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During Uzbekistan’s 2005 uprising in Andijan, numerous protesters were killed, jailed or were forced to leave the country.

“The country lost a lot of talented and well-educated people over the years,” Mr. Stroehlein said. “It’s really [jumping] from one state of misery to a worse state of misery with a couple of massacres in between. It’s really depressing.”

He added that Uzbekistan does not attract a lot of international attention because nothing new is happening there. “It gets some attention because of neighboring Afghanistan,” he said.

Uzbekistan has cooperated with U.S. military operations by providing a safe transit route for American troops and supplies into Afghanistan, crucial to the U.S.’ northern distribution network.

Although Washington gives no direct aid to the government of Uzbekistan, it pays the country for using its supply routes and has contracts with several local companies, which are said to be linked with the family of Mr. Karimov.

Uzbekistan could play an even more important role for the U.S. in coming years because of its military pullout from Afghanistan.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Obama administration wants Congress to allow the State Department to end sanctions on aid to Uzbekistan. This would help the U.S. strengthen its military presence in Uzbekistan and support its forces in Afghanistan.

“The restrictions should be lifted only when the Uzbek government significantly improves its practices,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For the U.S. to lift its restrictions now would be an enormous gift to one of the most repressive governments in Central Asia.”