to participate in it, a gesture that contrary to the United States they have all accepted. In the Asia Times, M. K. Bhadrakumar has rightly wondered “why the White House invoked the humanitarian intervention doctrine when its lack of concern in Fallujah has been notorious.” [9]

The Hizb ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party or HT)

The economic and religious mutual assistance associations such as Akramia, to which were joined the 23 businessmen arrested on June 23, 2004 judged in Alatankul during the riots, are common among the Sufic-Tariqa. Many of them have become powerful, that is the case of the Refah Partisi (Welfare Party) which is currently in power in Turkey. The popularity of the movement came at the beginning from the Pan-Turkism it professed until Islam became the unifying element. About 7 million Turkish come from Transcaucasia and Central Asia and are a very influential force in Turkey. This country inaugurated a new TV network, Avrasia TV, whose transmissions cover the whole region.

According to B. Raman [10], the Hizb ut-Tahrir proposes an Islamic version of the market economy and a democracy in which Allah is sovereign. HT was founded in 1953 by Sheikh Taqiuddin an-Nabhani Al Falatani, judge of the sharia court of appeals in Jerusalem. The headquarters are in London [11] and is directed by Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad, a 42 years old Syrian. It seems nowadays the movement has some 20 000 members in Uzbekistan (out of which 8 000 are in prison). Its leader is Vahid Omran. It is a clandestine network divided in autonomous cells formed by five people and presented by its critics as a political façade of Al-Qaeda. The organization is now influential in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Chinese region of Xing Kiang. IMU, which is the other relevant Islamist movement in the region, is mainly formed by ex soldiers of the Soviet Army whereas HT has a lot of post 1991 students, businessmen and members of the security forces. IMU is labeled by the United States as a terrorist organization whereas HT is not. In accordance with Ahmed Rashid [12], IMU was reorganized thanks to the Pakistani densely populated areas.

Uzbek experts consider Akramia, the group to which the 23 incarcerated-before-the-massacre businessmen were joined to, a dissident organization of HT because the latest rejects violence. Other authors present it as a political façade of HT. After the independence in 1991, the construction of mosques financed by the Saudis and pilgrimages were authorized. But after 1995, with the appearance of HT, such policy was reversed. For K. Gajendra Singh [13], the terrible policies of the United States as well as those of the Saudis and Pakistanis were the causes of Wahabism in CARs. It must be pointed out that term “Wahabism” here means rather an Islam financed by the Saudis and not a copy of the Saudi religion which is opposed, anyway, to a liberal Islam influenced by the mystical doctrines of the Sufis.

The repression was increased after the 1994 and 1999 waves of attacks whose masterminds are still unknown [14]. Such attacks favored the interests of the national factions and foreign powers which want the wealth of the country. According to B. Raman, HT makes virulent campaigns against the Uzbek government, the United States and the Jewish community labeling Karimov as a "Jewish stooge". Most of the Jewish New Yorkers from Bukhara, who emigrated at the beginning of the 90s, still supports Karimov. Rafael Nektalov, editor in chief of the Boukharian Times, affirm the Jewish who stayed there (some 12 000) support Karimov too.

The Anglo-Saxons

The U.S. administration is suffering from a real schizophrenia attack due to the Uzbek tyrant. The Department of State criticizes it whereas the Defense supports it. Donald Rumsfeld wants even to establish permanent bases in Uzbekistan. Obviously, this is the reason why he rejected an international investigation about repression. In June 2004, the Department of State terminated an assistance of 18 million dollars, something that was quickly rejected by the Joint Chief of Staff, General Richard Myers, who compensated two months after such sanction through a military aid of 21 million dollars.

Uzbekistan is one of the ten States to which the coalition has sent suspects to be tortured by the local services [15]. The diplomats of the State Department tried to convince the Pentagon and CIA to adopt a more subtle policy. They advised to use the assistance given to negotiate reforms.

Sanjar Umarov, a pro-American oligarch, has just been elected as head of a businessmen alliance called “Serkuech Uzbekistonim” (The Coalition for National Unity Sunshine Uzbekistan). He suggested to open all the sectors of the Uzbek economy to foreign investors and supported an oil pipeline project which is funded 100% by the United States. In a letter addressed to Condoleezza Rice, he requested recently a stronger intervention at the Uzbek leader to reform the country and change the government. Another member of the Uzbek opposition, Muhammad Salikh, leader of the “Erk” Party, will visit Washington from June 27 to 30 to promote his ideas.

Craig Murray, former Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Uzbekistan, was severely sanctioned by the government of Her Majesty for having denounced the torture practices subcontracted by the U.S. CIA and British MI-6. For the authorities’ concern, he managed to obtain an autopsy of the body of a prisoner he had sent himself to Scotland. In his opinion, as of 2002 and beginning of criticisms by several NGO’s about human rights, the assistance for Uzbekistan comes from the secret funds of the Pentagon. [16]. He further stated that the American companies were hired several weeks ago to build an oil pipeline connecting Central Asia and the Arabian Sea through Afghanistan.

In the Asia Times, [17], doctor Imran Waheed, from the office of the Hizb ut-Tahrir in London, also denounced that the Uzbek jailers tortured and even injected contaminated blood with AIDS virus to prisoners who continued praying and refusing to ask Karimov’s forgiveness.

On June 2, the United States advised its non-indispensable personnel and their families to leave Uzbekistan. Washington knew exactly the existing situation in the country since it had created and trained the forces involved in the repression of the Andizhan uprising [18]. Certain members of the special counter terrorist units, like the “Bars”, were trained in Louisiana in 2004. Officials from the Uzbek security have also received conflict management and tactical command courses in New Mexico in 2003. It seems that these same units were involved in the bloody intervention.

General Tommy Francks
and Islam Karimov

The Anglo-Saxons have long used the political Islam as an instrument to change the region. As usual, their position is ambiguous: reduce the assistance to Uzbekistan since no progress is made in terms of human rights, but at the same time, military aids are increased, with the justification that there are Islamist terrorists. Philip Zelikow, collaborator very close to Condoleezza Rice has not hesitated in asserting that Bush is aware of the possibility that the Islamist forces might take power and that he is willing “to run the risk”. In March this year, Karimov cancelled the visit of the Foreign Office representative for putting forward the issue of human rights.

Currently, contradictory information regarding the U.S. air bases in Karsh-Khanabad is being circulated, called by the English speakers “K2”. Washington speaks about restricting its use by the Uzbeks and fears that these restrictions become permanent. It is possible, however, that the Uzbeks had overestimated the use of K2 bases for the United States and its allies. This use is indisputable from the investment point of view in the country, but it is not so when it comes to maintaining stability in Afghanistan. Part of the aircrafts initially stationed in those bases has been transferred abroad. Another interest, hardly mentioned, encourages the United States to remain in Karsh. It is the proximity to one of the largest uranium processing plants of the former USSR. [19]. If there were unrest in the region, the United States maybe would be “obliged” to maintain its base.

Finally, Islam Karimov got tired of the Anglo-Saxon maneuvers. The former officer of the Ministry of Planning of the USSR spontaneously turned into China and Russia, which are getting closer. Karimov has been always attracted by the Chinese economic development and its strong power. In Beijing, he was warmly welcomed as an “old friend”, right after the developments on May 13 in Andizhan. He was welcomed with the red carpet and a 21-gun salute. China and Uzbekistan signed a friendship treaty on association and collaboration, as well as 14 agreements among which there is an oil joint venture amounting to 600 million dollars between Uzbekneftegaz and the China National Petroleum Corporation. Once the alliance with Russia and China is sealed, Karimov could adopt a hard position in Andizhan without paying attention to the West, behavior that annoys the United States.

Karimov’s change actually dates back to the invasion of Iraq in late 2002. Previously, he supported the Anglo-Saxons to overthrow the Taliban and later approached the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [20] and even insisted on the counter terrorist unit to be based in Tashkent. A meeting held on June 3, just before the beginning of the mediatic campaign, took place in Astana...Those seem determined to enhance their cooperation to ensure stability and security in the region. They also wish to enhance their cooperation with ASEAN and CIS. India, Iran and Pakistan were given the observer status to have the lead over GUUAM [21] and NATO [22] Iran, which is facing the U.S. whim of domination, has joined China and Russia, which are willing to fight against unilateralism and the U.S. hegemonic intentions.

Although associated to the new gas pipeline of 4 billion dollars to carry Iranian gas to its territory through Pakistan, India is clouded by the problem of Kashmir and is on the alert for the Pakistani attempts of getting a strategic strength in central Asia. According to political scientist Boris Eisenbaum [23], “recognizing a dominant Russian influence in Central Asia enables the Iranian authorities to establish good relations with Moscow, which is committed to supply military material and a nuclear power station”. China is also a great consumer of Russian military products [24].

In Washington, some pro-war people would feel orphan if they had to leave the battlefield of Central Asia. Overthrowing the Uzbek government and establishing an obedient oligarch seem to be one of the plans studied on the other side of the Atlantic, but it is not impossible that other more dangerous scenarios have been considered.

Viacheslav Khamisov, of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Bichkek considers that the “West has not helped enough Afghanistan after the war, thus losing its strategic initiative in Central Asia”.

The important role played by the Uzbeks in Kabul government and Afghan provinces could rise the tensions due to ethnic solidarities. To the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, whose authority derives only from the U.S. military presence, the problems of Uzbekistan provide a good occasion to establish permanent American bases in its own territory. In such scenario, he could remain in power and at the same time protect his country from the Uzbek expansionist whims. Islam Karimov has great geopolitical ambitions, is a great admirer of Tamerlane, more because of his character of heartless conqueror than due to his qualities of great administrator. There is no doubt that in order to meet his ambitions, he decided, in the past, to ally with the United States. Now he returns, however, for a peaceful alternative. Obviously, he remembers what has happened to various dictatorial regimes supported and even established by Washington in the past.

In Russia, demonstrations of “Eurasist” youngsters who support president Karimov, have taken place by the Uzbek Embassy. Eurasianism, adaptation of the theory of the Heartland of Mackinder, attracts right hard-line members, liberals and democrats. It is based on a feeling of unity with the Turkish-Persian world. Russia is still well settled down in the region; it has practically the monopoly of the gas industry in Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan remained close due to its important Russian population and strategic ties between both countries, such as the existence of the space base of Baikonur and relations in the nuclear sector. Minister of Finance Alexei Kudrin announced in February 2005 that the Chinese banks had supplied 6 billion dollars out of the 9.3 billions that Rosneft paid for Yuganskneftegaz. It is the greatest foreign equity in the very well protected Russian oil sector. Gazprom is also gaining ground thanks to its open corruption policy of Uzbek officers. Equally this year, military exercises have been made between the two countries. The first ones since 1958!

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is about to become a true political-military organization in the region. It would only take some States of Western Europe to fit in the structure in order to have the bases of the first Eurasian political organization.

It is a true failure for the United States, which considers Uzbekistan one of the strategic points to ensure the control of the “Great Middle East”, oil and gas belt that also has the advantage to surround Russia and put pressure on the highly feared China. Without Uzbekistan, the United States has only control on the Afghan enclave. The later has no other interest than its use as a transit for the hydrocarbons from Central Asia. But at the moment, it only produces huge amounts of heroine, which is far from the so expected Golden Oil...

On May 14, the Department of State, full of good intentions, still praised the substantial and continuous “progress” of the country towards democracy. Now that the rupture is evident, there is no doubt that the destabilization methods that the United States has used so many times will be utilized. The magnitude of the maneuver will measure up to the investments already made in the region. Certain sources speak about physically eliminating Karimov, or just simple overthrow him. The strong man of Uzbekistan has dealt a harsh blow to the positions of NATO and the United States in Central Asia and its betrayal demands an answer. The repression against the internal opposition, even though it is manipulated by the United States, was convenient for Karimov because it enabled him to consolidate his own power. This did not prevent him from flirting discretely with his neighbors. Violence allowed, so far, justifying the U.S. presence and it justified the existence of suspicions as to its real authors. The withdrawal of the allied forces would give a space to protest movements, which will not be led against them. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan came up with another explanation: the restrictions imposed on the United States had been decided three months ago and the Andizhan incidents are not, therefore, but a direct consequence of the U.S. decision of not submitting to them.

Henry Kissinger recently stated, during a meeting of the US-India Business Council, that “the big game is starting again. It would be an irony that the management of the oil pipelines and their location becomes the modern equivalent to colonial disputes of the 19th century”. Apparently, the local powers actually understand among themselves when it comes to redistribution of the game cards and the exclusion of one of the players, which had the characteristic of setting up the game rules and break them with great infamy.

[1Boris Eisenbaum, “Guerres en Asie centrale”, luttes d’influence, pétrole, islamisme et mafias 1850-2004. Grasset, 2005

[2The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geo-strategic Imperatives, BasicBooks, 1997. French version: Le Grand échiquier, l’Amérique et le reste du monde, Bayard, 1997

[3Fergana.ru, it is a site founded by Daniel Kislov, a Russian of the city of Fergana, who at the beginning had George Soros’ support and is based in Moscow. Fergana.ru was the only media which had a correspondent in Andizhan during the events. Its reports were the only direct testimonies the foreign media could consult. During the repression, the site had 60 000 visits a day. Whoever connects with this site is exposed to a 10 000 soms fine, the double than for entering a porno site.

[4The International Strategic Research Organization has its headquarters in Ankara. It also publishes the Journal of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

[6In 1997 the GDO pointed out that the amount of German-made cars was in proportional terms the biggest of all Central Asia...

[7Cf. Interview granted to radio station “Échos de Moscou”, published by web site Fergana.ru

[8Vitaly Tretiakov is nowadays the editor of newspaper La Classe Politique.

[10B. Raman was Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Indian government. Nowadays, he is the director of the Institute for Topical Studies de Chennai (Madras). Articles quoted: http://www.saag.org/%5Cpapers14%5Cpaper1380.html and http://www.saag.org/%5Cpapers14%5Cpaper1381.html

[12Djihad, the rise of militant islam in central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, Yale University Press, 2002. The French version is titled Asie centrale, champ de guerre: cinq républiques face à l’islam radical, Autrement publishing house, 2002.

[13K. Gajendra Singh, ex ambassador, is the present director of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.

[14Le despote ouzbek s’achète une respectabilité” by Arthur Lepic, Voltaire (text in French), April 2, 2004.

[15Since the U.S. law bans torture, the United States practices it only unofficially in its bases overseas like Guantánamo and Bagram. Due to the limited capacities of those facilities, the Americans entrust some of the interrogations to foreign torturers.

[16“What drives support for this torturer”, The Guardian, May 16, 2005, cf. our analysis.

[18“Uzbek Ministries in Crackdown Received U.S. Aid” by C. J. Chivers and Thom Shanker, The New York Times, June 18, 2005.

[19The NGMK, Navoiski gorno-metallurgitcheski kombinat processes mainly gold, and Uzbekistan is the fourth largest gold producer worldwide

[20Shanghai Cooperation organization consists of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan

[21Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova, group created by the United States to ensure the indispensable political control for the American investments. Uzbekistan withdrew from GUUAM on May 5, 2005 by stating that the organization had “changed” significantly its tasks and objectives

[22Uzbekistan withdrew sharply from several meetings of the Organization in the last few years

[23Op. cit.

[24The Chinese purchased 2 billion dollars worth of Russian armaments in 2004. The non-military exchanges should move from 20 billion dollars in 2004, to 60 billion in 2010