In the days after the September 11 attacks, as Washington frantically forged alliances with countries willing to contribute to the forthcoming war against the Taliban, The New York Times warned the Bush administration to beware of unsavory Central Asian dictatorships offering support. In an unsigned editorial, The Times expressed concern that "Three of the least appealing leaders [in the region]—in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan—have now become American allies against their southern neighbor Afghanistan."
Similar concerns were voiced around the blogosphere, from both the left and right, and in 2005 Uzbek President Islam Karimov decided it was time to vindicate its critics by massacring hundreds of its citizens in the city of Andijan. The Carnegie Endowment has detail on the uprising here; Human Rights Watch has a detailed account here.
After criticizing the Karimov regime, Uzbekistan booted the American military from the country. As the Wall Street Journal explains, the Bush administration "joined Europe in criticizing Uzbekistan for using excessive force; in response, Mr. Karimov kicked the U.S. off Uzbekistan's Khanabad air base, which in the early years of the war had been the main hub for funneling troops and supplies into Afghanistan."
But now, as the Journal reported on Saturday, the Obama administration is repairing its relationship with the Karimov government in an attempt to reopen vital supply routes to Afghanistan.
As the war in Afghanistan has spread from the south toward Uzbekistan's borders, Uzbekistan increasingly fears the threat from within, notably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a militant group that is tightly allied with Islamists in Pakistan and Afghanistan and has dedicated itself to Mr. Karimov's overthrow.
Uzbekistan spelled out its effort to patch up relations with the U.S. in a five-page action plan approved by Mr. Karimov on Jan. 11. Besides calling for visits of Mr. Holbrooke and Mrs. Clinton, the plan calls for a visit in the next two months by Pentagon officials to assess the needs of the Uzbek military and determine whether some needs can be filled with U.S. military equipment.
The plan also calls for an Uzbek representative to be appointed to the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., to step up "military and military-technical cooperation" between the governments, and for discussions on countering threats to the transport route to Afghanistan.
Mr. Norland called the plan a "work in progress." and Mr. Karimov's approval of it a "welcome sign of the significance the Uzbek leadership is giving to the relationship with the United States."