By Maksim Yeniseyev
Imam Makhrujon Abdusaitov (2nd from right) speaks to SNB personnel in Tashkent in November about the threat of extremism. [Defence Ministry photo obtained by Maksim Yeniseyev]
TASHKENT -- Young Uzbekistani men are vying for coveted spots in the armed forces as the second call-up of 2016 proceeds. The military conducts conscription twice a year.
Various reforms and pay raises have made the Uzbekistani military a prestigious place to serve, as Caravanserai has reported previously. Even though the military relies on conscription, young men still compete for the relatively few slots available in the regular army.
Testing began in November in various districts. Those selected for the regular army will take their oath of induction next spring.
Uzbekistan, which has reportedly the strongest military in Central Asia, shares a 137km-long border with Afghanistan.
Strengthening military capacity keeps the country safe from terrorism, acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said in Tashkent November 1, according to Uzbekistan Today.
Territorial units of the military begin the selection process for regular-army conscripts even before the president signs the second annual call-up decree in December. They are busy conducting tests to determine the men suitable for conscription.
Authorities "take [potential draftees'] health, education, marital status and character traits into account", said Azamat Musakulov, a spokesman for the defence affairs department of Yunusabad District, Tashkent, in an interview published October 28 in the Defence Ministry in-house newspaper, Vatanparvar.
"We interview each conscript in the presence of his parents and of a local police officer," Musakulov said in the article.
Conscripts who pass the medical exam and wish to serve in the military have to pass a test on Uzbek fluency, math and the history of Uzbekistan, as well as a physical fitness test.
"District competitions are taking place [among prospective draftees]," Bakhtiyer Goziyev, an instructor in a Tashkent club that provides military training for young men awaiting the draft, told Caravanserai. "The conscripts who attain the highest marks in them reach the city stage of the competition."
"Only the winners of the [city] stage will serve in the armed forces," Goziyev said. "The multi-stage system shows how ... difficult it is to achieve this aim."
The best of the best serve in the regular military for one year. The remainder go into the special mobile conscription reserve (MCR).
"Service in the MCR is intended for those who do not want to serve full time in the army for a year, or for those who didn't pass," Goziyev said. "They serve for one-month periods [annually till the age of 27] and pay the state a one-time fee of 3.7m UZS [US $1,200]."
Those who have succeeded and joined the regular military have enviable benefits awaiting them, which is another reason why young men want to join.
They include advantages in applying to university, free housing during conscription and the possibility of a fast-rising career in the security services.
"The leadership of Uzbekistan allocates considerable funds to keeping the armed forces at a high level of combat readiness ... and to ensuring they are capable of defending our country's calm and peaceful life," Deputy Defence Minister Jakhongir Melibayev said in November 4 in Tashkent at an intra-ministry meeting, according to Vatanparvar.
"To improve social protection [for troops] this year, we have arranged for the People's Bank to grant favourable consumer loans to servicemen and their families and to civilian Defence Ministry personnel," Doniyer Uzakov, chief of the ministry's Financial Directorate, told Caravanserai.
Meanwhile, authorities work to prevent extremists from infiltrating or influencing troops.
"In a unit of the National Security Service [SNB] situated in Tashkent Province, service members and representatives of community groups [recently] held a meeting on the theme 'Religious extremism threatens social stability'," Vatanparvar reported November 11.
"The speeches were augmented by the screening of videos and films showing the true face of international terrorists and extremists," the report continued.
"Determination, implacability and firmness in retaliatory measures comprise the most important condition for the fight against terrorism and against religious extremism," army officer Utkir Akhmedov said at the meeting, according to Vatanparvar.
The defeat of IS in Iraq and Syria will bring an end to the group in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia -- where security forces are ready to deal with any new challenges, analysts say.
What is the biggest threat to peace and security in your country for 2018?