President of Uzbekistan
Born Islam Abdughanievich Karimov, January 30, 1938 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan; married Tatiana Akbarovna; children: two daughters. Education: Central Asian Politechnical Institute, mechanical engineering degree; Tashkent Institute of National Economy, doctorate in economics.
Addresses: E-mail—presidents_officepress-service.-uz. Office—Dom Pravitelstva, Tashkent 70000, Uzbekistan. Website—www.umid.uz/Main/Uzbeki-stan/President/president.html.
Foreman at a farm machinery plant, c. 1960; engineer at an aircraft plant, 1961-66; worked at State Planning Committee of Uzbekistan, 1966-1983; appointed minister of finance of Uzbekistan, 1983; became chairman of the State Planning Committee and vice-chairman of Uzbekistan council of ministers, 1986; became first secretary of the Uzbekistan Communist Party's central committee, 1989; named president of Uzbekistan, 1990; declared Uzbekistan's independence from the Soviet Union, 1991; elected president of independent Uzbekistan, 1991; reelected president, 1995; reelected president, 2000.
Islam Karimov, a former Communist, became president of Uzbekistan in 1990, a year before his country became independent of the Soviet Union, and he has held on to the office ever since. His relations with Western countries have often been shaky, because international observers have long complained that Uzbekistan has not held truly free elections since he became president and that his government often violates human rights. He became an ally of the United States in 2001, when that country went to war in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan's location north of Afghanistan became strategic. Karimov's cooperation with the war, including allowing the United States to set up a military base in Uzbeki-stan, led to U.S. President George W. Bush inviting him to visit the United States in 2002. Critics of the relationship complained that the United States was ignoring Uzbekistan's human rights record and turning prisoners over to Uzbekistan in spite of reports of torture in Uzbek prisons. When the American and British governments criticized Uzbekistan for a crackdown in May of 2005 that left many protesters dead, Karimov's government kicked the American base out of his country and sought to restore closer ties with Russia.
Karimov was born on January 30, 1938, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, when his native country—in Central Asia, north of Afghanistan—was one of the 15 republics that made up the Soviet Union. His official biography says his father was an office worker, while a biography by Human Rights Watch says Karimov was raised in a mov got an engineering degree at the Central Asian Soviet orphanage. Karimov got an engineering degree at the Central Asian Politechnical Institute and a doctorate in economics from the Tashkent Institute of National Economy. He worked for a while as a foreman at a farm machinery plant in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, then, in 1961, became an engineer at a plant in Tashkent that made cargo planes. He went to work for the Uzbek government's State Planning Committee in 1966 and worked his way up to become its vice-chairman.
Karimov was appointed minister of finance for Uzbekistan in 1983, then moved up quickly through top government offices. In 1986, he became head of the planning committee and vice-chairman of the council of ministers. He became the republic's leader in June of 1989, when he was named first secretary of the Uzbekistan Communist Party Central Committee, and the Supreme Council of the Uzbek republic named him president in March of 1990.
While much of the Soviet Union underwent dramatic democratic change in 1991, Uzbekistan under Karimov did not. In August of 1991, when hardline Communists attempted a coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Karimov at first supported the coup leaders. "We have always been supporters of firm order and discipline, " he told the Uzbek parliament, according to Edward Gargan of the New York Times. "We have made order and discipline the basis of our policy. A leadership that abandons order and discipline can never return to power." During the coup in Moscow, Uzbek police and the KGB (Russian secret police) arrested and fined members of the Uzbek opposition party, Birlik. After the coup in Moscow collapsed, the Uzbek government changed course and denounced the coup leaders, and Karimov declared Uzbekistan to be an independent country. After an Uzbek court ruled that the arrests of the Birlik leaders were illegal, the opposition staged a large rally for reform in early September. Police broke it up, made arrests, deported journalists, closed Birlik's offices, and banned all independent newspapers.
Although the Uzbek Communist Party changed its name to the Popular Democratic Party of Uzbeki-stan that September, Karimov, according to Gargan of the New York Times, said he preferred the Chinese Communist model of government to democracy. "Maybe in other parts of the Soviet Union, the Baltics and Moscow, people can stand peacefully in a demonstration for hours, " he said, but in Uzbeki-stan, "people quickly get excited" and "turn to violence." Karimov claimed 84 percent of the vote in the presidential election in November of 1991, which Human Rights Watch described as "seriously marred." In 1993, Muhammed Salih, who ran against Karimov in the election as a candidate of the Erk (Freedom) Party, and Abdurahman Pulatov, leader of Birlik and an organizer of the September of 1991 protest, left the country and went into exile.
Another New York Times reporter, Michael Specter, found little had changed when he visited Uzbeki-stan in April of 1995, a month after Karimov ran unopposed for reelection and received 99.6 percent of the vote. "Uzbekistan is a country locked deep in the Soviet past, where cars are constantly stopped and searched for no reason, and a cautious pedestrian's eyes are always focused on the ground, " he wrote. "The only way to speak freely with someone here is to rendezvous on a park bench."
Quotes from Karimov were taught in all Uzbek schools, Specter reported. "He controls everything from the secret industrial production plans to the schedule for sweeping this sprawling capital's streets, " Spector wrote. Karimov, Specter added, retained power "by locking up many of his opponents. Uzbeks and foreigners agree that his grip is absolute." A government spokesman told Specter that Uzbeks were not prepared for democracy and valued stability more. Specter wrote that the chaos and war that dominated Afghanistan, to the south, and Tajikistan, another former Soviet republic, to the east, helped explain the Uzbek desire for order. "We know that the President is not kind, " an anonymous merchant told Specter. "But we can live well here if we are quiet. There is no war, no famine."
Karimov's insistence on state control of the economy kept him from having much success attracting investors from developed countries. In 2001, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) effectively closed its office in Tashkent to protest the Uzbek government's economic decisions. For instance, the government had never allowed the free exchange of the Uzbek currency, the som, leaving Western businesses holding profits they could not take out of the country or use to import equipment. "This is a complete corruption of the economy because there are so many ways of playing the exchange rates. Any system of this kind generates enormous profits for the select few who are favored by the government, " the departing IMF representative, Christoph Rosenberg, told Steve LeVine of the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan's many Muslims found that the government was increasingly restricting their rights and even imprisoning them, after a brief period when their religion enjoyed more freedom in the early 1990s. In 1992, when the war began across the border in Tajikistan, the government banned an Islamic political party, and imams (religious leaders) at mosques were ordered to end every sermon with praise for Karimov. Many mosques were closed in 1998. "I agree some of my actions seem authoritarian, " Karimov told Matthew Kaminski of the Wall Street Journal, but "it is necessary in order to avoid bloodshed, " he claimed, citing Islamic fundamental-ists as a danger.
The crackdown increased after several bombs exploded in Uzbek government offices in 1999, in what appeared to be an attempt to assassinate Karimov. The government blamed the armed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. But Muslims in Uzbekistan claimed that religious Muslims in general were targeted for arrest, especially members of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, which Western diplomats described as non-violent.
About 4, 000 Muslims were imprisoned in Uzbeki-stan from 1997 through 2000, human rights and religious groups estimated. The groups charged that government forces had beaten and pulled out the toenails of some prisoners. Prisoners in one Uzbek prison "have told their families that they are confined to their cells 23 hours a day and spend hours squatting, with their hands behind their heads, " Douglas Frantz of the New York Times reported. "Whenever they move a limb, they are required to recite their thanks to President Karimov, their relatives say." The government denied torturing but defended its crackdown, saying it did not want religious extremists to impose a harsh fundamentalist government. Still, a report by the U.S. State Department in 2001 sharply criticized human rights violations by the Karimov regime.
But the United States' policy toward Uzbekistan changed sharply after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the U.S. government determined they were the work of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, which was based in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan's southern neighbor. Suddenly Uzbeki-stan was a strategic location to the United States. Bush singled out the Islamic Movement of Uzbeki-stan, which was based in Afghanistan, as a terrorist organization in his address to Congress after the terrorist attacks, a sign that the U.S. president was seeking an alliance with Karimov.
The United States quickly forged the new partnership, offering a strong hint that it would help Uzbekistan if it were ever attacked, while Karimov allowed the United States to set up a military base in his country for the invasion of Afghanistan in fall of 2001. Much of the Islamic Movement of Uzbeki-stan was destroyed during the invasion. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell thanked Karimov by visiting him toward the end of the war and delivering a letter from Bush inviting Karimov to Washington, D.C. However, Powell also had to strongly lobby Karimov to open the Friendship Bridge between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to international relief workers who wanted to help Afghan war refugees; Karimov had closed the bridge years earlier when the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban movement had taken over Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, one of Karimov's exiled rivals was reminding the world that the president did not permit dissent. Muhammad Salih, Karimov's former opponent in the 1990 elections, was arrested during a visit to the Czech Republic on an Uzbek arrest warrant logged into the files of the international police organization Interpol. The Uzbek government had accused Salih of being involved in the 1999 bombings in Uzbekistan, even though Salih had left the country six years earlier. Human-rights organizations said the trial of Salih in abstenia was unfair and warned that they expected Salih to be tortured and killed if he were sent back to Uzbekistan. Salih spent weeks in a Czech jail, drawing comparisons to Czech President Vaclav Havel, who had once been imprisoned for his protests against his country's Communist regime.
After the Czechs released him, Salih wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times, warning that Uzbekistan was "drifting toward an anti-American stance, if one understands 'American' as implying democracy, human rights and the struggle against state-sponsored terror." Karimov, he noted, reversed a decision to give amnesty to hundreds of political prisoners after September 11, once he was assured of the United States' support. Karimov had been reelected in 2000, Salih noted, in an election in which even Karimov's opponent said he would vote for Karimov, and his term had recently been extended from five years to almost eight.
In 2002, Karimov visited the United States, meeting with Bush, Powell, and other top American officials. The meeting solidified the two countries' strategic relationship. "The United States may remain in Uzbekistan as long as they think it is necessary; in other words, as long as it takes to finish disrupting the terrorist network, " Karimov said, as quoted by Todd S. Purdum of the New York Times. The statement was a reminder that Karimov valued American help eliminating what was left of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Around the time of the visit, the United States tripled its foreign aid to Uzbekistan. However, just before the visit, the U.S. State Department again criticized Uzbekistan for torture. "We do have problems with human rights, " Purdum quoted Karimov as saying. "We're going to promote democratic development not because we want to get into the good books of the United States, but because it is in our interests, " he pledged, but did not give details.
The United States faced increasing criticism for its alliance with Karimov. In 2005, a New York Times investigation reported that the U.S. government had flown dozens of detainees it suspected of terrorism to Uzbekistan to be interrogated, even though the U.S. State Department was criticizing the Uzbeks for torturing prisoners. U.S. officials denied that the country sent prisoners anywhere expecting them to be tortured.
A rift between Karimov and the West opened in May of 2005, when Uzbek government forces opened fire on crowds in the city of Andijan during an anti-government demonstration that followed an armed prison break. Karimov's government insisted that the clashes were part of an Islamic uprising; residents of the area said the prison break was meant to free Muslim businessmen convicted of false charges. The government eventually said 187 people were killed in the incident, while human rights groups said several hundred died, mostly unarmed civilians. The British government condemned the Uzbek military for what it called a clear abuse of human rights, and the U.S. government said it was deeply disturbed by the incident. The United States and other Western governments pressured Karimov to allow an independent investigation, but Karimov refused. Some U.S. senators argued that the Bush Administration should reevaluate its relationship with Karimov.
Karimov responded by ending his alliance with the United States and renewing ties with Russia. In June of 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Karimov to visit him, and the two men agreed to joint military exercises for their armies. By July, Uzbekistan, Russia, China and three other former Soviet republics in Central Asia demanded that the United States close its bases in the region. The Uzebek parliament then voted to cancel the American lease on the base within 180 days. In November of 2005, Uzbekistan and Russia signed a treaty that may lead to deployments of Russian troops in Uzbekistan.
At the beginning of 2006, Uzbekistan joined the Eurasian Economic Community, a group of former Soviet states led by Russia. Uzbekistan's government-owned oil and gas company also signed a deal with Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, to develop some natural gas fields in Uzbekistan and to let Gazprom control Uzbek gas exports—a significant step toward a closer alliance, since it came as Russia was using Gazprom as a carrot to reward its allies among the former Soviet republics while threatening to cut off supplies or raise prices for ex-Soviet republics such as Ukraine which had forged closer ties to the West. Karimov's term as president was scheduled to continue until December of 2007.
Guardian, May 16, 2005.
New York Times, September 18, 1991, p. A1; April 16, 1995; February 17, 1999, p. A3; October 29, 2000; October 13, 2001, p. A1; December 9, 2001; March 11, 2002, p. A21; March 14, 2002, p. A18; April 6, 2002, p. A10; May 23, 2005, p. A1; May 31, 2005, p. A1; June 9, 2005, p. A3; July 6, 2005, p. A3.
Wall Street Journal, September 8, 1998, p. 1; February 17, 1999, p. A18; March 27, 2001, p. A18; September 24, 2001, p. A19; November 21, 2001, p. A11; September 2, 2005, p. A13; November 15, 2005, p. A20; January 30, 2006, p. A1.
"President of Uzbekistan: Islam Karimov, " Uzbeki-stan, http://www.umid.uz/Main/Uzbekistan/ President/president.html (February 26, 2006).
"Profile of President Islam Karimov, " Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/press/2002/03/karimovprof.htm (February 26, 2006).