Uzbekistan threatens US with eviction of air base after US criticises their crack down on radical Islamists
July 31, 2005
MIM: The US can't have it both ways. The crackdown was heavy handed, but Uzbekistan is facing the threat of Hizb ut Tahrir and other related groups who want to turn it into an Islamic Republic. Besides the fact that Karimov wants to stay in power it has been shown that only tough measures against Islamists works in country's with a large Muslim population. Even more noteworthy is that the killings and riots took place at the same time as the "Koran flush hysteria' was bring Muslims into the streets worldwide. Asides from Hizb ut Tahrir in London, no group is on record as mentioning or protesting the fact that 500 people were killed Uzbekistan.
By Maura Reynolds and David Holley, Times Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — Uzbekistan has issued an eviction notice to a U.S. air base that has been used since 2001 to stage military and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Saturday.
The notice, delivered Friday to the U.S. Embassy in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, gives the United States six months to comply, Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said.
The bottom line is, they want us out," he said.
The Uzbek government has increasingly bristled at the U.S. military presence, especially since the State Department joined international allies in calling for an inquiry into the shooting deaths of protesters during a rally in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in May.
Uzbek authorities describe the incident as a violent uprising that left 187 people dead, mostly "terrorists and extremists" in addition to police and security forces who were forced to fire weapons to quell the violence. Witnesses and human rights groups say that the gathering was an anti-government protest and that security forces killed more than 500 people when they fired into the crowd.
The diplomatic note terminating the base agreement arrived hours after neighboring Kyrgyzstan permitted the United Nations to airlift to Romania more than 400 Uzbek refugees it had been sheltering since the violence. From Romania, the refugees will be resettled in other countries, including the United States. Uzbekistan had demanded their return.
Anticipating eviction by Uzbekistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld won pledges from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan last week to let the United States continue using airfields there for operations in Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan does not border Afghanistan, and Tajikistan's roads into the country are poor, but Rumsfeld expressed optimism that those more distant bases would be adequate should Uzbekistan carry through on its threat to evict U.S. forces.
"We're always thinking ahead. We'll be fine," Rumsfeld said on a tour of Central Asia.
The U.S. air base in Uzbekistan, known as Karshi Khanabad, or "K2," was established after the Sept. 11 attacks as a staging area for military operations against the Taliban regime and Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. Since the overthrow of the Taliban, the base has been used for humanitarian deliveries and special operations against insurgents in Afghanistan.
Pentagon officials had sought to renew the basing agreement, for which it has paid the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov $15 million since 2001.
Alexei Malashenko, a Central Asia expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said he believed that the eviction notice was a negotiating tool. He predicted that Washington and Tashkent would come to an agreement allowing the base to remain.
"I don't believe in the future — in a month — that Uzbekistan will insist on this," Malashenko said. "It's a kind of diplomatic game. It's not a final decision."
Analysts say Uzbekistan's decision to grant the United States basing rights after the 2001 attacks was in part an assertion of independence from Russia, which was uncomfortable with U.S. inroads into former Soviet republics.
Russian suspicions remain. Russian Defense Minister Sergei B. Ivanov, in comments reported Thursday by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass, implied that the United States was citing the situation in Afghanistan as an excuse to retain a long-term military presence in Central Asia.
"It would be good for the USA to decide how long the war in Afghanistan will go on: 20, 30 or 250 years," Ivanov said.
In early July, a regional group known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — composed of Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — urged that a deadline be set for withdrawal of foreign forces from its member states in light of what it said was a decline in fighting in Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, Kyrgyz officials gave the green light last week to a temporary U.S. presence in their country, where pro-democracy forces took power in March.
"The deployment of American forces in the Kyrgyz republic totally depends on the situation in Afghanistan," Maj. Gen. Ismail Isakov, the country's acting defense minister, told reporters Tuesday during Rumsfeld's visit. "Once there is stabilization, there will be no need. But now I agree with Mr. Secretary, who mentioned that the situation in Afghanistan is far from stable."
The incident in Andijon began when gunmen staged a violent prison break that freed local business leaders accused of Islamic extremism. Crowds gathered in the city's central square to support the freed prisoners and to voice anger at the government.
Police and soldiers fired on crowds of both armed and unarmed protesters.
The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have called for an independent investigation of the incident. Karimov has refused.
Uzbekistan has put two U.S. diplomatic goals in conflict — the push for democracy in Muslim countries and efforts to combat terrorist networks.
Malashenko, the Central Asia expert, said the Uzbeks appeared to believe that their help with the so-called war on terror would trump U.S. qualms about their record on human rights. That left Karimov and his government "very astonished" by the U.S. reaction to events in Andijon, Malashenko said.
"They were showing everybody, the West and especially America, that they were the final frontier against terrorism. Now they're disoriented, because all the time they believed America is an ally, and the fight against terrorism is a very good pretext to do anything in Uzbekistan as far as human rights are concerned and dealing with the opposition."