Is a US Base in Uzbekistan a Good Idea?

A fully operational US base in Uzbekistan could destabilize Central Asia, fuel anti-American sentiment and increase violence and human rights abuses.

base-uzbekistanThe deadline for US and coalition forces withdrawal in 2014 is approaching. In 2012, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that by the end of 2014, coalition forces would stop any combat operations and would be limited to normal military duties in the country. Afghan President Hamid Karazi recently approved nine US military bases after the 2014 the US withdrawal.

There is still a major hurdle and concern for transporting the arms and equipment out of Afghanistan. Because of that concern, Uzbekistan, an important player in the region, has offered to provide a transit route in return for latest US weapons.

Reports surfaced last year that Uzbekistan faces an international arms embargo due to widespread human rights violations. The reports also revealed that Uzbekistan started negotiations for a possible arms-transit and military base deal with the US, that would help coalition forces take its equipment out of Afghanistan. This news raised eyebrows not only in the region, but also the international community.

Pakistan still holds the advantage of being the most feasible and cheapest transit route, yet it seems that coalition forces want as many alternatives as possible, including Uzbekistan, if Islamabad decides to go against its deals with NATO and close the NATO supply line, or even ask for more money.

If Uzbekistan allows an American base in the country, it would mean that Tashkent wants to turn its back on Russia, a neighbor that supports a good chunk of Uzbek workforce. Russia, even after the Soviet disintegration, has maintained significant influence over some of the Central Asian states.

NATO is also seeking to use Uzbekistan as key player in Central Asia

James Appathurai, NATO’s representative for Central Asia, held meetings with Uzbek ministers in March 2013, in what seemed to be a move to gain Uzbek support against Russia and its allies.

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A fully operational American base in Uzbekistan would entail bad political consequences. Hence it could play a destabilizing role in Central Asia as anti-US sentiment and motivation for extremists and Islamic radicals could fuel a wave of militancy and spill over into Russia – one of the most important states in the region.

Russia’s military expert, Lt. Gen. Leonid Sazhin, shared such concerns. In a recent interview he said, “Although Americans claims that they are fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan today, it will be them who, by deploying their facility in Uzbekistan, will lead Taliban members there.”

Even if it seems that the US base would be used for weapons storage, such a base could easily be used for military purposes in Afghanistan for surgical strikes and drone attacks. This could also raise major human rights concerns and sour relations with Kabul.

If the US is successful in establishing a fully operational base in Uzbekistan, this would also worry China, another regional power, as it has already expressed concerns over the bases surrounding it – known as the ring of fire. In any case, Uzbekistan needs to decide whether such a venture would be beneficial for the country and the region, or will bring chaos in the long run.

Farooq Yousaf is a program consultant and content editor at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad, belonging to Frontier Region of Pakistan, who is currently pursuing his higher Studies in Public Policy and Conflict Management in Germany. He tweets as @faruqyusaf and can be reached at farooq@crss.pk. Read other articles by Farooq.