Uzbekistan was instrumental in assisting the United States in the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Declaring bastard-in-chief Islam Karimov a realpolitik “ally” of the United States was justifiable under the circumstances. It was the Roosevelt-Churchill-Stalin anti-Hitler alliance writ small.
But all bogus friendships must come to an end. The United States had no choice but to break with the Soviet Union and send “Uncle Joe” Stalin packing after the Nazi regime was demolished. Likewise, it’s time to dump Islam Karimov. The Taliban are history. They are not returning to power. Meanwhile, here is what our pal in Tashkent has been up to.
Residents of Uzbekistan’s eastern city of Andizhan searched desperately for missing relatives and friends yesterday after the massacre of hundreds of civilians by government troops sent in to crush an armed uprising.
As calm returned to the city of 300,000 people and the first burials took place, it became apparent that the assault, ostensibly aimed at armed insurgents, swept away many innocent lives. As many as 500 bodies were retrieved after the violence. Uzbek soldiers reportedly fired into a crowd of thousands protesting over hardships in the former Soviet republic as police officers begged them not to shoot.
“They shot at us like rabbits,” one youth said. Troops later moved in among the bodies, finishing off some of the wounded with a single bullet, according to another witness. Panic broke out as security forces fired on the crowd from roof tops and pursued fleeing demonstrators down narrow alleyways.
“Those wounded who tried to get away were finished with single shots from a Kalashnikov rifle,” one man said. “Three or four soldiers were assigned to killing the wounded.”
At this point, buddying up with Karimov is likely to cost more in PR than it’s worth in tactical assistance on the ground. It’s bad politics. A serious case of blowback isn’t hard to predict. Plenty of people who were fired on in that crowd could be counted as America’s friends — but not if we’re overly chummy with the men who would kill them. It’s also immoral.
George W. Bush knows this as well as the next person. He said it himself at the Air Force Academy in 2004.
For decades, free nations tolerated oppression in the Middle East for the sake of stability. In practice, this approach brought little stability and much oppression, so I have changed this policy.
Time to apply lessons learned to Uzbekistan.