Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Aslov (center right) speaking at the House of Lords on July 2.
Two weeks after Tajikistan's secret police arrested researcher Alexander Sodiqov on bogus treason charges, Tajikistan’s foreign minister visited London for a series of long-planned bilateral talks. At times, the atmosphere was tense. The Tajiks wanted to focus on issues of political and economic cooperation, but they came away from London with little to show except for a lot of bad press concerning Sodiqov.
Tajik Foreign Minister Sirodjidin Aslov faces an awkward audience with his British counterpart, William Hague, in London today. Campaigners have pressed Hague to demand Tajikistan release a scholar working for a British university amid a sharp rise in anti-British sentiment in the Central Asian country.
It has been over two weeks since Tajikistan’s secret police, the GKNB, detained graduate student Alexander Sodiqov while he was conducting fieldwork on conflict resolution for Exeter University. Sodiqov reportedly faces up to 20 years in jail on treason charges, charges his colleagues call farcical. They and a number of MPs have pressed Hague to link Sodiqov’s freedom to any promises of British support for Tajikistan’s high-profile energy projects, such as the Rogun dam and the CASA-1000 electricity export line to South Asia.
“We hope that there will be a clear statement that British support for Tajikistan – including Rogun and CASA – is conditional on maintaining basic human rights and, specifically, releasing Alex,” said Nick Megoran, a lecturer at Newcastle University who is working with Sodiqov on the British-funded project.
Officials have said little about what they plan to do with Sodiqov. Amnesty International has labeled him a “prisoner of conscience.”
UK Defense Secretary Phillip Hammond meets with Afghan troops in Helmand.
The UK will give or sell military equipment to Uzbekistan as it withdraws its forces from Afghanistan, the country's secretary of defense has reaffirmed, suggesting that London will have a pretty liberal policy for doing so.
During a visit to British forces in Helmand, Afghanistan, defense secretary Philip Hammond was asked about Uzbekistan's prospects for getting British equipment, The Times (UK) reports:
Mr Hammond, on a brief tour in Helmand, said: "Clearly those that have helped us would have a strong claim on any surplus material." He added that gifting or selling equipment under value would have to be reported to Parliament. "We have already agreed on the structure of the deal and it's just going through the ratification process now, and I am highly confident that that will happen," he added.
"We have a general principle that we don't transfer equipment that might be used for internal repression, but the Uzbeks have a clear challenge in the post-2014 period around their long border with Afghanistan. This is not just against an insurgency or Islamists, but also against crime and narcotics."
Tony Blair was often described as a master of spin during his time as British prime minister, positioning the United Kingdom as “Cool Britannia” when he came to power in 1997. Now it seems he has found a good use for his skills in Central Asia: Blair has been hired to burnish the image of Kazakhstan – and in the process, no doubt, also that of its Leader of the Nation, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The Financial Times reports that Astana has hired Blair to form a team of consultants who will advise the energy-rich post-Soviet autocracy on how to “present a better face to the West.”
The deal to spin for Kazakhstan is believed to be worth millions, though Blair denies making any personal profit. His office said in a statement that the work he has undertaken for Kazakhstan was “excellent, sensible and supports the reforms they are making.”
Naturally, that is not how the deal is seen in Astana, which says it’s all about improving Kazakhstan’s lure for investors.
“A number of prominent foreign state figures” have agreed to advise Astana on matters ranging from economic strategy to international policy, Foreign Ministry spokesman Altay Abibullayev said on October 24, adding that Blair is one of them.
His British Lordship, the 3rd Viscount Waverley, has now alighted in Turkmenistan, continuing his intrepid adventures across the barren lands of Central Asia.
He was last spotted in Kazakhstan giving the thumbs-up to the recent elections there in which incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev won with over 95 percent of the vote.
Lord Waverley -- a.k.a. John Desmond Anderson -- started his three-day visit by signing a memorandum of understanding between the parliamentary deputies of the United Kingdom and Turkmenistan, according to a British Embassy press release.
The MOU covers all kinds of woolly areas like "inter-parliamentary dialogue" and the "ideals of democracy and good governance" (clearly one of Turkmenistan’s -- and the unelected Lord Waverley’s -- strong suits). But look through the list and you will find more pressing issues like energy are also included. This seems wildly optimistic though, seeing how negligible a role mere deputies have in drafting Turkmen policy.
British Ambassador Keith Allan said the MOU would "present an opportunity for parliamentarians from Turkmenistan and the UK to share experience and knowledge for the mutual benefit of both countries."
The annual military exercises involving the U.S., UK and Kazakhstan started today:
About 50 U.S. and British troops joined more than 1,000 Kazakh service members Monday for a two-week military exercise, a sign of NATO's efforts to win clout in Russia's Central Asian backyard.
The eighth annual 'Steppe Eagle' program aims to train Kazakh troops for future deployment with NATO peacekeepers...
So far, only small numbers of Kazakhs have participated in non-combat roles in Iraq. British and U.S. servicemen said Kazakh troops were unlikely to be deployed in Afghanistan due to historical links. However, they said future deployments in places like Kosovo, Darfur and Western Sahara would be possible.
(Emphasis added.) What "historical links" would keep Kazakhstan from participating in Afghanistan?
Kazakhstan's preparation for participation in peacekeeping deployments abroad has been slowed by budget problems: according to Kazakhstan's constitution, conscripts can't be deployed abroad, only professional soldiers. And KAZBRIG, the brigade that's being developed for this purpose (and which is participating in this exercise) still contains many conscripts because Kazakhstan hasn't been able to afford professionalizing it.
A 2009 article, Kazakhstan's Defense Policy: An Assessment of the Trends looks at some of the politicization of the earlier iterations of this exercise:
The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office has released its annual Strategic Export Controls report (PDF), in which it reports on military exports over the last year. It includes a few case studies, where it explains the decision-making process behind whether it allows or disallows a certain sale to be made, taking into account human rights, the risk to UK interests, risk that the equipment will be transferred to another country, and so on. This year they had a case study on Kazakhstan, and came to the conclusion that the sale would be OK:
In 2009, an export licence application was received for military rated radio jamming equipment. In view of the capacity of the equipment to jam satellite broadcasts, this application raised concerns regarding Kazakhstan’s human rights record, including internal repression of the media, and freedom of speech.
A detailed risk assessment of this licence application was carried out which included consultations with the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Department, on the capability of the goods, and a review of previous consultations with the British Embassy in Astana in respect of identical goods.
The technical assessment of the equipment revealed that, whilst the equipment could be used for satellite jamming, this would be technically difficult. The technical assessment also revealed the wide availability globally on the open market of a number of systems which could be used to jam satellites and which were cheaper and more effective at satellite jamming. It was therefore concluded that this equipment would not have been sourced for that purpose. In light of this assessment the application was approved because the goods were likely to be used for their stated end use and accordingly, there was no clear risk that they might be used for internal repression.