It's rare that Turkmenistan's heavily state-controlled media has any news not covered by any other outlets. Yet on January 24, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH) carried a brief notice of a "high-level delegation consisting of high-ranking officials of the U.S. Department of State and Ministry [sic] of Defense," published under the "Cooperation" rubric of the propagandistic government website called "Turkmenistan: The Golden Age".
The notice was written in standard boilerplate:
The talks focused on the prospects for intensifying bilateral cooperation and topical issues of regional and international importance of mutual interest, including global security, counteraction against global threats and challenges. Expressing full support for Turkmenistan’s peaceful foreign policy, the guests underscored the significance of the constructive initiatives put forward by the Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The Russian version of the story was similar, although with the slightly more literary term, "challenges of modernity," which, along with "global threats" is a common euphemism usually indicating "terrorism" or "narcotics-smuggling" but can also mean "war" -- as in neighboring Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan's state TV channel, Altyn-Assyr, broadcast much the same text, noting that the delegation arrived January 21.
I put in some requests to State Department spokespersons, and as answers can take awhile in the post-WikiLeaks era, I began looking around for some other mention of the delegation. I checked with the cheery Facebook page for the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, which I "like" along with 1,072 other people, but didn't find any mention. I asked a question on the wall, and was redirected to the press officer. Later I made sure to deposit a "like" to the film festival video -- a foreign service official noted on the wall that he had "fought a losing battle for a year" trying to get video material like this on the Embassy website.
I then found a report dated January 19 from Kabar, the Kyrgyz national news agency, which said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Susan Elliott was in Bishkek, and was received by President Roza Otunbayeva. Elliott "expressed gratitude to the Kyrgyz Republic for support lent to the U.S.A. on the operation in Afghanistan," Kabar reported, adding that the delegation “discussed the issues of rendering assistance in strengthening of defending state borders".
EurasiaNet learned that this delegation reportedly included David Sedney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, and Major General James Chambers, Commander of the Combined Arms Support Command/Sustainment Center of Excellence at Fort Lee, VA, and apparently an official from the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency as well.
Eventually, State came back with a statement for the record and indicated that this delegation to Ashgabat appeared to be the same group that visited Bishkek:
Officials from the US State Department and Department of Defense visited Turkmenistan on January 22nd as part of a regional trip through the Central Asian states to discuss regional security and bilateral relations.
While not much more could be gleaned there, a statement on the U.S. Embassy website in Ashgabat from Assistant Secretary Robert O. Blake, Jr. delivered at Rice University in Houston, Texas on January 19, titled "The Obama's Administration's Priorities in South and Central Asia," provides the outlines of the policy we can expect in Central Asia.
Interestingly, this statement, primarily about the war in Afghanistan (although the word "war" is not used) does contain the phrases "human rights" and "democracy," but the former are left as an abstraction said to be reaffirmed by Kazakhstan's hosting of the first summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 10 years, and the latter is only mentioned with regard to India, and praise of its programs in Afghanistan:
My bureau’s single most important priority is supporting stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. The President, Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates and other members of the Cabinet have spent countless hours reviewing and honing our efforts in the region. I am pleased to say that Central Asia and India have played a critical role in supporting coalition efforts in the region.
The Northern Distribution Network – the NDN – runs through most of the Central Asian countries, supplies a growing percentage of provisions for our military effort and offers an alternative to the more widely used southern supply route through Pakistan. The NDN increasingly offers the people of the Central Asian countries the opportunity to sell goods and services to NATO troops in Afghanistan, and we hope it can help catalyze greater trade and economic cooperation between Afghanistan and Central Asia.
In this speech, Blake also praises the Chinese pipeline in Turkmenistan because it helps Turkmenistan "diversify," i.e. turn away from Russian domination, and also welcomes the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline and expects that it will not only provide jobs and prosperity but a "peace corridor" through the whole region.
And there we have it -- the U.S. theory of the Silk Road that can benefit NATO's war effort yet make it seem like a kind of regional Marshall Plan, too, along with a sort of containment theory or diversion program -- only this time directed not at communism but at Islamic fundamentalism. There is an implicit notion that pipelines, transportation infrastructure projects and trade make people somehow turn away from their extremist beliefs and guns, while leaving unsolved the problem of authoritarian regimes and their corruption and abuse.