- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

Earlier this month, 1,000 U.S. troops were deployed to two former Soviet states bordering Afghanistan not as adversaries, but as allies with a common foe.

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have provided the United States with a key strategic foothold for launching military operations into Afghanistan. In addition to the Army's 1,000-troop deployment, U.S. Special Forces units are operating in these countries. Given the vicious nature of the Taliban regime in Kabul and the terrorists it harbors, this is certainly justified. The U.S. needs a strong presence in the region right now.

But Washington needs to go in with the understanding that the human-rights situation in large parts of Central Asia is abysmal, a point powerfully driven home in recent reports by organizations like Human Rights Watch.

Given the abuses in some of these countries (including brutal repression against local Muslim populations), the United States should weigh carefully how closely it aligns itself with such regimes in the long run. Washington understandably wants to reward them for agreeing to receive U.S. troops even though it is certainly true that doing this reflects the regimes' own national interests, since terrorist operatives with ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda have threatened to destabilize numerous governments in the region. Yet, Washington must make it clear that the best way for these Central Asian governments to ensure a strong, enduring relationship with the United States is to embrace political and economic freedom, and to treat their own people with dignity and respect.

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