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5:00 P.M.

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

ROSS WILSON:  Good afternoon.  On behalf of Sen. Chuck Hagel and president and Chief Executive Officer Fred Kempe of the Atlantic Council, welcome to all of you here today.  We’re particularly honored to have with us several senior officials from the Republic of Uzbekistan, including First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz Kamilov, the chairman of the senate’s foreign relations committee, Sodiq Safaev, and of course, the ambassador of Uzbekistan to the United States, Ilhom Nematov.

I will formally introduce our speakers a little bit later, but definitely want to welcome all of you here and thank you for being with us.  For those of you who do not know me, my name is Ross Wilson.  I’m the director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center here at the Atlantic Council.  This new center was established about a year ago as part of a broader retooling of the Atlantic Council in, sort of, a post-Cold War context, to look more effectively at key issues and challenges that will affect the interests of the United States and the trans-Atlantic community in the 21st century.

Our goals at the Eurasia center are to ensure that important issues in and among the countries around the Black Sea, around the Caspian Sea and in Central Asia get the hearing and consideration that they need in Washington, to support trans-Atlantic engagement on these issues and with these countries, many of which continue to struggle with the development of real and long-term stability, security, prosperity and freedom, and to promote cooperation and integration within these regions and across Eurasia as a whole.

One specific role we play is to serve as a platform at which visitors from Eurasia can present their thoughts on key issues, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly.  And happily, this particular session is a public one.  And I’m very grateful to our Uzbek guests for joining us and for joining all of you here today.  I’m also grateful and want to acknowledge the help and the support of FMN Logistics in making possible this event today.

Central Asia is too often, I think, one of the forgotten places in the world.  It should not be.  And the reasons, I think, are simple.  And the most obvious is Afghanistan.  Suffice it to say that Afghanistan is as much a part of Central Asia as the countries that people in Washington tend to regard as “the Stans.”  The success of Afghanistan will have a lot to do with the success of the new former Soviet states of Central Asia and vice versa. 

More darkly, just as the failed state of Afghanistan turned out to harbor direct and material threats to our way of life and threats to millions elsewhere in the world, so failure, difficulty, setbacks in Central Asia all have serious implications for the world, as well.  There are many questions being asked in Washington today about where Afghanistan is headed, where Washington, with Afghanistan, is headed.  Will U.S. policy in Afghanistan succeed, and what will success look like?

What will a changing – or perhaps some would urge, declining – U.S. role in Afghanistan mean for Central Asia?  In that evolving environment, and given the new power centers in China and South Asia, what do the Central Asian states want from the United States now and what would constitute a realistic set of objectives for the United States in the region – both the traditional Central Asia Stans and the broader Central Asian region, including Afghanistan.

Today’s discussion of Afghanistan and Central Asia regional security from the perspective of Uzbekistan is a very timely one.  Uzbekistan and Central Asia are extremely important for the development of Afghanistan.  They have a role to play, and they are playing a role.  We will hear, today, about some of that on a political plane, where Uzbekistan has proposed rekindling the six-plus-two neighbors of Afghanistan forum in a new and expanded guise to give expression to the idea of a community of nations around that troubled country that need to work together for that country to succeed.

And we’ll hear about Uzbek-Afghan developments on a practical level, too, in terms of Uzbek involvement in Afghanistan’s energy sector, its work on roads, railroads, bridges and in telecommunications, and in other areas of trade.  Our program today will have three parts.  First, we will hear from Deputy Foreign Minister Kamilov, who will speak about Uzbekistan’s views and priorities with regard to Afghanistan and Central Asia security, and how these relate to U.S. interests.

I first met Ambassador Kamilov in August, 1977, when I accompanied then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson on a two-day visit to Tashkent and Samarkand.  Our talks, perhaps ironically, that day or those days focused largely on what we will be discussing here:  Afghanistan and regional security in a highly complicated part of the world that, of course, has become a lot more complicated over the last 13 years.

Virtually throughout Uzbekistan’s independent history, our guest has held a number of very senior foreign policy positions, including as foreign minister in 1994 to 2003, and as ambassador of Uzbekistan to the United States, 2003 to 2010, following which he was brought back to Tashkent for another stint as first deputy foreign minister. 

Going farther back, Ambassador Kamilov had a distinguished career as a Soviet diplomat working particularly on Middle Eastern affairs, and was a senior research fellow at the Soviet Academy of Sciences Institute of World Economy and International Relations.  I was struck, 13 years ago, and again in discussions this week with Ambassador Kamilov, of his effectiveness as a diplomat in describing his country’s point of view and in searching for common ground.

Immediately following Ambassador Kamilov, Sen. Safaev will describe, in more practical or operational terms, what Uzbekistan is doing in Afghanistan.  Sodiq Safaev is another longtime friend, who I knew and worked closely with the in late 1990s, while he served here as Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the United States.  Like Ambassador Kamilov, he has also held some of his countries senior-most foreign policy positions, including two stints as foreign minister, the last in 2003 to 2005. 

After that, he became rector of the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Uzbekistan and is currently a senator and chairman of the senate committee on foreign relations.  Upon completion of Ambassador Safaev’s remarks, he and Ambassador Kamilov and I will take the stage and have a discussion that will include plenty of time for questions and comments/suggestions from the audience, from our participants here today. 

Perhaps to state the obvious, this session is on the record and with, perhaps, no further ado, with these words of welcome and introduction, please join me in welcoming Ambassadors Kamilov and Safaev.  (Applause.)

ABDULAZIZ KAMILOV:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.  Ambassador Ross, I thank you so much for such a warm introduction, and we are visiting, together with Chairman Safaev, Washington by the invitation from the United States Atlantic Council.  And we are going to speak about the security issues, and especially Afghanistan.  Why?  Because we have great concern with what’s going on in this neighboring country, and that’s why, allow me to say some words before we will be ready to answer your questions. 

First of all, let me thank again the leadership and the staff of the United States Atlantic Council for organizing this meeting and for the opportunity to exchange views and opinions on the situation in Afghanistan.  The Afghan problem has always had and still has priority importance for Uzbekistan and its foreign policy, due to a number of reasons.  Firstly, the war in Afghanistan, which has been continuing for almost 30 years, has made our country a frontline state with all ensuing consequences for its national security, foreign and domestic policy, as well as economy.

Secondly, we realize that without resolving Afghanistan’s problem, one couldn’t count on peace and security in Central Asian region.  Originated from Afghanistan security threat, including the possibility of spreading a military conflict, the ideology of extremism, drug trafficking, illegal arms trade, and risk of penetration into the region of terrorist groups have negative impact on the regional security.

The Afghan factor has played a significant role in destabilizing the situation in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and current instability in Tajikistan.  Thirdly, the war in Afghanistan is the real and serious threat to security, not only of Central Asia, but we know that also of the world as a whole.  Finally, we think that the achievement of peace and stability in Afghanistan would open great opportunities for solving pressing issues of sustainable socioeconomic development of the whole Central Asian region.

Let me, now, briefly deal on Uzbekistan’s assessment of the current military/political situation in Afghanistan and what ways do we see to resolve the Afghan problem.  The position of Uzbekistan, known as the six-plus-three initiative, was stated by the president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, in his address in the NATO summit in Bucharest, as well as at the 65th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York this September.

And the main conclusion is that there is no military solution to Afghan problem, and the strategy chosen by the coalition forces to pacify Afghanistan has not yielded expected result.  Military operations, which allowed dismantling Taliban’s war machine at the initial stage, today are not capable to eliminate the threat posed by the Taliban.  We must note that neither military nor technological superiority of the West, nor increase in the number of coalition troops, unfortunately, can provide even relative stability necessary for the withdrawal of ISAF troops. 

As of August this year, the total number of coalition troops, you know, equaled to around 150,000 people.  And the armed opposition is estimated at no more than 60,000 people.  Nearly three times the numerical superiority of the coalition still cannot make a breakthrough on the battlefield.  The intensification of military actions by the international and coalition forces resulted in improving forms and methods of warfare and streamlining the military structure of the Taliban and its command.

According to available information, anti-government forces make attempts to infiltrate into the armed forces of Afghanistan.  The coalition’s military operations result in increasing their support for armed opposition’s actions from the local population.  One fails to block the penetration of militants’ supply of weapons and equipment in the company from other areas.  Strengthening the military component of the coalition activities gives the way to militarization of the country and the region as a whole.

According to the various data, currently, more than 10 million different kinds of small arms are accumulated in Afghanistan.  For the number of small arms per person, the country occupies the leading position in the world – 14 arms per person.  International terrorist groups enjoy almost unlimited human and material resources.  According to available information, in 2009, more than 5,000 militants who were trained in special camps poured into the armed opposition groups. 

It’s doubtful that one could ensure stability in the medium term by strengthening Afghan security forces.  Achieving peace in Afghanistan with military means alone is not feasible.  Difference:  The sense and significance of our initiative are built on the sense that Afghanistan’s troubles must be addressed by the Afghans themselves, with the assistance of those nations who are really interested in seeing the end to the war and a peaceful future in Afghanistan.

In this case, one should primarily refer to the United States, Russia, NATO, who are, in fact, involved in the peacemaking mission, as well as Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors:  China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.  We think that it’s important to ensure Iran’s participation in the negotiation process. 

The central objective of six-plus-three contact group is to propose to the confronting parties a program of secession of hostilities in Afghanistan, to seek out compromise solution to key issues and disagreements dividing the country, to ensure security and provide required guarantees, taking into account the interests of every party. 

At the same time, the first and foremost emphasis in the program must be placed on rendering economic assistance, implementing socially oriented infrastructural and humanitarian projects.  It’s necessary to demonstrate complete respect for the age-old traditions, customs and values of Islamic religion.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have sometimes, a lot of questions.  Why the proposed form of the contact group doesn’t include the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan?  The fact is that we can see that six-plus-three model as a mechanism for organizing an equal dialogue – a venue for discussion among parties on absolutely equal grounds. 

The government’s involvement in the contact group would lead to the situation in which none of those who are against the central government inside Afghanistan would be willing to work with the contact group.  Today, representatives of the armed opposition groups refuse to discuss any issues to resolve this situation with the government.  The inclusion of the government in the group as an equal member will inevitably undermine the confidence of all alternative forces to the negotiation process.

And using this opportunity, I’d like to explain to you that it doesn’t mean that we have any special sense towards the central government, and we are cooperating with Kabul very closely.  We have very close economic/political relations.  And Uzbekistan is cooperating with President Karzai and with the government of Afghanistan, is doing a lot for reconstruction of the economy of Afghanistan.

And Chairman Safaev will be speaking about that, what Uzbekistan is doing in Afghanistan.  And we think that the main idea of creating the contact group of six-plus-three is to create the model of national reconciliation, which all confronting groups will participate in.  And this is the main idea, and I wanted very briefly to inform you about the main idea of this initiative.  And of course, I will be ready, together with Sen. Safaev, to answer your questions.  Thank you.  Thanks.  (Applause.)

SODIQ SAFAEV:  Ambassador Wilson, thank you very much for your warm introduction, and thank you, Mr. Kamilov, for making my job easier.  After his very eloquent and, as usual, professional presentation, it’s difficult to add something, but I think that my friends don’t think that I came 6,000 miles just to shake hands with old friends, to enjoy your company.  I have to say something here, and I’d like, just, also to add some points to the presentation of Mr. Kamilov. 

I think that the question on today’s panel is the view from Uzbekistan towards the situation in Afghanistan.  And I’d like just to state two major factors behind our approach to the situation in Afghanistan.  First, Afghanistan is a unique country, located in the center of a huge, macro region with a unique history full of bloody wars, one replacing each other.  Every nation is unique, but still, Afghanistan is special case.

This morning, we, together, spoke with one of the experts on the region and I reminded him that during the 20th century, all 11 rulers of Afghanistan were replaced from their position by force, and six of them were killed.  The expert asked me not to mention it to President Karzai.  (Laughter.)  And I think that Mr. Karzai is going to be first exception, and after all, we are living not in the 20th century, but we are already in the 21st century.  And after all, we have, today, a completely new situation.

The second factor behind our approach to Afghanistan is that it’s an organic part of Central Asia.  Ambassador Wilson already mentioned that, but I’d like just to remind you that in his classic definition of Central Asia, Alexander von Humboldt, 120 years ago, included Afghanistan as a part of Central Asia due to the river chains, mountain chains, ethnically, linguistically, et cetera, et cetera. 

And today, we should start to look to the region still using the map made in the 20th century, when the Soviet Union existed?  No, from geopolitical point of view, ethno-linguistically and geographically, Afghanistan is a part of Central Asia – and economically!  It’s opened up a completely new situation.  I’d like just to point out two important facts. 

Immediately, when the Taliban regime was overthrown and Mr. Karzai became the leader of the country, the leaders of three states – Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran – signed, in Tehran, a document in regard with opening up Afghan transport corridor.  In year 2000, the trade between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan was zero; today, it’s close to $1 billion and it’s growing year-by-year.  It shows that the old, basic fundamental factors started to work and capitalize the achievements, or perspective, for both sides.

Of course, for Uzbekistan, the normalization of the situation in Afghanistan means a lot.  That’s why the country – and I’d like just to reiterate what’s been said by Minister Kamilov – works closely with the government in Kabul and tries to help him in restoring the economy and being involved with the regional processes.  And I’m going to start us not only with the economic, which is well-known, but I’d like to draw your attention to the facts when Uzbekistan initiated the involvement of Afghanistan for political tendencies in Central Asia and beyond.

It was exactly Uzbekistan’s proposal, in year 2002 in Portugal, and the decision was taken by OECD, to give to Afghanistan the status of partner country with this very important organization.  It was exactly Uzbekistan who first invited Mr. Karzai to participate in the Shanghai organization summit in the year 2004 in Tashkent, and the Afghanistan from those times, started to be – to have an observer status in this very important regional organization, and to be involved to the projects within this organization.

Beyond this, from an economic point of view, the point of Uzbekistan was to help Afghanistan to overcome strategic problem:  the absence of internal road system in Afghanistan.  To my mind, one of the best research on Afghanistan to understand Afghanistan was the book, “Afghanistan,” written by Russian Gen. Sneserov (ph) 100 years ago.  And he described Afghanistan islands of different provinces loosely connected with each other.

And today, for the first time in history, Afghanistan has a road system connecting all provinces with each other, and all of them with the center, with Kabul.  It’s difficult to overestimate this fact.  And within the coming months, Uzbekistan experts and specialists will complete building the first-in-history railroad connecting Hairaton with Mazar-e-Sharif – 65 kilometers.  And it’s going to be the first railroad system ever.

Many years ago, one of the kings of Afghanistan issued the law prohibiting any building of any railroad in Afghanistan, being afraid that while railroad, the imperialism will come and will bring some instability to Afghanistan.  But we hope that this railroad will bring more goods, more economic cooperation and investment projects within Afghanistan.  During the last 10 years, almost 10 million humanitarian aid was provided by Uzbekistan – the river port, Termez, to Afghanistan. 

Today, Kabul and other major cities in the country enjoy 100 percent of supply of electric power, which brings not only electricity, but heating system to this country.  And overall, we think that there is a huge opportunity, not only for Afghanistan, but Central Asia, as well, with the opening up of Afghanistan as a transport corridor for Central Asia landlocked countries to the nearest seaports in the gulf and Indian Ocean.

Conclusion:  We think that Afghanistan is part of Central Asia, and this illusion of the “Afghani problem,” or “Afghani crisis,” without direct involvement of all immediately neighboring countries is impossible.  That’s why the regional approach and trying to find some new approaches and options for overcoming the Afghani problem is timely and important.  That’s why we are here, delivering this message, and we would love, of course with our colleagues here, to hear your comments and suggestions.  Thank you for your attention.  (Applause.)

MR. WILSON:  Okay, let’s come up here.  (Pause.)  Well, thank you for those interesting and detailed remarks, and what I’d like to do is do what moderators get to do, which is to ask the first question and then turn it over to our audience.  As I was listening to your description here of the kind of goals and objectives you envision for this six-plus-three meeting, how it relates to the reconciliation objectives within Afghanistan, how those things relate to security matters, I hearkened back to conversations that I’ve been part of with various secretaries of state and other senior U.S. officials, when there were ideas to have meetings like this.

And the conversation usually, eventually got around to the question:  How do you see that this meeting would actually work?  What kind of – how does this conversation go?  What sorts of preparations are there that would help to ensure a successful outcome?  At what level does this take place?  Is this a one-time event?  Are there a series of ongoing events?  I wonder if you could just give a little bit of additional detail and texture of how you envision this?

MR. KAMILOV:  So that’s a very interesting question, and we have been thinking over that.  First of all, I’d like to say that there is nothing new.  From the very beginning the idea was to transform the group six-plus-two into the six-plus-three, and to use what we did together with all our neighboring countries, with the United States and Russia, within the group six-plus-two. 

And that’s why, as a first step, we can suggest that we have a meeting with the representatives of those countries on the level of the, for example, deputy foreign ministers responsible for the region.  Because they know the region and that’s why they are responsible for the region, and they will speak the same language.  And of course, this time we are inviting NATO.  And the NATO representative may be under the secretary general or the secretary general.  It depends on the decision of NATO, itself 

And then of course, we are going, also, if we get together, to invite all major confronting forces, and usually when we say all major confronting forces, the question raised is if you mean, also, Taliban.  Yes, of course – moderate part of Taliban movement, Taliban representatives and all other, major confronting groups, confronting forces.  And the main idea is, from the six-plus-three, to help these forces to deal, to reach an agreement, to agree on the concept of national reconciliation.

Of course, we are not going to ignore the government.  We are going to deal with the government, also – with the central government.  And this is the mechanism how we see.  And of course, before, for example, we have such a meeting, we have to have some consultations about all the details.  It’s not – from our experience with six-plus-two, of course, it’s not easy because everybody has its own view and its own position.  And very, very unique aspect of this idea, also – how Iranians and the U.S. representatives were sitting at the same table. 

But we used to sit together, within the six-plus-two, and we had very constructive discussions.  And I was a witness how the secretary of state of the United States was speaking with the Iranian foreign minister on Afghanistan.  I am not going to speak now about the very specific bilateral relationship between Iran and the United States.  We are speaking about Afghanistan, about the regional security issues in our own region.

And there were a lot of publications that the representatives of the United States had, already, some contacts and meetings on Iraq with the Iranians.  That’s why there is nothing new, and we may use this experience.  In any case, this is our view how we imagine the mechanism of six-plus-two.

MR. WILSON:  And just to press you on one aspect that you’ve referred to now, and also in your prepared remarks, what’s the relationship of the Kabul government here?  What’s the role – or maybe to put it another way, how does one get the central government in Afghanistan to support this?  What do they see as in it for them?

MR. KAMILOV: You know, this is on the stage of – (inaudible, background noise) – and yes, of course we will have some consultations with the central government.  And you cannot carry out this concept of national reconciliation without the central government.  If you reach something with the major confronting forces, of course, this idea, this concept of reconciliation must be supported by central government, too.

MR. WILSON:  Okay, anything you’d like to add, Ambassador?

MR. SAFAEV:  No, no.  Yes, I think we’re set for the next question.

MR. WILSON:  Let’s turn it over to our participants.  I would ask if you’d please raise your hand and identify yourselves, and there will be a microphone that comes around.  Who would like to ask – yes, sir?

Q:  Hi, I’m Josh Kucher (sp), a freelance reporter here in Washington.  You referred to the security challenges that Uzbekistan faces because of Afghanistan.  What sort of security assistance are you expecting from the United States, specifically in Uzbekistan?  What sort of security cooperation would you like to have with Washington?

MR. KAMILOV:  You mean Afghanistan or –

Q:  In Uzbekistan with your own armed forces.

MR. WILSON:  Security cooperation and assistance from the United States for Uzbekistan.

MR. KAMILOV:  You know, we have been cooperating for a long time with the United States on security issues, and using this opportunity, I’d like to say that this is not the main and the only area of our bilateral cooperation.  We think that it is necessary to have – and we could shape, we could create – a comprehensive agenda of our bilateral relations.  And we pay the same importance and attention to our trade and economic cooperation.

And the head of the American part of the Uzbek chamber of commerce, Mr. Eustace (ph), is present here, and he may confirm that.  This direction also is very important for us – economic, trade cooperation, military technical cooperation, our cooperation on the area of regional security, our humanitarian and our cooperation in the area of education, and so on.  And that’s why I’d like you to know that this is not the only and the main area of our cooperation.

And now, answering your question, how we see the role of the United States in creating security and stability in the region:  First of all, we think that the United States and other NATO countries and all other countries which are involved in the Afghan issues shouldn’t leave this job unfinished.  We should reach – we should help Afghanistan in the reconstruction of its economy, maintain stability and security.

I’m not going to speak now about all specific details, but I think the government of the United States may help Afghanistan to restore its economy and to solve some very serious economic and social problems.  And of course, it’s not also the U.S. responsibility in the region because the U.S. is present there.  We should cooperate together with all other countries to prevent and to stop drug trafficking.

This is one of the most dangerous challenges in the region because production of drugs is increasing from year to year in Afghanistan and this is problem, not just for Afghanistan itself; for all countries in the region.  For example, if you take a look at the situation in the past in Central Asia, Central Asia was, for example, in the beginning of the ’90s, just the area for transit.  And now it’s becoming a huge market for drugs, and that’s why it’s very, very important for us to cooperate together with the United States and other countries to prevent or stop drug trafficking in the region.

MR. WILSON:  Okay.  More questions?  Please, Xanu (sp).

Q:  Xanu Baran (sp).  Could you address the ideological challenge?  What’s Uzbekistan’s policy, or how are you cooperating with Afghanistan?  And you mentioned, Minister Kamilov, also including the moderate elements of Taliban.  What do you think would be in it for them?  You asked about the central government, but given that the moderate elements versus the non-moderate elements, there’s no ideological difference – it’s just the method – and since Uzbekistan itself has been struggling with radical Islamic groups, could you talk a little bit about your views?  Thank you.

MR. KAMILOV:  Xanu, it’s always very difficult to answer your questions because you’re the best specialist in this area, and you have published a lot of books and articles and you’ve already visited, many times, the region, as well as Uzbekistan.  And I think, first of all, what is the position of Uzbekistan?  You know the position of Uzbekistan and I’d like to say that there is not any change in the position of Uzbekistan.

And we think that you may prevent some terrorist attacks, some terrorist action, but it’s more difficult to defeat the ideology of extremism.  And that’s why education and enlightenment – they are the best way to defeat the ideology of extremism.  And we have a great concern that the number of some educational centers increasing in the region, in some neighboring countries.  And that’s why we are thinking over that and we are paying great attention to the system of education in our own country.  This is the way to defeat the ideology of extremism.

MR. WILSON:  Ariel Cohen.

Q:  Ariel Cohen, the Heritage Foundation.  Welcome to Washington.

MR. WILSON:  There’s a mike there.

Q:  We’ve seen deterioration of state in a couple of places in Central Asia – of state’s capabilities.  One is Kyrgyzstan and one is Tajikistan.  Kyrgyzstan just had elections.  What is your view of the elections and their outcomes for the stability of Kyrgyzstan, and if you can comment on the Osh events?  And what is your view in general on the outlook for these two countries:  Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – in the next, shall we say, three years?  Thank you.

MR. KAMILOV:  This is the question – (inaudible, laughter).  I think we already both answered –

MR. SAFAEV:  Ariel, thank you very much for your question.  I think you’re right that we observe some negative tendencies in Central Asia, which I would describe, maybe, a contagion of the Afghani disease to the north, to the Central Asia as a whole.  Weakness of statehood, undermining the law and order, arrangement of some militia groups, emergence of some militia groups, heavy narco-trafficking – all problems which cannot but be a matter of concern.

In regard with Kyrgyzstan, we all share, I think, here in this audience, that we are glad that the last elections were free and fair.  However, we should admit – at least, it’s my personal point of view – that we should not overestimate the positive impact, either, because the fundamentals behind the problems of this country remain to be in place.

In regard with the situation, or with the events in Osh and the north, we in our committee, we had a parliamentary hearing and made a special statement.  And still, we think that two points are important to state today.  First, there is a need – absolutely, a required need – to help free, independent inquiry of what happened in south of Kyrgyzstan and last June. 

Mr. Kamilov was there, together with Ambassador Blake, and he, himself, observed the tragedy which occurred there.  Without the restoration of justice, without the punishment of all those who committed this crime, there will be no lasting stability in this region, first.  Second, we still think that the presence of some international expertise, like OECD police/monitoring forces would be important for this country. 

In regard with Tajikistan, we think that again, last events which occurred during September, of course, cannot but concern all of us, the neighboring Uzbekistan country, and we all want to see some stabilization of the situation in Tajikistan.  Uzbekistan is ready to cooperate with all interested parties, including with the United States – we had some consultations – and including with the particular countries on a bilateral and multilateral level, for addressing the transnational threats, which concerns all of us.

MR. WILSON:  Yes, in the blue?

Q:  I’m Stanley Kober with the Cato Institute.  I haven’t heard any mention of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.  How do they fit into this picture?  Are they part of these grand negotiations, or, you know, because they’re fighting with the Taliban.  They’re in Afghanistan.  So how does the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fit in?

MR. KAMILOV:  You know, when I was speaking about Taliban, I said that we meant just moderate part of Taliban’s movement.  And we have a principled position that we cannot have and we are not going to have any dialogue with terrorist organization.  We are not going to reach any compromise with such organizations.  And that’s why there is a big difference between IMU, for example, and moderate part of Taliban’s movement.

This is the first.  The second:  The name of this organization is really IMU, but you can find a lot of people from Pakistan, from Afghanistan, from Tajikistan, from Kyrgyzstan, even from Russia –

MR. SAFAEV:  Chechnya.

MR. KAMILOV:  Chechnya.  And this is such an international movement, but its name, from the very beginning was IMU.  And the government of Uzbekistan is not going to have any contact, any compromise, any dialogue, any negotiation with such organizations.

Q:  Hi, I’m Philip Shiska (sp), and I’m with the Asia Society here in Washington.  You talked a lot about the regional security challenges in Central Asia.  I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the domestic situation in Uzbekistan.  There’s unfortunately credible evidence of political repression, human rights violations, unlawful arrests.  I wonder whether the government of Uzbekistan has any plans to open up the political system, or whether you think that the way that Uzbek society operates now can perhaps create more instability in the region.  Thank you.

MR. SAFAEV:  I think that’s interesting, to hear about instability originating from Uzbekistan.  I think it’s vice versa; instability is coming to Uzbekistan from abroad, and neighboring countries, perhaps, represent more evidence of instability, rather than Uzbekistan.  You know, after spending five years here in Washington and coming back and becoming senator, I had a chance to visit the region’s provinces to observe the grassroots situation, and which gave me more facts and evidence what’s going on there.

I would say that today, we have very important transformation process in Uzbekistan from strong state to strong society.  I mean that.  If we indeed needed strong statehood during the times, initially, of independence, today, more and more, we hear in Uzbekistan, this process of delegation of power from the center to provinces, from the executive branch of power to other branches of power, including the court and legislation, from the state to private business and from the state to NGOs.

I can give you the exact examples on each of these five delegation channels, which I just mentioned.  I do think that, maybe, there is a need for more time for me to explain the process of decentralization of administrative and statehood process in Afghanistan, but it’s going on in economy, in political system, and in social system.  So that’s why, maybe, it’s to the general question about what’s going on in Uzbekistan from the political point of view, or transformation, or reforming process.  But we can’t address it on every aspect – economic, political and social.

From the point of view of the parliamentary system, I would like just to tell you that today, in the parliament of Uzbekistan, we enjoy more authority and power than it was five years ago.  Many prerogatives of the executive branch of power were delegated to parliament, including designation of some high-level officials, including the formation of the executive branch of power on all levels, et cetera, et cetera. 

The NGOs in Uzbekistan also enjoy, today, more powerful positions.  That’s why I think that the process of forming strong society, or civil society in Uzbekistan is going on, and it will be stronger and stronger.

MR. KAMILOV:  I’d like to add to Sen. Safaev and to give you one example to answer your question.  After the conflict in the south of Kyrgyzstan, we received, during two days, more than 100,000 refugees from Kyrgyzstan.  And we used all local resources and federal resources to create good conditions for them, for all people, for children. 

And in addition to that, it was not so easy for the government of Uzbekistan to stop spreading anti-Kyrgyz moods and sensitivities, and especially within Uzbekistan itself because we have huge Kyrgyz community in Fergana Valley.  And this is an example how Uzbekistan is maintaining peace and stability in the region, not just within Uzbekistan itself.

MR. WILSON:  Just to follow up on that, one of the contributors to strong and secure states in Central Asia and strong and secure societies are open borders and the ability to train across those borders, for businesses in all the various countries to be able to depend on open borders as their goods make their way across many borders to get to international markets, wherever they may be. 

There have been issues of closed borders – Uzbekistan closing its borders, Kazakhstan closing its borders – in response to events in Tajikistan and in response to events in Kyrgyzstan.  Can you talk a little bit about, what’s the policy of Uzbekistan in that respect and what you see as some of the possibilities in the future for a more open-border regime for trade, for movement of people and for other purposes?

MR. KAMILOV:  You know, first of all, we realize that there is not any alternative to regional integration because we have common transport communications, energy resources, water resources and some other very important issues.  And that’s why this is the first position.  The second position is, we are not going to close our borders, but before we open our borders, we should know where this border is going wrong. 

And that’s why we began very, very difficult, very serious negotiations with all neighboring countries – negotiations on delimitation of our borders.  Why?  Because we got a lot of problems from the former Soviet Union and nobody knew where we had our borders, and we didn’t have any official documents, any maps, anything.  And that’s why this process was very difficult.  But fortunately now, we have reached big progress with all neighboring countries.

And of course, we want to develop a trade relationship with the neighboring countries – and especially Uzbekistan would.  Why?  Because Uzbekistan has, on that hand, has very unique location, being in the center of Central Asia.  And this is the only country which shares common borders with other countries – Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan.  But on the other hand, this position is very complicated to reach seas and to have markets for your goods and for cotton, for other resources. 

And that’s why it’s in our interest to have open borders.  But sometimes, we have to close the borders because of security reasons.  For example, in Kyrgyzstan, after the violence in Kyrgyzstan, we had to close some parts of our borders.  The same thing with Tajikistan.  That’s why there is not any other reason – just the problem of national security. 

But official position and real position is that this is in our interest to have close integration with neighboring countries, as well as with Afghanistan because we want to use the territory of – stability in Afghanistan is very important from strategic point of view for Uzbekistan. 

Why?  Because, first of all, our national security, and the second reason is our economic interests.  Why?  Because we want to use the territory of Afghanistan as a transit territory to get things through Afghanistan to Pakistan, through Afghanistan to Iran, through Afghanistan to other areas of the world – to Persian Gulf and so on.

MR. SAFAEV:  I don’t know why you asked.  It’s not in our problem today.  A few days ago, I was in Termez and we, there, had a parliamentary hearing on our situation.  I was surprised to know that the people from northern Afghanistan make their shoppings (sic) in Termez, from Afghanistan.  And it used to be an issue and a question when you were the first time in Uzbekistan in 1997, but today, for a normal trade, for an economic contact, it’s not a big issue.  The issue is security, as the ambassador said. 

Let me just reiterate one figures:  Today, Afghanistan produces, anywhere, 375 pounds of heroin, anywhere.  Twenty-five (25) percent of this volume goes by northern routes via Central Asian countries – 25 percent.  Another quarter of this transiting narcotics remains in Central Asia for consumption, as a payment for the service to the agents.  I think that in these circumstances, just having a Schengen type of border regime in Central Asia – just impossible.

MR. WILSON:  So just to follow up a little bit more, are the borders now open with your Central Asian neighbors?

MR. SAFAEV:  Absolutely, for trade, for people-by-people communication, for interborder contacts – especially the U.S. ambassador Nematov knows this well because he was in charge of that – for a so-called “free border” area is 50 kilometers, Ambassador?  Fifty (50) kilometers is a visa-free zone, and for trade, there is not an issue.

MR. WILSON:  Okay.  Question in the back, please?

Q:  Thank you.  Naubahori Maumama (ph) from the Voice of America.  Could you talk about the role Uzbekistan is playing in the northern distribution network?  U.S. officials say it’s working very well.  They’re very happy and grateful to the support they’re getting from Uzbekistan.  And with the situation as is in Pakistan, obviously, the supply routes through Central Asia are more important than ever. 

Is Uzbekistan interested to play a bigger role in this project, and if it is, what are you asking, specifically?  And what kind of a cooperation you are seeking when it comes to that?  And beyond, Ambassador Kamilov, you did talk about other kinds of cooperation that Uzbekistan has with America today.  Could you elaborate on that and give us some specific examples?  Thank you.

MR. KAMILOV:  No, I don’t have any specific examples.  And I’d like to say, first of all, that we have great interest in development of this northern distribution network, and we are cooperating with the United States.  And we have to improve this cooperation.  And we are going to reach some other agreements soon.  And has, also, not just our cooperation in Afghanistan in this very important economic aspect for Uzbekistan itself. 

And I don’t think that, in the future, this northern distribution network must be used just only for Afghanistan.  We think that it may be very potent infrastructure for the region, for the economic development of the region.  And of course, we have, first of all, our economic interests in this project.

Q:  So Uzbekistan is asking for investment, obviously, from the United States?  You are interested in getting investment?

MR. KAMILOV:  As any other countries.  (Laughter.)

Q:  No, I’m asking this because when we talk to U.S. officials, they do say that, well, we want to help Uzbekistan – we want to bring in investment; we want to help them economically.  But they also say that the investment environment in Afghanistan is not necessarily the one that, for investors, would come and work easily.  Do you agree with that statement, or what is Uzbekistan doing to attract more investment from the United States?

MR. KAMILOV:  I don’t agree, but Chairman Safaev will answer your question.

Q:  Please, either of you or both of you, really.

MR. SAFAEV:  Yeah, I don’t know how the U.S. government officials can help in encouraging investments.  It’s up to the private business and environment in Uzbekistan.  Of course, as any emerging market, Uzbekistan is in the process of establishing its business environment, and the lucrative-for-investment conditions in Uzbekistan.  For some, it might be good opportunities – the room in Uzbekistan.  For them, maybe there are some problems.  It depends from which perspective you look at it.

During the last two years, despite global economic crisis, every year, annually, the volume of investments inflowing into Uzbekistan was approximately $205 (ph) billion.  I think it’s not bad.  And the pace of economic growth was between 8 and 10 percent, which is also not bad.  We now have a growing interest from the energy sector in Uzbekistan, in telecommunications sector, mining sector.  And the opportunities for making business in Uzbekistan is growing, year by year.

In short, answering to your question, as any country, Uzbekistan has an interest in the growing inflow of investments, first of all from the advanced economies, like the United States.  And we, at least in Uzbekistan’s legislation, we have a systemic dialogue with American business, trying to address the concerns and improve legislation framework for the business in Uzbekistan.


Q:  If I can ask another question, Josh Kucher again from – a freelance reporter.  I’d like to ask about the case of Mr. Babayev, the Voice of America reporter who was arrested recently in Uzbekistan.  I know that U.S. officials have publicly commented on that case and criticized Uzbekistan for that, and I’m sure that’s come up in your readings today with U.S. officials.  Can you tell us what you’ve told them?

MR. KAMILOV:  Yeah, indeed, the issue was raised and we got this message.  Since this matter is going on in the Uzbek court, we, of course, cannot, let’s say, to solve the situation today, here, from here.  But this issue was discussed with appropriate agencies and American counterparts during this process, and we take this message and we will try to address this issue.

Q:  John Daley (sp), Johns Hopkins.  Assalamu Alaykum.  I’d like to get back to your earlier statements and ask you to expand on what you mean when you say that the international community has to start negotiations with the main players in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.  I think it’s obvious your president’s observations that there’s no military solution is largely coming to be aware in the ISAF countries, with the exception of a few hawks. 

But I’d be very interested to hear your expansion on the issue of – that the international community has to begin – (inaudible, background noise).  I’m sure there will be some resistance, initially, to including the Taliban in that many analysts believe there’s no such thing as moderates.

MR. KAMILOV:  I’ve already said that we mean a special part of the Taliban movement, and we also know that there were a lot of publications and news that the central government has already begun some talks with the Taliban movement.  And we know the official position of the United States and some other governments.  And our position is very clear:  That when we say the major confronting forces, Taliban is not one of them – Taliban may be the main part of this military opposition, and confronting forces.

And that’s why we want them to participate in these talks, together with other parties, other forces within Afghanistan.  And sometimes, people think that if we suggest some negotiation and we say there is no military solution that the Afghan conflict, it doesn’t mean that we underestimate the military dimension of the coalition’s operation activity in Afghanistan.  Of course, political negotiations must be additional to this wide campaign operation in Afghanistan.  And of course, you cannot solve all problems by force, but you cannot reach national reconciliation without force.

MR. WILSON:  While we’re talking about Afghanistan, let me come back to something that we discussed before this session, which is the Iran issue.  When the six-plus-two talks were initiated in the 1990s, our relation with Iran were not very good, but there were productive meetings, and of course, the Iranians were part of the Bonn Conference that helped to produce the current government in Afghanistan.

In the years since then, Iran’s international isolation has changed.  I think the perception here is its position on some Afghan issues may have changed.  Can you talk about how Uzbekistan sees Iran today as a factor in Afghanistan, and the possibilities for constructive engagement with the Iranians in this effort that Uzbekistan is suggesting?

MR. KAMILOV:  First of all, we have official relationship with Iran.  We have our embassy in Tehran.  And Iran is neighboring countries, and we also have economic cooperation, and we export our cotton through Iran to Persian Gulf and to other countries.  And that’s why Iran is a very important country for us.  This is the first thing when we think about the role of Iran.

And I’m not going to speak now about very specific things of Iranian policy in the region, and especially in Afghanistan.  But I’d like to say that Iran is one of the biggest countries in the region.  The number of population is about 60 million, and if you take a look at Central Asia – the five countries – the population there is about 55 million.  But it’s not, of course, the most important thing, and Iran is playing a very serious role in energy resources market, also.

And it has a very unique position.  And that’s why Iranian influence is very strong in Afghanistan.  And you cannot ignore this reality.  And of course, something has changed in Iranian policy in Afghanistan.  And in spite of some negative changes, maybe, in the world and around Iran, our position is that Iran should participate in this process.  And Iran may play a very serious role.

MR. WILSON:  We probably have time for a couple more questions.  Anybody that hasn’t had an opportunity, just before we come back?  Okay.  Please.

Q:  Thanks.  I just wanted to pick up on an earlier question about the northern distribution network.  When Pakistan shut down the NATO supply route to Afghanistan last week, I wonder if you saw it pick up, in the amount of cargo that was moving from up north through Uzbekistan as a result of that, for Uzbekistan?  Thanks.

(Off-side conversation.)

MR. SAFAEV:  You’re going to ask about the volume – the figures?

Q:  Not just the figures, but I was wondering, Uzbekistan – (inaudible) – more NATO cargo going down – (inaudible).

MR. SAFAEV:  You know, this northern distribution network is a multinational project which depends not only from Uzbekistan.  And there is some, still, issues related not only to Uzbekistan, but some other, in all countries, right?  And that’s why the logistical, let’s say, setting up of this network is still going on.  It’s an unfolding process. 

Uzbekistan and other countries fully realizes that it’s an important network for success of the operation in Afghanistan.  And that’s why we are going to address this issue, together with partners in the region and NATO and United States.  We think that with the resolving of the logistical issues and points, there are going to be full-fledged capitalization of the opportunities provided by the northern distribution network.  The goodwill is here from both sides; the point is, logistics.

MR. WILSON:  Other questions?  (Pause.)  Let me ask one last question, just because this is also something that we discussed privately that I think would be of interest to people here and to the larger group.  And that is some of the specifics on regional cooperation, with respect to the narcotics trade. 

And I’m thinking that what emanates out of Afghanistan – you remarked that Iran is active and that there’s some measure of coordination with others – Uzbekistan’s work, Tajikistan’s work – and kind of, how that works and a little bit of insight into the cooperative nature among Afghanistan’s neighbors on this critical issue.

MR. KALIMOV: In regard with narcotics, right?  Yep, let me make some important points.  To my mind, the key to the solution in Afghanistan is the narcotics.  Narcotics is a solution to the problem of illicit drug trade, armaments, warlordism, weak government, corruption, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  If we want to address all these major problems of Afghanistan, we should start with the narcotics. 

It’s very difficult to explain to the world community, to the people in Afghanistan, why the Taliban were able almost to eradicate the narcotics when they were in charge of this country.  And the incumbent government, with involvement of international coalition still has, so far, to drastically diminish the narco production in Afghanistan. 

Moreover, we noticed that in the recent years the size of the land under the poppy production diminished a little bit, but production of synthetic heroin in Afghanistan increased, which means that laboratories moved from Western countries – Central and Asian countries – into Afghanistan, which is a very worrying tendency.  Narco production is the function of a weak state, and that’s why there is the problem of strengthening the government in Kabul, closely related to the fighting, combating the narco production in Afghanistan. 

Secondly, there is no doubt that international terrorism, religious extremism and narco industry are very binded (sic) to each other as transnational threats.  And the last point, which I’d like just to draw your attention as an economist, that when there is demand for narcotics, there will be supply.  And we should address not only the supply side, which is quite understandable, but we should address the demand side, as well. 

The money originated from narco industry is not in Afghanistan.  As my partners from Afghani parliament always state to me during our systematic meetings, we mainly gain the bad name, but the main money is not in Afghanistan.  Just for your information, one kilogram of heroin, wholesale prices in Afghanistan, is close to $2,000.  In Russia, it’s almost $40,000.  In Europe, it’s even more.  With today’s state, that is a huge business.  It’s not only in Afghanistan, and maybe mainly not in Afghanistan. 

And that’s why it’s an international threat and it’s a global issue which should be addressed commonly.  Any country alone, by itself, can address this issue.  And that’s why Uzbekistan has urged the international community and the international organizations to develop the strategy.  The main problem is the absence of strategy in combating the narco production in Afghanistan and in the region.

MR. WILSON:  Okay.  Last question?  Yes?

Q:  Hey.  (Inaudible) – visiting fellow at Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins, SAIS.  I have a question to Sen. Safaev regarding regional security organizations.  What is your vision of their role in regional cooperation, namely the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Treaty Security Organization, et cetera?  What’s Uzbekistan’s view and approach?  Thank you.

MR. SAFAEV:  You know, I think I will share the same position with Minister Kamilov that, since we are facing the international, transnational threats – trans-border threats – we should develop multinational mechanism for addressing these issues, and that’s why regional organizations are also important, in their own way – some, to combat these national and transnational threats, like international terrorism and the drug trafficking, et cetera, et cetera.  So they have the potential, and we should capitalize on their potential.

MR. WILSON:  All right, well thank you very much, Minister Kamilov and Ambasador Safaev.  I think you can tell from the kinds of questions that were here, this is an audience that is very interested in Uzbekistan, very interested in Central Asia’s success.  And I’m sure people here join me in applauding you for coming to Washington and for taking up issues directly with the Obama administration and making yourself available here.  There are some positive opportunities, I hope and believe, for U.S.-Uzbek relations, and I hope that this event today adds to that. 

Second, I think it’s very easy and tempting for Americans to do what we do, which is to regard Afghanistan through the prism of what we’re doing in Afghanistan and the difficulties that American forces are encountering.  Some of your comments, I think, have given a helpful perspective of how this looks from the neighborhood, from one of Afghanistan’s – a frontline state that borders on what has clearly been an agonizing problem for the world, as you noted Ambassador Safaev, for 30 years. 

On the specifics of the six-plus-three proposal, I think at least for myself, there ought to be opportunities here for people to try to put the neighborhood around Afghanistan in a somewhat different context that’s more supportive of a prosperous and reasonably stable and reasonably free future for Afghanistan and for its people.  And so at least I hope that people can take it up in that spirit. 

The specifics obviously need to be discussed among governments with different elements within Afghanistan.  But I, at least, would applaud you for taking the initiative to put the topic in a broader context and put forward a sensible proposal.  So thank you all very much.  Please join me in thanking our guests.  (Applause.)


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