Uzbekistan, key to Afghan war drawdown, to ban foreign military bases
Uzbekistan, which is seeking closer ties to the US, may have made the move in a bid to ease concerns of China and Russia, which are both dominant actors in Central Asia.
(Page 2 of 2)
Warming relations with the US
What has happened since then has puzzled and angered human rights activists: Relations between the West and Uzbekistan have steadily improved, and all sanctions imposed on Uzbekistan after 2005 have been lifted one by one, despite its poor human rights record.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
One possible reason is that the West has been increasingly dependent on Uzbekistan’s support of the war in Afghanistan. When Pakistan closed the main NATO supply route in November, the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a route that relies on Uzbekistan, took up the slack – about 75 percent of all non-lethal cargo was shipped through the NDN supply route mostly via Uzbekistan. And though the NATO supply route was reopened this summer, a significant portion of materiel is expected to exit Afghanistan via Uzbekistan.
However, it appears as though this new foreign policy decision is aimed at appeasing Moscow, says Sanat Kushkumbaev from the Kazakhstan Institute of Strategic Studies.
“Uzbekistan didn’t make public the entire document, only some bits including the part on foreign bases. This only shows that Uzbekistan is trying to send a message to Russia and its neighbors that Tashkent is not going to make a U-turn and host US bases on its territory.”
Russia is an important trade partner, and its political influence in Central Asia is very strong, so the latest move could simply be Uzbekistan attempting to balance its relationship with Russia.
Still, it does raise some questions on the future of Tashkent’s military cooperation with the US and NATO.
May not be what it seems
Experts say it will take some time to see what the ban will mean in practice. Some say the ban on foreign bases might not affect any current contracts with the US. Some observers even suggest that Uzbekistan may still consider hosting a base, but use another name for it and point to the case of the Manas base, which was renamed as a Transit Center after the Kyrgyz government threatened to close it.
Some observers say the new bill may actually signal that Tashkent wants to negotiate the price of its services as Kyrgzstan did in 2009. It may also be looking to raise the fee for the transit of goods going to and from Afghanistan via NDN. This supply route is already proving to be costly and according to the US Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, in comparison to the Pakistani route, each truck shipped via NDN costs about $10,000 more.
Tashkent-based political analyst Farkhod Tolipov says Uzbekistan's ban is in an effort to prevent militarization in the region. "Any new base will only lead to a geopolitical competition."
But ultimately, he says, "Uzbekistan wants to portray itself as an independent actor in international relations and respond to all sorts of rumors around its foreign policy [including] the US base."