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Terror Target: Uzbekistan

The president of Uzbekistan blamed Islamic extremists for the terrorist attacks which killed 19 people in his country. Ray Suarez explores what made Uzbekistan a target for terror with Charles William Maynes, president of the Eurasia Foundation.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    For more now on the terror attacks we're joined by Charles William Maynes, president of the Eurasia Foundation. He has just returned from Uzbekistan. Good to see you. The prosecutor in Tashkent who is leading the investigation says that the attacks were aimed at the destabilization of the country. Is there an armed resistance in Uzbekistan trying to overthrow the government?

  • CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES:

    There are two main opposition movements. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which calls for the violent overthrow of the government and was heavily damaged during the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, its leader was allegedly killed there. But it still remains a movement that calls for the violent overthrow of the government.

    Then there's something called the Party of Liberation. That actually has many more followers. It calls for the nonviolent overthrow of the government. It has never used violence before, but it does have a radical agenda. And the government has leaned very hard on both of them. It's got, according to the State Department, 6,500 political prisoners, which is one of the highest rates in the world.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, 19 people died in a series of bombings and shootouts with police or the military. The foreign minister called it an attempt to split the international terror coalition. How did Uzbekistan become part of that?

  • CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES:

    I think more than most Americans understand, Uzbekistan is absolutely vital to our presence in Afghanistan. Once we decided that we were going to have to change the government in Afghanistan, we quickly changed our policy towards Uzbekistan and Pakistan, the two countries that border it. And we have troops in Uzbekistan. Their presence there was absolutely vital to our victory in Afghanistan. They're very important for our continued effort in Afghanistan. And obviously if any movement could destabilize the government of Afghanistan, that would strike a blow at the U.S. presence or the U.S. war against terrorism.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    This used to be part of the Soviet Union?

  • CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES:

    That's right, used to be part of the Soviet Union. It's absolutely central to any stability in central Asia. It is the largest country department graphically, it has the most coherence, it has a sense of national identity far beyond that of the neighboring countries, most of which are new in the sense of their nationality. So if you're hoping for a stable central Asia, you have to hope for a stable Uzbekistan.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The bombings were carried out in places like a children's store, a bus stop. They were carried out by female suicide bombers. Has Uzbekistan ever seen anything like this before?

  • CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES:

    No. There have never been suicide bombers in the case of any kind of violence in Uzbekistan. They have had terror attacks before, but they did not involve suicide bombers. So this is what has led many to argue that there's an outside involvement here.

    I think we also have to take into account that there are things going on in Uzbekistan that create tremendous tension in the population, particularly in the marketplaces which were, which are the places where the attacks took place. Last year, the government prohibited the sale of nonfood items in the markets. This put literally tens of thousands of people out of jobs. And there's a great deal of tension surrounding that.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Now, the United States has developed a partnership with the Uzbek government. What kind of government is it? Who's running Uzbekistan?

  • CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES:

    President Karimov is the leader of Uzbekistan, he has a very strong hold over the population. As I indicated before, the State Department's human rights report gives very low grades to Uzbekistan and points out that there are large numbers of political prisoners. Most of these people have been arrested simply for handing out a leaflet. So they face a problem in terms of the attitude of their population, the dimensions of which they can't measure because no one knows quite how strong this movement is.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Has Karimov used the war on terror to solidify his control over the country?

  • CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES:

    Well he had control over the country before the war on terrorism. He's used the alliance with the United States to shore up his regime, there's no question about that. He's received much more aid, he's received much more support from the United States.

    At the same time, the U.S. is putting pressure on him to try to loosen up the regime. Secretary Rumsfeld was recently out there. He raised the issue of human rights and democratic freedoms with the president. But we also have the base there, and it's clearly a priority of the administration to protect that base.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    It's a pretty complicated neighborhood, and for a long time Islam was suppressed by the Soviet Union. Is the current Uzbek government suppressing it in the same way or just allowing a government-controlled religion to operate? Who are these Muslim dissidents that are being arrested by the hundreds by this current government?

  • CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES:

    You know, it took Soviet forces many, many years to subdue central Asia after the revolution in 1917. And many of the same groups that resisted the Soviets are the very groups that are asserting an Islamic policy for the area. So it is a return of history, if you will, to the area.

    Most of the groups call for a restoration of the caliphate, for a united Central Asia. So you eliminate all the current governments, you'd return to the past. And most outside observers I think believe that although the government leans too hard on these people, in fact these groups do not have any answer for the problems, because their vision is backwards, not forwards.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    So, what's ahead for Uzbekistan if it's becoming a place where violent political action is being done?

  • CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES:

    I think what's ahead is at least for the immediate future much worse. I think there's going to be much more repression in response to this. This would be the reaction, I think, of almost any government, but you're starting with a government that is very repressive already. So the hand of the government on the population will be even heavier. If — there probably will be a response from the other side as well.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Bill Maynes, thanks for joining us.

  • CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES:

    Thank you.

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