Uzbekistan — Buyuk kelajak bo'lgan Davlat!

This blog is dedicated to providing rigorous analysis of current events in Uzbekistan. Debate and criticism are welcome, please inform me if you would like to offer a correction.


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Islamic Extremism and the Uzbeks

Uzbekistan has both a long and uncomfortable relationship with political Islam, recognizing to some degree the importance and political value of Islam in the creation of an Uzbek state separate from Russia, yet avowedly resisting Islamist strains of thought in contemporary politics. Most resistance to Russian conquest, beginning in the 1850s, was at least partially Islamist in nature: almost all groups fighting Russian influence justified their use of violence at least partially through Islamic jihadincorporated Islamic symbolism and motif into their rhetoric and propaganda, and depended on religious orders — most famously the Naqshbandi brotherhood — for logistics, support, and new recruits. These forms of semi-nationalist, semi-religious conflict — continuing throughout the period of Russian colonialism until the power of Sufi brotherhoods and rural landed elites was finally broken by the Toshkent Soviet and the radical reorganization of rural life — bear little resemblance to the modern internationalist forms of Islamic radicalism. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, and others follow variations of an ideology broadly understood as takfiri Islam, which focuses on the responsibility of the faithful to convert or kill heretics and the sinful, referred to broadly as kuffar; this approach justifies the extreme violence of these groups towards those they view as kuffar. This form of Islamic radicalism, compared to that common during the 19th Century, is avowedly anti-nationalist and actively encourages the displacement of the borders and traditional government institutions which more traditionalist extremist groups might try to preserve or restore.

I write about Uzbek jihadists now, not out of idle interest, but because increasing numbers of Uzbeks are traveling to Iraq and Syria to join other misguided youths in jihad. Some international observers and media pundits have claimed that this demonstrates a failure on the part of the Uzbekistani government to prevent its youth from being radicalized, and in particular blamed the tight control of Islamic practice by the State Committee on Religious Issues for the surprising numbers of Uzbeks joining ISIS and Al-Qaeda. These statements are utterly misplaced and constitute a fundamental misunderstanding of the demographics of Uzbek radicalization. Almost all Uzbeks are radicalized while living abroad, and those who travel to engage in jihad almost always move through third countries to do so. If anything, Russia and the West should be looking towards Uzbekistan for inspiration about how to deter their own jihadis.
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Death and Dismissal in Newest Row over Economic Policy

Within a period of a week, Uzbekistan has lost two of its leading lights in the world of economics: Fayzulla Mullajonov and Rustam Azimov. The small amount of time elapsed between the death of the long-time Director of the Central Bank and the dismissal of Deputy Prime Minister Azimov is no coincidence; it is the result of a turbulent fight over the future economic policy of the Republic. Mr. Azimov was the head of a faction of Uzbekistan’s top economic leadership who sought to restructure Uzbekistani economic policy around Keynesian principles, a project which he hoped the reformist President Mirziyoyev would support.  Instead, just as under the Karimov administration, Mr. Azimov found his ambitions stymied by a conservative faction who wish to preserve the risk-adverse economic model designed by President Karimov. This conservative faction was headed by Dr. Mullajonov, who had run the Central Bank of Uzbekistan since its establishment in 1991 and had been a major engineer of the ‘Uzbek model of development’, and Mr. Azimov sought to take advantage of his death to advance his own economic agenda. Convinced of the rightness of the traditionally risk-averse economic policy, a point he believed he had made clear earlier that year during a rare public criticism of Mr. Azimov’s proposed budget, President Mirziyoyev dismissed Mr. Azimov for pursuing these projects instead of concentrating on his assigned duties. While tensions over budgets and economic policy have existed for years, Rustam Azimov — the former Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister — is certainly the most high-profile casualty of the conflict.
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Uzbekistan and Russia Struggle for Leverage in Gas for Investment Deal

On 5 April, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and President Vladimir Putin both emerged from the Kremlin declaring the complete success of Mr. Mirziyoyev’s first trip to Russia, the crowning jewels of which are a series of trade and investment agreements totaling $15.8 billion and a framework for the joint development of Uzbekistani gas and oil reserves. It is likely, however, that when the two smiling leaders left the Kremlin they rejoiced with two very different understandings of the arrangement that these documents created. The statements made by President Putin on 5 April make it clear that he understood most of the investment promised to be focused on the profitable oil and gas sectors, with Uzbekistan receiving investment so that the quasi-private clique of bureaucrats and businessmen who control energy markets in Eurasia can make fortunes by opening Uzbekistani oil and gas fields up to the world market. President Mirziyoyev, on the other hand, has emphasized elements of the agreement focusing on development projects and Russian investment in unprofitable areas of the economy, like agriculture, basic infrastructure, and manufacturing. How this investment money is spent will set the tone for Uzbekistani development during the Mirziyoyev administration, as it will test the resolve of Uzbekistani government to prioritize long-term development planning over the parochial interests of domestic elites and against Russian pressure. While petrochemicals still make up the core of the deal, as well as recent Uzbekistani agreements with Beijing, how the billions of rubles remaining are spent comes down to the commitment of the Mirziyoyev government to guide Uzbekistan on its own path.
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Position of Shavkat Mirziyoyev precarious after strikes against political opponents

After only two weeks in office as the acting President, a temporary position held alongside his Prime Ministership, Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev has begun the difficult task of removing rival statesmen from power while still preserving his aura of stability. At this point, Mr. Mirziyoyev’s appeal among both the public and elites rests almost entirely on his ability to ensure the continuity of the Karimov administration’s policies, and he has received this support largely because so far he has only used the expansive powers of the Uzbekistani Presidency to pass legislation already approved by the Oliy Majlis and popular with President Karimov. This leaves Mr. Mirziyoyev in a difficult position, since political ambitions for the Presidency would demand that he remove his political rivals from their positions, yet doing so risks tarnishing his appeal to scores of status quo politicians and conservative voters. Mr. Mirziyoyev’s solution shows that he is much more intelligent and infinitely bolder than his record as Prime Minister would suggest.
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Political Possibilities following Islom Karimov’s Hospitalization

Sometime during the morning of August 28, Islom Karimov, President of Uzbekistan, was taken to Toshkent General Hospital for necessary medical care, the nature of which is not currently known. Known popularly as “Islom Amaki”, or ‘Uncle Islom’, President Karimov has been the sole ruler of Uzbekistan since he came to power in June 1989 during the breakdown of societal and international order as the Soviet Union imploded. The nation looks on in shock and terror, not out of surprise — Mr. Karimov was born in 1938 and spent most of his life in the less than salubrious conditions of Soviet factories, making some health problems look almost inevitable — but because over between 60 and 70 percent of the population has never lived when Uzbekistan was not ruled by the firm hand of the Karimov government; his ill-health raises the specter of death, which in turn opens political possibilities that Uzbekistan may slip into a political ether full of unknown terrors. Those citizens older than 30 who do have at least some memories of governments not led by Mr. Karimov may be even more anxious than the nation’s youth, precisely because they do not have to depend on imagination to conceive of an Uzbekistani political order sans Mr. Karimov.
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