A new report says economic misrule and political repression have set the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan down a path of instability and self-destruction. The report also predicts potentially dire consequences for Uzbekistan's neighbors.
In an analysis issued Thursday, the International Crisis Group, or ICG, says Western efforts to encourage economic and political reform in Uzbekistan have failed. Citing worsening political repression and economic mismanagement, the report counsels Western nations to concentrate their efforts on cushioning Uzbekistan's neighbors from future instability in Central Asia.
The ICG is a non-partisan, non-governmental group dedicated to preventing conflict by researching and analyzing world trouble spots. ICG Asia director Robert Templer tells VOA life in Uzbekistan is bad under the autocratic rule of President Islam Karimov.
"The situation in Uzbekistan is grim and getting worse," said Robert Templer. "I think for many Uzbeks the promise of economic reform and economic benefits has not been delivered. We've seen a worsening of the political climate, increased repression, increased numbers of arrests of people engaged in normal religious activity, and violence by the state in Andijan last year, when large numbers of people were killed in a very aggressive response to an uprising."
In May of last year, armed men stormed a prison in the town of Andijan to free alleged Islamic militants and in the process occupied several buildings. Security forces moved into the town and, according to witness accounts, opened fire indiscriminately, killing unarmed civilians. The government says it responded appropriately to a terrorist attack. The circumstances remain murky, however, as the government has rejected calls for an outside independent investigation.
The ICG report says the Andijan incident caused the Karimov government to step up its repression. Robert Templer says neither pressure nor pleading from Western nations has moved President Karimov toward reform.
"They've constantly been rebuffed in all these approaches," he said. "So I think it's really reached a situation where it's really impossible to get through to him. He's simply not willing to listen to any sound advice from the outside world. So it's very difficult in this sort of situation to apply any real pressure [on] a leader who simply has this extremely narrow view of the world."
Uzbekistan has posted good economic growth numbers, largely through the rising prices of its chief exports, cotton and gold. But as Templer points out, the economic benefits from that are funneled to a tiny elite of perhaps less than 100 people. Ordinary Uzbeks, he says, are frustrated that the economic windfall does not trickle down to them.
"Uzbekistan has become just an extraordinary system for exploiting the poverty of large numbers of people and channeling wealth to a really tiny elite," explained Robert Templer. "I think it's only matched in that by a number of countries around the world like Myanmar [Burma], Zimbabwe, North Korea - extremely repressive countries that are ruled by an elite that are quite simply utterly indifferent to the welfare of their people. And in these sorts of situations obviously the risk of political violence, of instability, and of uprisings is very great."
Templer says that while Islamic extremism does not pose any imminent danger in Central Asia, Islamists might exploit the continuing frustration of Uzbeks with their rulers, with disastrous consequences for neighbors like Afghanistan.