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Central Asia: Washington Seeks To Balance Security, Human Rights

By Rhonda Wrzenski

Is the fight against terrorism compromising the fight against human rights violations in Central Asia? Top officials from the U.S. Defense and State Departments attempted to answer this question at a recent hearing in Washington.

Washington, 1 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Three officials of the U.S. Defense and State departments say the United States is not sacrificing its commitment to promoting human rights and democracy promotion in Central Asia.

During a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week (27 June), the witnesses acknowledged that Washington was quick to accept varying offers from all five former Soviet states in the region to help mount the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in nearby Afghanistan.

They said the U.S. government is concerned that, since the terrorist attacks of 11 September, it is working in close cooperation with some nations with poor human rights records. One witness -- Lorne Craner, an assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor -- put it this way: "11 September dramatically changed the focus of United States foreign policy. We are now engaged in a global struggle against terror that requires working in close cooperation with an array of governments, some of which have, as you mentioned, by our own accounts, poor human rights records and with whom we have not had close relations in the past."

Craner said the U.S. has worked to enhance dialogue concerning democracy and human rights with top government officials from the region, and has provided funding for democracy programs geared toward the support of independent media and nongovernmental organizations.

Another witness was J.D. Crouch, assistant secretary for international security policy. He testified that since the attacks, the United States has worked to establish a policy of increased engagement within the countries and governments of Central Asia.

According to Crouch, the United States has adopted a three-part approach in working with countries in the region -- stressing internal reform, security promotion, and energy development.

Crouch said he believes this newfound level of cooperation between the U.S. and Central Asia has been mutually beneficial to both sides. He said that America's military presence in Central Asia has helped to enhance the security of these countries just as their cooperation has helped the U.S. to carry out its military operations. And Crouch said government officials of these countries have been assured that the U.S. will maintain a presence in the region.

Crouch also said that Central Asia's security and prosperity will benefit from working to enhance the promotion of democracy, as this vital step could open Central Asia to enhanced levels of foreign investment and trade with the West: "We've made it very clear, even in our defense discussions, that if they're going to be successful, if they're going to integrate into the global economy, they have to attract investment and they have to have sustained interest, if you will, from the outside world. And the only way they can do that is to move in the democratic direction. And so I think that message slowly is sinking in."

Lynn Pascoe, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Central Asia, testified that he agrees with both Craner and Crouch about emphasizing the importance of political and economic reforms in the region. Pascoe said these changes will be mutually beneficial to both the U.S. and Central Asia. He said he believes these reforms are central to achieving greater stability in Central Asia and promoting international security.

Pascoe said he remains optimistic but realistic about these countries' futures. He acknowledged that these governments have begun to improve human rights by releasing prisoners, convicting corrupt police officers, and establishing human rights and other nongovernmental organizations. But he added their leaders still need to do more.