The author provides a fine overview of US-Uzbek relations, including the challenges facing the pursuit of the two countries’ respective foreign policies, beginning in the 1990s up until 2004 when the article was published. The author notes that once President Islom Karimov opted to incorporate Islam into Uzbekistan’s nationalist ideology, he created in Uzbek domestic politics the need to balance delicately the touting of Islamic heritage for political ends and the accommodation of its majority Muslim population’s growing desire freely to pursue its faith. Sh. Akbarzadeh traces how Karimov hit his stride following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the USA in finding a common enemy against which to build closer ties with the USA. This is right on the mark.
The period immediately following the article’s publication proved at least as revealing of the Uzbek regime’s low tolerance for change and its reluctance to play the democratisation game as did the post-2001 period. The author’s assessment of Uzbekistan’s potential progress along the path of democratisation is cautiously optimistic, but anticipates neither the political upheavals in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan of 2004-05 (“colour revolutions”) nor the impact such turbulence had on Uzbekistan and its relations with the West. Rather than parrot the rhetoric of the policy world, perhaps one of the lessons learned here is that we need to question more actively the extent to which Uzbekistan—or indeed any of its Central Asian neighbours—really were or are on such a path in the first place, and what that means.