US Allies - A Threat
To US National Security
Friday, May 13, 2005
By: Tashbih Sayyed
Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamist organization is seeking the creation
of a caliphate spanning all of Central Asia and the chances are that
US ally Islam Karimove's oppressive policies in Uzbekistan may very
well help them in achieving their objective. And Washington by not
exerting pressure on the Uzbekistan government with whom it is identified
universally, to refrain from violating the basic human rights of
its citizens will also be indirectly responsible for empowering radical
Islam. If there is one factor other than the Wahhabi-ism that has
helped in the spread of anti-Americanism and Islamist terrorism,
it is the oppressive and undemocratic policies of US backed Muslim
There is no denying that radical Islam has been helped tremendously
by the coercive policies of US backed governments in the Muslim world.
Whether it was the regime of the Shah Reza Shah Pehlawi in Iran or
the present House of Saud in Saudi Arabia, US policy of ignoring
inhuman treatment of their citizens by US backed autocratic regimes
helped Ayatollah Khomeini to win Iranis against the "Great Satan" and
now I am afraid, if the policies are not corrected, the same thing
is going to happen in Saudi Arabia.
Washington's policy of backing undemocratic and tyrannical Muslim
rulers has already made radical Islam's campaign to convince its
constituency that the US is not sincere in its professed plan to
introduce democracy in the Muslim world credible. An email, I received
from a Canadian Muslim group, reflects the same conviction, "The
Bush regime talks about democracy in Iraq, but sustains dictatorship
in the Muslim world. The fact is that unless a democratic movement
is born in the womb of the CIA, the Americans will do everything
to crush it."
Referring to the unfolding events in Uzbekistan, Pepe Escobar,
writing in the Asia Times, seems to agree, "So you won't see
the White House, or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, hammering
Karimov. You won't hear many in Washington calling for free elections
in Uzbekistan. The former strongmen of color-coded, "revolutionary" Georgia,
Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan were monsters who had to be removed for "freedom
and democracy" to prevail. So is the dictator of Belarus.
Not Karimov. He's "our" dictator: the Saddam Hussein
of Central Asia is George W Bush's man."
US don't seem to recognize the fact that the world has become
much wiser than it was during the cold war. It cannot be hoodwinked
any more. The information flows freely and in case some government
can still impose a censorship, rumors take a life of their own.
When it comes to sharing agendas, issues and missions, there are
no border now.
If President George W, Bush wants to introduce democracy and freedoms
in the Muslim world, he cannot be selective. When it comes to removing
tyrants, there should not be any difference between Saddam Hussein
and Islam Karimov. That's why the world is unable to digest the
obvious contradictions in the US policies, if Washington sincerely
believes in advancing the cause of freedoms, then why "Uzbekistan
dictator Islam Karimov's army, which last Friday opened fire on
thousands of unarmed protesters in Andijan, in the Ferghana Valley,
has been showered by Washington in the past few years with hundreds
of millions of dollars (US$200 million in 2002 alone) - all on
behalf of the 'war on terror'."
Inhuman treatment endured by Muslim citizens under US backed dictators,
irresponsible journalism spreading lies in the guise of news of
the desecration of Muslim holy book in Guantanamo detention camp
and continued instability in Iraq as a result of ever growing insurgency,
resulting in hundreds of deaths on a regular basis has already
provided enough justification for radical Islam to convince the
Muslims to continue jihad against the "crusaders". And
although, Wahhabi dominated Muslim world was never a friend of
the West, the US identification with the corrupt Muslim despots
is pushing it beyond reconcilable frontiers.
According to a BBC report, the executive director of Human Rights
Watch, Kenneth Roth, says the radicalizing effect of the president
Karimov's repression posed the biggest threat to Uzbekistan's security.
On May 13 protesters in Andijan, Uzbekistan, seized arms from a
military depot and attacked a local prison, freeing the inmates,
including some who had been jailed on charges related to radical
Islamic activity. After battling local police during the early
morning hours, militants took control of local government offices.
At least nine people were killed and 34 wounded during the initial
burst of fighting.
Meanwhile, unarmed protesters gathered in the central square outside
the regional administration building. Many of the protesters called
on Karimov to resign, voicing complaints with the government's
economic and political policies. Radical Islamic rhetoric, especially
calls for the establishment of a regional caliphate, did not feature
prominently during the protest. Then, shortly after 5 p.m., government
troops, backed by armored personnel carriers, moved in, prompting
more gunfire that led to hundreds of casualties among the protesters.
Galima Bukharbaeva, in an account published by the Institute for
War & Peace Reporting (IWPR), said that government armored
personnel carriers opened up on the crowd with heavy weapons, firing
at random while moving at high speed. "By most accounts, economic
discontent drove many local residents to join the protest. Some
participants told a EurasiaNet contributor that government economic
policies, especially punitive taxation on trade, were impoverishing
many Uzbeks without providing any means for relief of dire financial
According to media reports being circulated in the Muslim world,
hundreds of protesters have been gunned down in bloody clashes
with US backed government forces in Uzbekistan. One human rights
observer in the eastern city of Andijan said that up to 500 people
may have perished in the shootings. In a severe rebuke to London
and Washington's approach to the region, Britain's former ambassador
to the country said the countries had swallowed Uzbek propaganda
that sought to portray the democracy movement as a brand of Islamic
The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray said, "The
Americans and British wouldn't do anything to help democracy in
Uzbekistan." Mr. Murray added: "We didn't provide support
for those who were trying to develop democratic opposition, and
that includes these people in Andizhan. People are turning to violence
because we gave them no support." US statements lumping together
the perpetrator of the crime and the victim by urging "restraint" by
both the massacred demonstrators and their government killers also
strengthened the Muslim perception that Islam Karimov's repression
of dissent and discontent is fully backed by the US. "The
people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic
government. But that should come through peaceful means not through
violence, and that's what our message is," White House spokesman
Scott McClellan said. "We have had concerns about human rights
in Uzbekistan, but we are concerned about the outbreak of violence,
particularly by some members of a terrorist organization that were
freed from prison."
The statement clearly showed that the US has no clue of what is
actually happening in Uzbekistan. Washington, at its own peril,
fails to understand that Karimov, just like all other Muslim dictators,
is exploiting west's fear of radical Islam. It must be understood
that every one who speaks against oppressive practices of their
governments doesn't have to be a religious extremist.
Sir Menzies Campbell, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats,
in Britain said, "Rather than use force to impose democracy,
as in Iraq, should we not be more assiduous in promoting democratic
movements in countries like Uzbekistan?"
Without exception, almost all the US backed Muslim rulers, because
of their corruption, inhuman policies and utter disregard for the
values of freedom, have provided fertility for the spread of religious
extremism. Human Rights organizations have been crying for a long
time that President Islam Karimov's policy of routinely arresting
and torturing non-violent Muslim dissidents, who practiced their
faith outside state-controlled mosques, will compel them to join
the violent radical Islamists.
And now it is for everyone to see that they were right. Karimov's
atrocities have driven a great number of Uzbeks into the fold of
radical Islamists. Hizb ut-Tahrir and Islamist movement of Uzbekistan
have gained so much ground that their presence is being felt in
the whole region and beyond into China. Experts believe that it
is now a matter of urgency that the United States, if it wants
to improve its image in this part of the world, must apply real
pressure on Tashkent to improve its human rights performance and
implement serious political and economic reforms.
Experts wonder as to why Washington failed to learn anything from
its cold war era experiences. It should have been enough to guide
US's post September 11, policies in the Muslim world at least.
But it evident that nothing is changed; Washington is still following
the same policies of relying on corrupt and opportunist rulers
in its war against radical Islam as it did in fighting the Communism.
Washington, during the cold war, allowed itself to be blackmailed
by Muslim rulers who exploited Washington's fear of Communism to
prolong their rules. They are at it again; now they are overplaying
the threat of radical Islam.
But the times have changed. Islamism is not as limited or restricted
in its appeal as Communism. Islamism has very successfully hijacked
Islam and with it religious legitimacy. Over a billion Muslims
have been influenced to a varying degree by the Islamist propaganda.
Islamism is using all the trappings of a just war; Muslims are
ready and willing to die for their faith. Perceptions in this war
of wills are of vital importance. A manipulated theology, manufactured
history and grievances of a long colonial injustice is there to
lend further justification, legitimization and urgency to the cause
This war cannot be won by materially privileged, industrially
advanced and technologically superior powers. Because material
weapons are effective only against visible and physically target-able
foes; radical Islam is an invisible enemy. It can be everywhere
and can attack at every time. No technology has been able to deter
a homicide bomber. The possibility of a bio-chemical attack is
real. The free world has to be much more ingenious and honest in
identifying and tackling the threat. Double standards and hypocrisy
may not even succeed in short terms. What to say about long term
In this ethereal war reputation and perception will matter much
more than anything else. Reliance on the corrupt and absolutists
cannot help in improving or maintaining a good image. Long association
with the corrupt has already tarnished the image of he United States
of America. The US must try and find ways not to just win governmental
support for its just causes but also the hearts and minds of their
citizens. Because whenever democracy will come in the Muslim world,
it will be the citizens who will matter not the corrupt rulers.
If the free world has to win this war against radical Islam, it
will have to, once and for all, distance itself from undemocratic
and fascist regimes of every kind, form and shade. As I have been
saying for many years, this is a war of minds; it cannot be won
by hardware only.
The rise of radical Islam in the Muslim world and especially what
is happening in Uzbekistan these days is the direct result of the
double standards employed by the US in conducting its foreign policy.
Washington failed to recognize that Al-Qaeda and groups like Hizb
ut-Tahrir have directly benefited from the repressive acts of Muslim
governments. Karimov government, being the most repressive in Central
Asia, jailing thousands of Uzbeks for engaging in non-state-sanctioned
forms of political and religious expression, has forced, otherwise
peaceful Muslims, to seek means of expression through radical Islam.
In addition to trying to keep a tight lid on all forms of political
dissent, Karimov's administration has steadfastly resisted economic
reforms. The result has been a potentially volatile build-up of
A Human Rights Watch report lends credence to the notion, as suggested
in its title, "Creating Enemies of the State: Religious Persecution
in Uzbekistan", that the revolt could indeed be homegrown,
given the nature and extent of Karimov's repression. It estimates
that some 7,000 independent Muslims are currently in prison and
subject to torture and other abuses. "Uzbekistan cannot hide
behind the global war on terrorism to justify religious repression," said
Rachel Denber, the acting director of HRW's Europe and Central
Karimov has drastically curtailed individual rights and has stifled
dissenting political opinion. At the same time, the Uzbek government
has avoided implementing economic reforms needed to prevent the
stagnation of commerce. Political observers assert that his repressive
policies are fueling a home-grown insurgency. Reports by International
Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch have lambasted the Uzbek government
for an egregious and worsening record of human rights violations.
According to an article published in April 2, 2004, issue of Asia
times, "A recent State Department report gave Uzbekistan low
marks on human rights, and government-to-government assistance
programs totaling some US$50 million will have to be axed unless
the Bush administration decides to waive the human rights requirements.
Domestic pressure has been building on the issue, with a number
of op-eds and editorials in The Washington Post condemning Uzbekistan's
human rights record, questioning the country's usefulness as a
US ally in the "war on terror", and urging increased
US pressure on the Karimov regime to take action on human rights
Religious extremists, actually, take advantage of situations in
which common citizens, forced by inhuman conditions decide to come
out on the streets to some how let the world know of their plight.
Religious extremists, it has been observed, join such protests
to create chaos and confusion. I am sure that if US backed Muslim
governments, some how, can bring themselves to act in a just and
fair manner, a big reason for the Muslims to join extremists will
be eliminated. Washington will have to accept that it cannot win
this war against radical Islam, so long as, it is being identified
with the tyrannies of its allies.
Experts who have devoted their lives in studying the workings
of religious extremists are unanimous that the basic reasons for
religious extremism's rise in the Muslims societies is the absence
of rule of law. Democracy cannot take roots in a society that has
no institutions guaranteeing basic human rights and liberties.
People in a society, in which basic human rights are violated as
a routine, are found to be most receptive to the radical ideologies.
And that is what is happening in the Muslim world today; dictatorial
regimes are pushing their peaceful citizens in the direction of
Talking about the protesters, Galima Bukharbaeva, the country
director in Uzbekistan for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,
told CNN, "They say they are not Islamic extremists. They
are just ordinary people who are tired of unemployment, who are
tired of injustice, and they just want better living conditions." Most
independent analysts agree with the assessment. And even those
who do not agree are of the opinion that the best way to curb radicalism
is to remove the circumstances that make radicalism as an attractive
I believe that even if Washington finds it impossible to win support
of honest and true leaders in the Muslim world, it can still force
the not so honest ones to provide at least some basic human needs
like due process of justice, employment, free press, health services
and education to their citizens.
In doing so, not only will they improve their image in the eyes
of their citizens, they will also help rehabilitate US image in
the Muslim world. Washington must take a pause and think hard that
why is it that it has never been able to find a true and honest
Muslim leader to support its policies. The answer to this question
will solve a much more critical puzzle – why anti-Americanism
has never shown any signs of receding in the Muslim world?
The Friday protests in Andijan were sparked by the jailing of
23 local men, many of them prominent business owners, who were
accused by the government of Islamic extremism. Underlying the
confrontation, however, was long-standing popular anger over mass
unemployment, poverty and the brutal methods of the autocratic
regime of President Islam Karimov, a key ally of the Bush administration
in the so-called global war on terrorism.
The fact that most of the protesters in Andijan's central square
on Friday were not radical Islamists but those who just wanted
an end to the poverty and injustice will further empower the anti-American
forces in the region. Unemployed and oppressed, the protesters
were convinced that they no longer have a future in the country.
Some of these protesters were set free when armed men stormed the
town's prison in the early hours of the morning. Torture, absence
of due process of justice and imprisonment of innocent bystanders
had added fuel to the fire. Vicious beatings in Uzbek jails as
a routine had further added to a growing sense of anger. They were
all in one way or the other had experienced some form of oppression
at the hands of Islam Karimov's authoritarian regime.
According to a BBC analysis, Uzbekistan has for long been seen
as an impoverished, corrupt and repressive state ruled by a strongman
president, Islam Karimov. But concerns about human rights and the
lack of democracy have been sidelined, as the US-led "war
on terror" had transformed the country into one of Washington's
closest allies. Washington has completely ignored the fact that
Karimov's regime is infamous for its use of the most brutal means
of torture. And that he has banned opposition parties for more
than a decade carries out strict press censorship and is holding
an estimated 6,000 political prisoners.
Many regional observers say that the US identification with Karimov
regime is adding fuel to the fires of anti-Americanism to an alarming
level, threatening US national security. Writes Sergei Blagov, "Uzbekistan
is one of America's strongest allies in Central Asia. At the March
2002 meeting in Washington between President George W Bush and
Karimov, the two countries signed the Declaration of Strategic
According to State Department "background notes", last
updated in February, "Uzbekistan has been a strong partner
of the United States on foreign policy and security issues ranging
from Iraq to Cuba, and nuclear proliferation to narcotics trafficking" and "is
a strong supporter of US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq
and of the global war against terror". The note said the US "values
Uzbekistan as a stable, moderate force in a turbulent region."
Islamists are trained not to miss an opportunity to point out
that Muslim dictators are able to violate the human rights of their
citizens only because they are encouraged to do so by the US. The
poor conditions of Muslims under US-backed dictatorships are being
skillfully exploited by groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic
Movement of Uzbekistan. Hizb ut-Tahrir aims to re-establish the
historical Caliphate in order to bring together all Muslim lands
under Islamic rule and establish a state capable of counterbalancing
the West. And this reason alone should be enough to spur attention
to Karimov regime's deplorable human rights record.
Karimov's oppressive actions one of which was the elimination
of the democratic opposition, have already assisted Hizb ut-Tahrir
and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in recruiting a great number
of holy warriors.
It is a common observation in the Muslim societies that all radical
Islamist organizations tend to exploit poor social and economic
condition of the Muslim street to recruit their cadres. Whether
it is Palestine, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia
or China, the disenfranchisement, poverty and lack of health care,
food, education and economic opportunities for the common person
has helped radical Islam to entrench itself.
Everywhere, their modus operandi is the same; they take advantage
of the trying situation created by dictatorial regimes. They provide
what has been denied by corrupt rulers - they setup agencies that
provide health services, education. They establish small enterprises
that create job opportunities; by doing so they win the trust of
the street. And once having gained the confidence of the common
person, their job of recruiting people for the advancement of their
agenda becomes real easy.
Uzbekistan is proving to be an ideal place for radical Islam to
establish its credentials and authority; Political opposition is
not tolerated in Uzbekistan, media is not free and torture is "systematic".
And because what followed in the wake of 11 September 2001 has
placed Uzbekistan firmly on the map as a US ally, radical Islam
is using Uzbekistan's in-human circumstances to demonize the US.
The fact that President Bush has noticeably left Uzbekistan out
of speeches condemning repressive regimes has not helped the US
and has further been exploited by Hizb ut-Tahrir in achieving its
goals. "Western analysts believe that, whatever the relationship
between events in Uzbekistan and the wider threat of Islamist organizations,
economic discontent and repression mean that Uzbekistan has become
a breeding ground for political extremism."
Alex Vatanka, the editor in chief at the London-based analytical
group Jane's Sentinel, says that, at least with the Islamic Movement
of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb ut-Tahrir, the focus on Uzbekistan
can be explained by the groups' large Uzbek membership. "The
composition of these Islamist movements—and if you look closely
at these groups, essentially we're talking about two groups, the
IMU and Hizb ut-Tahrir—both these seem to have quite a lot
of Uzbeks among their ranks," he said. "And that tells
us something about the Uzbek society."
According to reports, the majority of those arrested for belonging
to both these Islamic groups are ethnic Uzbeks. The leadership
of the IMU is undeniably Uzbek and one of the group's leaders,
Tohir Yuldash, was reportedly with a group of Uzbeks, Chechens,
and Arabs in the Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan. Undemocratic
and oppressive policies of Muslim rulers, almost all of whom are
backed by the US have contributed to the growth of organizations
like Hizb ut-Tahrir as a natural corollary in the spread of anti-Americanism.
In Uzbekistan, in particular, repression has given Hizb ut-Tahrir
a certain mystique among the population, "and the lack of
alternative forms of political opposition or expression of discontent
has ensured that it has attracted members from the mass of those
opposed to the regime for political reasons. Poor economic policies
have further undermined support for the government, and induced
discontent among traders – a key Hizb ut-Tahrir constituency."
According to an International Eurasian Institute for Economic
and Political Research, "For a small but significant group
of predominantly young men, Hizb ut-Tahrir gives an easy explanation
for their own failure to achieve change in their personal lives,
in society or in the state system. It provides young men with some
meaning and structured belief in an era of otherwise confusing
and difficult social change. It also offers occasional material
benefit and social support in states characterized by extreme poverty
and social breakdown."
It seems that in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, major beneficiaries
of the U.S. war on terrorism have been the despotic regimes in
the Muslim world. These regimes have aligned themselves with Washington,
not because they really believed in upholding the cause of freedom
but only because they wanted to perpetuate their own tyrannies.
Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov was one of them. Desperate to recruit
more and more allies and find bases from where it could launch
its offensive against Al-Qaeda and Taleban in Afghanistan and Saddam
Hussein in Iraq, Washington, ignored a fundamental fact that by
enlisting one evil regime on its side to get rid of another of
the same kind will only help the enemy.
"The Uzbek government is conducting a merciless campaign
against peaceful Muslim dissidents," said Rachel Denber, the
acting director of HRW's Europe and Central Asia Division. "The
scale and brutality of the operations against independent Muslims
makes it clear that these are part of a concerted and tightly-orchestrated
campaign of religious persecution."
Jim Lobe, in an article written in April 2004, said, "Washington
and other Western countries have long warned Karimov that his failure
to respect human rights and implement serious political and economic
reforms, and his repression of independent Muslims in particular,
could destabilize the country. But he has responded mainly with
only token gestures, while insisting that any far-reaching relaxation
of his control would likely lead to a major upsurge of terrorism
by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and another, much larger
group, the Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has called for the replacement
of his regime with a Central Asian caliphate, albeit by non-violent
The United States of America, at this critical juncture in the
war against radical Islam cannot afford to alienate popular Muslim
opinion by supporting despots and oppressors. The close US identification
with rulers like Islam Karimov, will only substantiate what terrorists
like Osama bin Laden wants Muslims to believe about the US.
It is critical for the US national security that its allies, especially,
Muslim allies do not indulge in violating human rights, perpetuating
torture and unfair judicial processes against their citizens.