By Chris Aslan (07/05/2000 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Uzbek television news has not changed that
much since the Soviet days. Although rampant nationalism has replaced references to the
Great Union of Soviets, there are still the same stories about new government buildings
being opened, and shots of happy workers in the fields. However, Uzbek television can be
startlingly revealing of the current political climate in its news bulletins, as well as
its entertainment programs. Obviously the Uzbek people have rediscovered the military. The
clear message has trickled down from speeches by the President Karimov into popular
programming. Uzbekistan is gearing up for armed conflict. Islamic fundamentalists are all
evil terrorists and the Uzbek people must make sacrifices to defend the nation. This is a
message that also has the tacit approval of the West, that attempts to re-establish their
presence in the region despite embarrassment over their previous sponsorship of the
Taliban and the more active commitment of Russia.

Within the last month or so, an alarming rise in army television programs has taken
place. In one new show hosted by a buxom woman in tight Khaki clothes interviewing
soldiers who send television greetings home. A traditional Uzbek family is shown in the
opening credits, cross-legged and drinking tea. The mailman arrives and the mother runs to
the door, grabbing the letter from her son, clasping it to her bosom and kissing it. The
next shot is a line of chisel chinned marching soldiers in training. To discover the
reason for this shift towards military programs about the military’s potential
enemies, one need look no further then the latest music video of Setora, a trio dubbed the
Tashkent Spice Girls, appear in tight khaki clothes, heavily influenced by Russian
fashion, all the while singing, dancing and draping themselves over various athletic
looking soldiers.

Setora’s music video portrays a story about the fight against Islamic militants.
One of the girls, who is in love with her soldier boyfriend, reads his letters in class
while her girlfriends eagerly peer over her shoulder. Meanwhile, the scene shifts to the
longed for soldier on a mission to a derelict block of flats ominously searching for
something or someone. The video shows that a mother and her three children have been
kidnapped and that the soldier is attempting to rescue them. The kidnapper is a fat,
bearded, leering Islamic fundamentalist, wearing a Palestinian headdress, just in case
anyone has failed to make the connection. When discovered, the fundamentalist clutches a
vulnerable small child with a knife to his throat. Our hero then dives to the rescue,
saves the little boy’s life but is gunned down in the process. The video jumps to the
three grieving, and still singing "Tashkent Spice Girls" mournfully droop over
the heroic soldier’s coffin at the military funeral, while the little boy is shown in
slow motion romping free and happy in the park.

What does this mean for Uzbekistan? The conflict with Afghanistan is nothing new.
During the 1980's, Termez, in southern Uzbekistan was the main funnel for Soviet troops
into the country. Soviet Uzbeks fought their ethnic brothers, the Uzbeks of northern
Afghanistan. In the future, if army salaries are good the country will no doubt go to war
again. A war with Afghanistan or a war against Islamic fundamentalism would also be a
convenient way to distract from the economic hardship and mass unemployment currently
facing most Uzbek citizens. The next step is hard to predict. But there are sure to be
more clues in the latest music videos or Uzbek TV soap operas. Or perhaps the situation
will escalate to make it on the television news itself.

Chris Aslan