Hillary begins first security visit to Tajikistan



Hillary begins first security visit to Tajikistan Dushanbe: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday arrived on her first official visit to the ex-Soviet nation of Tajikistan for talks on the danger of drugs and Islamists facing the region.

Her visit and expected trip on Saturday to Uzbekistan extend a tour that has taken already in Kabul and Islamabad -- the focal points of Washington's strategy to wind down its 10-year war in Afghanistan ahead of elections next year.

Hillary was expected to meet Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon in Dushanbe and Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent over the weekend.

Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, both former Soviet republics, agreed in February 2009 to permit the overland transit of non-military supplies intended for NATO operations in Afghanistan.

A government official in Uzbekistan said US and Uzbek officials would discuss regional cooperation.

"Besides expanding Uzbek-US cooperation, other regional issues of mutual interest as well as Uzbekistan's involvement in rebuilding Afghanistan's economy will top the agenda."

Human rights groups accuse the isolated nation which also shares a strategic border with Afghanistan of cracking down on political dissent at home.

But for the United States and the European Union, Uzbekistan is a tempting ally in a region vital to NATO efforts against the Taliban.

Uzbekistan hosted a US airbase near the Afghan border after the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, but closed it down in 2005 after the US government criticised Uzbekistan's army crackdown on a popular uprising in Andijan in the east of the country.

Hillary is also expected to visit a new power train plant in the Uzbek capital part-owned by General Motors. Its joint venture with state-owned UzAvtosanoat also produces Chevrolet cars for the domestic market and for export to Russia.

Moscow, which regards both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan among its close allies, is expected to keep a watchful eye over Clinton's trip.

During a globe-trotting visit that began earlier this week, Clinton also visited the tiny Gulf sultanate of Oman, as well as Libya and the Mediterranean island state of Malta.

PTI