Accessibility links

Central Asia Report: October 24, 2002

24 October 2002, Volume 2, Number 41

The next issue of "RFE/RL Central Asia Report" will appear on 7 November.

GRAND TOUR OF CENTRAL ASIA BY UN HEAD. Secretary-General Kofi Annan set off last week on his first trip to the five Central Asian republics. He began his visit in Kazakhstan, arriving after making stops in China and Mongolia. Even if it yielded limited concrete results by way of pledges or agreements, his tour of Central Asia had significant symbolic importance. It reflected the rising stock of the region in the wake of 11 September and capped a decade of struggle by the five states to secure their place on the international stage as sovereign entities (see "Central Asia: UN Secretary-General Makes First-Ever Visit,", 17 October 2002). In general, Annan used his trip to advocate further regional collaboration and coordination on the political and economic fronts while calling for international cooperation to combat terrorism and drug smuggling. Furthermore, specific discussions in the region's capitals touched on the priority concerns of the country in question -- and on the international community's priority concerns about that country. Annan was timid -- disappointingly so, in the view of some democratization activists both within Central Asia and abroad -- about addressing human rights violations and pussyfooted around questions of political repression and pressure on independent media. He was more forceful in discussing environmental mismanagement and degradation and the scourge of drugs. All in all, each stage of Annan's tour was interesting for offering a snapshot of the challenges faced by each of the respective countries.

ENVIABLE ECONOMY, PERTURBING POLITICS IN KAZAKHSTAN. In the Kazakh capital Astana on 17 October, President Nursultan Nazarbaev suggested the UN could facilitate the emergence of a regional security mechanism in Asia and called for the creation of a UN center for the prevention of regional conflicts. He stressed that he values cooperation with UN agencies and programs, especially those intended to alleviate environmental problems such as the shrinking of the Aral Sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002). Meanwhile Annan praised Kazakhstan for its economic progress since achieving independence in 1991, AP reported. "You have achieved a transition from command to market economy, [and] you have attained an enviable rate of economic growth and investment," he said, adding that Astana took a courageous stand on nuclear disarmament. At the same time, he offered an oblique criticism of the regime's monopolization of power and crackdown on dissent by noting that "enduring peace" requires "sustained and effective attention from the government in power, from political parties, and, above all, from a dynamic and vigilant civil society." Nazarbaev bestowed on Annan the Dostyq (Friendship) Order, Kazakhstan's highest civilian honor, in recognition of his contribution to strengthening peace and international cooperation, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Annan also met with Oralbay Abdykarimov and Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the speakers of the upper and lower chambers of the Kazakh parliament, respectively, and the leaders of the Council of the Kazakhstan Peoples' Assembly, RFE/RL reported.

UN GETS A TONGUE-LASHING FROM KARIMOV. In Uzbekistan, where Annan arrived on 18 October for a three-day visit, the focus of discussions shifted toward democratization and human rights. He told President Islam Karimov that the UN will work with Tashkent to "strengthen" the human rights of its citizens, and they discussed increasing Uzbekistan's ties with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, RFE/RL reported. Karimov defended his regime's human rights record, saying some international groups have noted progress in the country. Moreover, he said the question of linking international aid to progress in human rights is "absolutely irrelevant," arguing that human rights are being violated in all nations.

Karimov clearly preferred to discuss the war on international terrorism. This was the primary subject of the talks, together with the situation in Afghanistan, drug trafficking, and regional ecological problems including the dwindling Aral Sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2002). At their subsequent joint press conference -- either because Karimov wished to share his reforming zeal with Annan or, perhaps smarting from the human rights criticism, to give as good as he got -- the Uzbek president lambasted the UN, which he said "is in dire need of reform," Uzbek TV reported. While acknowledging that a reform process was started by Annan, Karimov bluntly told his guest that nobody in Central Asia including himself has seen any results. All the UN's contributions to peace and stability in the region in recent years have been either useless or negligible, while the Security Council's resolutions are mostly ignored, he said.

Karimov criticized the UN's failure to affect Central Asian security in terms that were similar to the Bush administration's criticisms of the UN for its ineffectiveness against Iraq. Implicitly, his remarks amounted to an endorsement of the United States -- Uzbekistan's strategic partner and primary patron on the world stage -- as the only power whose actions had made a difference to Central Asian stability.

ANNAN TIPTOES THROUGH KYRGYZSTAN... On 21 October Annan was in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, where he pledged the UN's help in resolving internal conflicts in Kyrgyzstan and "overcoming the tensions that resulted from the recent crisis" -- a reference to the clashes between police and antigovernment demonstrators in March in Aksy Raion, AP and RFE/RL reported. Otherwise, however, the secretary-general was extremely circumspect about mentioning them in his public remarks. Apart from some general remarks encouraging President Askar Akaev's government to respect human rights and push ahead with democratic reforms, Annan was diffident to the point of almost ignoring the political violence and subsequent nationwide protests that have wracked the country for seven months.

President Askar Akaev expressed gratitude for the UN's support for political and economic reforms in the country and for its efforts to reduce poverty and alleviate the plight of refugees. Annan also met with the speakers of both chambers of parliament to discuss regional security issues and Kyrgyz-UN relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2002). The Kyrgyz president presented his guest with the Order of Manas, First Class, Kyrgyz radio added.

Meanwhile, police foiled an attempt that morning by supporters of jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov to intercept Annan's car as he headed to the welcoming ceremony with Akaev, Pyramid TV reported on 21 October. About 50 protestors, who were holding placards in English saying there is no democracy in Kyrgyzstan, were rounded up and temporarily detained. Others joined some 400 people who were picketing the main government building to demand justice for the local law-enforcement officials charged in connection with the Aksy shootings, the TV said.

...CALLS FOR DRUG COOPERATION IN TAJIKISTAN� On 22 October in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Annan and President Imomali Rakhmonov met for talks on regional security and environmental issues, RFE/RL reported. They discussed Afghanistan, with Rakhmonov emphasizing the need to expand the presence of international peacekeeping forces beyond Kabul into all provinces of Afghanistan. Stability in Tajikistan's southern neighbor is the "key prerequisite to stability in Tajikistan, the president said.

But the blight of drugs dominated their agenda as both leaders made strong appeals for regional cooperation in fighting narcotics trafficking. Rakhmonov noted that 65 percent of the illegal drugs confiscated during the past year on the territory of the ex-Soviet Union -- 85 percent in the region of Central Asia -- were seized in Tajikistan, Tajik television reported. (A spokesman for the Tajik Drug Control Agency told Interfax on 23 October that 4,300 kilograms of drugs have been seized in 2002 and that 3,000 kilograms of that total was heroin.) Annan visited the antidrug agency, which was set up in Dushanbe in 1999 by the UN. Rakhmonov requested that the UN continue to provide funding for it. Annan also held talks with the chairman of the National Assembly (upper chamber of parliament), Mahmadsaid Ubaydulloev, and his counterpart from the lower chamber, Saydullo Hayrolloev, as well as the leaders of various parliamentary committees and factions, and public organizations, Tajik television said.

Rakhmonov complained to Annan that Tajikistan, which has been promised some $1 billion in assistance for post-civil war reconstruction, has received only a fraction of that amount, Interfax reported on 21 October. "The situation with the implementation of the Tokyo convention of the donor countries for Afghanistan is the same now," Rakhmonov said, adding that he hopes "the UN will play a decisive role in solving these problems." On the previous day, data released by the country's State Committee for Statistics revealed that Tajikistan has received some $85 million worth of humanitarian aid from more than 40 countries between January and September, RFE/RL reported. The most generous donors from among the CIS states were Russia and Kazakhstan. Outside the CIS, the biggest givers were the United States and Latvia. The committee did not release specific figures or a country-by-country break down of aid given.

...AND QUOTES NIYAZOV TO NIYAZOV. Annan wound up his Central Asian tour with a trip to Turkmenistan on 22-23 October. In the Turkmen capital Ashgabat, Annan thanked President Saparmurat Niyazov for the help his country has rendered to Afghanistan since last year and expressed the hope that Turkmenistan will continue to provide comprehensive assistance to restore peace and stability there. Ashgabat to date has done nothing more than permit the use of its transport infrastructure to ship aid to its neighbor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2002). That said, Annan noted Ashgabat's role in mediating peace both there and in Tajikistan, according to Also, Niyazov informed his guest that Turkmenistan is providing electricity to the areas of Andkhoy, Mazar-i Sharif, and Sheberghan in Afghanistan, with plans to extend the network to Herat and environs, Turkmen TV reported on 22 October.

Niyazov solicited UN support for the planned gas-export pipeline from his country to Pakistan via Afghanistan. He reminded his guest that Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be joining his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf in Ashgabat on 26-27 October for talks to supplement the draft agreement already prepared on the construction of the pipeline, which he said will cost $2 billion, Turkmen TV reported. The framework agreement in question was initialed by senior government officials from the three countries following talks in Ashgabat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2002).

Without addressing Turkmenistan's poor human rights record head-on, Annan used his toast at the welcoming banquet to quote approvingly a government proclamation from the early 1990s, repeated subsequently in presidential speeches, which said, "The supreme value of the State is the human being." By implication, he challenged the regime to live up to its own words. "Today, the most important challenge facing your region is the development of wise governance built on respect for the human rights and freedoms of every citizen," he told Niyazov, according to a 22 October UN press release. It is unclear whether the Niyazov acknowledged that Turkmen democracy is not perfect or that his governing style has any room for improvement.

KAZAKH PRESIDENT PROMISES HEIGHTENED SUPPORT FOR COMPATRIOTS ABROAD. The Second World Congress of Kazakhs opened on 23 October in the southern Kazakh city of Turkestan. It was attended by some 700 delegates, 400 of whom were representatives of Kazakh communities abroad, Interfax reported. The first such congress convened about 10 years ago. Addressing the opening session on 23 October, President Nazarbaev affirmed that his country will continue to provide support and maintain cultural ties with the 5 million ethnic Kazakhs who live outside its borders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2002). Nazarbaev also said a legislative framework to facilitate such activities should be worked up and adopted. He added that a draft state program for supporting expatriate Kazakhs has already been drawn up by the Association of Kazakhs Worldwide and should be debated by the congress, Khabar TV reported. The Kazakh Ministry of Culture, Information, and Public Accord will also have a hand in developing the program and accompanying legislation, the president said.

Nazarbaev made an intriguing pitch for transfrontier cooperation when he asked the governors of border oblasts to help establish contacts with Kazakhs in neighboring countries, provide assistance with the teaching of the Kazakh language, and set up cultural centers. A lack of local-level, intraregional cooperation across borders has characterized relations (and hampered development) in Central Asia since 1991. Nazarbaev hinted that improved cooperation is particularly desirable with Uzbekistan. But his unwillingness to name Uzbekistan at the congress, opting for a circumlocution instead -- "the country where the largest Kazakh diaspora lives is not far from Kazakhstan. It borders on Kazakhstan," he said on Khabar TV -- suggested that even a hint of intervention into neighbor's internal affairs, even by merely supporting Kazakh cultural centers in Uzbekistan, would be regarded as a very sensitive issue by Tashkent. Some 1.5 million Kazakhs live in Uzbekistan, as against 1.3 million in China and 900,000 in Russia, Interfax-Kazakhstan noted on 23 October.

Migration is an increasingly pertinent topic in Kazakhstan as its economy steadily improves in comparison to the rest of Central Asia, and as the socioeconomic situation in Uzbekistan's ecologically devastated region of Karakalpakistan grows more desperate. Nazarbaev told the congress that Kazakhstan accepts approximately 50,000-60,000 Kazakh immigrants a year -- over 1.5 million have returned in recent years -- and that the quota will be increased. Every expatriate Kazakh is welcome to return to his or her homeland, he said. Nazarbaev also stressed that it is important that Islam remain Kazakhstan's main religion, as it serves as a nationally unifying factor.