25 years ago on 1st September 1991, Uzbekistan emerged as an independent country and was called the Republic of Uzbekistan. Islam Karimov became country’s first president and remained in power for 27 years. On Friday 2nd September he died at the age of 78, reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, leaving no nominated successor behind him. Like every controversial leader for some he was a hero and for others, he was an evil.
In his supporters’ eyes he was a great leader who provided stability to their country which is bordered with one of the world’s most insecure, war-ridden and terrorism hunted country; Afghanistan. For them, Uzbekistan’s steady growth is a result of Karimivo’s visions and policies. His statesmanship made Uzbekistan one of the biggest exporter of cotton, gas, and gold. But his opponents see him as a criminal dictator, who was responsible for hundreds of killings and human rights violations under his rule. They accuse him of repressing fundamental freedoms of his own people. They call his harassment, detention, and violation of basic rights, a “systematic torture”.
Karimov was responsible for a number of good and bad things, directly or indirectly, under his rule of almost three decades. He curbed the fundamental rights of social activists, journalists, researchers and anyone who stood against him and didn’t allow any legal opposition.
As reported by Human Rights Watch in 2011, “Methods commonly used (against his challengers in jails) include beatings with truncheons, electric shock, hanging by wrists and ankles, rape and sexual humiliation, asphyxiation with plastic bags and gas masks, and threats of physical harm to relatives,”
No doubt he did wrong doing so and no matter what justifications he had, he was still responsible for all these crimes but for Consequentialism, he did this for the (greater good) right. He harmed few for protecting the majority, as they would always argue.
For Karimov, terrorists were always number one threat to the peace and resources of Central Asia. Though his critics always accused him of exaggerating the dangers to justify his crackdowns on political dissent but in retrospect, this justification was not an exaggeration. With the fall of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and most importantly Afghanistan it was always possible that terrorists could build a strong base in any central Asian country particularly in Uzbekistan if Karimov did not have clear stance from day first of his reign against terrorism and terrorists. A reflection of this stance was seen in 1996 when he addressed his parliament, he said”, “Such people (terrorists) must be shot in the head…if necessary, if you lack the resolve, I’ll shoot them myself.”
His diplomatic dance kept Uzbekistan’s sovereignty unbreached. Under his rule, Uzbekistan enjoyed good ties with the United States and gained a lot of benefits. As observed by Global Security Organization Uzbekistan, beginning in the late 1990s and through 2004, received U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF), International Military Education and Training (IMET), and other security assistance funds. But when in 2004 the United States started pushing Karimov for economic reforms under the U.S.-Uzbekistan Strategic Framework Agreement, he tilted towards Russia, and in 2005 he demanded the US to leave Uzbekistan. He signed an agreement of mutual cooperation with Vladimir Putin in 2005 in Moscow but in 2012 he left Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization to keep Uzbekistan neutral.
Karimov maintained stability and sovereignty of Uzbekistan intact from both internal and external threats. He kept Uzbeks safe to a greater extent from the menace of terrorism and Uzbekistan from the hegemons like the United States and Russia. Uzbekistan after Karimov would be different. Its future depends on who takes over and with what power, vision and policies.