Uzbekistan - Struggling to get By | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 17.10.2001
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Uzbekistan - Struggling to get By

Uzbekistan fears an influx of refugees from neighboring Afghanistan. But can the country's economy cope?

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Afghan refugees

Uzbeks are nervous of Afghan refugees over-running their relatively peaceful country. Many fear that if more Afghans flee across the Uzbek border, these destitute people will try to make money by bringing drugs and specifically heroin into the country.

Even before the current wave of refugees hit the country, drug addiction was a growing problem in Uzbekistan. Therefore, the Uzbek government invested in a programme to eradicate the farming of opiates and other plants used to make drugs.

However, Uzbekistan is increasingly being used as a landlocked-harbour and distribution point for drugs from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe.

Uzbekistan Fears Fundimentalism

Uzbekistan has supported the American campaign against the Taliban from the outset. Uzbek authorities blame the Taliban for Afghanistan's poor economic form.

When the US began preparations for the campaign against the Taliban, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov was quick to offer help. He allowed the US to use an airbase in Uzbekistan for search and rescue operations. Quickly thereafter, US planes landed in the central Asian country, carrying the first of 1.000 troops that were to be deployed there.

Uzbekistan - Exploited and Depleted

Uzbekistan lies to the north of Afghanistan and shares a 137 km border with it. The country was conquered by Russia in the late 1800's. It established itself as a socialist republic after the first World War in 1925.

Under Soviet rule, cotton and grain farming were propagated. Soon, they formed the foundations of the Uzbek economy.

But excessive farming went hand in hand with an overuse of agricultural chemicals, rendering a large percentage of the farming land infertile. Water supplies too were rapidly depleted. Today, the Aral Sea, which is situated in the West, as well as certain rivers, are half dry. It is the site of one of the world's most horrific ecological disasters.

Independent Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in September 1991. The current President, Islam Karimov, was initially appointed in 1990 by the then Soviet authorities.

Karimov was re-elected by popular vote and appointed on 21 December 1995 for a further five years as President or chief of State.

Uzbekistan's most recent elections were held on 9 January 2000: Karimov won an impressive 99 percent of the total vote in these elections. Such figures reminded many political analysts of communist pseudo-elections of times-gone-by.

Cotton, gold and oil

Uzbekistan is the world's third largest exporter of cotton. However, it is making every effort to decrease the dependence on agriculture. The country is turning more to exploiting its natural resources, specifically its gold and oil reserves. Uzbekistan has also started producing chemicals and machinery.

Half-hearted economic reform

The state continues to be a dominating influence in the economy. However, it has so far failed to bring about promised structural changes. So much so that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suspended a $185 million standby arrangement in late 1996: The Uzbek state had made it almost impossible to fulfill the IMF conditions.

Uzbekistan is a largely closed economy and it has responded to the Asian and Russian financial crises by further tightening export and currency controls. Unfavourable economic policies and little incentive to invest have made foreign investors wary. As a result, the country is sliding further into debt.

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