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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005

May 22, 2005

VERDUN FRANCE – Revolt against Uzbekistan’s brutal communist regime erupted last week. Troops and secret police slaughtered hundreds of protestors, French sources say as many as 750 were gunned down in that important, but little-known nation.

On my first extensive trip across Central Asia in the 1980’s, I was struck by how closely its then Soviet Republics resembled the US-dominated states of the Mideast. I began calling the region, `Moscow’s Mideast,’ and its despotic communist rulers, `red sultans.’

This was a sound analogy. In both regions, corrupt, oligarchic elites, kept in power by their armies and ferocious secret police, exploited natural resources for their own benefit, and that of Moscow, crushed human rights, kept the Islamic faith under the control of their KGB’s, and denied all political activity to non-communists. The biggest difference: the Mideast states supplied the US with cheap oil; Central Asia supplied the USSR with cheap cotton.

Kazakhstan was the most advanced Central Asian state, and Uzbekistan, with about 22 million people, the most repressive. Its grim Stalinist-style capital, Tashkent, was the nerve center for Soviet control of the vast region and the 1980’s war in neighboring Afghanistan. Discovery of huge oil deposits in the western Caspian Basin made post-Soviet Uzbekistan of prime strategic interest to the US.

Rebellion against Uzbekistan’s red sultan, Islam Karimov, has simmered for over a decade, particularly in the strategic Ferghana Valley. Various nationalist and Islamic groups sought to overthrow the communist regime and establish democracies. The largest group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan(IMU) based itself in Afghanistan and received arms and training from Taliban in the struggle to liberate the nation from communism.

The 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan scattered the IMU and killed its popular leader, Jumma Numangani. But now, the IMU and other Islamic/nationalist groups, heartened by anti-communist revolts in Kyrgystan, Georgia, and Ukraine, have launched a new jihad against the Karimov despotism. The regime reacted by widespread killing, massive arrests and torture, including boiling and burning suspects alive, and jailing over 10,000 political prisoners. The courageous former British Ambassador to Tashkent openly denounced the Karimov regime for wide scale human rights violations – and was fired by the Blair government for his honesty.

Uzbekistan is the acid test for President Bush and Blair’s claims to be determined to spread what they call `democracy’ throughout the benighted Muslim World. The Karimov regime has played a major role on the Anglo-US fight against Islamic independence groups – misnamed `the war on terrorism.’

Uzbekistan has provided the US with a major air base from which to battle Islamic militants in the region. Just as important, a compliant Uzbek regime is essential for US plans to dominate the entire Central Asian oil-producing region and the pipeline routes to export the black gold to the west.

The US has now set up permanent military bases in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Krgystan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan - call them `Petrolistans’ - designed to safeguard the new US oil `imperial lifeline.’

The vile Karimov regime has curried favor and support in Washington by claiming to be a key ally in the war against Islam. The US, to its deep shame, has sent hundreds of Muslim suspects to be tortured in Uzbekistan. Such collaboration with one of the world’s ugliest regimes must cease. But the Bush Administration has only gently rebuked Uzbekistan but does not want to see one of its pet regimes fall.

What needs to be done is for all western powers, including Canada, to declare Karimov’s regime an outlaw and move to overthrow it without delay. The best way to encourage real democracy in the Muslim World is to join in ousting the sinister despotisms that afflict it almost everywhere, from Morocco to Uzbekistan. No one will believe Bush’s democratic orations until the US helps bring an orange revolution, as it did in Ukraine, to the oppressed Uzbek people.

We in the west have become so obsessed with security and oil that we have utterly forgotten about political justice and human rights. Until these vital rights are addressed, there will be no stability in Central Asia nor, for that matter, the Mideast.

Published at Bigeye.com since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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