- Google Earth map marked with the Northern Distribution Network, from CSIS.
After breaking up with Pakistan, it looks like we are rushing into a new relationship with Uzbekistan on the rebound. Isn't that always the way?
Both Hillary and Obama chatted up their Uzbek counterparts this week, and Congress is considering increasing our military assistance to Uzbekistan provided that it can find a way to overlook the regime's egregious human rights abuses and corruption.
The UK Telegraph has a story today on this bad romance:
The past fortnight has seen relations between Islamabad and Washington sink to new lows over allegations that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency was working with the Haqqani network to direct attacks on American targets in Afghanistan.
The crisis, the latest in a turbulent year, has seen both countries scrambling to build up alternative regional alliances.
However, more than a third of supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan, giving Islamabad a strong bargaining position.
A White House official said President Obama had discussed sending more supplies through the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan during a phone call with the country's president, Islam Karimov.
At the same time, Hillary Clinton met her Uzbek counterpart on Thursday, and Congress is considering legislative changes that would allow more military aid to the Central Asian despite its poor human rights record.
"We value our relationship with Uzbekistan. They have been very helpful to us with respect to the Northern Distribution Network," said Mrs Clinton.
That route winds its way through Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia to Afghanistan and has already become more important in the past year as the US began switching supplies from Pakistan's roads.
But closer ties will anger human rights organisations which have protested proposed plans to send military aid to Uzbekistan for the first time since 2004, when funds were choked off as penalty for the country's poor human rights record.
Twenty groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group, signed a letter of protest sent to Mrs Clinton before her meeting with Mr Ganiev.
"We call on you to stand behind your strong past statements regarding human rights abuses in Uzbekistan," the letter said.
"We strongly urge you to oppose passage of the law and not to invoke this waiver."
As bad as the Uzbekistan human rights situation may be, Congress seems to be at least as concerned about corruption. According to Eurasianet:
Capitol Hill wants the Pentagon to be more transparent in the way it manages the Northern Distribution Network ... The US Senate in particular has voiced alarm that a lack of oversight over the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) has turned it into a gravy train of graft for Uzbekistan’s ruling elite.
“The [U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations] is concerned with reports of pervasive corruption in Uzbekistan and therefore expects to be informed of public and private entities that receive support, directly or indirectly, from United States Government funds used to pay the costs of Northern Distribution Network supply routes through that country,” a Senate report on foreign aid bill S. 1601 states.
-- snip --
A well-placed source in Washington, DC, indicated to EurasiaNet.org that the use of subcontracted local firms on DoD contracts is an area of intense interest within some branches of the US government. Some officials worry that Uzbek political and security elites may be profiting from below-the-radar partnerships with international firms.
Another source familiar with Pentagon contracting practices in Central Asia alleges that Defense Department planners are aware that some US military contractors have cultivated relationships with companies that have been linked to friends and relatives of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
“Pentagon logistics certainly knew some contractors were using companies controlled by the Karimov family to perform aspects of their contracts in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. But it's very clear they didn't view this as a negative, just the opposite," the source said.
Maybe we shouldn't rush into this. Do these rebound relationships ever work out?