Thursday, December 25, 2008

Poverty in Tajikistan: shortage of remittences

NYTimes December 25, 2008
Bad Times Stall Cash Flow From Tajik Migrants

TOSH-TEPPA, Tajikistan — In poverty-stricken Tajikistan, the global financial crisis is measured in bags of flour.

At least that is how Bibisoro Sayidova sees it, as she looks for ways to feed her five children, since her husband, a migrant worker in Russia, stopped receiving his wages this fall. Now he is loading large sacks of dried fruit in Moscow on faith.

“Sometimes I cry when the kids don’t have socks or coats,” she said, mixing a stew of water, bread, onion and oil. “We’re still hoping he’ll get paid.”

The financial crisis that is in full swing in the world’s developed countries is only beginning to reach the poorest, and labor migrants, with feet in both worlds, are among the first to feel it.

Flows of migrant money to developing countries, known as remittances, began to slow this fall, the first moderation after years of double-digit growth, according to the World Bank. The slowdown is expected to turn into a decline of 1 to 5 percent in 2009, when the full effect of the crisis hits.

Some are already feeling it. Mexico, for example, is likely to have a 4 percent decline in the flows of migrant money in 2008, according to World Bank estimates. The biggest declines next year are expected in the Middle East and North Africa, because of economic slowdowns in the Persian Gulf and Europe.

“There’s definitely a serious moderation in the growth of remittances,” said Dilip Ratha, a senior economist at the World Bank who tracks migrant money flows.

The decline will be less severe than for other flows, like foreign investment, Mr. Ratha said, but its effects will be amplified in countries like Tajikistan that have come to depend on rapidly growing remittances. The country will rank first in the world in 2008 for remittances as a portion of its economy — 54 percent — according to an estimate by the International Monetary Fund.

“The Tajik economy is not sustainable without migration,” Mr. Ratha said. “It is not diversified. People are the most important resource they have.”

The reason dates to the Soviet collapse, when factories closed, subsidies from Moscow dried up and villages like Tosh-Teppa, 25 miles north of Afghanistan, were left to rot. More than 80 percent of the population lived under the poverty line of about $2 a day, and Tajiks began to export the only thing they had: themselves.

“The population has been completely abandoned by the state,” said Paul Quinn Judge, who runs the International Crisis Group’s Central Asian program. “When it comes to providing for basic needs — healthy drinking water, heat in winter — they are utterly failing.”

The money the migrants sent back was a lifeline. When Borun, a 42-year-old with a degree in agriculture, first went to work in Russia, a vicious civil war had just ended, and his family was eating corncobs to survive. When his two children came down with malaria, there was no money to take them to a hospital and they died after a local medical office gave them all that it had: aspirin and mosquito netting.

“We would have died without that money,” said his mother, Umiyavi, 59. Like many people interviewed for this article, Borun would not give his last name for fear the Russian authorities would refuse to let him back in to work.

When oil profits were high, workers from Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe poured into Russian cities, as many as 10 million by some estimates, making Russia the country with the second largest immigrant population, after the United States.

Like most Tajiks working in Russia — 700,000 to a million people — Borun worked in construction. It was one of the sectors hardest hit by the credit crunch and falling oil prices this fall. Borun’s wages for a job renovating the Lenin Museum in Moscow were delayed. In November his employer paid up, but then immediately fired him.

“They said those who came from abroad have to go,” he said, shivering in a thin jacket in his small house in Khodja-Durbod, a village near Tosh-Teppa. About 300 workers were fired, he said, mostly Tajiks and Uzbeks.

Economists do not expect effects to be felt broadly in labor markets until well into next year, but the trend of booming remittances has clearly ended. In Tajikistan, remittances rose just 1 percent in November, compared with the same month last year, according to the I.M.F., down sharply from a record growth of about 90 percent early this year.

That has brought a quiet desperation into households like Ms. Sayidova’s. The area is missing so many men that it feels like wartime, and its daily allowance of four to six hours of electricity is the same as in Baghdad. Malnutrition is widespread. Unicef estimates that more than one-third of children are stunted. Ms. Sayidova’s 13-year-old son has the body of a 6-year-old.

Ms. Sayidova is part of a new generation of women who are less protected from poverty than their mothers. The Soviet Union required girls to finish high school, but since its collapse the number of girls who graduate has fallen by 12 percent. Ms. Sayidova dropped out and married at 14. She was ashamed to have to borrow money from her mother to buy winter clothes for her children and Vaseline for her hands.

Migrant money had offered a safety net. Roofs were built, houses expanded and the basic needs of a large portion of society provided for. In the years of the migrant boom, the portion of the population living in poverty fell by a third, to 50 percent. In Khodja-Durbod, a school was built on migrant money, with each family contributing $100 and 320 bricks. It is missing both a math teacher and a toilet, and its headmaster is concerned that with the crisis, it will not get either.

Still, migrants do not seem to be giving up and returning home, the biggest worry for Western governments that see large numbers of poor unemployed men just north of Afghanistan as a potential security risk. Instead, people interviewed over three days last week said they would dig in further to hold on to any chance for a job, particularly if the Russian authorities made good on threats to reduce their numbers.

Borun’s oldest son is an exception. He worked for a few months gathering scrap metal in Moscow when he was 16. The experience was so painful that he returned to Tajikistan and began riding his bicycle 13 miles every morning to a better school.

“He saw the way we lived, without respect,” Borun said bitterly. “He doesn’t want to be like his father.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

The animating vision of the moral imagination

Every great movement in human history was driven by the moral imagination. Many of those movements were similar in their claims: they were in quest of justice and peace.

What the world celebrates today is of course more than a child's birth: it is a reiteration of an ancient and continuing yearning for a better world, in which justice and peace prevail. As a social scientist I am interested in the moral claims that somehow resonate with the human psyche. With respect to a day like this, Christmas Day, we see a message that resonates, affirming how broad is that yearning for peace and justice. The great texts of this season, ancient though they be, still captures the imagination from generation to generation.

Isaiah's prophetic vision of a future with justice and peace is read and reread in this season, perhaps because it so effectively characterizes the great hope shared by peoples all over the world, people who otherwise would agree on little else.

ISA 9:2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

ISA 9:3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.

ISA 9:4 For as in the day of Midian's defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.

ISA 9:5 Every warrior's boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.

ISA 9:6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

ISA 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Watching for trends in the future: a perilous venture

These are times when we would all like to foresee what is in store in the coming year.

Financial Times [Philip Stephens, “Advice for seasonal seers: future is not in the stars” December 18, 2008] reminds us that, “Now in the throws of a changing world order, understanding the present provides the only clear direction for the future.” But at the same time he points out that scarcely anyone foresaw major developments of this past year. If we continue to be so blind as we have been, we are in for a bumpy ride.

Understanding the present in such a way as to enable useful interpretation of the trends turns out to be a task that escapes our competence. Paul Krugman [NYReview, 12/18/08, pp 8,10] reminds us what Maynard Keynes had to say about the world situation of his time: "We have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand." As Krugman puts it, "The true scarcity in Keynes's world -- and ours -- is therefore not of resources, or even of virtue, but of understanding."

Having tried my own hand at prediction I am duly sensitive to how unlikely I am to foresee most of the critical turns of affairs that are ahead. The best I know to do is to keep looking at the skies, guessing as I best can at what they portend, or seem to me to portend. Knowing how limited we are, we at least feel sure that to ignore the indications of the future, whatever they are, is to abandon the responsibility we have as sentient beings.

The Polaraized world in the Middle East and elsewhere

Michael Slackman [NYTimes 12/24/08] has written a report on students in Jordan that could apply, with minimal permutations, to the conditions among activists in other countries of the Middle East and South Asia. The article, “Jordanian Students Rebel, Embracing Conservative Islam,” explains how Islamic claims and visions have come to stand for rebellion against repressive government. As one person put it, “Islamism for us is what pan-Arabism was for our parents.” That is, it is a movement driven by a larger vision of common interest by which to react to the injustices of the present. In that sense, “Islamism” is the name for a moral vision that seems well to apply to the contradictions and dilemmas of the present in the same sense that pan-Arabism seemed a way to confront practical social issues in the past. The present situation in Jordan – and several other countries of the region – is that, in Slackman’s words, “By choking off democracy and free speech, the only space where groups could gather and discuss critical ideas became the mosque, and the only movements that had room to prosper were religion-based.” This was the context of the development of the anti-Shah movement in Iran in the 1970s: The Iranian regime had so effectively suffocated every other vehicle of collective expression that the mosque became the natural locus for the formation of an opposition to the Shah. The mosque had an advantage then: The Shah’s regime had so little respect for it that they paid little attention to what was going on there. Now, governments know better. They seem to know that the search among local populations for a way to express their frustrations nowadays has found its voice in Islam. As Slackman puts it, “Today, the search for identity in the Middle East no longer involves tension between the secular and religious. Religion has won.” Or rather, Islamism has won.
This traps individual Muslims in a polarized world. As one Muslim woman put it, “If we implement Shariah law, we will be more comfortable,” she said. “But what happens is, the people who come to power are extremists.” And Slackman adds, “Like others here, she is torn between her discomfort with what she sees as the extreme attitudes of the Muslim Brotherhood and her alienation from a government she does not consider to be Islamic enough. ‘The middle is very difficult,’ she said.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Greater Central Asian affairs: recent developments

Interview with Haroon Rashid, Independent Directorate of Local Governance in Kabul

Haroon Rashid graduated from Ohio University’s College of Communication with a master's degree in media management. He is currently employed as a strategic communication manager at the Independent Directorate of Local Governance in Kabul, Afghanistan. Prior to joining the IDLG, Mr. Rashid worked as the deputy head (2003-2005) and later as the deputy director of public relations (2005-2006) at the Ministry of Counter Narcotics in Kabul.

A summary of Asia Foundation’s survey of the Afghanistan peoples

Opinion piece by William Maley. He has some suggestions: A Diversity of Tactics to Win Hearts and Minds

The author claims that “The battle for Afghanistan may well be won or lost in Uzbekistan. With the Taliban making it increasingly difficult to re-supply NATO and US troops in Afghanistan via Pakistan, Tashkent offers the easiest solution to a vital logistical dilemma.”
There are some interesting notes here about attempts to develop Afghanistan’s connections through Uzbekistan to Europe and the west.

According to NewsCentral Asia 23 December, 2008 , “UN General Assembly Endorses Turkmenistan Proposal for International Energy Security"
The site says “The UN General Assembly has endorsed unanimously Turkmenistan's proposal for creating an international system for security of trans-national energy pipelines and related structures.
Most wanted fugitive in Pakistan: Caught, then disappeared?

Financial Times [December 18 2008] reports that there is doubt about the resolve of the Pakistanis to reign in their home-grown extremists: “Fears grow over Pakistan terror resolve”. By James Lamont in New Delhi
“Fears grew on Thursday night that Pakistan’s resolve to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice was faltering. The government said it had lost track of one of India’s most wanted militants following his supposed arrest only a few days ago.” [Nothing new here; in Pakistan this is a frequent occurrence.],dwp_uuid=4d9dd3aa-5fbd-11dc-b0fe-0000779fd2ac,Authorised=false.html?

Monday, December 22, 2008

A draft formulation of a regional problem

I wonder if there a need for a network or website or publication series on “Middle Asia” – a zone where critical issues threaten to engage the whole world. A provisional and preliminary statement.

This sector of "Middle Asia" has generally neglected by the scholarly world. It includes the countries of South Asia [Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh] and the countries of the northern sector of “middle” Eurasia [Russia, the former republics of the Soviet Union] as well as the western sector of China, Xinjiang, where Uighurs conceive of themselves as part of the Muslim communities to their west. This region is culturally similar in that it is a non-Arab Muslim region whose cultural practices were formed under the influence of the Central Asian powers that shared many cultural features before the rise of Europe. In some ways the practices of this region differ from those in the Arab sector of the Middle East, although in recent years these peoples have been influenced by movements emanating from the Arab world.

This region is knitting together in new ways, as part of the expanding influence of the technology that enables “globalization”. As new connections are being established among the great populations of Europe, China, South Asia and the Middle East this region has gained importance as the locus where lines of access cross. Also this region is the locus of one of the most powerful industries in the world: the illicit drug industry. Already ??? B dollars of illicit drugs are being shipped out of Afghanistan, where most of it is produced, through many of these countries to the large consuming populations of (mainly) Europe. The price for the transit countries has been rising rates of drug addiction: Pakistan now had a substantial drug-addicted population; Iran has the largest percentage of drug addicts in the world.

Also in this region are abundant fossil fuel reserves. The demand for these resources is rising as industrial growth in the relatively underdeveloped regions rises, in some cases exponentially, the modern world as we know it being nourished essentially on fossil fuels. Even though the world wide recession has reduced demand for the time being the long term prospect is that China and India, as well as other countries of Asia will soon demand more oil and gas than is currently available. The practical necessity for investment in pipelines to carry these fuels has not diminished; the competition for access remains as alive today as it was a year ago. These conditions draw the industrial world into competition for access to these resources, which is to say for positions of influence in this strategic region.

Complicating the situation is the internal conflicts within the countries of this region. These are conflicted states in the sense that state institutions are weak and various locally based interest groups have gathered strength as oppositional movements. The conflicted countries of the region that currently attract concern are, of course, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban have shown growing strength and where AlQaeda remains active, along with other Pakistan-supported Islamist groups. Because of the American venture in Iraq that country is still conflicted, and Iran remains problematic. Other conflicted places are the countries of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and the Xinjiang region of China. Moreover, the long-term tensions between Pakistan and India display no signs of abating. Both countries are struggling with locally based radical elements committed to using violence, even against civilians, to advance their causes. And the two countries are nuclear-armed. Russia cannot be left out of this equation, as its government seems to be taking on the dictatorial practices of the Soviet Union. Evidently, the Russian administration assumes it should be the hegemon of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Russia has now absorbed Chechnya, and the Russian military had recently established itself in a territory claimed by Georgia.

Another issue looms here as well: the impact of global warming on the populations of Eurasia. Most of the populations of Eurasia survive on the run-off from the glaciers of the Himalaya mountain range. If those mountains cease to have sufficient snow falls to replenish the snow cover of these ranges the run-off could drastically diminish. Already the waters of the Oxus [Amu] River are insufficient, owing to the huge amounts diverted to irrigation in Uzbekistan.

So this region, “Middle Asia,” is likely to be a locus of world concern for a long time. There is a need to keep track of the various sources of information on the region that will enable adequate understanding of the trends that are operative there.

For this region I want to collect a list of web sites that track affairs in this wider region. Those that I have recognized so far are the following:

This will be a list of useful web sites on Greater Central Asia -- that is, the region including the former Soviet states, Iran, Afghanistan, and South Asia.

>> [A most important source]

>> [News Central Asia]

>> [On Russia]

>> [this has many stories on Asia and Greater Central Asia]

>> [On Tjikistan]

>> [On Afghanistan]

>> [On Afghanistan]

>> [On South Asia generally]

>> [Many good articles on South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East and Far East]

>> [On Iran, collection of several news sources]

>> [Iran news]

>> [Claims to be the most comprehensive news site; connects to Central Asia sites]

Iran is upgrading its air-defense system with Russian missles

December 22, 2008
Tehran Says It’s Getting Missiles

TEHRAN — An Iranian official said Russia had started delivering an advanced air-defense system to Iran, despite earlier denials by Russia that a deal had been reached, the official IRNA news agency reported Sunday.

The official, Esmail Kosari, the deputy head of Parliament’s Commission for Foreign Affairs and National Security, was quoted by IRNA as saying, “After a few years of talks with Russia, now the S-300 system is being delivered.”

[Click on the title to link to the source.]

Another missile strike in Pakistan: The Guardian

Deadly missile strike in Pakistan [Click on title for a link to the source]

A suspected US missile strike killed at least seven people today in north-west Pakistan, intelligence officials and a witness said.

Yar Mohammad, a villager, said a fortified house was destroyed and local Taliban pulled out seven bodies while cordoning off the scene in the Kari Khel area, about 10 miles (15km) south of Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border.

Mohammad said he heard a drone aircraft circling the area before the attack at 8.40am local time (3.40am GMT). Two intelligence officials, speaking anonymously, confirmed the strike and casualties.

The US has made more than 30 missile strikes since August in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas, targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants blamed for attacks in Afghanistan. While the missile strikes have killed scores of militants, Pakistan has called them an infringement of its sovereignty and says they undermine its own war on terror.

Most of the missiles are believed to have been launched from unmanned spy planes that take off from Afghanistan. Washington rarely confirms or denies the attacks.

This article was first published on at 08.28 GMT on Monday 22 December 2008. It was last updated at 08.28 GMT on Monday 22 December
* © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

McClatchy: Kabul residents have more fear of gangs than of Taliban

McClatchy Newspapers: [Wednesday, December 17, 2008] are reporting that the real fear in Kabul is of kidnapping gangs.

by Nancy Youssef / MCT

Dr. Najib Ismat, 40, a cardiologist shown here with his family, suspects relatives pointed him out to a gang of kidnappers in Afghanistan. "Perhaps they received a small share of the ransom," he said.

By Nancy A. Youssef | McClatchy Newspapers
KABUL, Afghanistan — Ghulam Farooq Hussainkhel lives on the outskirts of the Afghan capital in the latest district to fall under Taliban influence. A teacher, Hussainkhel moved last year from a neighboring district after surviving three Taliban assassination attempts for opening two girls' schools.
Taliban forces now occupy positions just five miles away from his home in Charasayab and terrorize his neighbors at night with demands that they house and feed their forces.
Hussainkhel, 53, fears they could one day force him to close the school system he now runs in the modest suburb south of Kabul, a one-street town at the base of the Hindu Kush mountain range. The Taliban, however, isn't the biggest security threat, he said. It's the criminal gangs who roam the capital, kidnapping middle-class citizens for ransom.
"Ordinary citizens are more afraid of the criminals than the Taliban. It takes a long time before the Taliban and the Islamic Party can control an area. But the criminal groups can move in right away. They want to harass the educated people," said Hussainkhel, who has been a teacher for 31 years.
Kabul's growing crime problem is more than a security issue — it's a sign of a failing government. If government security forces — whom many charge with complicity in the crime wave — can't protect the populace from thugs, how can they protect remote parts of the country from an increasingly armed, financed and organized Taliban, residents say. More U.S. troops around the capital may not be the answer.
Residents have lived under Taliban control before and they know how to measure its influence, they said. They can cut deals. Criminal gangs roaming the streets, however, are new.
Independent observers said that there have been roughly 200 kidnappings here so far this year, but that's a fraction of the real total, since most go unreported. Some kidnappings are linked to the Taliban, the ransom financing their forces or arming their men.
"The kidnapping has helped finance the Taliban and at the same time damages the credibility of the government," said Fazlullah Mujadidi, a member of parliament who represents Logar province, which borders Kabul and where the Taliban has made some of its biggest gains.
The Afghan government, however, refuses to admit there's a problem. Gen. Alishah Pakteawal, the director of criminal investigations for the Kabul police, has been the target of several assassination attempts, including a botched poisoning by a suspected criminal gang. And in the past three years, at least seven of his bodyguards have been killed in bombings and shootings aimed at him in what most suspect are attacks by gangs.
According to Pakteawal's statistics, only 10 people were kidnapped in Kabul in the first nine months of the year, eight of them released thanks to his police officers.
He scoffs at claims of police corruption and minimizes the fact businessmen in Kabul often walk only with armed bodyguards: "So what?" he said. "In every country, businessmen travel with guards."
Pakteawal himself relies on private guards for protection — none in a police uniform: "Trust me, the police are getting better," he said. "The people should trust them."
However, frustration is growing and complaints are multiplying about a government that seems increasingly incompetent. Water pressure levels are at their lowest levels in years, electricity is down to a couple of hours a day and the lines of people outside the Iranian and Indian embassies desperate for visas are growing daily.
More barricades are going up around Kabul, most recently in front of the ministry of Culture and Information following a recent attack.
The U.S. plans to add 3,500 more troops to Logar and Wardak provinces on Kabul's southern border, where the Taliban's influence has soared in the last two years. Residents, however, said the security situation has worsened as the number of forces here has ballooned since the 2001 invasion. That year, the U.S. had roughly 2,500 troops here. In 2005, there were 17,800 and now there are nearly 32,000. In all, there are 60,000 international troops here.
The additional 3,500 "helps somehow but not enough to make a change," said Abbas Noyan, a member of parliament who represents Kabul province. More troops won't prosecute gangs, drug dealers and end rampant corruption, he said.
Few trust the police. Hussainkhel, the teacher, for example, didn't contact police after someone threw an explosive device at his house in the first attempt on his life. When Taliban members planted another device on the route to his job, however, he reached out to Italian forces stationed nearby. He said they told him they couldn't do anything for him, so he moved.
"My personal view is that if more foreign soldiers are deployed here, that will not be very effective. They should move the forces to the border and stop Taliban from entering," he said.
At the root of the problem is that the Taliban and gangs can pay the Afghan police and army better than the Afghan government, though 40 percent of its budget comes from foreign aid. The average $100 monthly salary paid the Afghan army and police won't support their families, but they can earn extra pay by facilitating kidnappings or smuggling ammunition to Taliban fighters or criminal gangs, parliament members said.
Dr. Najib Ismat, 40, a cardiologist, was driving home from his clinic on an August evening when a car veered in front of him. Four armed men jumped out and grabbed him, blindfolded him, stabbed him in the stomach and drove off with him. Ismat said police officers at a nearby checkpoint saw the men grab him but did nothing.
"I told the kidnappers I am only a doctor, and I run a clinic. I am not a big business man. They told me that they paid a lot of money at the police checkpoints to get me, and they were going to get something in return for it." His family eventually paid a $150,000 ransom, and he was released after 19 days.
He suspects that relatives pointed him out to the gang. "Perhaps they received a small share of the ransom," he said.
After he was released, a neighbor's boy was snatched because his father is a businessman, he said. Another man was killed for his taxi. "These are not political kidnappings. This is for money. There is no security. What will 3,000 troops do?"
Ismat still runs his clinic but is training new doctors in the hopes he will one day get a visa to another country.
"Every moment I am there, I am terrified," he said.
Residents in some parts of Afghanistan said they're desperate for more troops, especially American troops. And U.S. military officials here are quietly just as frustrated as the Afghans.
"We are not moving fast enough for anyone, not the Afghans, not for Americans. It is frustrating," said a senior military officer who asked for anonymity to speak candidly.
Retired Lt. Col. John Nagl, who helped craft the military's new counterinsurgency doctrine for Iraq with then-commander Gen. David Petraeus, has pushed for more troops in Afghanistan, saying that American forces "can be a bridge" until the Afghan forces can stand for themselves. Nagl, a veteran of the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars, said that while he understands Afghans' frustrations, more troops can help the deteriorating security situation.
The Taliban and criminal gangs are "taking advantage of the security vacuum. If there weren't a security vacuum, they couldn't move. This is why more troops matter," Nagl said.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A New focus on Central Asia by the EU

One of the reasons I have put little attention into this site is because it seems to me that many of my concerns are being well expressed elsewhere. Indeed, there are so many useful sites I wonder if mine is worth. At the same time I realize that many people don't know of these sites. Here is an article I just discovered on a site that I should be following and do recommend that others interested in what's going on in the world should be following. In this case, the attention is on a new interest in Central Asia. [Click on the title for the original site.]

UNITED NATIONS - / MaximsNewsNetwork / 22 November 2008 -- EUCAM Watch
Following the launch of the EU Strategy for Central Asia in 2007, relations with the countries of the region have at last been acknowledged as a priority for Brussels and an integral part of the Union’s eastern policies.
Its adoption has been seen as the ‘final piece’ in the jigsaw of EU policies toward the former states of the Soviet Union: the European Neighbourhood Policy, the Black Sea Synergy, the Baku Initiative, the Eastern Partnership (currently under development) and now the Strategy for Central Asia.
Together, this complex of policy initiatives marks a strong commitment to strengthening the role of the EU in Eurasia at a time of growing political and economic uncertainty and when the importance of the countries of the region is increasing, both for energy and security reasons.
The adoption of the EU Strategy for Central Asia is the first time that the EU has sought to develop an approach to the region that combines broad political aims with a targeted set of programmatic initiatives.
The growing attention to Central Asia within the institutions of the European Union and on the part of some EU member states is matched by the interest of the European expert community and civil society organisations.
With the aim of drawing upon and strengthening this interest, the Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE) and the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) have launched – with the assistance of the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the governments of the Netherlands, Spain, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom – the European Union Central Asian Monitoring Project (EUCAM) (see article on the next page).
Over the course of its operations, the EUCAM project will scrutinise the EU Strategy for Central Asia and its implementation and through such scrutiny help ensure that the emerging relationship is forged in accord with the Union’s fundamental and strategic interests – inter alia progress in furthering democratic politics, strengthening the rule of law and protecting and enhancing human rights.
Whereas the EU Strategy has focused on working with officials, EUCAM will seek to build cooperation and networks between the civil societies and expert communities of Europe and Central Asia.
While the recent set of initiatives promoted through and by Brussels has put Central Asia on the policy agenda of the EU, many of these initiatives have their deficiencies.
In the first publication of the EUCAM project, The EU Strategy for Central Asia @ One Year, the co-chairs of the project (Jos Boonstra of FRIDE and myself) argue that if the EU is to have a significant impact in the region, it will be vital to engage where there is a genuine prospect of achieving positive and strategic cooperation.
As is noted elsewhere in this, the first, newsletter of the EUCAM project, the Kazakhstani authorities have recently adopted a state programme entitled "The Path to Europe" following an initiative by President Nazarbaev.
This together with Kazakhstan’s forthcoming Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010 offers a clear opening for Europe to engage with a political regime that has committed itself to European standards and values as a means to modernise the country.
The strong interest within the European Union as regards Central Asia was evident at the launch event for the EUCAM project at the European Parliament on 8 October 2008.
The event highlighted the important steps forward in strengthening EU-Central Asia ties, while also pointing to the considerable challenges in the relationship.
The meeting also highlighted the important role that the EU could play across a range of issues in Central Asia.
The EUCAM project aims through a future series of events and publications to promote better informed analysis about the EU-Central Asia relationship as well as to propose practical steps to improve the relationship.
This Newsletter will serve as a means to raise awareness of the policies of the European Union toward this important region.
The Newsletter will be published six times a year and is designed to highlight significant developments and news concerning the EU’s Central Asia policies.
We hope that this initiative, along with the other activities to be held under the EUCAM umbrella, will serve as a useful resource for the wide community interested in this area and we look forward to hearing from our readers with ideas, suggestions and comments about how to enhance the work of the project.
On 24 June 2008, one year after the launch of the Strategy, the Council and the European Commission released an official assessment of the achievements of the Strategy during its first 12 months in the form of a progress report.
The report notes that "a new quality of cooperation" has evolved over the first year.
Other successes are indicated, notably the increased number of visits of EU politicians and officials to Central Asia and vice versa, the human rights dialogues that were established with all five countries, the EU’s commitment to border management (the BOMCA programme) and the efforts at combatting drug-trafficking in the region.
Also the report notes the development of a joint education and a rule of law initiative and the conclusion of (for now non-public) bilateral priority papers with the five states.
This joint Progress Report takes stock of the progress made towards implementation of the EU Strategy for a New Partnership with Central Asia, which was adopted by the European Council on 21–22 June 2007 in recognition of the increasing importance of Central Asia for EU interests in terms of security, stability, governance and energy diversification.
The Strategy provides an overall framework for EU relations with Central Asia and builds on the results in the implementation of various agreements, EU assistance programmes and other initiatives taken by the EU to engage with countries of Central Asia.
The Strategy defines EU priorities for its cooperation with the region as a whole, including in the fields of human rights, rule of law, good governance and democracy, education, economic development, trade and investment, energy and transport, environmental
policies, common threats and inter–cultural dialogue, but states that implementation of these should be tailored to the specific requirements and performance of each Central Asian country.
The Strategy also calls for intensification of political dialogue with all five countries of Central Asia, including holding of regular meetings at Foreign Minister level and convening annual meetings of EU Heads of Mission in the region.
The European Council asked the Council and the Commission to regularly review progress in implementing this Strategy and to submit a first progress report to the European Council by the middle of 2008.
Overall Assessment
This progress report is not a routine exercise.
It reflects an unprecedented approach.
For the first time in the history of EU relations with Central Asia, an ambitious framework combining strategic political goals with a joint working programme is in place, transforming strategic aims into operational working tasks.
Its sustainable and consistent implementation will be a key indicator for the EU’s and Central Asia’s political resolve to upgrade their relations.
The EU is fully engaged in implementing the Strategy, building on a broad array of assistance programmes and other initiatives taken by the EU to engage with countries of Central Asia.
The implementation of the Strategy is a long term endeavour that requires patience and sustained efforts by both the EU and Central Asian states.
Overall, progress on implementing the EU Central Asia Strategy has been encouraging. After the lapse of only a year, a new quality of cooperation has evolved between Central Asia and the EU. The EU-Central Asia new partnership for the 21st century is making a difference.
On the side of the Central Asian countries there is a strongly increased interest in enhanced cooperation with the EU at all levels and in practically all areas.
Concrete actions have been mutually agreed upon and are being implemented or are under preparation, both bilaterally with the five Central Asian republics, and with all on key regional issues as education, Rule of Law, water and environment.
All Central Asian states have agreed to engage in or continue a structured Human Rights Dialogue with the EU. National Coordinators for the Strategy have been appointed by all Central Asian states, demonstrating that Central Asian partners assume ownership and fully engage in cooperation.
High-level political dialogue has visibly intensified. All actors, especially the Commission, the EU Special Representative for Central Asia, the German, Portuguese, Slovenian, and upcoming French Presidencies as well as Member States have contributed to keeping up the momentum of the EU Strategy.
Among them, lead coordinators have been identified for the regional initiatives.
The EU remains committed to continue and strengthen its current efforts to implement visible and ambitious projects exercising a sustainable impact on key areas of cooperation.
On 18 September 2008, the EU Central Asia Forum on Security Issues was convened in Paris.
The aim of the Paris Security Forum was to reaffirm the EU’s commitment to strengthening relations between the EU and Central Asia and to establish lasting cooperation between the two regions on security issues.
The meeting was hosted by the French Presidency of the EU and was attended by many politicians and officials including the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the five Central Asian countries, the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero Waldner, and the Council Secretary-General of the Council/High Representative for CFSP, Javier Solana. Discussions focused on three main issues: terrorist threats, the fight against human and drug trafficking, and energy and environmental security.
Driven by a shared commitment to developing and organising our long-term partnership on the basis of common objectives and undertakings to strengthen peace and stability in Central Asia, respect for human rights and the development of the rule of law and democracy, we met on the occasion of the First European Union-Central Asia Forum on Security Issues in Paris on 18 September 2008.
With the contribution of the international and regional organisations concerned, we have analysed security issues in Central Asia and defined concrete policy lines for our joint action in the following areas: combating illicit trafficking in arms, sensitive material, narcotics and human beings; combating terrorism and extremism; and cooperation in energy and the environment.
In line with the European Union’s Strategy for a New Partnership with Central Asia and on the basis of documents on the bilateral priorities of cooperation and of the regional initiatives, we agreed on the following points:
1. Strengthening political dialogue in all its forms
Convinced that socio-economic development, human rights, stability, peace and security are inseparable and mutually reinforcing, we intend to examine together the principal factors of tension and their consequences in the world today.
It is our responsibility to create, through our exchanges and our joint initiatives, the conditions required to develop the potential of Central Asian countries.
Political dialogue helps to lay the foundations for future action and shared work with a view to ensuring the political and socio-economic security and stability of the countries in the region.
We underline the importance of the EU Rule of Law Initiative in Central Asia. We will continue the dialogue on human rights with the EU, as well as in the framework of bilateral relations and multilateral organisations such as the UN and the OSCE, of which Kazakhstan will hold the chairmanship in 2010.
2. Strengthening regional stability
Broadening cooperation among the region’s countries, particularly on border security, is key to regional stability and security in Central Asia and to setting up cooperative management of regional risks and threats. Our joint efforts will help to combat new risks and threats more effectively.
It is essential to reinforce regular exchanges of information and analyses to take into account possible risks of a political and military nature, especially through collaboration between analysis and research centres working on security, strategy and international relations issues in the Central Asian countries and in the EU.
The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery represents a particular threat to peace and international stability.
We reaffirm our support for the multilateral treaties and agreements as well as international initiatives on non-proliferation, and we agree to step up our efforts with a view to their full implementation.
The commitment of the Central Asian countries to non-proliferation and disarmament was confirmed by the signing of the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia on 8 September 2006 in Semipalatinsk.
The creation of a nuclear weapon free zone will help to maintain and strengthen peace and stability internationally and regionally and promote non-proliferation in all its aspects.
We intend to pool our experience and cooperate in establishing effective export control systems, including conventional arms exports, strengthening border controls and securing sensitive facilities and sources of nuclear, radioactive, biological and chemical material, in order to prevent any risk of proliferation and procurement by terrorist groups.
We express our grave concern about growing nuclear proliferation crises and the risk of destabilisation to the non-proliferation regime, and we are in favour of compliance with international non-proliferation obligations, particularly the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and those issued by IAEA Board of Governors.
We underline the importance of boosting the role of the IAEA in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
3. Stepping up the fight against terrorism
Combating terrorism in all its forms and expressions must be conducted within the framework of the international treaties and relevant United Nations Resolutions while respecting human rights, which guarantees its effectiveness.
We agree to continuously fight the financing of terrorism, in accordance with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
We consider that enhanced cooperation at all levels among the countries concerned, in both Central Asia and Europe, is a condition necessary to the successful achievement of our objective.
We believe it important to adopt measures to prevent the action of terrorist organisations that are engaged in illicit activities and that are banned by Central Asian and EU countries.
4. Developing cooperation between Central Asia and the European Union in rebuilding Afghanistan and stabilising its situation
We are mindful of the stabilisation and development of Afghanistan, factors which contribute to consolidating regional and global security.
In referring to the conclusions of the International Conference in Support of Afghanistan held in Paris on 12 June, we reaffirm our determination to actively contributing to their implementation, particularly by reinforcing our political exchanges and economic cooperation with this country, as well as our cooperation with the relevant international organisations, especially the United Nations and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
5. Joining forces to fight illicit trafficking in arms, sensitive materials, narcotics and human beings
The EU will increase cooperation with Central Asian countries to strengthen and implement legal measures to more effectively combat all forms of illicit trafficking: arms, sensitive materials, narcotics, psychotropic substances and their precursors, and human beings.
The adoption of national strategies on integrated border management could be an effective means of ensuring internal stability in Central Asia. The Dushanbe Conference on 21 and 22 October 2008 will review the mechanisms for enhancing international coordination.
Concerned by persistently high drug production levels in Afghanistan and by the development of opium-to-heroin conversion activities, we welcome the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1817 on the fight against the trade in precursors.
We are committed to implementing its provisions, particularly those aimed at increasing international control of precursors.
We undertake to enhance cooperation within the framework of the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and the Paris Pact Initiative.
A meeting of experts based on an enlarged troika format is planned on 1 October 2008 in Brussels and will help to strengthen the control of these products at a regional level. On this occasion, discussion focusing on updating the drug action plan will begin.
We believe that it is essential to develop and implement projects/programmes to improve, in their fight against narcotics trafficking, the law enforcement capacities of the countries bordering Afghanistan which are most at risk from the trafficking in narcotics originating from Afghanistan.
We are thoroughly convinced that the development of cooperation among Central Asian countries, with the participation of international organisations and donor countries, will ensure the adoption of effective measures to fight this common scourge.
In this connection, we welcome the creation of the Central Asia Regional Information and Coordination Centre (CARICC) for the fight against narcotics trafficking.
6. Strengthening cooperation in energy, the use of natural resources and the environment
We will reinforce our cooperation in energy without prejudice to current cooperation.
We consider that the harmonisation of the interests of energy consumers and suppliers, transit states and transnational companies is a guarantee of international energy stability.
Energy security in Central Asia and the EU presupposes common rules and a reasoned choice of new transport options involving all the countries concerned.
We reaffirm the importance of active cooperation in the development of different hydrocarbon transport corridors that aim to ensure a guaranteed and reliable supply for European markets and other international markets.
In light of the conclusions of the energy ministers’ conference in Baku in November 2004, our cooperation will focus on the development of regional energy markets and strengthening the financing capacities for new infrastructure; implementation of open, forward-looking and proactive energy policies; setting up an investor-friendly environment by according an appropriate role to market mechanisms; and lastly improving energy efficiency in the various uses of primary energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lessen the cost to economic growth and free up additional capacity.
We also note the necessity of enhancing our cooperation in renewable and alternative energies as well as in reliable, sustainable, low-carbon technologies.
We will achieve this by comparing energy scenarios and ensuring cooperation among energy industries, particularly upstream and downstream of the hydrocarbons industry.
We are in favour of developing cooperation to jointly exploit hydro-energy resources, taking the interests of all the region’s countries into consideration.
The European Union will provide support to the development of hydraulic energy in Central Asia that will also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without prejudice to the region’s environmental security.
Conscious of the security implications of climate change, we are in favour of adopting longterm strategies to prevent the climate effects of human activities and in favour of the accession to multilateral instruments related thereto.
We suggest that a dialogue be launched on how to address the threats posed by climate change in Central Asia in order to strengthen EU and Central Asian cooperation on this issue.
The European Union will pay particular attention to regional cooperation in Central Asia on the rational, efficient and sustainable use of hydraulic, hydro-energy and fuel resources and the environment.
The EU is ready to use its study and cooperation capabilities to facilitate the implementation of best practices, availability of drinking water and sanitation, as well as fighting climate change, inter alia, by increasing energy and hydraulic efficiency while safeguarding the ecological balance in the region. We support the European Union’s Water Initiative (EUWI).
7. Helping to prepare a comprehensive approach to security in Central Asia
In a world marked by recurrent instability, we will strengthen our partnership and encourage the efforts of countries and regional organisations that can help to create a genuine area of cooperative security in Central Asia.
In this respect, we welcome the creation of the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia.
In August 2008, Kazakhstan published "The Path to Europe 2009-2011", drafted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs following the commitment to develop such a programme made by President Nazarbaev in his annual national address in February.
The ostensible aim of the state programme is to "promote economic cooperation, the attraction of technologies and managerial experience, the improvement of our laws, and the development of our own agenda and strategic priorities for the OSCE chairmanship".
The Programme is a concise document listing the aims, main areas of cooperation, and the expected results.
According to the Kazakhstani authorities, the development of "The Path to Europe" was triggered by the need to strengthen cooperation with Europe in a number of spheres and to benefit from the experience of European integration and reforms in order to solve "pressing issues of the country’s internal development".
Read at face value, the document suggests Soviet-style affection for technocratic grand planning for rather distant and ambiguous aims, but the Programme is more significant than such a reading might suggest.
The Path to Europe has been developed at the highest level in Kazakhstan following the President’s initiative – civil society was not engaged in the preparation process and there were no public discussions or consultations at any stage.
As such, the Programme is a political document as much as a bureaucratic one. Indeed, it is likely that many of the initiatives outlined in the Programme are unlikely to ever see the light of day, but read as a statement of political ambition, and perhaps even commitment, it represents a significant development in Kazakhstan’s domestic and international evolution.
For some years the Kazakhstani leadership has been seeking
to strengthen its European credentials – starting with the shift of the national football team to play in the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), through to the campaign to gain the OSCE Chairmanship and to attain observer status at the Council of Europe.
The Programme is, thus, not a bolt from the blue but rather a further consolidation of the European element of Kazakhstan’s Eurasian identity.
Most significantly, the Programme makes clear that closer integration with Europe and the adoption of European standards in a range of areas are viewed in Astana as vital elements for achieving the future modernisation of the country, which the President has backed as a central element of his administration.
The Programme identifies the following areas for intensified cooperation: technology transfer, energy, transport, technical control and metrology, trade, small and medium enterprise (SME) development, quality of life and the humanitarian dimension.
Cooperation in the area of technology transfer will involve inviting European specialists to train local personnel (managers and engineers) to work in Kazakhstani technology parks, transport hubs and the agricultural sector.
Energy cooperation will have three aspects.
Firstly, Kazakhstan will continue to acquire energy infrastructure (ports, terminals, refineries and other assets in neighbouring countries and in Europe) in order to provide for its long-term presence in the European energy market.
Secondly, it will aim to absorb European experience in regulating the energy market.
Thirdly, Kazakhstan wants to cooperate in the spheres of energy efficiency and renewable energy.
The transport section of the Programme envisions building Eurasian transcontinental transport corridors.
It also contains plans for special training to introduce European standards in civil aviation, the exchange of experience in the area of seafaring safety provision and expert meetings on harmonisation of the international civil liability insurance system of motor transport owners.
Cooperation in the area of technical regulation and metrology aims at approximation to European standards and joining international standardisation and accreditation agencies, including the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), the International Accreditation Forum and the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC).
This move is designed to create a fast track for Kazakhstan’s export promotion. To improve trade, the government also wants to set up a trade delegation network in Europe, with branches in a number of European countries.
The goal is to diversify Kazakhstan’s exports to Europe.
The quality of life section is the most comprehensive.
It includes environmental protection, public healthcare, education and social welfare.
Environmental cooperation, apart from biodiversity, pollution and other transboundary issues, includes the reform of national environmental legislation to approximate European standards.
The education section envisions cooperation for the improvement of all levels – from primary to higher education.
European experts will be invited to educational institutions in Kazakhstan to teach, train and help with the development of programmes.
Interestingly, military training is also on the agenda. Cooperation in the sphere of social welfare includes studying the experience of European states in dealing with the challenges of unemployment, labour migration, support of low-income and disabled citizens and provision of social services.
Since the programme is a way for Kazakhstan to prepare for the
OSCE chairmanship, the ‘humanitarian basket’ of the organisation has not been ignored.
It features the development of partnerships between civil society actors from Kazakhstan and European countries, sharing experience in the area of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional harmony, and the promotion of enhanced gender policies.
Another area that intersects with Kazakhstan’s OSCE commitments concerns institutional and legal reforms.
Cooperation with European states is seen as important for the improvement of legislation regulating elections, political parties and mass media, and also for carrying out reforms of the civil service, judiciary and other public sectors.
The introduction of the programme points to a number of conclusions about Kazakhstan’s approach to future cooperation with the EU.
Firstly, the very fact of the adoption of such a programme highlights the growing importance of Europe for Kazakhstan, and testifies that this Eurasian country is increasingly looking westwards for a variety of reasons.
Secondly, it shows that the attitude to Europe is special. It is seen as a source of inspiration and know-how.
There is no other document of its kind, no comparable "Path to Asia", although the Singaporean experience is being examined closely.
European models are seen as advanced and attractive, and therefore worth emulating.
In this regard, the quality of life section of the programme is revealing.
The Kazakhstan government seeks to attain European standards of environmental protection, healthcare and social welfare provision.
Clearly, the adoption of the Programme has a number of purposes.
In part the document is designed to head off European criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor record in fulfilling its OSCE human dimension commitments.
It is also designed to strengthen the western dimension of Astana’s fluid ‘multivector’ foreign policy.
But this does not detract from the clear ambition to build stronger relations with Europe and to take the EU Strategy for Central Asia seriously as a vehicle for achieving this aim.
Both the EU and Kazakhstan are interested in the intensification of political dialogue (one of the aims of the programme is to organise at least five official visits per year at the level of European heads of state and governments), building transport corridors, energy cooperation and expanded trade. Kazakhstan wants to learn from Europe and improve its education and healthcare, environmental legislation and market regulation.
Differences arise between the Programme and the EU Strategy with regard to the weight allocated to human rights, rule of law and democratisation.
In the EU Strategy these issues are identified as priorities, whereas in the "Path to Europe", human rights are not directly mentioned, and the ‘humanitarian basket’ is rather light – it doesn’t go much beyond Kazakhstan’s favourite slogans of achieving inter-ethnic and inter-confessional accord.
The counterpoint to the rule of law in the EU Strategy is reform of the judiciary, implying the improvement of its efficiency rather than building a genuinely independent judiciary.
Nevertheless, there is sufficient scope within the Programme and willingness for dialogue amongst the Kazakhstani leadership for the EU to challenge Astana to live up to the bold commitments outlined in the Path to Europe.
prepare for the OSCE chairmanship, the ‘humanitarian basket’ of the organisation has not been ignored.
It features the development of partnerships between civil society actors from Kazakhstan and European countries, sharing experience in the area of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional harmony, and the promotion of enhanced gender policies.
Another area that intersects with Kazakhstan’s OSCE commitments concerns institutional and legal reforms.
Cooperation with European states is seen as important for the improvement of legislation regulating elections, political parties and mass media, and also for carrying out reforms of the civil service, judiciary and other public sectors.
The introduction of the programme points to a number of conclusions about Kazakhstan’s approach to future cooperation with the EU.
Firstly, the very fact of the adoption of such a programme highlights the growing importance of Europe for Kazakhstan, and testifies that this Eurasian country is increasingly looking westwards for a variety of reasons.
Secondly, it shows that the attitude to Europe is special. It is seen as a source of inspiration and know-how.
There is no other document of its kind, no comparable "Path to Asia", although the Singaporean experience is being examined closely.
European models are seen as advanced and attractive, and therefore worth emulating. In this regard, the quality of life section of the programme is revealing.
The Kazakhstan government seeks to attain European standards of environmental protection, healthcare and social welfare provision.
Clearly, the adoption of the Programme has a number of purposes.
In part the document is designed to head off European criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor record in fulfilling its OSCE human dimension commitments.
It is also designed to strengthen the western dimension of Astana’s fluid ‘multivector’ foreign policy.
But this does not detract from the clear ambition to build stronger relations with Europe and to take the EU Strategy for Central Asia seriously as a vehicle for achieving this aim.
Both the EU and Kazakhstan are interested in the intensification of political dialogue (one of the aims of the programme is to organise at least five official visits per year at the level of European heads of state and governments), building transport corridors, energy cooperation and expanded trade. Kazakhstan wants to learn from Europe and improve its education and healthcare, environmental legislation and market regulation.
Differences arise between the Programme and the EU Strategy with regard to the weight allocated to human rights, rule of law and democratisation.
In the EU Strategy these issues are identified as priorities, whereas in the "Path to Europe", human rights are not directly mentioned, and the ‘humanitarian basket’ is rather light – it doesn’t go much beyond Kazakhstan’s favourite slogans of achieving inter-ethnic and inter-confessional accord.
The counterpoint to the rule of law in the EU Strategy is reform of the judiciary, implying the improvement of its efficiency rather than building a genuinely independent judiciary.
Nevertheless, there is sufficient scope within the Programme and willingness for dialogue amongst the Kazakhstani leadership for the EU to challenge Astana to live up to the bold commitments outlined in the Path to Europe.
Relations with Uzbekistan have become the centrepiece of the European Union’s efforts to upgrade its relations with Central Asia.
Against this background, the push to remove the EU sanctions placed on Uzbekistan following the Andizhan massacre in 2005 and led by Germany, has been presented as vital to make the broader Strategy a success.
The utility of a political dialogue with Uzbekistan and the significance of good relations with Tashkent in terms of building an EU engagement in the region have been contested by a coalition of civil society organisations and regional experts, together with some EU member states.
After a prolonged struggle, the travel ban imposed on Uzbek officials as part of the sanctions was lifted in October 2008 following the assessment by the EU that there had been "progress achieved in the last year with respect to rule of law and protection of human rights" by Uzbekistan.
Many NGOs greeted this assessment with incredulity, especially since many of them had recently participated in an EU-sponsored seminar on media freedom in Uzbekistan and had seen little evidence of any progress in this area.
Civil society organisations grew even further concerned when Berlin welcomed Uzbekistan’s security chief on a visit days after sanctions were lifted.
Previously, Rustam Inoyatov had been banned from travelling to the EU as a result of his leading role in the Andizhan events. Below are the extracts from the Press Resease of the Council of the European Union:
The Council adopted the following conclusions:
1. The Council recalls its Conclusions of 29 April 2008 and welcomes the progress achieved in Uzbekistan in the last year with regard to respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights.
In particular, it hails the release of a number of defenders of human rights, notably that of Mrs Mukhtabar Tojibaeva.
The Council welcomes the fact that she was also allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment, but hopes that she will be granted complete freedom of movement.
It takes note with satisfaction of the holding of the second series of consultations on human rights on 5 June 2008 and the holding of a seminar on media freedom in Tashkent on 2 and 3 October.
It also welcomes the implementation of a number of legislative and judicial reforms, in particular the abolition of the death penalty, the introduction of habeas corpus and the ratification of a series of conventions combating child labour.
The Council is pleased that visits by the ICRC to prisons have resumed, and trusts that they will continue.
2. The Council nevertheless remains seriously concerned about the situation of human rights in some domains in Uzbekistan and urges the authorities to implement their international obligations fully in that regard.
It calls on the Uzbek authorities to release all imprisoned human rights defenders and to cease harassment of human rights defenders; to accept the accreditation of the new Country Director of Human Rights Watch and to allow the unhindered operation of that organisation; to cooperate fully and effectively with the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and on freedom of expression; and to revoke restrictions on the registration and operation of NGOs in Uzbekistan. The judicial reforms and reforms relating to observance of the law must be continued and effectively enforced.
3. The Council encourages Uzbekistan to continue progress in the direction of human rights, democratisation and the rule of law, and it is prepared to assist Uzbekistan in its reforming efforts towards that goal.
The Council welcomes Uzbekistan’s commitment to work with the EU on a range of questions relating
to human rights, by means including an effective dialogue on human rights directed towards achieving practical results.
4. In this context, the Council has decided not to renew the travel restrictions applying to certain individuals referred to in Common Position 2007/734/CFSP, which had been suspended in accordance with the Council’s conclusions of 15-16 October 2007 and 29 April 2008.
The Council has however decided to renew, for a period of 12 months, the arms embargo imposed in Common Position 2007/734/CFSP.
5. The Council will continue, on the basis of regular reports from the Heads of Mission, to monitor and assess the human rights situation in Uzbekistan in the light of the conditions set out above and of any other action that demonstrates the readiness of the Uzbek authorities to adhere to the principles of respect for human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.»
On 2-3 October 2008, the Uzbek government and the EU hosted an event in Tashkent entitled "Liberalisation of Mass Media - An Important Component of the Democratisation of the Society". Participants in the seminar from European media and civil society organisations welcomed the opportunity to discuss media issues in Tashkent, but did not see the seminar "as an indicator of change of attitude by the Uzbek authorities".
Below are the extracts from a joint statement of the leading international human rights organisations to the October media freedom event in Tashkent.
The EU must not close its eyes to the harsh realities that journalists face in Uzbekistan.
Our organisations, which took part in the seminar, can attest first-hand that nothing new was heard from the representatives of the government and the state-controlled media who were present.
There was no hint of acknowledgement from the Uzbek side that the country’s media are neither free nor independent, that journalists and others are regularly imprisoned for expressing their opinions, that access to critical external internet sites is blocked, and that foreign journalists are not allowed accreditation to cover the country from within.
Indeed, foreign journalists and independent Uzbek journalists were not allowed to cover last week’s seminar, while journalists from the state-controlled electronic and print media were present in the meeting room.
[T]here have been no positive changes in the area of media freedom in Uzbekistan and […] the authorities [must] demonstrate a real commitment to freedom of expression through concrete actions. Therefore, the EU should call on the Uzbek government to:
• In line with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Uzbekistan is party, guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression:
- end state censorship of all forms of protected expression;
- cease harassment and intimidation of independent journalists working in the country;
- lift reporting restrictions on all domestic and international media outlets;
EU Lifts the Sanctions against Uzbekistan
Source: Press Release of the 2897th meeting of the Council, General Affairs and External Relations, Luxembourg, 13 October 2008 (
Conference on Media Freedom
- promptly and unconditionally release journalists wrongfully detained for their professional activities and others detained for exercising their freedom of expression;
- allow international media outlets, including those that have been forced to stop working in Uzbekistan, to register their bureaus and grant accreditation to international journalists;
• Require public trials in line with Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, by allowing Uzbek and foreign journalists and other independent monitors to cover criminal proceedings from inside the courtrooms;
• Issue an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, as well as the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders.
[A]ny form of open discussion and dialogue, are certainly to be welcomed if they lead to genuine change.
However, the EU must be absolutely clear that a willingness to talk is not the same thing as a commitment to embark on substantive improvements in policy and practice.
The Uzbek government’s past record of engagement with the EU and other international institutions clearly demonstrates that discussions of possible reforms have consistently been used as a substitute for real and measurable progress.
On 12 December 2008, FRIDE and CEPS will host an EUCAM roundtable in Madrid on Defending Human Rights and Promoting Democracy: Euro-Atlantic Approaches Towards Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
This meeting will gather representatives of the EU, OSCE and NATO; activists and journalists from Turkmenistan and
Uzbekistan; and civil society representatives and officials from Spain to examine the current situation regarding democracy and human rights in these two Central Asian countries.
As background for this event, provided below is information on the human rights situation in these countries.
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are among the most repressive authoritarian states in the world. Since their independence, democracy has not been allowed to take root and human rights violations have become the rule instead of the exception.
Meanwhile, both states are attracting increased attention from outside actors due to their energy wealth: both Turkmenistan and, to a lesser extent, Uzbekistan have substantial gas reserves.
Regional and global powers such as Russia (which has strong historic, economic and security ties with both states), China, the United States and the European Union have energy interests in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but at the same time, remain concerned about the internal stability of the two states.
Turkmenistan saw a swift change of leadership when Gurbanguly Berdimukkamadov took over from absolute ruler Saparmurat Niazov, who died at the end of 2006.
Whereas some progress was made initially in terms of legislative reform and opening up the country to the outside world, hopes for an overhaul of the administration and engagement with political reform have now become faint.
What can we expect from Turkmenistan in the short term? Will the country sustain its slow pace of reform, especially in the education sector? Where does the limit to reforms acceptable to the ruling powers lie?
Uzbekistan is ruled by Islom Karimov, who has actively resisted democratic reform and has failed to improve the poor human rights record he gained in May 2005, when Uzbek security forces killed at least 200 protesters in the city of Andjion.
When Uzbek authorities proved unwilling to allow international organisations to investigate the tragic events, the EU and US imposed sanctions. As a result, Uzbekistan increasingly turned to Russia, which avoided criticising Tashkent’s actions, and moved away from engaging with Western countries.
This scenario is currently changing as the United States and the EU, headed by German initiatives, seek to repair ties with Tashkent. What is the logic behind the renewed relations if Uzbekistan’s human rights record has not undergone significant improvement?
Is it better to try and exclude Uzbekistan through sanctions? Or is a policy of engagement and socialisation more productive?
In June 2007, the European Union presented a Strategy for Central Asia.
Since that date, the Union has been following a regional approach to the area, focusing especially on bilateral ties with Central Asian republics.
Brussels concluded ‘bilateral priority agreements’ with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but also established human rights dialogues with Ashgabat and Tashkent.
Human rights, the rule of law, good governance and democratisation constitute the first priority outlined in the Strategy for Central Asia, though the EU has to balance this interest with an engagement on security and energy issues that might be at odds with it.
What can be accomplished by the EU in seeking to influence the democracy and human rights portfolios in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan?
Are Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan key countries that the EU should focus on through its Strategy (even at the expense of attention focused elsewhere)? How can the EU improve its role in practical democracy promotion and forwarding human rights?
NATO has a longstanding relationship with Central Asia through its Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme that binds all non-NATO members in the Euro-Atlantic area, including Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The Alliance was established to defend democracy, but nowadays it also plays an important role in promoting democracy in general and democratic defence reform in specific PfP countries that seek closer ties with the Alliance.
NATO rarely uses sanctions and normally opts to keep lines of communication open with human rights wrongdoers through PfP.
It did, however, cancel most activities with Uzbekistan after the Andijon events.
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – which is excluded from most regional international forums – are probably the least active PfP countries.
Does NATO play a role in assisting these countries in democratic defence reform?
And is NATO ready to hold these countries to account on human rights offences?
To what extent does the ISAF Afghanistan mission play a role in NATO’s ties with Turkmenistan and, above all, Uzbekistan?
The OSCE is present in both countries through an OSCE Centre in Ashgabat and a Project Co-ordinator in Uzbekistan (downgraded from a full Centre following the OSCE’s criticism of the actions of the Uzbek authorities in respect to the Andizhan massacre), and both states are members of this troubled organisation.
The members are divided over the purpose and tasks of the OSCE.
A small group of Eastern members, led by Russia, wants the OSCE to be further institutionalised with the main focus of the Organisation to be on narrow notions of security.
This group wants to retain consensus decision-making on most, if not all issues.
The second group, which is led by the US, wants the OSCE institutions to function relatively independently while focusing on the human dimension of democracy and human rights.
The majority of participating-States lie between these two polar perspectives. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan belong to the ‘Russia group’.
The OSCE still has the advantage of including a broad range of members and of its local presence in Central Asia.
How can the Organisation capitalise on these advantages in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan?
How can the OSCE move both countries in a positive direction towards fulfilling the requirements of the OSCE’s politically-binding regime of democracy and human rights agreements?
Are both in-active Central Asian members likely to gain enthusiasm under the upcoming Kazakhstan 2010 Chairmanship?
The conference was hosted by the government of Tajikistan and co-organised by the European Union/European Commission, Finland, the French Presidency of the European Union, Germany, the OSCE, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Experts and senior officials from Austria, China, the Czech Republic, India, Iran, Japan, Poland, the Russian Federation and Turkey, as well as representatives from the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre (CARICC), the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, the EuroAsian Economic Community (EURASEC) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) also took part.
The Central Asian countries and participating international delegations presented their national and regional priorities, and the conference concluded with an official Partnership Declaration.
United in their desire to fight illicit trafficking in narcotics, psychotropic substances, chemical precursors, weapons, hazardous materials, human beings, and trans-border crime and international terrorism, whilst promoting the legal movement of goods and people across borders in Central Asia, and upholding international human rights agreements, Ministers, high level officials and representatives of relevant agencies of Central Asian States and of the international community met in Dushanbe on 21- 22 October 2008 to discuss issues related to border management and drug control in the region.
Recognizing that the successful fight against these threats is dependent upon the enhancement of border security and management, we, the participants of this Conference:
Reaffirm our commitment to reinforce regional and international cooperation to provide better border management and drug control, forge closer collaboration between regional and international organizations, and support focused assistance on on-going and future efforts in this field;
Encourage and support all international, regional and bilateral initiatives to strengthen border security and drug control in Central Asia building on international partnerships, such as, inter alia, the EU Strategy on Central Asia, UNODC’s Regional Strategy on Securing Central Asia’s Borders with Afghanistan, as well as activities within the framework of the OSCE, CSTO, CIS, and the SCO;
Encourage the international community to continue its support, assistance and cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in its resolve to fight against narcotics and the illegal inflow of precursors for their production;
Encourage and support cross border cooperation between Central Asian states and their border agencies to provide more effective border security in the region;
Recognize our responsibility to uphold relevant international commitments and employ best practices in the fields of border security and management and counter-narcotics;
Call on donors to strengthen coordination of assistance in the field of border management and drug control with a view to creating synergies and avoiding duplications of activities including at the national and regional levels, thus enabling donor cooperation in the early planning stage;
Recognize that there is a requirement for developing and
implementing national border management and national drug strategies that incorporate objectives, priorities and action plans, as well as mechanisms for cross border cooperation, and express readiness to work with one another and with the international community to this end;
Agree on the establishment of, whenever necessary a national coordination structure and the nomination of a national coordinator in the fields of border management and drug control for interaction with national and regional structures and international organizations;
Recognize the importance of the establishment of the Central Asian Regional Information Coordination Centre (CARICC) for the fight against the illegal transport of narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors welcome the ratification of the agreement on the establishment of the CARICC by two parties and call on the remaining parties to follow their example;
Welcome the planned establishment of the OSCE Border Management Staff College in Dushanbe;
Note the interest of the Republic of Tajikistan to establish in Dushanbe a specialized training centre for the preparation and professional development of law enforcement officers of Tajikistan and Afghanistan involved in the fight against illegal drug trafficking, as well as a national canine training centre;
Consider it necessary to share and disseminate information on border management strategies and best practices through existing coordination and cooperation mechanisms such as, inter alia, the EU BOMCA/CADAP programmes, the OSCE, the Mini Dublin Group and UNODC programmes (Paris Pact Initiative and ADAM), and welcome the extension of the Central Asian Border Systems Initiative (CABSI) as a coordination platform for all stakeholders;
Thank the President, Government and people of the Republic of Tajikistan for extending their hospitality to host this Conference.
New Publications
The EU Strategy for Central Asia @ One Year, Neil Melvin and Jos Boonstra, EUCAM Policy Brief No.1 (October 2008) available at:
The Food-Energy-Water Nexus in Central Asia: Regional implications of and the International Response to the Crisis in Tajikistan, Matteo Fumagalli, EUCAM Policy Brief No.2 (October 2008), available at:
Engaging Central Asia: The European Union’s New Strategy in the Heart of Eurasia, Neil Melvin (ed.), CEPS Paperback, (May 2008), available at:
Russia and Central Asia. From Disinterest to Eager Leadership, Jos Boonstra, EU Russia Centre Review, No.8 (October 2008), available at:
Editorial staff:
Nafisa Hasanova, EUCAM Coordinator
Jos Boonstra, EUCAM Co-chair (FRIDE)
Neil Melvin, EUCAM Co-chair (CEPS)
Anton ARTEMYEV is currently director of the Kazakhstan Revenue Watch Program (KRW) of the Soros Foundation - Kazakhstan. He is an Economics graduate of the Moscow Academy of Labor and Social Relations (2000). Since May 2008 Anton is a member of the international EITI Board.
Sabine FISCHER is a research fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies. She deals with domestic and foreign policy in Russia and the other CIS countries and EU policy towards them. Previously she was a research fellow among others at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt.
Nicolás DE PEDRO is the Expert adviser on Central Asia for the Opex (Spanish Observatory on Foreign Policy) from the Fundación Alternativas. He is a PhD candidate and researcher in International Relations at the Complutense University in Madrid. In 2006 he was awarded a Diploma of Advanced Studies (DEA) in International Law and International Relations.
Matteo FUMAGALLI is Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations and European Studies at Central European University in Budapest (Hungary). His current projects concern social activism in authoritarian states, transnational migration across the former Soviet Union, and on EU-Central Asia relations.
André GERRITS, historian, is professor of European Studies, University of Amsterdam, and senior research fellow at the Netherlands Institute for International Relations (Clingendael). He studied History and Slavic Studies at the Free University and the University of Amsterdam.
Nargis KASSENOVA is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Sciences of the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research (KIMEP). Her main areas of research are Central Asian Security, Eurasian geopolitics, EU-Central Asia relations and Kazakhstan's foreign policy.
Sébastien PEYROUSE is a Senior Research Fellow at the Central Asia and Caucasus Institute (Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies) in Washington, D.C., and an Associate Scholar at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) in Paris. His research areas are political regimes in Central Asia, Islamism and religious minorities.
Michael DENISON is Lecturer in International Security at the University of Leeds, Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, and senior Central Asia analyst at Control Risks, a leading international investment risk consultancy. His research focuses on politics, security and ecnonomic development in Central Asia.
Anvar Kamoliddinovis director of Tajik Branch of Scientific Information Centre of Interstate Commission Water Coordination of the Central Asian Countries. His research focus is regional integrated water resources management, irrigation, water supply and rural development.
Gulnura TORALIEVA has a Masters degree in International Journalism from Kyrgyz-Russian Slavonic University. She has been working as Programme Director for the Institute for Public Policy (IPP) since May 2007. Mrs. Toralieva has extensive experience in facilitating training, news reporting, writing and editing of handbooks for journalists and video film production.
The Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE), Spain, in co-operation with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Belgium, has launched a joint project entitled "EU Central Asia Monitoring (EUCAM)". The (EUCAM) initiative is an 18-month research and awareness-raising exercise supported by several EU member states and civil society organisations which aims:
- to raise the profile of the EU-Central Asia Strategy;
- to strengthen debate about the EU-Central Asia relationship and the role of the Strategy in that relationship;
- to enhance accountability through the provision of high quality information and analysis;
- to promote mutual understanding by deepening the knowledge within European and Central Asian societies about EU policy in the region; and
- to develop ‘critical’ capacity within the EU and Central Asia through the establishment of a network that links communities concerned with the role of the EU in Central Asia.
EUCAM focuses on four priority areas in order to find a mix between the broad political ambitions of the Strategy and the narrower practical priorities of EU institutions and member state assistance programmes:
• Democracy and Human Rights
• Security and Stability
• Energy and Natural Resources
• Education and Social Relations
EUCAM will produce the following series of publications:
- A bi-monthly newsletter on EU-Central Asia relations will be produced and distributed broadly by means of an email list server using the CEPS and FRIDE networks. The newsletter contains the latest documents on EU-Central Asia relations, up-to-date information on the EU’s progress in implementing the Strategy and developments in Central Asian countries.
- Policy briefs will be written by permanent and ad hoc Working Group members. The majority of the papers examine issues related to the four core themes identified above, with other papers commissioned in response to emerging areas beyond the main themes.
- Commentaries on the evolving partnership between the EU and the states of Central Asia will be commissioned reflecting specific developments in the EU-Central Asian relationship.
- A final monitoring report of the EUCAM Expert Working Group will be produced by the project rapporteurs.
This monitoring exercise is implemented by an Expert Working Group, established by FRIDE and CEPS. The group consists of experts from the Central Asian states and the members countries of the EU. In addition to expert meetings, several public seminars will be organised for a broad audience including EU representatives, national officials and legislators, the local civil society community, media and other stakeholders.
EUCAM is sponsored by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project is also supported by the Czech Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Labels: United Nations, U.N., MaximsNewsNetwork, FRIDE, EU, Central Asia

Olivier Roy and Justin Vaisse offer wise advice on how to think about our Muslim neighbors

Once in a while, not often, an anthropologist's op-ed comments appear in a major newspaper. What many of those works often usefully offer is perspective, it seems to me. If a discipline that takes form out of the comparative examination of different cultures has anything to offer it must be on how to think about those peoples whose cultural worlds are different from our own. Today the famous French anthropologist, Olivier Roy, along with Justin Vaisse, offers some suggestions to the President-elect. Roy has been writing vitally important works on Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Muslim world in general, and more recently on the problems of Muslims in Europe. He has earned his reputation through years of talking to many kinds of Muslim peoples in many contexts. I hope the in-coming administration will listen carefully to the perspective these two learned authorities have to offer. But also the body of supporters that stands behind it, that wants to help Obama succeed, needs also to gain a wider, more empathetic perspective on the Muslim peoples. Indeed, the perspective of the administration in the last eight years is not the only possible way to view our Muslim neighbors, as this article indicates.
[Click on the title for a link to the original page.]

New York Times, December 21, 2008

How to Win Islam Over

DURING the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would convene a conference of Muslim leaders from around the world within his first year in office. Recently aides have said he may give a speech from a Muslim capital in his first 100 days. His hope, he has said, is to “make clear that we are not at war with Islam,” to describe to Muslims “what our values and our interests are” and to “insist that they need to help us to defeat the terrorist threats that are there.”

This idea of trying to reconcile Islam and the West is well intentioned, of course. But the premise is wrong.

Such an initiative would reinforce the all-too-accepted but false notion that “Islam” and “the West” are distinct entities with utterly different values. Those who want to promote dialogue and peace between “civilizations” or “cultures” concede at least one crucial point to those who, like Osama bin Laden, promote a clash of civilizations: that separate civilizations do exist. They seek to reverse the polarity, replacing hostility with sympathy, but they are still following Osama bin Laden’s narrative.

Instead, Mr. Obama, the first “post-racial” president, can do better. He can use his power to transform perceptions to the long-term advantage of the United States and become a “post-civilizational” president. The page he should try to turn is not that of a supposed war between America and Islam, but the misconception of a monolithic Islam being the source of the main problems on the planet: terrorism, wars, nuclear proliferation, insurgencies and the like.

This will be an uphill battle, since this view of a monolithic, dangerous Islam has gained wide acceptance. Whether we’re talking about civil war in Iraq, insurgency in Afghanistan, unrest in Kashmir, conflict in Israel-Palestine, nuclear ambitions in Iran, rebellion in the Philippines or urban violence in France, people routinely — but wrongly — single out Islam as the explanation, rather than nationalism or separatism, political ambitions or social ills. This in turn reinforces the idea of a global struggle.

Even the recent attacks in Mumbai, India, cannot be seen primarily under the prism of religion. What the terrorists and supporters of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group believed to have carried out the attacks, have achieved is to make normal relations between India and Pakistan impossible for the foreseeable future. Such groups have always used regional conflicts like that in Kashmir to hold on to power.

The truth is, Islam explains very little. There are as many bloody conflicts outside of regions where Islam has a role as inside them. There are more Muslims living under democracies than autocracies. There is no less or no more economic development in Muslim countries than in their equivalent non-Muslim neighbors. And, more important, there exist as many varieties of Muslims as there are adherents of other religions. This is why Mr. Obama should not give credence to the existence of an Islam that could supposedly be represented by its “leaders.”

Who are these leaders that President Obama would convene anyway? If he picks heads of state, he will effectively concede Osama bin Laden’s point that Islam is a political reality. If he picks clerics, he will put himself in the awkward position of implicitly representing Christianity — or maybe secularism. In any case, he would meet only self-appointed representatives, most of them probably coming from the Arab world, where a minority of Muslims live.

And such a conference would have negative effects for Western Muslims. By lending weight to the idea of a natural link between Islam and terrorism, it would reinforce the perception that they constitute a sort of foreign body in Western societies, or even some sort of fifth column. Most Western Muslims want first and foremost to be considered as full citizens of their respective Western country, not part of any diaspora. And most of them share the so-called Western values.

If the idea of a Muslim summit meeting should be dropped as soon as possible, then what should Mr. Obama do? No more — but also no less — than carrying out the ambitious program he put forward during the campaign: closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, withdrawing from Iraq, banning torture, pushing for peace in the Middle East and so forth. These are not in any sense concessions to “Islam,” but on the contrary a reassertion that American values are universal and do not suffer any kind of double standard, and that they could be shared by atheists, Christians, Muslims and others.

Barack Obama should also put more faith in the capacity of the rest of the world to recognize that America has turned the page on eight catastrophic years during which its values have often been betrayed. After all, Americans have just elected a president whose middle name is Hussein. That name goes a long way with many Muslims.

Olivier Roy is a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Justin Vaisse is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company