Transcript of a Speech given by Craig Murray at the Policy Exchange 28.6.05.
Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan
I will take quite a lot of background as read. If I can recommend to you my website, www.craigmurray.co.uk, you can bore yourself rigid with longer speeches of mine if you so desire, and find a lot more background.
But I’ll concentrate this evening on the remit I was given – what the West has done wrong, in my view, what we should be doing to put it right. I’ll start off with just a couple of facts. The first one comes from Human Rights Watch’s report on the Andijan massacre, which I’d recommend to you. They interviewed over fifty eye-witnesses; it’s a very good report. And it wasn’t just that the crowds were fired on, and fired on continually, and chased and fired on as they ran, on the May 13th, but afterwards Babur Square, where the main massacre happened, was sealed and the wounded were left lying, left overnight with no care, no attention, no medical treatment. And the next morning troops walked through the wounded finishing them off with shots to the head.
To anyone who knows Uzbekistan it is conceivable, though extremely unlikely, that troops could have opened fire on the 13th due to some situation that developed and got out of control locally. But it is completely inconceivable that twenty-four hours later troops would be walking through the streets shooting people without having authority right from the top of what is an extremely efficient totalitarian dictatorship.
I’ll give you another interesting fact. One of the Uzbek opposition leaders, a gentleman who’s in exile, Muhammed Salih, fought the only vaguely democratic election that President Karimov has ever faced when he opposed him in the presidential election in, I think, ’92. It wasn’t a very democratic election. The media was 100% government controlled. Salih had no access and no coverage except complete vilifications. His supporters were subject to violence and arrest and the polls were rigged in every conceivable way. He still officially got about 15% of the vote, which was quite extraordinary in the circumstances. He now lives in exile in Germany.
Last August when I was still British Ambassador I suggested that we invited him to the Foreign Office to perhaps meet a junior minister or senior officials. My suggestion was greeted with stunned horror in the Foreign Office, where I was told – Did I not know that he’d been convicted of terrorism? I said, ‘nobody, but nobody, believes Muhammed Salih is a terrorist. It’s a propaganda conviction.’ The Foreign Office checked with its research analysts, who confirmed that absolutely nobody thinks Muhammed Salih is a terrorist. I was then told that OK, he may not be a terrorist but he has been convicted of terrorism and therefore it would be awful insulting to President Karimov, were we to speak to him. And I was also told off for having even suggested it, and Muhammed Salih was not invited to meet anyone in the Foreign Office.
Subsequently last autumn, PEN, the campaign group for imprisoned writers, and the BBC World Service, invited Muhammed Salih to the UK anyway, and the government refused him a visa. They did so on the grounds that he might seek to illegally immigrate here. The facts are that he already has political asylum in Germany, he lives in Germany with his family, he speaks German and he doesn’t speak English – but it was plainly just not on to have anyone from the democratic Uzbek opposition walking around the streets of London, because it might upset our dear friend Mr Karimov. And to my knowledge still to this day, certainly since September 11th 2001, neither ministers nor senior officials in the Foreign Office have met anyone from the Uzbek opposition.
This is not typical of the way the Foreign Office works. The Foreign Office is usually very open to meeting democratic opposition figures from dictatorial states. And I give it to you as an example of the way the Foreign Office’s attitude, the British Government’s attitude to Uzbekistan does not stand up anywhere near official British Government policy on democracy and human rights.
The situation in Uzbekistan is dire. There is, I think, general agreement among academic authorities, that poverty is increasing, that the major drive behind events in Andijan, the major cause of the unrest, the reason taxi drivers are so grumbley, is that people have declining access to household goods and declining diet and yet the West fails to stand up to the reality of the situation. The IMF and the World Bank still now, today, will tell you that the economic growth rate in Uzbekistan this year is 4.4%. The IMF and the World Bank have given a positive growth rate for Uzbekistan every year since 1993 – for most of which time, and certainly for the last ten of those years, the economy has been in headlong decline. Interestingly, if you look another lot of World Bank figures they tell you that in 2003 total Uzbek GDP was $9.9 billion whereas in 1993 it was it was $13.1 billion. Which means that it had declined by 30% in the ten year period during which it had increased every year.
This is absolutely typical of the failure of the West to tackle or even acknowledge what is happening in Uzbekistan. When the Uzbek government say to the IMF delegation ‘our automotive production is up by 12%, our oil and gas production is up by 25%, our agricultural production is up by 17%’, the IMF don’t say ‘you’re lying,’ which would be the honest response. They say ‘oh yes, hmm.’ And they hum and hah and they negotiate a bit, which is much more than the UN do.
The UN this year will give you just the official Uzbek government figure, which is of economic growth of 8.9%. You’ll find that on the UNDP website. The IMF, to be fair to them, don’t agree with that. They just accept a figure, after a little bit of negotiation, that somewhere in between the truth and the Uzbek government figure – but a lot closer to the Uzbek government figure than the truth. So we have this paradise, where people are enjoying much better rates of economic growth then any of the developed world, but where at the same time everyone is getting poorer and the West doesn’t face the fact.
The same is true of our approach to the internal situation. ‘Muhammed Salih is a terrorist, so we don’t meet him.’ ‘He’s not a terrorist.’ ‘Well, OK, maybe.’ In March of 2004 there were – and you’ll find this reported in pretty well every authority including academic authorities – there were a series of suicide bombings in Tashkent. Each one, according to the Procurator General of Uzbekistan – speaking at a press conference to which the diplomatic corps and the media were invited – each one was committed using a suicide belt containing an equivalent of 2 kilos of TNT; and in each about thirty or forty people were killed.
There are some difficulties with this. I got myself to the site of each of the blasts within hours, and in one case within forty minutes, of the blast going off. One of them took place in an enclosed courtyard not that much bigger than this room. It had a tree in the middle, buildings round, and not a pane of glass was shattered, and not a twig was torn from the tree. Apparently six policemen had just died there in a bomb blast.
At one of the other places there was supposed to have been a car bomb. I was there within two hours. No sign of any blast whatsoever.
The facts did not in the least bit relate to the stories. I reported this back to London, who didn’t want to know this. It was much more convenient that it was Al Qaeda and this came, very conveniently actually, one week before Colin Powell had to make his determination on whether Uzbekistan met the Human Rights criteria for continued UN aid.
But much more interestingly we had intelligence material. We had telephone intercepts. Satellite telephone calls from known senior Al Qaeda officers in the Middle East and in Pakistan – and incidentally if anyone thinks I’m revealing a secret and they don’t know their phones are tapped, they must be extremely na?ve people. And they were saying to each other ‘what the hell is happening in Tashkent? Bombs are going off in Tashkent. Does anyone know what’s happening?’ This was Al Queda talking to each other. These were actually NSA American security intercepts.
Despite that, the next day Colin Powell stands up and says ‘Al Qaeda have launched a dastardly attack on our great ally, President Karimov. We must give more support to Uzbekistan.’ And he knew he was lying. That’s what I’m telling you. We knew that intelligence wasn’t true, because we knew Al Qaeda didn’t know what was happening in Tashkent.
The truth is that the West has got itself into bed with an absolutely appalling dictatorship, and a dictatorship which is not going to reform.
I’d only been in Tashkent for a very few weeks when I attended the opening of Freedom House in Uzbekistan. The American Ambassador got up and welcomed the abolition of censorship and welcomed the increase in private ownership of enterprises and welcomed something else, and none of those things had happened at all. They were all entirely fictitious. They were simply untrue; they were lies. I got up and I said Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy, neither is it moving in the direction of a democracy; a fact which was actually self-evidently true but contradicted everything the American Ambassador had just said. And this capacity for delusion on the part of the West has to be tackled.
You’ll see for example claims from Uzbekistan that now 35% of GDP is in the private sector. Completely untrue. Claims about the privatisation of farming. They’re based on the sub-division of state farms into smaller state farm units, which are simply accounting transactions which actually aren’t setting up any kind of market and have no effect whatsoever. The truth is that Uzbekistan is still a country where sixty percent of the population live on state farms, on kolkhozy, where they can’t leave the farm. It’s a country which maintains not just exit visas but internal movement visas. It’s a country where you can’t go five miles on any road in the country without encountering a police road check. If you’re born on the farm you’ll die on the farm in most cases. It’s a country where an enslaved population suffers at the hand of an entirely rapacious government that has no intention of reforming: no intention of reforming.
And so far, because we decided post September 11th that Karimov was our great ally in the region against Islamic fundamentalism, we’ve maintained our support on the basis of deluding ourselves that he is reforming, that he is changing. If you’re going to continue to maintain, as this government does, that its policy is one of constructive engagement – which it calls now ‘critical engagement’ in order to avoid comparison with Mrs. Thatcher’s policy towards South Africa – you have to show progress for your critical engagement, and there isn’t any.
There is no free media in Uzbekistan: None. There is no legal opposition in Uzbekistan: None. On 26th December parliamentary elections were held in Uzbekistan in which the opposition parties were not allowed to compete. There is no religious freedom in Uzbekistan. And the last couple of weeks, it’s worth noting, have seen a renewed clampdown on Protestant churches, with a number of new arrests of Protestant ministers, so it’s not only Islamists who suffer. It’s really a disaster.
How do we make it better? Well I would say first of all we face the facts. We face the facts. We face the facts as I’ve outlined them to you. We stop hiding behind this delusion that reform is happening, Karimov is a secret reformist who’s just hidden it very well for the last fifteen years. We stop accepting the propaganda about all opposition being Islamists.
I agree absolutely about the huge potential for violence because there is no opposition, but that’s because we have done nothing to help the opposition. We’ve put all our eggs in the Karimov basket. Just as I couldn’t get Salih a visa to come and talk to our ministers, I couldn’t get any money at all to help Democratic Forum, an opposition grouping which tried to get going last year, bringing together the various democratic opposition elements in Uzbekistan. Neither the Foreign Office nor the US government was in the least bit interested. The sad thing is that this is actually going to lead to Islamic extremism in a country which has had very little of it in the past, because people have no alternative. They’re not given any kind of Western alternative. And it’s a policy which, in itself, will build a hatred of the West, because we are seen as backing and supporting a dictator who is himself hated by his own people. It’s a self-defeating policy on our side.
Let me put it to you bluntly. If someone took my brother and boiled him to death, I know what I’d do. We are creating terrorism ourselves by our foolish refusal to face up to what kind of man Karimov is, and the fact that this is not a government with which you can do business in the normal way. There are creative ways of helping democratic opposition to flourish. For example, in Bishkek [the capital of Kyrgyzstan], the Americans put in a printing press, in order to help encourage free media. No initiatives of that kind have been undertaken in Uzbekistan.
And we also have to look at what it does to international institutions, to allow in them members who simply do not agree with the basic tenets of the organisation. Uzbekistan is a member of the OSCE for example. Uzbekistan believes in none of the fundamental tents of the OSCE. It doesn’t believe in democracy, has no intention of ever becoming a democracy. It doesn’t believe in economic reform. Why is it in? It’s not in Europe anyway. Why is it in? It’s in because it’s part of the former Soviet Union. But how can the OSCE continue to have a member which actually doesn’t hold to the rules of the club or intend to hold to the rules of the club? It’s not a question of how fast it’s moving in the right direction; it’s the fact that if it’s moving in any direction, it’s the wrong direction.
The only institution that has actually faced this squarely is the EBRD – which was forced to do so because it held its AGM in Tashkent in 2003 and completely uniquely, I believe, in its history, decided to limit lending to Uzbekistan on the basis of its poor record on human rights and democracy, in line with article 1 of its charter. For once, the EBRD actually decided to follow its own charter and insist that members stick to the rules or effectively be suspended. And in effect Uzbekistan was suspended.
NATO similarly. Uzbekistan is in the Partnership for Peace. It absolutely sickens me that British troops were last year – and I don’t just mean training for officers, though we do that in the UK for Uzbek officers – British troops were last year training alongside Uzbek troops in Uzbekistan in company strength, in formation, doing NATO P4P peacekeeping exercises. British troops were quite possibly training alongside some of the soldiers who shot wounded people in the head as they lay oh the ground in Andijan.
What signals have we sent to Karimov since? Well, though Karimov has been killing people for years – he’s had lots of practice – he hasn’t generally killed 700 people at once. Today he’ll be thinking that even if you kill 700 opponents at once, nothing bad happens to you, because nothing has. Why do we treat Lukashenko and Mugabe as pariahs, subject to personal travel restrictions, to a range of targeted sanctions, but not Karimov? The answer to this, of course, is an obsession with the Karshi-Khanabad airbase, as one of the most important of Rumsfeld’s ‘lily-pads’ – bases which can be rapidly expanded, and from which massive military force can be quickly projected into any area of what they call the Wider Middle East in the Pentagon – which means the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia, which is of course the great band of oil and gas reserves.
But is it worth the candle? Are we really getting such a benefit? I can tell you for certain that part of American thinking was that if you are looking at contingencies regarding Iran, it would cause enormous difficulty to use bases out of Afghanistan to attack Iran, enormous difficulty in terms of Afghan public opinion, but public opinion had never been a factor that needed to be considered in Uzbekistan.
But this is war on terrorism thinking, this idea that Karimov is on our side, that he’s an ally, that Uzbekistan is an ally, that Uzbekistan is part of the coalition of the willing. I was under instruction to refer to Uzbekistan as an ally every time I spoke in public, whatever I was saying. It didn’t matter what subject, I had to start off ‘We enormously appreciate Uzbekistan’s contribution to the coalition in Iraq; Uzbekistan our great ally in the War on Terror. Now I’m here to open this nursery school’ or whatever. That ‘you’re with us or against us’ thinking, the idea that it doesn’t matter how nasty you are, that the world is divided into two camps, there’s us, the civilised people of the universe, and there’s all those nasty rather damned Muslim people; that thinking, which dominates American policy, is what has driven Western policy towards Uzbekistan, and unless we get out of it we’re going to bring disaster both on the people of Uzbekistan and upon ourselves.