ALMATY (Reuters) - Uzbekistan is moving to ban foreign military bases on its territory, local media reported on Thursday, ending speculation it could allow the United States to reopen a base for operations in neighboring Afghanistan.
However, some analysts said the ban might not prevent military cooperation with the United States, which could still use Uzbek facilities for special-forces operations to fight the Afghan Taliban or other regional threats.
The ban is part of a major foreign-policy document proposed by President Islam Karimov, which was approved by the lower house of parliament this week. It was the first such document since Uzbekistan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and the Senate is expected to pass it this month.
Uzbekistan, a mainly Muslim Central Asian nation, evicted a U.S. military air base from Karshi-Khanabad as ties with Washington and the European Union soured following the government’s suppression of an uprising in the town of Andizhan in May 2005.
Karimov, who brooks no dissent in his nation of 30 million, has since improved ties with the West, prompting speculation at home and abroad that he could allow the U.S. military to return to his country.
But the document adopted by the lower house “allows no deployment of foreign military bases or other facilities on the territory”, according to Uzbek media on Thursday.
It also said that Uzbekistan would not take part in any military and political blocs and its servicemen would not take part in peacekeeping operations abroad.
In June, Uzbekistan suspended its membership in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation - better known by its Russian acronym ODKB - which gathers several ex-Soviet states and is seen by some analysts as a regional counterbalance to NATO.
Arkady Dubnov, a Moscow-based expert on Central Asia, said Uzbekistan’s new status of neutrality, approved by a docile legislature, had been designed to placate its former imperial master Russia, irked by its plans to quit the ODKB.
“It looks like Karimov is sending a signal to his Russian partners: ‘If I am no longer with you, this does not mean that I will now be against you’,” Dubnov told Reuters.
“What’s more, Uzbekistan’s declarative ban on deployment of foreign bases on its land will not hamper its cooperation with the Americans,” he said.
He said that U.S. special forces, which typically need minimal logistical support for their operations, “would be able to launch attacks on Afghanistan from Uzbek facilities after the 2014 NATO troop pullout from Afghanistan to eliminate terrorist threats”.
Uzbekistan is part of what Washington calls the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a supply line for the U.S.-led contingent fighting the Taliban that also stretches through Latvia, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
Editing by Alessandra Rizzo