Uzbekistan is a central Asian country. Previously under USSR, it became an independent nation in 1991. Recently, President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov died. He led the country even before its independence from the USSR.
Uzbekistan’s economy mainly relies upon export of cotton, gold, uranium and natural gas. Due to the strategic location and resources, Uzbekistan has always been an important territory for great powers around the globe. In ancient time, it was part of Silk road connecting Europe and Asia.
The great powers of the East and the West – Russia and the USA, acknowledge the strategic importance of Uzbekistan. Despite Uzbekistan’s roots in Russia and the tilt towards the USA in last decade, President Islam Karimov was able to maintain the balance between them. The US used Uzbekistan’s airbase in its war against Afghanistan. Uzbekistan supply gas and oil to Russia. President Islam shielded his country from Russian sphere of influence by not becoming part of any collective initiative by Russia.
After his death, Russia and the US have been trying to prove their respective importance by stating how each one of them have been and will be an important ally of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is an important neighbour to other countries as well; it supplies oil to China, and power to Afghanistan, Kirgizstan and Tajikistan.
President Islam did not choose any successor. Experts believe that it may cause political instability as there are many claimants to the premier position. Considering country’s strategic location, political instability may have various repercussions.
President Islam was criticized for his authoritarian rule, but he was able to check radical Islamic forces. The biggest threat due to potential political instability is the revival of fundamental Islamic forces which have been kept under check till now. There is a possibility that the opposition leaders, who have been sent to exile by President Islam, may lend their support to the Islamic forces.
Uzbekistan is also used as a connecting link for the opium smuggling from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe. Lack of political stability and ensuing law and order situation may help fundamentalists to use the opium smuggling as a means to further their nefarious interests. Needless to say that any disruption in its economy will impact global oil, gas and gold prices.
The task before the newly elected leader will be to maintain a balance between the west and the east like his or her predecessor. Stern measures are required to curb fundamentalism. Unlike the predecessor, the new leader should try to curb the cult of personality and, with proper checks and balances, strengthen the pillars of democracy.