Why is Registan having a conference on regime change in Uzbekistan today?!
API Will Hold a Conference on Human Rights Violations, Forced Child Labor and Potential Regime Change in Uzbekistan, January 19th 2013 at Seattle University, Boeing Room 10 a.m. Admission is FREE
Our Impressive Speakers List Includes:
Sanjar Umarov, Founder of Sunshine Coalition
Nathan Hamm, Founder of Registan.net
Sarah Kendzior, Writer at Al Jazeera
Ruslan Nurullaev, Projects Coordinator at API
Bahodir Choriyev, Founder of the Birdamlik Movement
Aziz Yuldashev, Executive Director of API
Dmitriy Nurullayev, Founder of API
If you saw their October conference, it was about stability, not regime change. Stability is what the New Realists want in these regions, with American help.
Why do I call them the New Realists and not just "realists"? Because I think if they are a new generation and a new school of thought you have to call them "New"; realists of the past, like the liberal realists who challenged the radical Marxists in the Vietnam era were not the same thing. Robert S. McNamara, the longest serving Secretary of Defense, may have opposed the Vietnam war, and later been friendly to the Soviets in the perestroika era at the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, but he both respected the Domino Theory in the beginning and also wouldn't defend drones if he were alive today. That's why he isn't exactly the political godfather of Joshua Foust.
I think it doesn't hurt if they echo the 1960s Nouveau Realism because they are also contrived and artistic in their presentation of the story. I may think up a better term as I go along but this will do for now.
Nathan Hamm works for a defense consulting company; Joshua Foust used to work for defense contractors and now works at a defense policy think-tank with John Kerry on the board called American Security Project. The other academics they have gathered around them might be more or less slavish to the Registani line, but they are joined by their "realism" about this region -- which can mean different things on different days -- and in my view, is itself a construct than can rival the construct of the "Neo-Cons" and leaves them without a backup plan when changes occur without them.
Foust is infamous for launching a series of vicious and vitriolic attacks on various high-profile human rights advocates and nonprofit journalists at EurasiaNet.org He spent more than a year trashing them for their critique of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the dictator, and for any of their critical reporting on Uzbekistan and invocation of the Northern Distribution Network as a development that was making the US become craven to dictators and forego human rights advocacy, or so the theory goes.
Then, possibly after a lot of pushback from these different groups, Foust began to trim his Twitter rhetoric but continue to harrumph about unrealistic democracy promoters, and of course Registan office wife Sarah Kendzior was able to supply the intellectual underpinnings for why nobody should bother with dissidents.
Stop talking about civil society! She orders. This is like Katy Pearce telling people to shut up and use the hashtag she thinks they should on Twitter. Maybe she will talk some about civil society at this conference, but no one except the in-group will hear.
Sarah often does a strange little dance on Twitter. Foust will make some outrageous comment. She will respond with some little statement of fact or different opinion that tends to mitigate what Foust just said. One can almost hear the dulcet tones of June Cleaver. Foust never, ever answers her. She then never pushes with her obvious factual point or slightly contrary opinion to continue to argue with his outrageousness. She lets him go time and again and he never feels he has to answer her. That way she's on the record "in the community" as having said the factual thing everyone thought when they saw Foust's little outrage; he gets to save face, however, by never really truly being challenged by his fellow School of Thought member. Nice work if you can get it -- and they did get that work.
I don't know who/what gave them a new infusion of cash, but that's how they were able to have their October "stability" conference.
So what's up here with "regime change"?
I'll cut to the chase and I think that the Pentagon/defense contractors/defense think-tank world that these people move in are now getting to the point where they are willing to think about shedding Karimov.
Karimov is useful to them until 2014. After 2014, he is not useful. They need to get people and armaments and equipment out of Afghanistan because it's expensive, the budget-crunched US military needs it, and they don't want it to "fall into the wrong hands". While they are always dancing around giving the Central Asian tyrants more military aid, it stops short of lethal aid of the actual helicopter/tank sort because they are not authorized even in the current language of their exceptions, in light of Leahy, and because they don't have an objective need apparently to arm up these folks.
It may also be the case that if they rattle the sabers, so to speak, and invoke their possible power to help with regime change (which I actually doubt they have), they can get what they want in the End Game before 2014.
Registani types are all around these defense contractors, but what about Awareness Projects and Sanjar Umarov?
I have a lot of respect for Umarov, who is a determined opposition leader and former political prisoner who endured enormous suffering and has survived to tell the tale.
I have some differences from him, namely his claim, made in a New York Times interview, that only lower-level Interior Ministry officials are involved in torture, and that it is not sanctioned from the very top, and that we can convince them to stop.
While this or that individual police investigator may make decisions to torture in this or that case, and maybe pressure could get them to stop, I think it is sanctioned from the highest level. I believe the Andijan massacre was sanctioned by Karimov and all overall directions of the use of torture are sanctioned by him. That's how these societies work, with incredible top-down vertikal management; to try to cordon off the top leadership and pretend they might become better if we just reform the lower or middle levels is a strategy that might buy someone longer life, but I think it's misguided and possibly deliberately misleading, I don't know.
Umarov headed the Sunshine Party which seems one of the more credible non-violent and non-extreme opposition groups, but I am happy to hear other opinions. I'm not an expert on Uzbekistan; I speak Russian but not Uzbek. I'm just somebody who has taken an interest in the country, blogged about it for years for EurasiaNet and also worked for the Cotton Campaign. I care about human rights there and have worked on cases there in various ways. I've never been to Uzbekistan and I don't plan to go any time soon. I'm not so different than the Registanis in that respect, however, because they don't go there, either.
Umarov has run a logistics and transport business and evidently came in to contact with the US and the NDN practitioners in that capacity. We don't know publicly what the rest of that relationship might mean but there is private speculation about it. It doesn't matter to me if Umarov helped the US and now they helped him get out of the country and support, ideologically or even financially, his opposition work: that's exactly what they *should* be doing and it is *legitimate*.
Awareness Projects don't say who they get their funding from, although they have a button that anyone can click on and make donations on the Internet. It isn't any wealthy group; it appears to be run by Uzbek students forced to remain in this country and some professors and religious leaders. It's exactly the kind of group we need more of for this region, even if I don't agree with everything they do or say.
The mission statement of Awareness Projects (which isn't just limited to Uzbekistan) gives you a sense that they might have a "realist" and "incremental" approach to the problems presented by authoritarianism in Central Asia:
Our mission is to empower communities to face global challenges through small-scale, sustainable, educational projects. Our areas of focus include: promoting healthcare awareness, human rights initiatives, and climate change consciousness. API empowers communities to address these issues using localized programs and resources. We take an innovative, micro focused approach while maintaining a global perspective.
I don't like the word "empower". I don't believe anybody in the country or abroad "empowers" anything. They have to find their own sources of power or they are doomed. I say that not as a New Realistic, but as a classic liberal student of civil society, that is very hard to manufacture abroad.
Like USAID, API has figured out that the milder issues of AIDS prevention or "climate change" environmental work may "pass" more easily with these regimes and with their timid subjects -- "micro" is always better to gain reassurance that you don't mean to topple the regime, so the thinking goes (I don't buy that approach myself although if somebody wants to try it, let them, as long as they don't keep bashing sturdier and more confrontational human rights projects -- which is what these types often do.)
So why are they yapping about regime change with an old dictator who has probably already cunningly locked up his succession to make sure it's just a clone of him and his policies?
Perhaps they really think Karimov is about to topple, either keel over from death or incapacitation from sickness, or they'd like him to think they think that.
Registan adopted Dmitriy Nurullayev when he decided to remain here rather than returning to Uzbekistan after claiming that he faced a threat of imprisonment. These kinds of threats are common and the story is credible, but I did ask questions about it.
I don't know why the organizers left out groups like Human Rights Watch (Steve Swerdlow) and International Crisis Group (Andrew Strohlein, who is actually moving to HRW now, regrettably depriving the landscape of some diversity and competition). Maybe those groups wouldn't come to something with Registan leaders in it because of how nasty they were in the past to them. Maybe the organizers themselves think micro-projects rather than in-your-face human rights work is the way to go -- I just don't know. I ask questions.
To be sure, topics include forced child labour in the cotton fields -- a topic the regime accepts in principle and says it is "working on" and has signed the appropriate international treaties banning it. So maybe this area will be covered in full, although they really aren't the center of gravity for Registan.
The conference also features Birdamlik leader Bahodir Choriyev. Birdamlik is an opposition group that tries bravely to demonstrate against the regime. Bahodir often invites me to join his groups or pages. I don't simply because I'm not interested in becoming a member of an Uzbek opposition group, I'm not in the Uzbek opposition even though obviously I oppose Karimov and company. They need to make their own opposition inside the country, with help from abroad, as best they can, but it's not my area of expertise. Actually, I even turned down a request to join a Russian opposition group in exile recently, where at least I speak the language and have years of working in the country and following the issues. I think it was because they were going to make me to a lot of work, and I already have enough volunteer activities.
I have to say that Choriyev seemed rather naive, or perhaps simply overly determined, when he returned to Uzbekistan -- naturally the goons got to him eventually. But I suppose that had the added benefit of convincing all those USAID types that "realism" is in order regarding this regime.
New Eurasia, a site for which I have as little respect as I do for Registan, covers the activities of this group.
I'm all for protests against this regime, it's important to keep visible here in the US and Europe especially when the regime officials visit. I'm all for 1,000 flowers blooming, but I'm certain we're not seeing a big range of flowers at the Awareness conference with only Registani speakers. I look forward to a much wider range of organizations, such as NED, Freedom House, etc. to hold conferences about whither the regime and Uzbekistan in 2015.
The site has a poll: With the new elected president in 2015, the situation will be better, worse, the same.
I voted "the same," but found that most people believe it will be "better". Why they think this president will be "elected" in some kind of authentic way within only two years from now is beyond me, but one lives in hope.
Evidently this conference is under "Chatham House Rules" (which, if people were less pretentious, they could call "Council on Foreign Relations" rules), i.e. no papers or transcripts will be published -- as they weren't with the October conference. So if you aren't in Seattle or didn't get your way paid there, you're out of luck.