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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Don't Allow Karimov to Spin Attacks

Last week Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, was rocked by explosions and gunfire. Authorities described a series of suicide attacks or firefights involving terrorists. President Islam Karimov's authoritarian government, virtually the only source of information, reported at least 43 people killed in the bombings and clashes in Tashkent and in the city of Bukhara, most of them insurgents.

Karimov, who seeks a strategic alliance with the United States, has portrayed the violence as part of the global struggle against terrorism. In a sense he's right: Uzbekistan has been a target for Islamic extremists, some of them allied with al-Qaida or the Taliban movement of neighboring Afghanistan. But Karimov may have done as much to produce the terrorists as he has to combat them.

Karimov, who has ruled Uzbekistan since it was part of the Soviet Union, has never abandoned police-state tactics, despite repeated appeals from his new allies in Washington and in Europe. For at least a decade he has persecuted independent religious activity in his Muslim nation, on the pretext that imams and followers outside the state-controlled mosques are practicing fundamentalism. According to a new report by Human Rights Watch, an estimated 7,000 people have been arrested in "this campaign of religious persecution," some for such offenses as praying at home or wearing a beard. Meanwhile, the government has refused to allow the emergence of a free press, an independent judiciary or opposition political parties.

This is not the first time that bombs have gone off in Tashkent. In 1999, following a series of explosions in the capital, Karimov intensified his crackdown on independent Muslims and political opponents -- in particular a group called Hizb ut-Tahrir, which espouses an extremist agenda but has never been implicated in violence. The group's spokesman denied responsibility for this week's attacks, but human rights groups fear another wave of repression aimed at that group as well as other opponents of the government.

Even if he holds back, Karimov may seek to use last week's attacks to his advantage. In the coming weeks, both the Bush administration and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are to decide whether to suspend aid programs to Uzbekistan because of its failure to implement political and economic reforms. The Uzbek regime can now be expected to argue that the latest attacks make impossible the steps that Washington has demanded, such as the registration of opposition parties for coming parliamentary elections. While not discounting the threat from Uzbek extremists, the Bush administration should reject such excuses. If Karimov is allowed to perpetuate his police state with U.S. support, he will merely ensure that terrorists continue to breed in his country -- and that Uzbeks blame the United States as well as their dictator for their misery.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The Washington Post.