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OSCE And U.S. Policy Toward Turkmenistan On The Eve Of Afghan Drawdown

U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer (file photo)
U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer (file photo)

Turkmenistan is a troublesome partner. The country needs outside help to develop its vast energy resources but shuns a foreign presence on its soil or any foreign advice about how the county should be run.

International human rights groups and media freedom organizations perennially list Turkmenistan as having one of most abusive regimes in the world.

That should make Turkmenistan an unlikely party to be a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but it is a member, though the country's participation is difficult to see sometimes.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, or Azatlyk as it is known locally, recently interviewed the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer on the sidelines of the Forum 2000 conference in Prague to ask about both U.S. and OSCE relations with Turkmenistan.

Azatlyk noted Turkmenistan was included on the U.S. State Department's list of countries of particular concern during the most recent report on religious freedom after being left off the list previously.

Asked if this were part of a new U.S. approach toward Turkmenistan, Baer said not really.

"I don't think that constitutes a new approach," the ambassador said. "I think that there have been consistent concerns with the observance of the government of Turkmenistan of its international obligations with respect to human rights and those are concerns that we have raised both publicly and privately for many years now."

Turkmenistan's poor human rights record came up at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, "Europe's largest annual human rights and democracy conference," in September. The OSCE organizes the event each year.

Baer confirmed that Turkmenistan was a topic during the meeting. But he said only delegates of other countries discussed the issue.

"Unfortunately, Turkmenistan boycotts that meeting -- and it really is unfortunate -- because, if the government of Turkmenistan were there to engage, they might be able to respond to some of the concerns that are raised," Baer said.

Asked about OSCE regulations on the continued absence of a member, Baer said there were no regulations on this point. But he said Turkmenistan has already been the subject of a special OSCE report and the organization was looking into how best to convince the Turkmen government to implement the recommendations from that report.

Afghan Withdrawal

With respect to U.S.-Turkmen relations, Baer said, "United States' officials both in Ashgabat and in Washington and various other places around the world where we meet with Turkmen officials, raise a range of concerns."

Baer said he personally has "raised concerns about political prisoners. I won't go into the 'he said, she said' back-and-forth of a particular conversation, but let's just say that we have a genuine and a lengthy engagement on a range of topics, including human rights."

Azatlyk asked Ambassador Baer about the upcoming drawdown of foreign forces in Afghanistan and what measures the OSCE and Washington are taking to help safeguard Central Asia from threats emanating from Afghanistan.

The issue is particularly important to Turkmenistan where six soldiers and border guards were killed along the Afghan border in two separate incidents earlier this year.

According to Baer, "specific, concrete work with the OSCE would be the engagement through the border management staff college and other specific projects of the OSCE office in Turkmenistan."

As regards Washington, "there's been a long-standing cooperative engagement between our two governments on issues of security and that conversation is ongoing."

Russian Influence

Asked about the potential for Russian influence to grow in the Central Asian region as a void is created by the foreign forces departing Afghanistan, Baer said, "Russia has had a long relationship with the countries of Central Asia and there's no reason to be concerned about a relationship per se, there are trade relations, there are family relations, there are obviously a lot of migrant workers that have come mainly from the Central Asian states."

But Baer said there is concern about Russia's influence rolling back democratic progress in Central Asia.

Baer, perhaps from a sense of diplomacy, did not mention Turkmenistan in this regard.

The ambassador's omission might be a reflection of the fact there has not been any significant "democratic progress" in Turkmenistan since the country became independent in late 1991.

The ambassador instead commented on the one country in Central Asia that has some potential to move toward a more democratic system, Kyrgyzstan, seemed to be imitating some of Russia's recent controversial legislation.

"We see in a place like Kyrgyzstan the passage…through parliament of a law that looks pretty much exactly like the so-called gay propaganda in law in Russia," Baer said. "That's a roll back of democratic freedoms in Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyzstan can do better."

-- Bruce Pannier, based on an interview conducted by Muhammad Tahir, the director of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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