Uzbekistan: The major source of instability in Central Asia?
1. With its geographic location, potential, ambitions and political priorities, Uzbekistan could play a leading role in Central Asia. The international community has perceived the country as the pillar of stability in the region. This perception was further reinforced after 11th September 2001 and was certainly among the factors that inspired the United States to start closer political and military cooperation with Tashkent. The administration in Washington had expected that closer contacts might galvanise political, economic and social change in Uzbekistan, thus reinforcing positive trends in other countries of the region as well. But the relations between Washington and Tashkent are in crisis (which the United States will certainly try to overcome), and we have seen rapprochement between Uzbekistan and Russia and China.
2. Uzbekistan is slipping ever deeper into economic and social crisis, and the forecasts are pessimistic. The scale of problems (which could be tackled through genuine reforms, but not an imitation of reforms) and the uncertainty as to how the political situation will develop (which causes interest groups to brace themselves for expected change) may threaten the country's stability. Should the political and social order in Uzbekistan break down, the entire Central Asia will become deeply destabilised. It is worrying that the negative trends in Uzbekistan are on the rise and in the present circumstances they seem almost impossible to reverse.
3. Uzbekistan's potential of instability is the product of the country's internal policies. In the economy, the authorities implemented wrong economic policies, failed to liberalise and open the market, conserved the centrally planned model of economy and inadequately distribute budget revenues (a large portion of which is spent on the oversized administration and the excessively extended security apparatus). As a result, only limited cooperation with international finance institutions is possible. In politics, the clans continue to vie for influence and various interest groups are likely to step up their struggle to take over power in the country. There is no serious secular alternative to the existing order, and moderate Islam ideology (not radical but still independent of the state administration) have been eliminated. As a result, the fundamentalist Islamic ideology now attracts growing numbers of supporters.
4. Repression against the opposition (real and perceived) has radicalised large sections of the society. The suicide terror attacks (in late March/ early April and on 30th July), which happened for the first time in Uzbekistan's history and targeted the state security apparatus, were symptomatic of the direction of developments. It is very probable that more such attacks will take place.