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U.S.: Official Discusses Relations With Central, South Asia

Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs (RFE/RL) WASHINGTON, May 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Richard Boucher is best-known as the voice of the U.S. State Department. He served as its senior spokesman for more than five years, holding that position longer than any of his predecessors. Three months ago he was sworn in as assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, a region that is becoming increasingly important: There are Afghanistan and Pakistan, focal points in the U.S. government's war against Islamic militants, and the former Soviet states of Central Asia, which are struggling with newfound independence. In a brief but wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully, Boucher spoke of how the U.S. government sees its relations with this vital region.

RFE/RL: We understand that the United States plans new negotiations on Kyrgyzstan's Manas airfield.

Richard Boucher: The Kyrgyz government has asked that we discuss with them how to maintain the facility at Manas that we use to resupply our effort in Afghanistan. It's a base that contributes to regional stability, it contributes to the fight against terrorism, supports the humanitarian operations and other operations in Afghanistan.

So it's something that's in the interest of us, of the Kyrgyz government, of all the nations of the region, and anyone who's interested in stopping the problems of terrorism and narcotics and other things that come out of Afghanistan. So we think we have a common interest in maintaining this base.

They have asked us to look again at the costs -- the burden on them, the cost to them of having this base there. We've agreed to do that. So we should be able to, I think in a week or two, send a team out to talk to the Kyrgyz government to talk about the cost of the base and our willingness to reimburse them for the cost of our presence there. I'm fairly confident we can reach a friendly solution on it.

[Boucher added it would be premature to discuss a dollar figure.]

Extending Government Rule In South Asia

RFE/RL: U.S.-led forces routed the Taliban in late 2001 and early 2002. Now Afghanistan's former rulers seem to be making a comeback. What's going on there?

Boucher: Well, there's a couple of things going on here. The first is we shouldn't forget in the wintertime that the Taliban still exists. The fact is, there have always been spring offensives in Afghanistan. It's just the way the cycle works there and the way the weather works there.

Second of all, we've seen a certain virulence in the violence this year. We've seen some horrible attacks against schools, because, frankly, schooling is a threat to everything the Taliban stands for. We've also seen some new tactics -- suicide bombers and things like that.

But what fundamentally is going on here is that the [Afghan] government, the [Afghan] army -- the governmental authority in Afghanistan is pushing out into new areas, into areas where there hasn't been a lot of government, into areas where the Taliban operated freely. You have NATO expanding out into different provinces now, and there's some effort by the Taliban not only to challenge the government but also to challenge the NATO troops and see how they'll react compared to how U.S. forces react.

So I think overall, yes, there is an enemy -- the Al-Qaeda, the Taliban are continuing organizing and looking for ways to attack us and to attack the [Afghan] government. At the same time, one of the reasons that the violence has gone up is that the [Afghan] government, the Afghan army, NATO, coalition forces are extending the reach of government farther out into Afghanistan and to places where there's not been a lot of it before. And that's a fundamental process of building an Afghan nation, a sovereign Afghan nation, that is in everybody's interest.

RFE/RL: What about accusations by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, has somehow been facilitating the movement of the Taliban and its supporters over the porous border between their two countries?

Boucher: There are certainly people who go back and forth across the border -- violent elements. These violent Taliban are a challenge to Pakistan as well as to Afghanistan. They undermine the Pakistani state. They challenge governmental authority on the Pakistani side.

And if you read what President Musharraf is saying, what he has planned, and what's going on on the Pakistani side, it's essentially the same thing: extending the reach of government into areas that had not had a lot of government before, even under [during] the British days. And President Musharraf wants to work with those areas, wants to develop those areas, we want to help economically in those regions.

This basic process of extending government on both sides of the border -- if we can not only do it effectively but do it in a coordinated fashion -- that ultimately is where we will end the threat to both nations.

Freedom In Turkmenistan

RFE/RL: How does U.S. policy balance the human rights situation in Turkmenistan with oil, gas, and strategic concerns related to this country?

Boucher: What we've said is we will promote democracy everywhere we can, we will promote freedom. Some countries are obviously far more along [on the path to freedom] than others. There is little or no freedom in Turkmenistan in any political sense -- economic sense, for that matter -- and we need to do what we can.

We think that obviously helping the nation develop, helping it have money to educate citizens, to health care and things like that is important, we would like to do that. We do have some of those programs there. We have some programs that help with security because, whatever its political system, it still faces threats from terrorism and narcotics, and we think people should be protected from those.

It's a difficult place to work, it's not a very progressive place, but it's still a place where we do what we can, at least to maybe lay some of the foundations of education, of opportunity that can eventually lead to a better life for all people of Turkmenistan.

Democratic Institutions In Kazakhstan

RFE/RL: There are limited civil liberties in Kazakhstan, whose oil wealth attracts many Western investors. Do these investors -- and the U.S. government -- serve as an influence on President Nursultan Nazarbaev to perhaps expand these liberties?

Boucher: We have a lot of things we're doing together with Kazakhstan, in the economic area, and we do a lot of security and border-security things. And we're also helping them about a democratization program. They have had elections, they had flaws in them, we've encouraged them to have a new election law that improves the process. We've supported efforts to have more independent media, we've kept in touch with the opposition obviously, encouraged the government to work with the opposition, with members of society, to try to move forward.

President Nazarbaev has set up a democratization commission which -- if it's handled well, with the involvement of all the ideas of members of society -- could really move the country forward and establish, you might say, an institutional basis for democracy. Our relationship with Kazakhstan is that we want to move forward on all fronts: on political fronts, on economic fronts, on security fronts, including democracy. That's our goal.

Uzbekistan Slamming The Door

RFE/RL: It's been a little more than a year since Andijon, and there appears to be very little communication between the governments of Uzbekistan and the United States. Some say it may be best for Washington to engage Tashkent rather than to ignore it. What do you say to that?

Boucher: We're not the ones who slammed the door. We have tried to maintain ties with Uzbekistan, we've tried to maintain a frank dialogue on things like the Andijon massacre and the need for a credible investigation, a frank dialogue on the role of nongovernmental organizations in society and how they can contribute to the welfare of the society.

But frankly what we've seen -- and I think what the neighbors have seen -- is Uzbekistan is more and more closed off. They're closing border posts, they're not letting even day-traders go across. They're closing themselves off to opportunities of regional economic cooperation, they're closing themselves off to opportunities of mutual security cooperation.

Everybody I talk to in the region is finding the same thing: Uzbekistan is more and more closed off, its people are more and more deprived of the opportunity to trade, to meet, to talk with other people, its students are finding it harder and harder to go abroad for study or exchange programs. And frankly we are very dismayed that the government is closing off opportunity for its citizens. We would like to be able to help, but you can't do it unless the government's willing to provide its citizens with that opportunity.

U.S. Report On Global Human Rights

U.S. Report On Global Human Rights

Police in Moscow arrest human rights demonstrators on February 1 (courtesy photo)

THE RECORD ON RIGHTS: On March 8, the U.S. State Department issued its global report on human rights. According to the report, 15 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, human rights are improving in many post-communist countries. But problems persist in others, it says, despite the worldwide explosion of information and Western efforts to spread democracy. (more)

For more detailed information, see:

Azerbaijan Cited For Political Harassment, Police Brutality
Child Labor, Human Trafficking Cited In U.S. Report On Afghanistan
U.S. Says China, Iran 'Most Systematic' Rights Violators
Human Rights Not A Priority In Central Asia, U.S. Report Says
U.S. Report Points To Serious Abuses In Iraq
Abuses In Chechnya, Centralized Power Cited In U.S Report On Russia
U.S. Says Serious Human Rights Violations Occurring In Iran


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