March 29 Presidential Elections of Uzbekistan and Regional security in Central Asia
By Dr. Aftab Kazi
Felicitations were all over when the Central Election Commission of Uzbekistan (CEC) announced the names of candidates participating in the Presidential Election scheduled for March 29, 2015. Contestants including the incumbent president Islam Karimov of the Liberal Democratic Party, Khatamzhon from Peoples Democratic Party, Narimon Umarov of the Social Democratic Party and Akmal Saidov of the Democratic Party (Mili Tiklanish [National Renaissance])National Renaissance have already started campaigning in media and through public debates. OSCE/ODIHR, considerably satisfied with the efficient performance of the December Parliamentary Elections will be sending a limited observer mission. Additionally, this time CEC is inviting independent monitors to observe electoral arrangements besides the polling on the Election Day.
The incumbent president seems to have an advantage over others for having leaded the people in their most difficult times since early independence and have leaded the country with a fast economic and sociopolitical development and safeguarding the country from extremism and terrorism.
All candidates have their own electoral manifestos, however, considering the relatively tough regional geopolitics, unpredictable scenarios of the post-US troop drawdown from Afghanistan and evolving threats of ISIS terror to Central Asia making national and regional security major election issues translating into foreign policy arenas. It appears that the decision to contest elections for president Karimov was a difficult one at the behest party and public pressure that he must be anchoring Uzbekistan under these very difficult geopolitical times ahead, just as he did during the similarly tough times after independence.
The foreign policy mottos of Uzbekistan derive its strength from national Constitution and the Uzbek model of economic and political development that concentrates upon balanced multi-vector relationships in the cause of national interest, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring states and respect for international laws and treaties. Moreover, Uzbekistan maintains the right to enter alliances, join Commonwealth and international organizations and the right to leave them for supreme national security interests particularly avoid controversial neighboring conflicts and/or the deployment of foreign military bases on Uzbek territory.
Briefly, Uzbekistan is seeking peaceful international cooperation and willing to reciprocate. Furthermore, Concurrent human rights reform and implementation remains relatively advanced in the world in theory and practice. Which, Western media and diplomatic sources appear so fat not to have closely observed, and instead are relying upon earlier stereotypes.
The forthcoming presidential elections are very important for several foreign policy and security concerns. First, the independent and neutral foreign policy positions that Uzbekistan has maintained all along must not be misinterpreted. Uzbekistan has been balancing her foreign policy in-between the various conflicting interests of United States, Russian Federation, China and the broader membership of SCO, all threatened by extremism and terrorism. This was among the reasons that the US government is now willing to provide assistance in anti-terror related matters, which symbolizes with the gradually advancing Uzbek efforts towards democratization as well, albeit with different model definitions. Common concerns are that elections have often resulted in violence in some parts of Central Asia, although not in Uzbekistan. However, considering the current election season all over Central Asia Tashkent hopes that the interests of USA, Uzbekistan and broader Central Asia will be better served with peaceful conduct of the forthcoming presidential elections.
Secondly, the regional stability in Central and South Asia is everyone’s interest. With limited influence in Central Asia, policy-makers in Washington need to recognize that the independent policies of president Islam Karimov, which despite regional differences have maintained a balance between Russian and US policies. If US are unable to seek military bases in Uzbekistan, so are Russia and China. Having been terrorized several times by Hazb-e-Tahrir, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Akramia and associated militant groups, Uzbekistan being the pivotal state in Central Asia remains in the forefront of the fight against terrorism and together with SCO maintains a major anti-terrorism center which has already foiled reportedly 1600 hundred plus terror attempts so far throughout the region.
It is time to formally acknowledge the contributions of Uzbekistan as an active partner in the war on terror in Afghanistan and region wide. Highly unlikely, but the constant instability in Afghanistan, whatever its feeds, will be complicating the security situation not only in Central Asia, but throughout the broader spectrum of Central and South Asia, hence the very regional foreign policy interests of United States. Af-Pak regions are already infested.
Thirdly, ISIS is reportedly instituting roots in northern Afghanistan and on the borders of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan seeking to complicate regional geopolitics, aiming to create a Merevannaher like early medieval Caliphate in the region. US supply of the anti-mine military SUVs is one thing, but the United States must realize that peaceful Presidential elections all over Central Asia will only assist the US anti-terror policy and cultivate in regional influence.
Thus, Uzbekistan’s efforts to help protect US influence in Central Asia need be reciprocated. Perhaps, the US foreign policy Establishment has forgotten a 2001 University of Melbourne study on Foreign Policies of Central Asian States, an exhaustive content analysis based upon several public and official interviews, concluding that the Uzbekistan and her people are the most pro-Americans than the rest in the region.
Briefly, the March 29 Presidential Election is an important event in terms of national and regional security. Tashkent realizes this, hoping that Washington will also take these security issues seriously to reciprocate. The forthcoming Presidential Election thus provides a fresh opportunity to reconstruct mutual trust between the two countries.
Author Bio: Aftab Kazi is a senior fellow of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute based at SAIS.