My major theme recently has been the “Northern Distribution Network” for NATO supply to Afghanistan, and the fact that dependence on this has entailed a conscious decision to support actively the dictatorships of Central Asia, including President Karimov of Uzbekistan.
It also of course requires close cooperation with Russia. A Jonathan Steele points out in the Guardian, the Russian help for NATO in Afghanistan is not exactly news,.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/27/russia-afghan-agenda. In fact, transit of supplies is more valuable than the more eye-catching helicopters for the Polish contingent or Russian training for Afghan troops. Russian denials of the possibility of more direct Russian involvement do not obscure the fact they are already doing a lot.
There is another reason this Russian support is not surprising, apart from the Obama/Putin rapprochement (Medvedev is emphatically not the organ grinder).
The truth is that the NATO occupation of Afghanistan has turned into a near exact reply of the Soviet occupation. I was thinking of my good Uzbek friend in Tashkent, who had been the number two in the KGB in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation.
The misnamed “Afghan National Army is over 70% Tajik and Uzbek in composition. These were the allies of the Soviets and continued under Nazbullah to fight the Taliban. The Soviet army itself of course used soldiers from the Uzbek and Tajik Soviet Socialist Republics extensively in Afghanistan. NATO is now using the same regime elites for its logistics, and the same tribes and families who supported the Soviets within Afghanistan as allies.
In the wider diplomacy, all of this relates also the NATO’s exit strategy. In effect, they are accepting that undemocratic Soviet styled regimes as in Uzbekistan – and I would argue Russia – are the best way to deal with the fact that the populations of the Caucasus and Central Asia are Muslim. They are hoping for a hardline secular regime backed by its “Northern neighbours”.
I attended the Lib Dem annual conference in Liverpool where one deep disappointment was the speech by Jeremy Browne MP, junior foreign office minister with a specific brief for human rights. There was a single cursory mention of human rights in Jeremy Browne’s speech. Indeed I am not sure there was a single thought expressed in Jeremy Browne’s entire speech which was identifiably liberal. He could have been New Labour or Conservative as he dully expounded the view that protecting this country from the terrorist threat was our number one foregin policy objective, and then hammered on about the need to “win” the war in Afghanistan. It was a speech John Reid or David Blunkett could happily have made. And he went out of his way – in a speech evidently prepared by FCO officials – to note the need to include Afghanistan’s “northern neighbours” in an Afghan settlement.
So frredom and democracy for Central Asia are completely off the agenda. What is on the agenda is an acceptance of the regime propaganda that there are no alternatives but rapacious dictatorships and Islamic fundamentalism. That kind of false dichotomy is sustenance to the armaments and securityindustry interests that dominate our foreign policy and control our politicians.