TASHKENT — Uzbekistan lawmakers approved a foreign policy bill on Aug. 30 which bans the creation of foreign military bases in the Central Asian country or its participation in military blocs.
The bill, which has yet to be signed by President Islam Karimov, outlines a “foreign policy concept” for Uzbekistan, and is seen as a symbolic gesture towards both Russia and the United States as the country’s geopolitical importance grows ahead of the pullout of troops from Afghanistan.
The concept, initiated by Karimov, comes shortly after Tashkent exited a Russia-led military alliance, a move that sparked talk of Uzbekistan’s changing allegiances and seeking to establish U.S. bases on its territory.
Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov presented the bill to the Uzbek senate on Aug. 30 saying that “there will not be any bases or operations centers on our territory.”
He was referring to reports in Russian media which said Uzbekistan might host a regional operations center for the United States after its pullout from Afghanistan in 2014.
While the bill celebrates neutrality, some observers view it as an attempt to demonstrate goodwill to Moscow after quitting the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (ODKB), in June while at the same time issuing an invitation for Western partners.
“It is doubtful that Uzbekistan has decided to become a neutral state,” said Andrei Grozin, a Central Asia expert at the CIS Institute in Moscow, calling the bill “a raising of the stakes” in the region.
“Most likely it is a message to Russia and an invitation for the West to name their price” for placing in Uzbekistan infrastructure for logistics, transportation, and storage, he said.
Uzbekistan, a closed and mainly Muslim nation that with 28 million people is the region’s biggest by population, lies north of Afghanistan and is a key link in the Northern Distribution Network, a supply line for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Tashkent closed an airbase in 2005 which helped serve U.S. troops following Western criticism of Uzbekistan’s handling of unrest in the city of Andijan.
Currently NATO ally Germany uses Uzbekistan’s Termez airport near Afghanistan and has about 300 people stationed there.
Komilov said however that the facility is a “logistical transit center” rather than a military base, and does not allow military weapons on its territory, so the bill would not lead to its closure.
He added that Uzbekistan would not join any military blocs and would “reserve the right to leave any interstate structures if they become military-political blocs.”
The bill also states that the country will take all the measures against involvement in conflicts in neighboring countries while its army will avoid peacekeeping missions abroad.