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GUEST COMMENTARY: Trouble in Uzbekistan

Posted by kinchendavid on August 11, 2006


By  Tom Proebsting

Uzbekistan, a prolific gold-mining and cotton-producing nation, is best known for two of its Islamic cities: Samarkand and Bukhara. Samarkand is well-renowned for its ancient dazzling architecture. Bukhara was the seat of Muslim scholarship during the tenth century, astonishing the civilized world with its expertise in the physical sciences and the arts.

Uzbekistan, with a population of 26 million people, is Central Asia’s most populous country. It also boasts one of the region’s longest-running dictators, Islam Karimov, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

 Uzbekistan has a Soviet-style government: the government owns the nation’s oil reserves, the state plans and controls the economy, there is not much private ownership or foreign investment, and it is a police state. This approach has led to widespread corruption, poverty, unemployment, difficulties in currency conversion, and mass fear.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations, and the BBC, among others, have reported human rights abuses that have systematically been practiced in Uzbekistan. Citizens have been arrested, put on trial, and given long sentences. Others have been tortured or have disappeared; relatives of accused citizens are harassed; and the accused and families are forced out of their jobs. Freedom of the press, free speech, the right to privacy, the right to assemble and petition the government, and freedom of religion are non-existent.

Islamic unrest is an issue in Uzbekistan as many of its poor males see no other way out of poverty and hopelessness. In 1995, the state-sanctioned Muslim authority, the Muftiat, traveled from mosque to mosque throughout the country keeping or expelling Imans at will. Some Muslim leaders simply disappeared. Some of the population became radical, secured ties to al-Qaeda and made plans to change Uzbekistan. Peace was no longer an option for the country.

In 1999, bombs went off in the capital city of Tashkent. Sixteen were killed and 128 injured. Hundreds, possibly   thousands, were arrested not only in Uzbekistan, but in other Central Asian nations that the perpetrators had fled to. Later that year, 22 men went on trial.

In 2005, protesters took over government buildings in Andijan and afterwards an allegedly peaceful crowd gathered in the main square in support of the takeover. Troops began shooting into the crowd and by the time the massacre ended, the government claimed 187 had died. However, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and a local doctor claimed up to 1000 had died from the firefight-including women and children. Twenty-three businessmen went on trial.

The two trials had eerie similarities. In 1999, the accused, one by one, admitted that they intended to destabilize the republic and kill President Karimov. The men had been trained in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Their ultimate goal was to establish an Islamic government in Uzbekistan.

A few months after the Andijan massacre in 2005, the first trial consisted of 15 men who pled guilty to charges brought by Deputy Prosecuting General Anvar Navieb. He claimed the accused admitted association with Hibz ut-Tahrir, an extremist organization which advocates an Islamic state for Central Asia and a caliphate from Morocco to Pakistan.

Both trials resulted in lengthy prison sentences for the accused. It is possible the accused were tortured until they agreed to confess to their crimes. On the other hand, Hibz ut-Tahrir has the goal of a Middle East (and beyond) caliphate, as does Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and the Iranian nation. Either all of the accused in both trials were tortured and forced to lie under duress or some of them were telling the truth.

The eyes of the world are on President Karimov. Is he overreacting to a few minor incidents, including bombings in 2004? Or is he attempting to plug up a much bigger problem?

If the accused are being honest about plans for an eventual caliphate in the oil-rich region, the world has a serious problem.

                                        * * *

Tom Proebsting is a writer and blogger in Missouri. Tom Proebsting, 823 N. Ault St. Moberly, MO 65270

                     e-mail: truthprobe777@yahoo.com

Proebsting invites comments. Reply to: http://truthprobe.blogspot.com




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