Overview | Government

This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.


Overview: The constitution of 1992 calls for a secular, democratic government system, freedom of expression and religion, and the rule of law. However, in practice the presidency, a position occupied by Islam Karimov since independence, dominates all three branches of government. In the post-Soviet era, Karimov’s power has been enhanced by referenda and constitutional amendments and by the development of a very strong internal security force. Opposition parties have been stifled, and political life revolves around Karimov rather than around political parties. The prime minister, the cabinet, and the parliament have very limited powers, and the judicial branch is fully subordinate to the executive branch. Corruption is common in all government branches and at all levels, and clan membership is a vital qualification for positions.

Executive Branch: Karimov has accumulated powers that ensure full dominance of the government process for as long as he is president. He appoints the prime minister, all members of the cabinet, all members of the judiciary, 16 members of the newly formed Senate, and all provincial executives. He also has cultivated or weakened the clans that form the traditional political fabric of Uzbekistan, including the powerful clan from Samarqand that put him in power. Karimov has used his direct control of the National Security Service to effectively limit opposition activity. The cabinet is a rubber-stamp aggregation of six deputy prime ministers, 14 ministers, and the heads of five agencies and state committees. Karimov’s daughter, Gulnara Karimova, reportedly aspires to succeed her father.

Legislative Branch: Until 2004, the legislative branch was the unicameral Supreme Assembly (Oly Majlis), consisting of 250 members elected by popular vote to five-year terms. In 2002 a constitutional amendment reduced the Oly Majlis to 120 seats and established a second, 100-member chamber, the Senate, which took office for the first time in January 2005. Members of the Senate are not elected directly; the president appoints 16 members, and six members are chosen by each of the 14 subordinate jurisdictions: 12 provinces, the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic, and the city of Tashkent. Representation of those jurisdictions in the directly elected Oly Majlis is according to population. Karimov’s power in the parliament has been evident in that body’s extension of the presidential term of office from five to seven years in 2002 and by its interpretation that Karimov’s first term extended from 1991 to 2000, enabling him to run for a “second” term. Following the two-round parliamentary elections of December 2004 and January 2005, the Oly Majlis included members from five parties, all of which were pro-government. Some 21 women held seats after the elections of 2004–5.

Judicial Branch: Uzbekistan nominally has an independent judicial branch. However, in practice decisions of the judiciary generally follow those of the Office of the Procuracy, the state prosecutorial agency, and the president has the power to appoint and remove judges. (Parliamentary approval is required for removal.) Judges of the Supreme Court, which stands at the top level of the national judicial system, are appointed to five-year terms. A Constitutional Court reviews laws and decisions for compliance with the constitution, and military courts handle all cases related to the military.

Administrative Divisions: Uzbekistan is divided into 12 provinces, one autonomous republic (Karakalpakstan), and the city of Tashkent, which has the status of a province. The provinces are divided into a total of 156 districts. Within those districts are 123 designated municipalities.

Provincial and Local Government: Governments at the provincial, regional, and municipal levels consist of a chief executive, the hokim, and a council. The president appoints hokims of the provinces, who appoint those at district level. In turn, district hokims appoint municipal hokims, giving the president de facto control of the executive branch at every level. The councils, whose power is secondary to the executives at all levels, are directly elected for five-year terms. President Karimov has ensured the loyalty of provincial hokims by frequent removals. In October 2006, he removed the hokims of two provinces in politically sensitive eastern Uzbekistan. Provincial governments have little power compared with the national government, which oversees and funds all major functions. Karakalpakstan, which nominally has substantial autonomy, in fact is rarely included in national discussions of the Aral Sea crisis within its borders. A vital local political institution is the mahalla, which now is a formal, government-controlled political entity all over Uzbekistan but formerly was a powerful, family-based social institution in the cities. In the post-Soviet era, the national government and law enforcement agencies have used the ruling committees of the mahallas to monitor potential dissident activity in the Muslim community. About 12,000 mahallas existed in 2004.

Judicial and Legal System: Uzbekistan’s judicial system remains structurally and operationally similar to the Soviet system in place before 1992. Below the national level are provincial and regional courts, for which the Supreme Court serves as the court of appeals. Appeals are rare. Economic courts at the regional level deal with disputes between commercial entities. Judges of the lower courts are selected by a qualification collegium, which is named by the president. The law allows the arrest of individuals on suspicion alone, without the filing of formal charges, and the vagueness of formal grounds for arrest allows security forces to routinely arrest people without just cause. Most trials are heard by a panel of one professional judge and two lay judges, who rarely take an active role. Prosecutors dominate criminal procedure, from pretrial detention to sentencing. The quality and activity of defense lawyers are limited. Conviction rates are extremely high. The death penalty remained in effect in 2006 for the crimes of murder, espionage, and treason. However, few executions were carried out in the early 2000s, and the death penalty was to be abolished officially by 2008.

Electoral System: Suffrage is universal for individuals 18 years of age and older. All aspects of elections, particularly registration by parties and independent candidates, are controlled by the government’s Central Election Commission. An election is legally valid if more than 50 percent of eligible voters participate and a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes. In the post-Soviet era, reports of very high participation in elections and referenda have been considered unreliable. Parliamentary elections, which are held every five years, include runoffs if no candidate receives 50 percent or more in the first round. Only five parties, all pro-government, were allowed to participate in the parliamentary elections of December 2004 and the runoff elections of January 2005. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for December 2009. In 2002 a referendum extended the president’s term of office from five to seven years; the next presidential election is scheduled for December 2007, although technically President Karimov’s term ended in January of that year.

Politics and Political Parties: In the post-Soviet era, no true opposition party has been permitted legal status. The two major opposition parties that developed in the late Soviet period, Erk (Liberty) and Birlik (Unity), have been intensely restricted. Their leaders, Muhammad Solih and Abdurahim Polat, respectively, operate from exile. Two other parties, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), which advocates an Islamic state in Uzbekistan, and Adolat (Justice), have been refused registration since the 1990s. The opposition Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) Party, formed in 2003, has been similarly barred. The dominant party has been the People’s Democratic Party, successor to the Communist Party of Uzbekistan. The other major parties, all of which support the government, are the Liberal Democratic Party (formed with government approval in 2004), the Adolat Social Democratic Party, the Democratic National Rebirth Party, and the Self Sacrificers Party. Each of these parties gained at least nine seats in the Oly Majlis in the parliamentary elections of 2004–5. The leading vote getters were the Liberal Democratic Party, which won 41 seats, and the People’s Democratic Party, with 33 seats.

Mass Media: Although a government decree officially eliminated state censorship in 2002, the government has continued to severely restrict independent journalism, particularly following the Andijon uprising of 2005. Licensing and regulation are the purview of the State Press Committee and the Inter-Agency Coordination Committee, which use their authority to harass and delay the activities of independent media outlets. In late 2006, authorities further tightened state control by requiring re-registration by all media outlets not passing a summary review of qualifications. In 2005 some 30 to 40 independent television stations and seven independent radio stations were in operation, but four state-owned television stations, run by the Television and Radio Company of Uzbekistan, dominated the market. No live programming is allowed. Total newspaper readership is estimated at only 50,000; the newspaper market is dominated by the state-owned papers Pravda Vostoka, Halq Sozi, and Narodnoye Slovo. The largest privately owned papers are Novosti Uzbekistana, Noviy Vek, Noviy Den’, and Mohiyat. The state controls newspaper distribution and materials supply. In the early 2000s, newspaper articles occasionally have criticized government policy and social conditions, but bribery of journalists is common. The only national news agency, the Uzbekistan News Agency, is state-controlled. Agence France-Presse, Anadolu Ajansı (of Turkey), the Associated Press, Interfax (of Russia), and Reuters are foreign agencies with offices in Uzbekistan. The government forced Radio Free Europe–Radio Liberty to close its Tashkent office in late 2005. In early 2006, a new media law placed further restrictions on the activities of foreign news organizations in Uzbekistan.

Foreign Relations: As the only nation in Central Asia self-sufficient in food and energy, Uzbekistan has openly sought economic domination in the region. This position has caused severe tension with neighbors Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan over a variety of issues. Tajikistani sources claimed that 68 Tajiks were killed between 2000 and 2006 by landmines that Uzbekistan placed along the Tajikistan–Uzbekistan border. As Kazakhstan’s economic growth has far outstripped that of Uzbekistan, the former rather than the latter has achieved regional domination in the early 2000s, causing resentment in Uzbekistan. A 2006 summit between presidents Karimov and Nursultan Nazarbayev produced several bilateral agreements, easing tensions with Kazakhstan. In 1999 Uzbekistan joined the federation of former Soviet republics known as GUAM (standing for the member nations, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova), principally to gain access to seaports. Uzbekistan withdrew from the organization (which had been renamed GUUAM) in 2005 after peaceful revolutions democratized the governments of member nations Georgia and Ukraine.

In the post-Soviet era, Uzbekistan’s principal foreign policy goal has been to ensure national security in the face of nearby conflicts in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the possible territorial ambitions of Iran and Pakistan. In the early 2000s, the shared fear of terrorism caused Russia and Uzbekistan to strengthen bilateral security agreements, strengthening a valued Russian outpost in the former Soviet Union. In 2005 a new bilateral treaty accelerated this process. Despite ongoing criticism of human rights violations in Uzbekistan, in the early 2000s the United States signed a series of aid agreements, the non-humanitarian provisions of which were revoked in 2004. The European Union (EU) has not sought to improve relations, citing Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record. In 2005 that record and the suppression of riots in Andijon caused the EU and the United States to levy sanctions, and the United Nations officially condemned the Andijon events, effectively ending Uzbekistan’s efforts to improve relations with the West. In late 2006, the EU extended its sanctions by six months. Germany was the only EU nation maintaining close relations at that time. Uzbekistan has drawn closer to China in the post-Soviet era, signing a series of bilateral agreements since 1996. After initially resisting, in 2001 Uzbekistan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), signaling its need for regional assistance in fighting terrorism. In 2005 Uzbekistan began relying more heavily on its SCO links with China and Russia, ending its bilateral antiterrorism agreement with the United States and banning U.S. troops from the Karshi–Khanabad air base from which they had launched operations in Afghanistan since 2002. Western criticism of the events in Andijon was the proximate reason for these moves. In late 2006, Uzbekistan rejoined the Collective Security Treaty Organization of the Commonwealth of Independent States, from which it had withdrawn in 1998. Wary of the threat of Islamic theocracy to its secular government, Uzbekistan has limited its contacts with Iran, although it defended Iran’s right to pursue a nuclear program in 2006.

Membership in International Organizations: Among the international organizations of which Uzbekistan is a member are the Asian Development Bank, Collective Security Treaty Organization (of the Commonwealth of Independent States), Commonwealth of Independent States, Economic Cooperation Organization, Eurasian Economic Community, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), International Development Association, International Finance Corporation, International Labour Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Organization for Standardization, International Telecommunication Union, Islamic Development Bank, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Partnership for Peace (of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO), Shanghai Cooperation Organization, United Nations, United Nations Committee on Trade and Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Universal Postal Union, World Customs Organization, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, and World Trade Organization (observer status).

Major International Treaties: Among the multilateral treaties to which Uzbekistan is a signatory are the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, Collective Security Treaty of the Commonwealth of Independent States (signed December 2005), Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, conventions prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling, and use of biological and chemical weapons (known, respectively, as the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention), Geneva Conventions, Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including the Kyoto Protocol to that convention.


Armed Forces Overview: During the post-Soviet era, Uzbekistan has maintained the largest military force in Central Asia, totaling 50,000 to 55,000 active-duty personnel in 2006. However, the training and experience of this force are low, and the government has spent relatively little on replacing Soviet-era equipment. The military plans to eliminate conscription in the process of creating a smaller, more mobile professional force, but no deadline has been announced for that reform. In 2006 the active force was composed of 40,000 army personnel and 10,000 to 15,000 air force personnel. Some 17,000 to 19,000 internal security troops also were active.

Foreign Military Relations: In the early 2000s, Uzbekistan has focused its military relations on bilateral links rather than commitments to multilateral organizations. It has sought to balance such links among the competing interests in the region. In 2000 Uzbekistan signed a bilateral military agreement with Turkey, implicitly to discourage Russian hegemony in Central Asia. In 2002 a strategic partnership agreement with the United States aimed at post–September 11 cooperation against Islamic extremism, but that agreement required domestic reforms that Uzbekistan did not carry out. The subsequent establishment in Uzbekistan of a U.S. base for operations in Afghanistan improved bilateral relations, but the extension of that arrangement increased apprehension among Uzbekistan’s neighbors and in Iran and Russia. The United States vacated its base and severed military relations in 2005 following the Andijon riots and curtailment of the base agreement by the Karimov government. In 2004 Uzbekistan signed a comprehensive strategic partnership with Russia, continuing the rapprochement of the two countries that began in 2003 and shifting Uzbekistan’s military policy away from Western alliances. Late in 2005, a mutual security agreement with Russia created conditions for the basing of Russian forces in Uzbekistan, although no timetable was established. Uzbekistan also moved closer to Russia by signing the Collective Security Treaty of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a move it previously had eschewed. In the early 2000s, bilateral military negotiations with China sought a second linkage with a major regional power. Uzbekistan has discussed multilateral security arrangements with the other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, including China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan).

External Threat: As the dominant military power in its region, Uzbekistan faces no conventional military threats. The major external security concern is the Islamic groups that have sworn to replace the secular government of Uzbekistan with an Islamic state. This genuine threat also has been a pretext for increased domestic repression by the Karimov regime. In 1999 and 2000, the Uzbekistani military repulsed (with difficulty) guerrilla forces of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as they attempted to move into Uzbekistan. In 2001–2, the IMU suffered severe losses in Afghanistan, and its known terrorist activities since 2001 have been outside Uzbekistan. However, in 2006 IMU activity reportedly resurfaced in the Kyrgyzstani and Tajikistani regions of the Fergana Valley, very close to Uzbekistan.

Defense Budget: In the early 2000s, Uzbekistan sharply reduced its defense expenditures as civil wars concluded in Afghanistan and Tajikistan and the government recognized an over-commitment to defense. Between 2001 and 2003, defense expenditures decreased from US$74 million to US$52 million, but by 2005 they had increased again to US$60 million.

Major Military Units: In 2006 the ground forces were organized in four military districts, comprising two operational commands and one command in Tashkent. The major units were the following brigades: one tank, 10 motorized rifle, one light mountain infantry, one airborne, one air assault, and four artillery. The air force had seven fixed-wing and helicopter regiments.

Major Military Equipment: In 2006 the army had 340 main battle tanks, 13 armored reconnaissance vehicles, 405 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 309 armored personnel carriers, 200 pieces of towed artillery, 83 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 96 mortars, 108 multiple rocket launchers, and 36 antitank guns. The air force had 136 combat aircraft, 29 attack helicopters, and 55 assault and transport helicopters.

Military Service: Males are eligible for conscription at age 18. The term of active duty for conscripted personnel is 12 months. The government has discussed eliminating conscription and forming an all-professional army, but no deadlines have been announced.

Paramilitary Forces: Uzbekistan’s security troops, under the administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and including internal security and border forces, number between 17,000 and 19,000 troops. The National Guard, under the administration of the Ministry of Defense, has about 1,000 troops.

Foreign Military Forces: In 2005 the United States withdrew all of the 1,750 troops that had been stationed at Karshi–Khanabad air base, southwest of Samarqand, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. In 2006 some 163 German troops were stationed at an airfield in Termez in support of forces in Afghanistan.

Police: The National Security Service (NSS), under the direct command of the president through the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has the responsibility for suppression of dissent and Islamic activity and surveillance of all possible opposition figures and groups, as well as prevention of corruption, organized crime, and narcotics trafficking. Because it receives no effective oversight, the NSS is considered one of the most powerful security police forces in the former Soviet Union. In 2005 NSS forces numbered between 17,000 and 19,000. Conventional police operations are the responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Each governmental jurisdiction has a police force; the forces of larger jurisdictions are subdivided by function. The police forces reportedly are corrupt (particularly the tax and traffic police), and the level of public trust in them is very low. According to human rights organizations, both NSS and regular police use arbitrary arrest, intimidation, and violent tactics. At the community level, civilian police organizations of the mahallas aid the local police in crime prevention and deterrence of antigovernment activity.

Internal Threat: In the early 2000s, Uzbekistan’s relatively low rate of violent crime has increased. The rate of common street crime also has increased during that period. Beginning in the late 1990s, Uzbekistan’s location north of Afghanistan has meant increased narcotics trafficking, despite efforts to improve border controls. Several routes move drugs from Afghanistan through Uzbekistan to markets in Russia and Europe. The availability of drugs has stimulated a significant increase in domestic sales and drug addiction, together with associated forms of crime. Corrupt law enforcement officials have been involved in the trafficking process. In the early 2000s, large-scale smuggling operations in oil (out of Uzbekistan) and cigarettes (into Uzbekistan) also have flourished, and a black market in cotton exists. In 2004 a series of bombings in and near Tashkent, including Central Asia’s first suicide bombings, were the first major acts of violence since 1999. Authorities blamed al Qaeda-related operatives, but no responsibility was proven. Following the Andijon crisis of 2005, the Karimov regime’s complete reliance on authoritarian measures led some experts to predict a major upheaval in the densely populated Fergana Valley.

Terrorism: In the early 2000s, widespread poverty and political repression created positive conditions for terrorist recruitment. Since the late 1990s, Uzbekistan’s secular government has been the main target of extremist Islamic groups, particularly the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which have the goal of establishing an Islamic state in Central Asia. Although the IMU suffered severe losses in the Afghanistan conflict of 2001–2, a number of small-scale terrorist attacks have occurred in urban centers since that time. The attacks escalated after U.S. troops were stationed in Uzbekistan in 2002. A group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Group in Uzbekistan claimed responsibility for bombs detonated in Tashkent in July 2004. Hizb ut-Tahrir, a nominally nonviolent Islamic extremist group, operates a large number of secret cells in Uzbekistan and neighboring countries and has been rumored to support selected terrorist operations. The size of that organization also is unknown, although its membership likely numbers in the thousands. Because Hizb ut-Tahrir has chapters in many countries, its radicalization is a major international security concern.

Human Rights: In 2004 the government responded to ongoing international allegations of human rights abuses by making modest improvements, including nominally intensified government oversight of prisons and law enforcement procedures. However, the Andijon upheavals in mid-2005 brought a new wave of oppression, reportedly more severe than that before 2004. Freedom House rated Uzbekistan among the eight nations with the worst human rights records for 2005. Members of the Tajik minority have suffered discrimination, in some cases being forced to change official identity from Tajik to Uzbek. Media censorship is not explicit, but in fact citizens’ access to conflicting views is limited severely by state control of information sources and self-censorship based on fear of official retaliation. Unauthorized public meetings and demonstrations are forbidden, and police disrupt peaceful protests. The compulsory residence registration system (propiska) hampers movement of citizens within the country. In 2006 the government held an estimated 5,000 political and religious prisoners. The activity of civic and religious groups is circumscribed by rigid registration requirements. Groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been denied registration. The government controls all activities of the mainstream Muslim organizations, which fall under the jurisdiction of Uzbekistan’s chief mufti. Unauthorized Islamic groups have been prosecuted on charges of “extremism.” Proselytizing and the teaching of religion in schools are illegal, as is all unregistered religious activity. The government has harassed or closed numerous domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations, establishing more strict regulation after similar organizations were involved in democratic government changes elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Police and security troops have the legal right to arrest individuals without a warrant. Arbitrary arrest, torture, and extended pretrial detention are common. Although the constitution guarantees many aspects of a fair trial, in fact defendants face arbitrary court procedures, and the rate of conviction is extremely high. The quality and quantity of defense lawyers are low. Prison conditions are poor. Although women nominally have full rights to property and employment, discrimination and violence against them are common, and trafficking in women from Uzbekistan has increased in the early 2000s.

Index for Uzbekistan:
Overview | Government


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