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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Uzbekistan backs 'unnatural' ally
Uzbek cotton pickers
Ordinary Uzbeks are wary of US intentions
Dominic Arkwright reports on why Uzbekistan has agreed to be part of the United States' coalition against terrorism

There is no real independent news in Uzbekistan - you take and believe what you can from state television and radio.

It reports events, but it is coy about the government's involvement in them. This country is 80% Muslim and it is landlocked by at least two countries on every side.


It is and it will be a big problem for Uzbekistan if it openly supports America

Former MP Karim Bekhriev.
It needs its neighbours and it needs its Muslim friends. America is not a natural ally.

Professor Guga Hidoyatov, a political adviser to the Uzbekistan foreign ministry, says prejudice against Americans is common for all Asian peoples.

The reality is that America is less of an enemy than the Taleban.

American support is actually a relief - but only if it succeeds in getting rid of the Taleban, according to journalist and former MP Karim Bekhriev.

'Big problem'

"It is and it will be a big problem for Uzbekistan if Uzbekistan openly supports America," he said.

"If America fights the people of Afghanistan not the terrorists, then Afghanistan will never forgive Uzbekistan."

Uzbek shooting gallery
There are fears of wider regional destabilisation

A series of car bombs in Tashkent in 1999 were said to be the work of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), cited by President Bush as a terrorist organisation.

Its leader is a senior Taleban commander.

Tashkent, with its wide Soviet streets, its grim Soviet town planning and its desert dust feels more Soviet than Islamic, but there are seeds of religious fanaticism with the potential to germinate.

"There are supporters," says Mr Hidoyatov. "In Uzbekistan, there were over 3,000 people jailed for their sympathies to the IMU and probably they and their families are not very happy with the government.

"Since we have all these demographical and economic problems, the Taleban may think that there are lots of people who are not happy with what they have in Uzbekistan."

Inviting route

But there is another reason for Uzbekistan to want the Taleban out of power - it needs access to the sea.

Uzbek border guard
Uzbek border guards fear they could see a wave of refugees

At the moment that route is through Russia to the north - subject to its political whims and potential economic blackmail.

A far more inviting route lies to the south.

Mr Hidoyatov says: "All other railways go through Asia. But we have another possibility - the railway through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. For this it is necessary to construct the railway.

"Without removing the Taleban it is very difficult to change anything in Afghanistan.

"It is our main task now and I think it is in our interest to liquidate the Taleban."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Dominic Arkwright
"People want to know what is going on"
See also:

28 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Uzbekistan
28 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Uzbekistan
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