A shameful response to a moral outrage

Click to follow

Reports of mass shootings by Uzbek government troops of protesters in the east of the country, killing several hundred, ought to have drawn instant, sharp condemnation from around the world. No number of excuses about the need to be tough on so-called Islamists can justify a bloodbath, especially as the protesters were mostly unarmed civilians.

Reports of mass shootings by Uzbek government troops of protesters in the east of the country, killing several hundred, ought to have drawn instant, sharp condemnation from around the world. No number of excuses about the need to be tough on so-called Islamists can justify a bloodbath, especially as the protesters were mostly unarmed civilians.

All the more disappointing, therefore, that this carnage has drawn only half-hearted criticism from London and Washington. The reason for their reticence, of course, is that ever since 11 September 2001, President Islam Karimov has been an enthusiastic ally of the US-led war against terrorism, of which we are a part, and - manning the watchtower on the border with an unstable Afghanistan - his services in repressing Islamist militants have earned him indulgence from his Western friends.

The Americans have most cause for gratitude after he allowed them to open a military base at Karshi Khanabad. But that doesn't get our own government off the hook. Far from it. In fact, Britain has been the most craven Western apologist for the Uzbek leader, as the saga of Craig Murray, our former ambassador, revealed. Mr Murray, you may recall, was withdrawn in 2004 as British representative in Tashkent after making known his deep disquiet over the Uzbek leadership's routine use of torture.

This dismal record ought to have made it clear from the start that Uzbekistan was never going to be a useful ally against terrorism. The nastiest regime in a pretty poor neighbourhood, it combines the worst elements of the old Soviet communist system with half-baked nationalism and xenophobia.

At the very least, Western promises of financial and military assistance to the Tashkent regime should have been tied to signs of progress on human rights and democratisation. Instead, Mr Karimov interpreted his apparently unconditional alliance with the West as a licence to further tighten the screws.

The Uzbek regime is unlikely to have ensured its survival for long by gunning down protesters wholesale, given what appears to be an increasingly desperate mood on the streets. In the meantime, our own government should stop hiding behind Jack Straw's claim that we cannot even voice an opinion on the desirability of a change of government in Tashkent, because "it is for the people to decide". We should declare the obvious, which is that massacres are unacceptable and Mr Karimov must go.

This government has made much of what it describes as the ethical case for overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein. It undermines that case if it continues to cherish alliances with governments such as President Karimov's in Uzbekistan.

Comments