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Uzbekistan’s Bubbling Pot of Destabilization

Published: February 3, 2015
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Source: Fair Observer

President Islam Karimov himself has been increasingly sidelined as of late, even being pressured to place his own daughter, once thought to be his handpicked successor, under house arrest. The rival security agencies, specifically the National Security Service, are now the ones leading the initiative, and the Karimov family will likely be a political irrelevancy after the president’s passing. Aside from the successionist intrigue, whispers of Karakalpakstan independence (likely Western-influenced) and the reemergence of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) bode negatively for the country’s internal stability. Thus, the bubbling pot of destabilization is set to overflow any time now, and the intended disastrous consequences are expected to reach as far away as Moscow and Beijing.

Uzbekistan is geostrategic for a few reasons, not least of all is the fact that it abuts all four other Central Asian republics and Afghanistan. Additionally, Uzbekistan has the largest population and military of all the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. This means that not only do events there have the strong possibility of affecting all of its neighbors, but also that regional events can play a large role in its own domestic affairs. Looking even deeper into this, one sees that most of the fertile and densely populated Fergana Valley, the heart of Central Asia, is located within Uzbek territory, further underlining the central placement of Uzbekistan in regional developments.

In a non-regional context, Uzbekistan retains major importance for Russia, China, and the West. In Moscow, Tashkent is seen as a regional holdout to its Eurasian Union integrationist plans, as well as a defector from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Uzbekistan is also in a heated rivalry with CSTO-member Tajikistan, in which Russia could possibly get involved if the conflict goes hot. On the other hand, China has only positive relations with Uzbekistan, since the critical China-Central Asia Natural Gas Pipeline traverses the entire territory of this Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member. As for the West, although the United States had its military kicked out of the country in 2005 after criticizing the Andijan massacre and the European Union (EU) imposed sanctions around that time, bilateral relations appear to be on the mend. NATO and the US have considered selling Uzbekistan their used Afghan equipment, and the EU reversed its previous arms embargo. 

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