The Next Move In the New Great Game
In my analysis of Uzbekistan's decision to evict the US from the Karshi-Khanabad (K2) airbase (see e.g. here) I have argued that this should be seen in the context of a concious decision on Karimov's part to reorientate himself towards Russia and China. I still think this is the case and believe that the "New Great Game" is a useful way of viewing politics in the region, however, this article (via) suggests that the US and Uzbekistan have not entirely gone their separate ways:
US officials remain interested in maintaining both a civilian and military presence in Uzbekistan. According to a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity, Washington would like to secure a continuation of over-flight rights. American authorities also deem an on-the-ground presence to be vital for ongoing efforts to contain the growth of Islamic radicalism in the Ferghana Valley, and to stem the trafficking of narcotics grown in Afghanistan.In itself this decision to reach out to "reformists" (the reason for the quotation marks will hopefully become clear) should not be all that surprising. The US's alliance with Karimov was never driven by any kind of ideological affinity, beyond a wish to crush Islamic extremist groups. Rather both sides were driven by considerations of what was in their interests. This hasn't changed. All that's different now is that Karimov's decided he's better off playing with the Russians and, as a result, Bush has had to step-up the search for a new friend in the country, a concern given the strategic import of the region. Expect any new ally to be trumpeted as a great democrat, even if - as the article seems to imply is likely - their actually involved in the Karimov regime and implemented in its crimes (cf Iyad Allawi). Ordinary Uzbeks, of course, remain unpeople in all of this.
While still interested in engaging the Karimov administration on a variety of issues, some Washington analysts expect the State Department to reach out to a wide variety of political actors in Uzbekistan -- including those perceived to be pragmatists within the Karimov Administration, as well as to moderate Muslim elements. The United States, analysts say, would consider working with Uzbeks who would potentially pursue a reform course and would be willing to cooperate with the United States on matters of common interest, including the fights against terrorism and Islamic radicalism.