By Maksim Yeniseyev
Uzbekistani paratroopers take their oath of enlistment in the spring of 2014 at an undisclosed location. [Courtesy of Defence Ministry]
TASHKENT -- The Uzbekistani military, already a sought-after employer for the country's youth, became an even more selective organisation July 25.
Uzbekistan, over the years, has worked with considerable success to break some of the worst habits of the Soviet military, such as abusive hazing ( dedovshchina ). One tactic that the government adopted to make conscription desirable is giving preferential status to veterans of active-duty draft service who are seeking government employment, as reported by EurasiaNet.
While other post-Soviet countries contend with widespread draft evasion, Uzbekistan has created a situation in which young men compete to obtain a one-year conscript's slot on active duty.
The rules taking effect July 25 -- resulting from a government resolution -- made competition even more rigorous. Conscripts have only one chance to pass physical fitness and intellectual capacity tests. They no longer may try again one year later.
That change, along with higher required test scores for becoming an active-duty draftee, will make the military even more professional and capable of battling terrorism, observers and officials say.
"Uzbekistan did not switch over to an all-professional military after the fall of the USSR [in 1991]," Tashkent political scientist Valerii Khan told Caravanserai. "We continue to enforce the draft for men aged 18 to 27."
"Professional [contract] troops serve alongside conscripts," he said of the Uzbekistani army. "But ... compulsory military service isn't nearly as prestigious elsewhere in the region as it is in Uzbekistan."
"Many Uzbekistani universities have far less stringent entrance requirements than the military does," he said.
Only one in eight men conscripted in 2015 ended up in the regular force, according to the Defence Ministry.
The draft occurs once a year, in February and March.
"To serve in the active-duty military, a conscript must first and foremost express his desire to do so," Musajon Akbarov, spokesman for the Tashkent branch of Vatanparvar, a pro-military NGO, told Caravanserai. "Alternatively, he can serve for a month in the mobilisation call-up reserve and pay the state a fee of 3.2m UZS [US $1,100]."
Draftees wanting to qualify for active duty "have to pass a [written 90-minute] intellectual test", Akbarov said. "It evaluates knowledge of the Uzbek language, history of Uzbekistan, and math."
Starting this year, per the July 25 resolution, it will take a higher score than before to pass.
"Conscripts ... are required to know more about general disciplines and have greater spirit and be in better shape," Akbarov said.
Besides having to meet minimums for running speed and physical strength, conscripts wanting to enter active duty have to pass the written exam.
Draftees are proud to serve their country and to have passed the demanding competition for a slot on active duty.
"After completing my active service, I want to stay in the army as a professional soldier," Doston Narzullayev, a conscripted border guard, said in March on Uzbekistani TV after taking his oath of enlistment in Termez.
Increasing troops' ability is a constant Uzbekistani concern, given the ever-present threat of terrorism.
This February, the military conducted its third competition evaluating troops' survival skills under extreme conditions. The first such contest took place in January 2015.
"Teams of troops from across the entire country compete," Olim Mamaraufov, head of the General Staff's Combat Training Department, said in an interview with Army of Uzbekistan magazine in March. "The seven components take them through mountains, deserts and areas with many reservoirs. The troops combine their skills or independently come up with ways ... to make fire or find food and water."
Presidents of Central Asian countries overall called 2017 a year of changes and said they foresee further innovations in 2018.
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