US decision to lift arms embargo gets mixed reaction from Uzbek opposition

Text of report by Russian Ferghana.ru news agency website

Unlike many other opposition members, a well-known Uzbek politician, Polat Oxunov, who lives in exile, has approved of a decision by the US Congress to lift "human rights" restrictions on arms supply to Uzbekistan. In his view, the Uzbek army should be strong and mobile, and the USA’s military aid will be channelled into modernizing and equipping Uzbek servicemen with modern technologies. It especially will come in handy if the USA leaves Afghanistan and the Taleban come to power again.

An [Uzbek opposition] blogger, Yodgor Norbotayev, absolutely disagrees with Polat Oxunov’s stance.

Here are both opinions provided for the readers of Ferghana [news agency website]:

"Barack Obama has addressed the Congress with a request to lift the restrictions on providing military aid to Uzbekistan. In this connection, various Uzbek opposition movements and groups have started a protest campaign against the US president’s decision. One of such protest statements was published on behalf of a pro-Islamic movement recently set up in Germany by Muhammad Solih [an exiled Uzbek opposition leader]. In this connection, I would like to shortly express my view on this issue.

"I completely disagree with all who are protesting over this important issue concerning the defence capability of my country, Uzbekistan. I have repeatedly said that to be an opposition member does not mean to be an opponent of the Uzbek leadership in everything. The opposition and the government always have common interests, for example, concerning regional security and our country’s defence capability against external threats.

"A politician should first think well before making any statement. Especially, one should not make hasty conclusions and start protesting over the lifting of the restrictions on providing military aid to Uzbekistan.

"What is bad if the USA lifts the restrictions on providing military aid to our country? Could any one of those protesters give a specific answer to this question? They have the only argument that US military aid will allegedly be used to suppress disturbances similar to the Andijon one [in May 2005]. But this is a very weak argument, since ordinary arms are always used to suppress similar uprisings. Uzbekistan received a huge amount of those arms after the USSR collapsed, and that will be enough for the coming 10-15 years. What is more, it is worth reminding those who do not know that to suppress Islamists’ demonstrations in Andijon, there were used arms brought from Russia.

"The USA’s military aid to Uzbekistan will be used to modernize the Uzbek army and supply it with modern military technologies. We should keep in mind that the resources of the Uzbek air defence, missile artillery equipment, heavy vehicles, communication tools and many others in the armaments of our army have already become outdated both physically and morally.

"Taking into account the fact that we border a number of countries that are unstable and on the brink of losing their statehood, our army should be strong and mobile in the event that regional conflicts arise. In this connection, indeed, I would like to ask those who are protesting against military aid to Uzbekistan. Who should think about it, but us? Who will give us military aid if Russia itself, which previously used to help us, is buying military hardware from abroad, and the Russian Defence Ministry is refusing to buy arms from Russian producers?

"I have not yet spoken about threats coming from Afghanistan. Everyone knows that the Taleban are not defeated. And if the USA leaves Afghanistan and the Taleban come to power again, our Uzbek army should be equipped and trained to the extent that it can protect our region from invasion by the Taleban. That is why indeed we should support all the actions aimed at strengthening and modernizing the armed forces of Uzbekistan.

"That is why, indeed, I will totally support the US Congress’ decision on lifting the restrictions on providing military aid to Uzbekistan," Polat Oxunov, deputy chairman of the [Uzbek opposition] Birlik party and former Soviet Union MP.

"Arms and military hardware supplied from the USA to Uzbekistan may have double assignments. With its help, it is possible not only successfully resist Afghan militants and defend our country, but also to take under control the first symptoms of the start of ‘the Arab spring’ if they appear in the country; to monitor and toughly nip in the bud such developments. That is why, although American lawmakers have agreed to lift the arms embargo in principle, they have not yet adopted the final decision. They are rather afraid of international human rights organizations’ reaction… [ellipsis as published]" Yodgor Norbotayev says in his blog.

Source: Ferghana.ru news agency website in Russian 1421 gmt 29 Sep 11

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