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Uzbekistan Dictator Closes a Bridge, U.S. Acquiesces, and Refugees Die

December 8, 2001

When the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif fell to the Northern Alliance about a month ago, those involved in efforts to feed starving Afghans were overjoyed, because they assumed it would then become possible to distribute desperately needed supplies to those in need.

In the weeks since then, I had assumed that the aid was being delivered.  Then lo and behold, the New York Times reports that the government of Uzbekistan has not been allowing relief convoys to utilize the only bridge that spans the Amu Darya, which separates those in need from millions of tons of food, medicine and other supplies.

As a result, refugees have been dying from hunger and disease.

The article went on to say that Secretary of State Colin Powell, in meetings with the president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, would press him to open the bridge.

Two days later, according to the latest reports, after meeting with Powell, Karimov agreed to open the bridge.

This raises a whole host of questions, all addressing the question, why wasn't this unacceptable situation resolved four weeks ago?

First, one of the reasons Karimov gave for not opening the bridge was because of inadequate security:

[Karimov] is disinclined to open the border, fearing that even with the Taliban pushed to the south, Islamic fundamentalism and refugees will seep across.

Uzbekistan has asked the United States to survey the bridge to ensure it is sound and then to provide American military guards to prevent bandits and refugees from entering from Afghanistan.

Okay, provide some guards.  Well, that's apparently not in the job description of the U.S. military:

[A] senior State Department official said that Secretary Powell would refuse to commit American troops to guard the bridge...

"We don't guard bridges... " the official said.

Private relief organizations are worried that neither the United States nor the United Nations is pushing hard enough to provide adequate security.

What is this, like a maid saying "I don't do windows"?! 

Did the refusal of the U.S. to provide a few guards result in the deaths of refugees in these past four weeks?

Second, why did this story only get adequate publicity now?  Did the New York Times know about this horrific situation for the past four weeks, and only now -- after so many deaths -- decide to report it on the front page?  If it didn't know, why didn't it?

Third, if the story hadn't been on the front page of the New York Times the day before, would Powell have put adequate pressure on Karimov to open the bridge?  Or conversely, did the New York Times hold the story until it knew the situation was about to be resolved, and only then decide to publish "before" and "after" pieces?

Fourth, Karimov is a bloody dictator responsible for the torture and murder of opponents in his country, and for denying basic human rights to the entire populace.  Who is he to be causing starvation deaths because he won't open a bridge? 

I don't buy the argument that these tin-horn dictators aren't responsive to strong U.S. pressure.  These tyrants are desperate for foreign aid and any kind of legitimacy they can garner. 

It's an absolute obscenity that the U.S. didn't force Karimov weeks ago to open that crucial pathway for relief supplies.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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