Uzbekistan Chalks Out Its Own Course

-Jyotsna Bakshi, Research Fellow, IDSA


(Review article: Islam Karimov, "Uzbekistan On The Threshold Of The Twenty-First Century—Threats to Security, Conditions of Stability and Guarantees for Progress," Tashkent "Uzbekiston" 1997).

With a population of 23 million, Uzbekistan is the most populous of the five Central Asian Republics (CARs) of the former Soviet Union. It is located in the very heart of Central Asia. The Central Asia or inner Asia has traditionally been the cross-junction of great civilizations and empires. Different cultures, religions and races have always inter-mingled here. Present day Central Asia is the meeting ground of the interests of Russia, India, China and other Eastern and Western countries. The Islamic countries towards its south, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, evince special interest in the Muslim majority republics of the region. Rich oil and gas deposits have made the region the focus of world attention. All the major powers of the world have interests and stakes here.

With a historical memory of centuries old culture and civilisation and level of urbanization reflected in the flourishing ancient oases cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent and Khiva, Uzbekistan hopes and aspires to play the central stabilising and balancing role in the region.

The author of the present book is the President of Uzbekistan himself, who has shaped the destiny of the infant republic from its very inception. The book is, thus, a most authoritative account of the developing perspectives of the country on major issues pertaining to foreign and domestic policies. Six years after having emerged from the Soviet fold, Uzbekistan seems to have chalked out its own course, which is determined by its history, culture and geopolitical pulls and compulsions.

Karimov sets out three goals for the new republic, viz, security, stability and sustainable development. The gravest security threat to the country is apprehended from the possibility of the spill-over of the continuing conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan and Tajikistan. As security is indivisible, unless these hotbeds of conflict are eliminated, the neighbouring countries cannot feel secure. The problems of illegal drug-trafficking, international terrorism and arms smuggling have followed in the wake of these conflicts. Refugee influx from the zones of armed clashes not only puts administrative and economic burden on the neighbouring countries, but also impinges on their security as not all those who cross over may be innocent and peace-loving people. The armed militants after having been trained and having gained experience on the territory of Afghanistan, have taken active part in the armed conflicts in many countries of the world, including the former Soviet regions of Caucasus, Chechnya and Tajikistan. They continue to threaten peace in the region. Although with the end of Cold War, the possibility of a global war has receded, regional and local wars continue to pose a security challenge.

Closely connected with the Afghan and Tajik crises is the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. The militant and fundamentalist forces with 'open pretensions to power and the will to achieve it through using arms' appear to be threatening the Central Asian region from Gorny Badakhshan to the Caspian Sea. Islam Karimov's approach to Islamic revivalism in Central Asia is that of a person who is born in the faith and has inherited its cultural and spiritual legacy. No doubt, Karimov's world-view must have also been shaped by his Soviet upbringing, Marxist atheism and opposition to religious dogma. He rose to become the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan—the highest position in the republican hierarchy—and was thus, intimately linked with the Soviet ruling elite. At the time of Soviet disintegration, the Communist Party of Uzbekistan led by him—like the Communist Parties in other republics—dissociated itself from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), changed its name, adopted the mantle of nationalism and continued to rule in the old authoritarian-patriarchal style. It is widely agreed that the Soviet rule in Central Asia generally played a modernising and developmental role, although the development of Central Asia during Soviet era is assessed to be rather skewed. The ex-Communist ruling elites of Central Asia have most to fear from militant and fundamentalist Islamic opposition acquiring roots and gaining strength in Central Asia.

During the Soviet period, Islam—like all other religions—was suppressed, controlled and largely brought under the system of state regulation. A large number of mosques and madrasas were destroyed or closed. "The bulk of believers had no access to Koran". Karimov admits that due to official repression of religion, all kinds of superstitions flourished among the population. He makes it clear that the people of Uzbekistan would not like to go back to the Soviet experience. He recognizes and supports the positive role of religion in introducing "the highest spiritual, moral and ethical values" and in inculcating "historical and cultural heritage among the population". It was natural that following the collapse of Soviet ideology, Islamic revivalism tended to fill the temporary ideological vacuum. He is ready to accept and come to terms with the Islamic resurgence in the cultural and social spheres. But at the same time he states categorically:

"...We will never admit the religious slogans to be put on the banner in the struggle for power, the pretext for intervention in politics, economy and legislation, because in this we see a serious potential threat to stability and security for our state". (p 38)

He is opposed to intolerant and fanatic sects like Wahaabism that seek to exploit current economic and social problems natural in period of transition. The very constitution of the republic has proclaimed it to be a secular state. Religion is a matter of private beliefs and practice. The state has no official religion and would not discriminate among citizens on religious grounds in the multi-religious state.

Karimov is in a particularly unique position to follow a balanced and mature approach to the role of Islam on the wider political spectrum around the globe. He is no believer in what may be called Samuel Huntington's theory of the clash of civilizations, or the 'global confrontation between the Islamic and the non-Islamic civilizations'. He would not like to emphasize the idea of 'exclusiveness' of Islam and its consolidation with other powers of the modern world in order to build a counterpoise to the USA and Western Europe. At the same time, he would not like that Islam and the states of Islamic culture are regarded as a new "empire of the evil" and an overall zone of danger. He calls for a balanced and positive appreciation of the contribution of Islam to the flourishing of the world civilization. Indeed, he would like to look into the deeper socio-economic and political reasons that give rise to fundamentalism and extremist ideologies. He would like the importance of Uzbekistan to be specially appreciated in the struggle against religious fundamentalism and for the coexistence of different cultures and civilizations.

It is true that the Central Asian Republics did not struggle for independence on the eve of Soviet disintegration. Independence was rather thrust on them for which they were not fully prepared at the time. However, after tasting independence and undergoing the initial trying and testing period, they would not like to lose it. Karimov apprehends a threat to the country's independence from the forces of 'great-power chauvinism and aggressive nationalism.' "Uzbekistan", he says "has survived a complicated period of forced retention within the Russian and the Soviet empire." Today this period is given different interpretations from different points of view. But he is not an advocate of the so-called civilizational mission of great powers. Such a view gives rise to national pride and mentality of one's exclusiveness at the expense of national, cultural and spiritual values of the colonized peoples. The belief in one's infallibility may lead to strategically erroneous decisions that may finally work against the empire itself, as happened in the case of the Tsarist and Soviet empires. It seems to Karimov that the development of colonies and semi-colonies within the framework of the empire was always subordinated to the current and long-term interests of the great powers and was never balanced and for its own sake. It seems to Karimov that the forces of great-power chauvinism and aggressive nationalism continue to exist in present day Russia. He identifies them with the Communists and the ultra-nationalists. As regards the "state leadership of Russia," adds Karimov, it has begun to "understand the need of juridical equality within the CIS.We share Boris Yeltsin's opinion that 'the restoration of the former Union will turn out to be a tragedy.'" (p 56)

Karimov finds the views expressed in the editorial in Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Independence Newspaper) of Moscow dated March 28, 1997 to be particularly dangerous and objectionable. The article entitled "CIS: Beginning or End of History", calls for the integration of the post-Soviet territory. The authors of the article are particularly opposed to the growing integration of the Central Asian states, which is regarded as a "threat from the South". It is seen as undermining the interests of the Russian economy in the region. If the economies of the post-Soviet states of the region are subordinated to the developed countries of the South and the West, says the article, there would be no place left for Russia. Russia is advised by the article to slacken the Union of Central Asia block now, during its formation, split it and instigate internal regional competition. For this purpose, a policy of both carrots and the stick is advocated. The carrots include military, economic and financial aid in the form of credits, supplies, orders and incentives and so on. And the policy of the stick includes the regulation of raw material exports from these states, tough conditions for restructuring their external debts to Russia and even the threat to withdraw Russian troops from Tajikistan where they protect the Tajik-Afghan border in a bid to keep the Islamic militants from Afghanistan away from crossing over to the CIS territory. Russia is also advised to make territorial claims on these republics. The Central Asian states continue to depend on Russian transport infrastructure and remain vulnerable to economic blockade by Russia. The authors of the article also advise that Russia should play the card of the champion of the Russian -speaking population in the region. These forces want Russia to remain the main and exclusive centre of power in the post-Soviet territory.

Karimov, however, feels confident that time and history are in favour of the new republics. He calls for the development of "qualitatively new relations on the territory of the former Soviet Union and first and foremost with Russia". He would like Uzbekistan as well as other Central Asian states to emerge as independent and stable buffer states between Russia and the outside world, which , he claims fully meets Russia's geopolitical interests. It would be cheaper and more reliable for Russia to have independent and strong partners than to "support a younger brother" or "to hold a minor ally within limits".

The Central Asian Republics are currently passing through the delicate formative period of nation and state building in a polyethnic setting. None of the new republics in Central Asia is homogenous. Each forms a criss-cross ethnic mosaic. The present state borders drawn during the Soviet times are highly artificial and cut across nationalities and ethnic groups. Four of the Central Asian republics belong to the Turkic group. Tajikistan is the only republic which is linguistically and ethnically closer to Iran. Central Asia is also a home to a large number of Russians and people belonging to various other nationalities. Maintenance of ethnic peace is, therefore, of crucial importance for the security and stability of the whole region. Recognition of the present state borders and their inviolability are extremely important as any opening of the Pandora's box through realignment of borders would destabilize the whole region. No wonder, the principle of 'unity in diversity' is the guiding principle of the Uzbek state and society. The Constitution of the Republic underlines that "All citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan, regardless of their nationality, constitute the poeple of Uzbekistan." According to Karimov, the ethnopolitics in Uzbekistan is practised within the framework of the movement "Turkestan is Our Common Home." But "Turkestan" is seen as not only the peoples of Turkish origin, but the whole population of the area. Karimov particularly emphasizes that his people have resolutely rejected Pan-Turkism along with the 'chauvinistic' idea of "Great Turan." "For us" he adds, "Turan is a symbol of cultural, but not a super-political unity of the Turkic language speaking nations of the region." As a gesture to the Tajiks within Uzbekistan and those in neighbouring Tajikistan—the only Persian-speaking people in the region—President Karimov emphasizes that the Uzbek culture is a unique synthesis of Turkic and Persian cultures. He wants Uzbekistan to become the initiator of cultural integration of Central Asian states, a mediator in the West-East dialogue and a symbol of spiritual links of many civilizations.

In Central Asia there has been no tradition of state system based on a national idea. Present Central Asian states were created during the Soviet period. However despite the recognition of ethnicity and language as the basis of nationality and theoretical recognition of each nationality's right to sovereign autonomy, the Soviet state remained in essence a highly centralized monolithic and totalitarian state. Before the Russian colonization of Central Asia, the states that existed in the region were established mostly on the basis of dynastic or territorial principles, for instance, the Khanates of Bukhara, Kokand and Khiva. Clan and regional bonds and loyalties remained traditionally strong in Central Asia. Even during the Soviet period, managers and administrators at various levels distributed favours to their proteges on the basis of clan and regionalism. This led to the conflict of interests among various clans. However, during the Soviet period they were solved and suppressed through the repressive state machinery. While recognizing the importance of local, clan and regional loyalties, Karimov does not want them to come in the way of wider national consolidation in Uzbekistan. Moreover, regional tendencies may fuel the growth of centrifugal forces and even play into the hands of outside powers.

Corruption and criminality are a universal phenomenon. However, in the transitional period in the former Soviet republics when a re-distribution of national wealth is taking place, such forces and tendencies have acquired additional vigour. Karimov particularly refers to "shadow economy" and organized crime in this connection. With a view to curb and control these elements, he emphasizes the importance of updating the legal and judicial system in Uzbekistan. Morever, criminal elements tend to form international associations in order to make quick and huge profits from drug trafficking and arms smuggling. Central Asia is considered to be a 'dainty piece of pie' by international criminal groups as the region is located on the cross-roads of international communication links, in close proximity to the major drug-producing region of Afghanistan which is also a scene of internecine civil war and a region of arms proliferation on a large scale. Some of the high technology industries located in Central Asia include those with nuclear fission properties and those of the dual utilization both for civil and military purposes. It may lead to very serious consequences if such technologies fall in the hands of irresponsible and criminal elements. Uzbekistan is ready, says President Karimov, to cooperate with the international community in the fight against international crime.

Considerable space is devoted in the book to the problems of ecological safety and environmental protection. As a consequence of decades of neglect of environmental concerns in the planning and implementation of the developmental strategies in the region, the Central Asian states are facing the grave ecological problem arising from shrinking of the Aral Sea and hazards of toxic and industrial wastes. The solution of these problems calls for cooperation among all the countries of the region as well as help of the international community at large.

There is little doubt that the Uzbek President would find a very sympathetic response in this country for all the above-mentioned views expressed in his book. Indians would understand and support the efforts and aspirations of the Uzbek leadership and people to build a modern nation state based on the principles of secularism, democracy, recognition of unity in diversity in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual setting. The Uzbek President is very close to the Indian way of thinking when he wants his new republic to be rooted in its own history and culture, maintain its own distinct identity and yet be open to the influence of all that is good and beneficial in the modern world and civilization. He is not against the efforts towards globalization, but would shun mechanical and blind copying.

Like all other former Soviet republics, Uzbekistan also has embarked on the course of transformation of the administrative- command economy to a free market economy. However, Uzbekistan and other CARs have treaded rather cautiously and conservatively in introducing changes in the economic sphere. Uzbekistan has opted for a stage-by-stage transition to market reforms while maintaining the 'regulatory role of the state.' Thus, unlike Russia, there was no 'economic shock therapy' and privatization at 'break-neck speed' in Uzbekistan. Encouragement was given to small and middle level entrepreneurs and above all , to the cultivation of land initially on lease basis by private farmers. It was in keeping with the general approach of President Karimov that the old home should not be destroyed before building a new one. It is easier to destroy than to build. Therefore, haste and lack of systemic attitude in liberalization process can be dangerous. In fact, six years after steering the republic on an independent course, President Karimov feels confident to assert that life itself has dictated that the path taken by Uzbekistan was correct. In the initial stages Uzbekistan followed a policy of providing social protection to the entire population. Subsidies on main food items continued. Although in several cases such a policy benefited even those sections who did not need such a protection, yet on the whole, such a policy helped Uzbekistan to escape social confrontation and maintain stability. Karimov claims that in Uzbekistan infant mortality has reduced, life expectancy has increased and the crime rate is, in fact, the lowest in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The state's policy of ensuring social protection of the population has, according to Karimov, become the basis of a broad social consensus in the country on major priorities and objectives of social development.

Uzbekistan has huge mineral and raw material resources. The country has also a sound agricultural base. It is a major cotton producing country and is distinguished for its fruits and grapes. The country occupies 4th place in the world by gold stocks, 10th and 11th place in copper stocks, and 7th and 8th place in uranium stocks (p 197). According to the estimates of experts, Uzbekistan has huge oil and gas deposits. About 60 per cent of the territory of the republic holds promise for their extraction (p 199). These would not only satisfy the domestic requirements of the republic during the coming decades, but also make it a major exporter of precious energy resources. All this adds to the geopolitical and geostrategic importance of the republic and opens up prospects of significant economic development of the country.

No doubt, Uzbekistan is keenly soliciting foreign investments and technology to develop its economy infrastructure. The biggest source of aid are naturally the industrialized countries of the West, Japan and South Korea, etc. They have investible surplus capital as well as state-of-art technology. Uzbekistan is therefore, keen to project its geopolitical and geostrategic importance before the West. The USA in particular, and the West in general, are also interested in propping up the independence of the former Soviet republics in order to ensure that no single centre of power emerges again in Eurasia that can challenge the West.

Previously all the transport and communication links of Central Asia as well as oil and gas pipelines moved northwards towards Russia. Uzbekistan and other CARs are now keen to diversify such links. Being land-locked states, getting access to the southern seas to be linked with the world market is particularly important for them. The construction of a number of railroads, roads, and oil and gas pipelines in various directions is being planned and undertaken that would connect Uzbekistan and other CARs with many countries of the world. The Great Silk Route of the ancient times is again being re-created.

Uzbekistan, along with other Central Asian countries, has joined the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), a grouping of regional Muslim countries. Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, the former members of the Western alliance system, were the original members of ECO. One of the main objectives of ECO is to promote transport and communication links among the countries of the region. It seems that the Central Asian Republics would like to emphasize economic cooperation and steer clear of controversial political issues within ECO. In accordance with an Intergovernmental treaty signed between the CARs and other countries of ECO, the construction of the railroad Tedjen-Serakhs-Mashhad is being implemented and is likely to be completed by the year 2000. With technical help from the European Union, a transcaucasus railway line is planned to be built which will connect the Central Asian countries through Azerbaijan, and Georgia to the Black Sea ports. Uzbekistan is also interested in the renovation and construction of automobile roads. Andijan-Osh-Irkashtam- Kashgar road opens the way to China and Pakistan also across the Karakoram Highway. Bukhara-Serakhs-Mashhad-Tehran and Termez-Herat-Kandahar-Karachi road links open up the possibilities of reaching the Indian Ocean across Iran and Afghanistan-Pakistan respectively. Continued civil war and bloodshed in Afghanistan not only pose a security threat to the CARs, but have also blocked the trade and transit route to the Indian Ocean across Afghanistan. Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states would like the land route through a peaceful, stable and non-threatening Afghanistan to Pakistan and the southern seas open and, in fact, extend further to the larger market of India. The same applies to the projected oil and gas pipelines also.

In education and health care network, Uzbekistan ranks among the developed countries of the world thanks largely to the Soviet legacy. It has a literacy rate of 99.06 per cent. Uzbek system of higher learning and specialized educational institutions are being geared to provide experts and skilled cadre in accordance with the emerging requirements of the Uzbek state and the new market-oriented economy. In the field of higher learning Uzbekistan is actively cooperating with many countries of the world. In this connection the author especially mentions educational establishments in the USA, Germany, Great Britain and Egypt. Preparatory work is said to be under way to establish the Uzbek-American and Uzbek-Korean universities.

As an independent country Uzbekistan has also created its own army. Uzbek objective is to have a professional army, which is small in number but is highly mobile and well-equipped and can meet the security challenges to the country. Uzbekistan has also enunciated its own military doctrine, which is defensive in character and is based on the principle of maintaining the defensive potential of the country on the level of reasonable sufficiency.

Uzbekistan has called for turning Central Asia into a nuclear-free zone. It is in keeping with the Uzbek desire to reduce dependence on the Russian nuclear shield, become a buffer zone between Russia and the outside world , and in general follow an independent policy.

Throughout the book a repeated commitment is made to the values and principles of democracy and the task of establishing a democratic law-governed state. However, independent observers have spoken of human rights violation and the authoritarian character of the state. The leaders of some of the opposition formations like the 'Birlik' and 'Irk' fled the country. There has been no history and tradition of democracy or democratic political culture in the country or the region as a whole. It is understandable that in the initial vulnerable period of independent existence, the leadership give priority to the tasks of maintaining security and stability, civic and ethnic peace and tackling a difficult economic situation, rather than immediate introduction of democracy in the Western sense of the term.

It appears that the establishment of full-fledged democracy is rather a long-term goal. Loud pretensions in its favour are aimed at silencing the critics of the regime in the West. Karimov himself admits that the formation of democratic opposition is a question of time and a part of the 'painful process of the initial consolidation of democratic institutions in Uzbekistan'. He is quite scornful of the criticism of 'ambitious people' and the attempts at 'illegal confrontation' (p 151).

As an independent country Uzbekistan has joined a large number of international organizations, above all the UNO and its specialized agencies. It has established diplomatic relations with a large number of countries. It has also joined the vast and amorphous Non-Aligned Movement. However, a marked orientation towards the USA and the West appears to be the main stance of the country's foreign policy and also the central message of the book. President Karimov explicitly states:

" attempt to join and seclude in some Unions, within the limits of the former USSR is nothing but the doom ourselves to vegetate in the backyards of the world economy." (p 273)

He is against the resurrection of a military and political bloc within the CIS space. He is opposed to the creation within the CIS of supra-state structures: parliamentary, legislative, executive—like the Coordination or Supreme Council, Executive or Administrative Commitee with a huge number of employees, unified military and political structures and so on. They seem to reflect the old Soviet mentality when everything was controlled and decided by the centre.He would prefer cooperation among the CIS countries on economic and humanitarian issues. President Karimov makes it clear that Uzbekistan would not join the Treaty of the Four (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan and Belarus) and the Treaty of the Two (Russia and Belarus). The basic strategic issue before Uzbekistan is "how to prevent the reanimation of the old empire system." In the Union of Belarus and Russia—which meets the strategic goals of the Communists and the nationalist forces—he sees an attempt to force Ukraine to join it and after that from the position of the so-called Slavic Union to "dictate their will to other sovereign states on the post-Soviet territory" (p 270). The author finds a basic difference between integration within the European Union and the attempts at integration among the CIS countries. Integration in the European Union is based on the recognition of sovereignty, free will and rights of the member states. The Maastricht agreements in Europe have a decades long history of economic integration. According to Karimov any integration that is attempted in a shorter time is either a military and political union or a unilateral merger. Member states of European Union have approximately equal and high enough level of economic development and democratic social and state structures. The same is not the case with the former Soviet states.

President Karimov seems to prefer cooperation among the CIS countries on the pattern of ASEAN and APEC, which have no supranational bodies and other unified structures. However, the integration of the level of the Central Asian countries is favoured as an 'objective necessity'. The states of Central Asia have similar problems, they share common territory, common means of communication and the need to jointly explore water and energy resources. The agreement signed by Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan and Uzbekistan to create a unified economic zone is welcomed by him as a 'practical step' on the road to regional integration in Central Asia. He looks forward to the creation of a Central Asian Commonwealth . However, he does not want to counterput the Central Asian Commonwealth to the integration processes within the framework of the CIS. Cooperation among the Central Asian states is aimed at consolidating their national independence and ensuring their economic progress.

Partnership and cooperation with the European Union is regarded as contributing to Uzbekistan's security and development.The Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had opened its Regional Office for Central Asia in Tashkent. President Karimov favours a more active effort of OSCE in Central Asia.

Although President Karimov opposes the formation of a military and political bloc on the territory of the CIS, but NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is regarded by him as an international organization that comprises of democratic states and may become "a stabilising force not only on the European continent, but also through strengthening its political structure and the Partnership for Peace Programme it may influence on the vast Eurasian region." Uzbek participation in the Partnership for Peace Programme (which it joined in 1994 along with Russia and other CIS countries) is regarded as "strengthening our independence and sovereignty," since it provides an opportunity to join modern military and technical achievements and expands opportunities for the training of military experts (p. 262).

According to the author, the visits of J. Solana, Secretary General of NATO, and R. Hunter, the US permanent representative in NATO to Uzbekistan demonstrated that their attitudes towards global and regional security problems coincide. The visitors showed understanding and support for Uzbek initiatives for maintaining peace in the region, seeking a political solution to Afghan conflict and declaring Central Asia a nuclear—free zone. "The European component of Uzbekistan's integration into the world community" are regarded as "vitally important" because Europe and the West are the source of high technology and investments.

In Asia, special importance is given to the "development and deepening of relations among the Turkic-language speaking countries." He does not favour politicization of this forum and calls for attention to be paid to the solution of economic and humanitarian problems.

In the establishment of bilateral contacts, first and foremost importance is given to the USA, the leading world power, relations with whom are regarded to be of 'primary significance' for Uzbekistan. Bilateral relations with a number of European countries are mentioned in the second place in the following order of priority: Germany, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, Austria, Greece, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and others.

The strengthening of Uzbekistan's relations with the countries of the East and South-East Asia are mentioned in the third place in this order: Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and others. Then comes the reference to the countries of the former Soviet Union that "occupy a special place in the solution of regional stability issues."

It is clear from the above account that in the present mental map of the Uzbek President, India occupies a very low priority. India has certainly lagged behind other countries in cultivating relations with strategically important and resource-rich Central Asian states, although she began with considerably greater advantage and goodwill in Central Asia. In fact, Islam Karimov had chosen India as the first country for his official visit abroad as the new Republic's President.

The fact remains, however, that the basic geopolitical interests of India and the Central Asian states converge in the region. India is genuinely interested in the maintenance of peace and stability in the region and in ensuring that the Central Asian Republics become politically and economically strong and hold their own against the attempts of any outside powers to extend their influence in the region. There is no clash of interests between India and Uzbekistan. India does not even remotely figure in the threat perception of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states. In fact, President Islam Karimov can expect maximum understanding and support from India on the basic principles and concepts on which he wants to build the Uzbek state. The very fact that India and the Central Asian Republics are situated in close geopolitical proximity of each other is a powerful factor of mutual support strengthening their defences against the forces of religious fundamentalism, externally-aided terrorism, and political extremism in general. The countries sharing the same geographical neighbourhood are, of necessity, likely to have more to do with each other in many fields than very distant partners.

President Karimov has rightly stressed the importance of retaining old ties while forging new ones. Any excessive swinging of the pendulum on the other extreme may only provide the grist to the mill and activate the very same "great power chauvinist and aggressive nationalism," elements from whom he apprehends a threat to the independence and sovereignty of his country.