Much saddened by the death of Paul Bergne, one of my three predecessors as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.
For most of his career Paul worked for MI6, but he was John Buchan not Ian Fleming. He spoke a vast array of Central Asian and Middle Eastern languages, and was a qualified and genuine authority on the archaeology of the area. He could read ancient as well as modern languages. You suspected he could speak them too.
Paul was in many ways the archetypal establishment figure. He was from exactly the stock of most British Ambassadors – Winchester (one of Britain’s most expensive private schools) and Cambridge. He had A’Court as a middle name. In many ways he represented the privilege that I so disliked in the Foreign Office. But I really liked Paul.
He was the only diplomat I ever met who truly shared, not just understood, my gut revulsion at the horrors of the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan. In his time he had been almost as forceful and diplomatically unconventional as I. The Uzbek government had put out feelers about having him removed. In a conversation at the University of Michigan he told me he felt I had crossed an absolute line when, on occasion, I had physically jostled the Uzbek security services. What would happen, he asked, if foreign diplomats started striking policemen in London? I pointed out that the cases were different – I was trying to save life: Uzbekistan was a dictatorship, we were a democracy. His eyes twinkled: “Really, Craig, you’re such an imperialist!”
Paul was called out of retirement to be the liaison with the Northern Alliance in the war in Afghanistan. It was a dashing adventure so late in his career. In the Foreign Office at that time we referred to him as “Greenmantle”, only half in jest. He had no illusions at all about General Dostum and his thugs, and though keen to see the Taliban removed, remained deeply ambivalent about the consequences of Western intervention. He opposed the War in Iraq.
His last publication was a review in “Asian Affairs” of Murder in Samarkand, which I have not seen yet. It is not, I am told, entirely friendly, but Paul’s views will remain worth considering.