Wednesday, 27 March 2013

NATO To Transfer Military Equipment From Afghanistan To Uzbekistan

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by Erkin Akhmadov (03/20/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On March 12, 2013, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov visited Washington, D.C. and met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The meeting is a consequence of the recently warming relations between Uzbekistan and the U.S., and of the decision to withdraw NATO troops from Afghanistan through Uzbekistan. The most widely discussed issue in relation to the visit is NATO’s decision to transfer parts the military equipment used in Afghanistan to Uzbekistan. Local and regional experts have a number of suggestions for how the Uzbek regime may utilize the equipment and what implications this may have for Uzbekistan’s future relations with neighboring Central Asian states.

 

Kamilov’s visit came in response to the visit to Uzbekistan by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sedney and a U.S. Congress Delegation headed by Dana Rohrabacher. While the details of the closed doors negotiations between Kamilov and Kerry were not publicized, during the press availability both sides confirmed that issues of military-technical cooperation were on the agenda. Kerry briefly noted Uzbekistan’s human rights problem, but this remark received little attention in the course of the meeting. A point frequently made by analysts is that after it became known that Uzbekistan will be a transit country for NATO troops exiting Afghanistan, the Uzbekistan-U.S. relations improved drastically, disregarding the expulsion of U.S. troops several years ago and downplaying U.S. criticism of human rights violations in Uzbekistan.

It should be noted that the EU and the U.S. are still subjecting Uzbekistan to a weapons embargo in response to a number of human rights violations that were condemned by western human rights activists and governments. In the end of 2012, Uzbekistan requested NATO support in the sphere of military education, according to the annual report issued by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Referring to sources in NATO, the New York Times reported that Uzbekistan had unofficially requested weapons and ammunition transfers from the U.S., Germany, and Great Britain. Among the items listed were armored vehicles, mine detectors, helicopters, navigation equipment and night vision goggles. According to the Birzhevoy Lider magazine, Washington and Tashkent have earlier agreed on military-technical supply in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles, armored vehicles and other technology. It is also known that Great Britain will transfer parts of its military equipment from Afghanistan to uzbekistan in exchange for transit rights across Uzbekistan's territory.

These developments are unsurprising, as Uzbekistan will be NATO’s leading partner in withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, which is planned for next year. Both parties state their concern over the terrorist threat that Uzbekistan will face due to its geographic proximity to Afghanistan. Some experts are concerned, however, that the expansion of such cooperation can lead the U.S. to move beyond the supply of non-lethal equipment to supplying Uzbekistan with weapons and ammunition. Such concerns stem from a fear that if acquiring significantly improved military capabilities, Uzbekistan could seek to resolve its disputes with neighboring Central Asian states by force. Thus, a frequent opinion among Central Asian analysts is that by supporting the development of Uzbekistan’s military, the U.S. is planting a time-delayed bomb that increases the risk of a future military explosion in the region.

On the eve of the Uzbek delegation’s visit, Human Rights Watch appealed to Kerry to demand that the Uzbek authorities improve their human rights record. This issue, however, was not mentioned on the meeting’s agenda. It is notable that Reporters without Borders, which produces an annual index of press freedom in the world, does not include Uzbekistan in its 2013 list of Enemies of the Internet. Uzbekistan was previously on this list together with Belarus, Turkmenistan and North Korea. Evgeniy Olhovskiy, a Canada-based market specialist, noted that Reporters without Borders are an important source of trend changes in U.S. policies relating to human rights issues. Thus, Birzhevoy Lider claims that not listing the country in this rating could be considered as a conciliatory gesture of Reporters without Borders toward Uzbekistan.

.Alexander Sobyanin of the Association of Border Cooperation forecasted 2a rapid transformation of Uzbekistan into a military and economic giant of the region2 in an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta. In addition, the New York Times reports that Uzbekistan’s military cooperation with the U.S. is an irritant to the Kremlin, and that Russia intends to extend corresponding military assistance in return. Thus, for instance, the head of the Department for Central Asia and Kazakhstan of Russia's Institute of CIS countries Andrey Grozin believes that the trend of militarization in Central Asia could potentially lead to a deepened conflict of interests betzeen the U.S. and Russia in the region. 

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