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Shuttle Diplomacy, The Uzbek Way

Friday, December 22, 2017 - 19:33

Shavkat Mirziyev has been the head of the Republic of Uzbekistan for over a year. Mirziyev came to power in the time of a tough struggle among the clans, of conflicts between supporters and opponents of the deceased Islam Karimov. He was hastily trying to build his own team. As a result of the compromising and confidential distribution of powers, some pieces thereof were given to both supporters and opponents of the previous regime.


The first deputy chairman of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis, Sadik Safaev, also received his portion of trust. He was eager to become the curator of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic and the personal patron of A. Kamilov, the master of Uzbek foreign policy. Earlier, he held the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan. However, he was dismissed in 2005, when the Andijan events took place. Since that moment, Safaev has been persistently trying to rehabilitate his political reputation and find his place in the Uzbek politics, mostly through his connections with the Western world.


In the present conditions, Safaev has confidence and authority. He has been trying in every possible way to connect Uzbekistan with his western patrons, which he acquired while studying at Harvard. But being separated from power for a long while has played a cruel joke on him. Like any short-lived and unreliable politician, he became uninteresting to the West.


The most sad of Safaev's presumptions was the attempt to organize a meeting between Sh. Mirziyev and US President Donald Trump within the framework of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in September 2017. Shortly before the beginning of the scheduled meeting, experienced political technologists from the White House met Safaev, as if testing the professionalism of this parliamentarian. It's not known what conclusion they made, but instead of the planned full-fledged meeting of the two presidents, Trump limited himself to a formal photograph and a greetings message. Undoubtedly, this saved him time for meeting the leaders of Israel, France, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and even the Palestinian autonomy.


This was the result of Safaev's “fruitful” talks, of which he boasted to the Uzbek media. Th latter have to nod in agreement and spread his version of the events. If Uzbek journalists had more freedom and independence, the public would be disappointed to learn how politician Safaev went to the back of beyond, asking the West to make sure he obtains the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan.


Undoubtedly, politicians deprived of moral principles are the most popular items in the international political market. However, sophisticated Western customers prefer traitors with good professional qualities rather than those who came to power through patronage or through love relationships. During the peak time of Safaev's career under Karimov, BBC reported about his emotional connection with the disgraced daughter of the president of Uzbekistan, Gulnara Karimova. Now, Safaev needs a reliable shoulder for another career take-off.


Karimov saw Safaev as a political parasite and plunged him into oblivion for years. Over this time, Safaev invented hundreds of ingenious ways of thoroughly tapping into power. Now, the number one task for Safaev is to become the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan. He directly asked this from Alice Wells, (the acting US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia) and Daniel Rosenblum (US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan). Worth recalling, he met them on the occasion of the organization of the meeting between President Mirziyev and Trump that was never held.


The special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamot, and a number of other participants in the negotiation processes at various levels also learned about what an unrivaled and loyal to the West Foreign Minister Safaev could become.


Safaev was so carried away by his self-promotion that the questions of organizing the meeting of the two presidents had gone to the background. Mirziyev, who entrusted this issue to him, faced a slammed door. It will not be surprising if the political sympathies of the Uzbek president will acquire a clear pro-Russian overtones after such a demonstrative reaction. Given the already established ties with the Russian Federation amid the frequent meetings between the heads of these states, this would not just a promising step but also a logical one.


Mirziyev's sympathies are not entirely understandable to the West, which definitely needs its own people at strategically important posts in the leadership of Uzbekistan. The country is of great interest to the United States, which seeks to gain a foothold in the Central Asian region and to withdraw the states of Central Asia from the influence of China and Russia. Under Karimov, this was more difficult. He saw what the US “gratuitous aid” leads to in the post-Soviet countries and was afraid of repeating the “color” scenarios.


Now, the US is nodding approvingly at Mirziyev's reforms. It is no accident that the US will will increase funding through USAID for Uzbekistan (by 4.4%; from $9.39 million a year to $9.8 million per year). For comparison, the US budgeted budget has cut down the program expenditures in the remaining CA and Caucasus countries by more than half: from $218.1 million in 2016 to $93.1 million in 2018.


Of course, Mirziyev's meeting with Trump would have laid a cornerstone for many projects, including mutually beneficial ones. Against this background, the question arises: What kind of mediocre negotiator should Safaev be in order to ruin the much anticipated meeting of the two presidents?


Long before this devastating failure, Safaev colleagues already judged him an incompetent politician. There were opinions that “he does not know world politics; he is a bad diplomat; he can only sell carpets.” Thus, despite attempts to appear as an advanced politician and economist of the Western type, in his heart he remained the author of the thesis “Politico-Economic Problems of Social Labor and Its Productivity in Conditions of Developed Socialism (on the Materials of the Productive Industry of the Uzbek SSR).” In this thesis, he was fierily inspired by the possibilities given by social labor in a socialist society.


Capturing the mood of the ruling elite, Safaev always flexibly adjusted to them, demonstrating a miraculous transformation of his views. The present moment required him to commit to reformist and anti-corruption sentiments, ideas of economic and political modernization, the transition from a strong state to a strong society, the development of NGOs and the private sector. He actively promotes them at meetings with journalists, managing to pull a veil all over himself, attributing these generally recognized scenarios of the country's development to his own genius.


“What should I fear? The way back,” Safaev said in an interview, apparently recalling those times when he was excommunicated and could not sell out the national interests of Uzbekistan for positions and patronage. He could not lobby the interests of large foreign companies in the country (such as ExxonMobil for participation in geological exploration in the oil and gas areas of Uzbekistan). He could not fountain ideas about the creation of a mechanism for using the competencies of Uzbek immigrants living in the United States, “so that they could bring benefits to the development of Uzbekistan.” Apparently, he was forgetting that some of the immigrants had become notorious in the world after terrorist attacks (for instance, tragedy in Manhattan on October 31, 2017). At that time, he was unable to speculate his “connections” with the United States and cause damage to the reputation of his country, putting it in a humiliating position.


Obviously, none of this is suitable for solving Safaev's task of “defending the interests of the republic on the international arena.” Therefore, the Uzbek people should be more afraid not of the “way back,” but of the way forward under such political guides as Safaev.

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