As we’re receiving conflicting reports today about the health of Uzbek president Islam Karimov — official sources say he suffered a stroke and has been hospitalized, other outlets report he’s dead — I thought it worth reiterating the geopolitical importance of his country.
On the day President Vladimir Putin visited former Soviet republic Uzbekistan, Russia’s Finance Ministry said it would write off most of the country’s $890 million debt.
Talks between Putin and Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, who has been in power since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, were also expected to focus on increasing Uzbek agricultural exports to Russia. Russia needs new suppliers after banning various European food imports in retaliation against Western sanctions over its aggression in Ukraine.
Karimov has staked out a more independent course from Moscow that most Central Asian leaders but nevertheless praised Russia on Wednesday for its “stabilizing” influence in the region.
Despite the two state construct of Afghanistan and Pakistan within which American policymakers usually consider the former in the region, the role of Uzbekistan, with has deep relationships with and leverage over key Afghan assets, will grow in importance, especially if post 2014, conditions devolve into civil war.
By focusing squarely on the future influence of China, India and Iran in a post-2014 Afghanistan, American officials face the threat of being caught off guard by the ongoing contingency plans of Uzbek president Islam Karimov. Believed to have little faith in the Karzai government and its ability to function after the withdrawal of NATO forces by December 2014, Karimov’s administration, through its longstanding ties with northern, anti-Taliban forces, may exacerbate a potential conflict with military and financial support of anti-Islamist forces.
Karimov’s belief that post 2014, Afghanistan will descend into chaos is supported by the recent assassination of an ethnic Uzbek former mujahideen commander and key opposition figure, Ahmad Khan Samangani.
Two successful visits from State Secretary Hillary Clinton and a visit of the Uzbek parliamentary delegation to the United States point to an establishment of increasingly close ties between the two states.
The United States seek to cement their relationship with Uzbekistan, a valuable strategic ally in the region, in order to reopen a transit point on Uzbek territory. The United States aim to keep some military personnel and equipment in Central Asia after the anticipated withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and, as such, Washington is conducting bilateral talks with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. All three are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, with headquarters in Moscow. The United States’ bilateral strategic cooperation with either of these states would require the consent of the CSTO. Read more “Uzbekistan Turns Into American Ally in Central Asia”