Who supports dictators and why

Foreign policy: Germany makes itself dependent on a dictator

In these days the cards of German politics are being reshuffled. Among other things, the public is eagerly waiting to find out who will be the new Foreign Minister. Regardless of who gets the post, the new chief diplomat will certainly be the first to be confronted with the issue of Afghanistan. In times of growing resentment in the German population about the operation in the Hindu Kush, Germany must rethink its strategy not only for Afghanistan, but also for the entire Central Asian region. Above all, the extremely questionable relationship with Uzbekistan.

The Federal Republic of Germany has had an air transport base in the Uzbek city of Termez since 2002. The German troops are supplied from here. The Bundeswehr soldiers set off for Afghanistan from here. But Uzbekistan is not just any state. There is a dictatorial regime, one of the worst in the world.

The case of Uzbekistan shows Germany's contradicting Central Asia policy. It raises many questions: Although the Germans are running a so-called peace mission in Afghanistan, they start and supply their troops from a country where people are arrested, tortured and killed because of their political views.

While the Germans are building schools in Afghanistan and investing more heavily in education, on the Uzbek side over two million schoolchildren from the age of nine are forced by the state to work on the cotton plantations every autumn. Germany is funding the development of free media in Afghanistan, while journalists and human rights activists are persecuted in Uzbekistan. The Germans supported the establishment of an IT center at the University of Kabul, and there is internet censorship in Uzbekistan. The Federal Republic is training hundreds of police officers in Afghanistan, and in Uzbekistan security forces killed hundreds of people in the Andizhan massacre in 2005. Various EU sanctions against the Uzbek regime were short-lived. They were soon lifted again at the urging of Berlin. There is only one sanction left: the arms embargo.

This is on the working agenda of the next meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg at the end of October. The chances are good that it will be lifted, not least because the embargo can only exist if all 27 member states agree to maintain it. It is an open secret that Berlin will be on the side of the Uzbeks this time too.

It is up to the upcoming black and yellow government to reform the German Central Asia strategy. Above all, Berlin should consider how it can eliminate the antagonisms in order to pursue a clear line of peace and human rights policy. That would mean, for example, putting more pressure on Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov to bring about improvements in the living conditions of his people. The Uzbeks urgently need to work on the economy, human rights, child labor and relations with their Central Asian neighbors. The Germans, on the other hand, should reconsider whether they really want to make their military operations dependent on the arbitrariness of a dictator. Rather, it is worth focusing on promoting education in order to benefit a future generation of leaders who are better than the present. Uzbek migrants and refugees in Central Asia also need stronger support from Western countries.

In the long term, such a policy brings more security than playing by the rules of a dictator to solve the problems in the short term. Central Asia cannot cope with another trouble spot and the West, including Germany, can no longer afford it.

Alain Délétroz is Vice President Europe of the International Crisis Group