Uzbekistan’s first new president in more than a quarter century has taken some positive steps in the early days of his administration. In order to encourage more sustained progress, western partners and regional powers will need to balance conditional support with tactical pressure.
After 25 years of authoritarian rule, Uzbekistan faces unpredictable neighbours, a jihadi threat and deep socio-economic challenges. New President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has taken small steps toward vital domestic and foreign policy reform, and outside partners should push him to do more to avert real dangers ahead.
Domestic repression and self-imposed isolation has characterised Uzbekistan for much of the time since its independence in 1991. Following the death of Islam Karimov, the country’s long-time and only post-Soviet president, the outside world must seize a rare opportunity to re-engage with this critical Central Asian country.
Growing tensions in the Ferghana Valley are exacerbated by disputes over shared water resources. To address this, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan urgently need to step back from using water or energy as a coercive tool and focus on reaching a series of modest, bilateral agreements, pending comprehensive resolution of this serious problem.
The economic crisis has caused millions of migrant labourers from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to lose their jobs in the boom economies of Russia and Kazakhstan.
There are strong indications that Uzbek security forces murdered one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent journalists, Alisher Saipov, in October 2007 during the build-up to Uzbekistan’s end of year presidential elections, most likely because of his involvement in Erk (Freedom), a leading exile opposition party.
Uzbekistan remains a serious risk to itself and its region. While 69-year-old President Islom Karimov shows no signs of relinquishing power, despite the end of his legal term of office more than half a year ago, his eventual departure may lead to a violent power struggle.
After the indiscriminate killing of civilians by Uzbek security forces in the city of Andijon in 2005, the European Union imposed targeted sanctions on the government of President Islam Karimov.
Economic misrule and political repression have left Uzbekistan in a woeful state. President Islam Karimov’s intransigence has meant that efforts to encourage economic and political reform have failed.