Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

From The Economist:
ANDIJAN'S prison, rammed at high speed on May 13th by a hijacked truck to free prisoners, now has new gates and zig-zag concrete blocks outside. The town hall, where government hostages were held by protesters, is being reconstructed.
Surveillance and security have been ratcheted up still further. There are police every 50 metres in Tashkent and dozens of roadblocks on the single mountainous road that leads to the Fergana valley, where Andijan is located. New methods of control include civilian informers who report directly to the police. Indigenous neighbourhood committees now keep tabs on the population. Most foreign NGOs have been closed down, the remaining few threatened.
Meanwhile, the economic situation in Uzbekistan grows steadily worse. The country has enormous gold reserves, is one of the world's largest cotton producers, and has uranium and sizeable oil and gas deposits. But virtually no wealth trickles down to people beyond an elite circle of a few thousand. Cotton pickers earn a pittance, while farmers are forced not only to grow crops selected by the government but then to sell their entire crop at low state prices. Smuggling is widespread; there is scarcely any industry to provide jobs or create wealth.
Efforts to undercut the social unrest, including releasing long-overdue pensions, wages and salaries, have been undermined by a subsequent wave of arrests of anyone believed to be connected to or have knowledge of the uprising. There have been beatings and forced confessions.

Despite the grim outlook, many Uzbeks think the chances of change are slim. Some say they fear a bloodbath. Others say that 67-year-old President Karimov is politically stronger than ever. He is financially self-sufficient, and protected by the region's largest and best equipped army and security forces, which are estimated to employ one in three of the population.

Even so, others believe that another popular uprising like the one in Andijan could happen. None of its underlying causes have been addressed. “It could take another harsh winter and all heat and power failing as it did recently, for the people to rebel,” says one observer, adding that security forces might well refuse to turn on the people again. One well-informed source said that within the elite tough questions are urgently being asked about the wisdom of the new anti-western course being pursued—and about the efficacy of the president's policies.

I am unlikely to blog much before next week. One last comment, at pickledpolitics.


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