WORKING WITH REPRESSIVE REGIMES IN CENTRAL ASIA
HON. ELIOT L. ENGEL
OF NEW YORK
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Thursday, October 25, 2001
Mr. ENGEL. Mr. Speaker, I rise to express my support for United States policy in our war on terrorism. The President has my full backing in what will clearly be a long and arduous battle to track down and stamp out terrorist organizations. In the end, I am confident that we will prevail over these forces of evil and barbarism.
At the same time, we must strike a balance between our need for allies in the region and our commitment to advancing the cause of freedom and human rights. In Central Asia, for example, I support our efforts to work closely with Uzbekistan and appreciate that the fact that we have received permission from that nation to use its military bases. However, Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state which has also reportedly imprisoned over 7,000 political prisoners in poor conditions. Next door, in Kazakhstan, the repressive and corrupt regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev has also offered to provide as yet unspecified assistance to the coalition.
All of us welcome support from the nations of Central Asia and hope to welcome them someday into the family of democracies, but I am concerned that there may be an implicit quid pro quo in such assistance. I hope that these countries do not expect the U.S. to ease the pressure to end human rights abuses and to promote democratic reform. In this connection, both the Financial Times and the Washington Post have recently printed editorials warning about the pitfalls of cooperation with repressive regimes in Central Asia and elsewhere.
The Financial Times, for example stated on September 17 that the US must be careful not to align itself too closely with authoritarian regimes that have dreadful records of suppressing minority groups. An anti-terrorist campaign must never be used as a convenient excuse for repressing political opponents . . ."
Similarly, a Washington Post editorial of September 24 warned that "In forming tactical bonds with such nations, America must not forget what it is fighting for as well as what it is fighting against." The editorial goes on to say that "in the long run, democracy will be the best antidote to religious extremism." In this connection, it is important for the U.S. to be seen as clearly promoting the freedoms that President Bush championed in his address to Congress on September 20: "our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."
I believe that as we work with the governments of Central Asia to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist network, we should also caution that repression and corruption are creating ideal conditions for Islamic extremism to flourish within their borders. Islamic extremist groups will never run out of recruits as long as the Soviet era dictators in Central Asia continue their repressive and corrupt ways. In this regard, I am particularly concerned about Kazakhstan, which is the crown jewel of the region because of its oil, gas and mineral wealth. I shudder to think what an Islamic extremist government would do with that country's wealth.
As we have done in other regions of importance to the United States, we must expand our efforts to promote pluralism, tolerance, and openness in Central Asia. The people of these nations deserve a political avenue to express their opinions and grievances. Extremist Islam must not be the only outlet for Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tajiks, and other Central Asians as it unfortunately has become for so many other people in the region.
Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that the full texts of the Financial Times and Washington Post editorials be printed at this point in the Record.
[From the Financial Times, Mon., Sept. 17, 2001]
Doubtful Allies in Central Asia