Feb 162014


The cancellation of his trip to Prague is the most sizable political loss for Karimov’s regime in power since 1989

15.02.14 03:35

Prague winter for Islam Karimov and for human rights watchdogs

The unrelenting pressure mounted by human rights activists has disallowed the EU to negotiate with Islam Karimov in a qualitatively new way.

By Galima Bukharbaeva

The human rights organizations have rejoiced over the cancellation of Uzbekistan President Karimov’s visit to the Czech Republic on February 20-22.

The persistent pressure mounted by activists made Karimov a very inconvenient guest in Prague and both sides deemed it wise to postpone (indefinitely) his trip.

He had been deserving of such diplomatic humiliation for a long time, and as a matter of fact the doors should have been shut in his face right after the 2005 Andijan Massacre. Karimov and his crony government needed to feel the ostracizing pain of the world community in order to understand that such crimes cannot go unpunished.

However, in today’s celebration of the overdue punishment one is left with the obvious fact: today’s Karimov is at his weakest of his entire 25-year reign over the country. Furthermore, this gesture by the Czech government still leaves unanswered the question of what is the EU’s long-term strategy when it comes to Tashkent.

A schism and a difficult choice

This slap on the face has happened at a time when the Uzbek regime is experiencing a very deep schism, which is very close to the president’s heart. In today’s Uzbekistan Karimov’s oldest daughter is becoming persona non grata and he needs to make a very difficult choice.

The very monolithic system of governance that Karimov has established and enjoyed for the last twenty-five years has never so much as tripped let alone experienced such an upheaval.

Dozens of influential ministers, advisors, and khokims have left their posts and faced behind-the-scenes repression that they accepted in silence, without criticism or exposure of the regime.

The only one who refused to be silenced by the regime, opting for an open fight instead, is paradoxically Karimov’s daughter Gulnara.

For several months she has been firing back with the only weapon available to her – her Twitter account.

The country’s secret police (SNB) are the most frequent target of her accusations of human rights violations and corruption. Through personal accounts Karimova tries to demonstrate the scope of influence wielded by the SNB cronies including the information vacuum surrounding her father.

Some other members of the Uzbek regime could perhaps also join Gulnara Karimova in her seemingly unrelenting opposition of the National Security Services. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials for instance have been known to express dismay at the SNB apparatchiks having penetrated essentially all departments within the Ministry.

Alliances are an alternative

The situation at hand is the first opportunity in the last quarter century for some kind of internal political maneuvering to take place with potential negotiators with Islam Karimov in possession of quite powerful arguments.

There are no uncorrupted leaders in Uzbekistan and Central Asia at large. This is given. They are all thieves.

This is not a call to overlook corruption but there should be a reasonable attempt made to leverage the deserters of the regime to our advantage.

The political transition in Uzbekistan with all its accumulated socio-economic and political problems needs be peaceful.

Andijan provided a clear example: a bottom-up popular uprising elicits tremendous wrath from the regime. Were it to be repeated blood will again be shed.

The most preferable outcome for the time being would be the transition of power from Islam Karimov, who is at twilight of his power, to the most progressive fraction within his own government capable of carrying out much needed reforms.

The way to the heart and a bargaining chip

Karimov’s visit to Prague, which was to take place amid this political crisis in Uzbekistan connected to the repressions of Gulnara, and the strengthening of the SNB’s power, would have given a rare opportunity to the European leaders for a constructive dialogue with the Uzbek regime about reforms in the country.

It is possible that President Zeman would have not been able to single-handedly achieve such a lofty proposition, but the visit could have at least laid the groundwork if not for the development of human rights in the country – a concept entirely abstract for Karimov – than for a future successor to his power and the consequent protection of his family.

Unlike Boris Yeltsin in the late 1990s, Karimov does not have his Putin to whom he could pass on the reigns of power and who could guarantee his main objective – for his family to remain safe after his passing.

Europe and the West could help him understand that only gradual transition of power and immediate reforms can ensure this safety.

It is absolutely evident that if the SNB cronies come to power after his death it will not be just Gulnara facing retribution but his wife and younger daughter as well.

The new power will not have any need for Karimov’s women, as they will serve as extra baggage, burden, and witnesses.

All of this could have been discussed with Karimov in Prague. Alas, his visit was canceled so fairly and deservedly, but also in so untimely and foolish a fashion.

Galima Bukharbaeva is an Editor-in-Chief of Uznews.net


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