Brookings Unveils UN’s Central Asia Human Development Report

by Laurence on 3/29/2006 · 20 comments

[neweurasia also has a report on this conference.–Nathan]

An all-day UNDP-Brookings conference on March 27th drew attention to the release of the latest UNDP development report on Central Asia, a 248-page, four-color, lavishly illustrated volume printed on heavy stock. This year’s title is: “Bringing Down Barriers: Regional cooperation for human development and human security.” Project Leader and Lead Author, Dr. Johannes F. Linn, is an affable economist from the World Bank who now heads Brookings’ Wolfensohn Initiative, named after former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn.

It was a lavish affair, featuring a breakfast buffet including croissants, muffins, bagels and real Starbucks coffee as well as a free lunch–a wide choice of overstuffed double-decker sandwiches, salads, soft drinks, and cookies. The only thing missing was the delicious Georgian wines featured at SAIS Central Asia panels. A Brookings statement of religious sensitivity? I don’t think so, since there were ham and cheese sandwiches on the groaning buffet, as well as vegetarian…

In any case, this was a real all-star event. Diplomats from five Central Asian nations–Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Other top gun panelists included the Chancellor of Kabul University; Central Asia experts Fred Starr and Martha Brill Olcott; the director of the State Department’s office of Central Asian Affairs, John Fox; Drew Luten, Acting Assistant Administrator of USAID; UN Assistant Secretary-General Kalman Mizsei; UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis and so on and so forth. You can read the program here. The audience had a lot of big names, including Elizabeth Jones, formerly a top US State Department official responsible for Central Asia.

For some unexplained reason the Brookings-UNDP event took on a strangely anti-Russian tone. Strobe Talbott, Brookings president and former Clinton administration official declared that Russia was becoming “a problem.” His introduction compared Central Asia to the Balkans, quoting Churchill’s wisecrack that there was too much history for the population. This clearly offended the Central Asian ambassadors, perhaps concerned that their presidents might be targeted as future Milosevics by the US. In their remarks, they took pains to respond to Talbot, explaining why Central Asia was not at all like the former Yugoslavia. They convinced me, but I don’t know about Talbot. The Uzbek ambassador later told a VOA reporter who questioned the closing of her organization’s office in Tashkent that NGOs which have been closed know why they have been closed. A rather diplomatic answer, it seemed to me. The Kyrgyz diplomat seemed to be having a nervous breakdown in real-time, going on about corruption reaching the 7th floor of the administration building–the president’s office. He said people were leaving his country in droves, a sign that something was wrong. He was not diplomatic, but the most refreshing speaker at the whole conference. Probably not what the US State Department and USAID types who paid for the Tulip Revolution wanted to hear, or even the UNDP or Brookings people.

I hope he still has his job tomorrow.

The first question and answer session was dominated by a one-two punch. A right hook from Dennis de Tray, who questioned why Russia and China were not participating formally on the panels. (Interestingly, in the first discussion Shigeo Katsu, a World Bank VP, declared that Russia had the best experts on Central Asia.)

Then a left to the jaw from Margarita Assenova, who pointed out that there was no discussion of the impact of security and terrorism questions or their relation to development on the day’s agenda. Assenova suggested that security cooperation could lead to economic cooperation. To this, Dr. Linn responded that the question of security and terrorism was so important and complicated that there was no time to discuss it. He referred her to a 4-page section of his printed report.

Interestingly, I had just seen Dr. Linn at a SAIS-CACI panel on public opinion polling in Central Asia. There, he presented some fascinating polling data, some of which he said is in the published UNDP report. Most interesting were questions about the popularity of different countries. I’m not a pollster, and I’m looking forward to seeing the complete data, but my understanding of Dr. Linn’s research was that Russia enjoyed a popularity rating in the region of 41%, the US was at 9%, and the EU at 4%. China was the second most popular country. Unfortunately, Dr. Linn didn’t discuss these findings, which would indicate that the most popular form of cooperation in Central Asia would be with Russia and China, not the US and EU.

Something perhaps, for Dr. Linn, the UNDP and Brookings to consider for next year’s Human Development Report.

Updated to correct typographical errors 4/4/2006

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James March 29, 2006 at 8:55 pm

There is also a summary of the lectureyou refer to about public opinion polling in Central Asia at neweurasia; mostly a notes on the statistics Johannes Linn cited, but there are some surprising findings, including the popularity of Russia as you noted.

James March 29, 2006 at 8:56 pm

Oops; here is the link:

Rustam March 30, 2006 at 2:54 am

“For some unexplained reason the Brookings-UNDP event took on a strangely anti-Russian tone”?. If there was not a Russian support to Karimov, if Putin would come out on 13th of May and say that it is unacceptable, to kill those people who asked specifically Putin to mediate this situation hoping that he would defend them, Karimov would not be sitting in Uzbekistan today, if Putin did not support Karimov in the UN and the OSCE we would have had independent international fact finding mission in Andijon, without Putin’s lead and support we would not see closure of BBC, FH and others…. Russia is the biggest supporter and sponsor of current antidemocratic and brutal developments in Uzbekistan and in Central Asia in general. Therefore I do think that the pressure should be doubled at least, because not only Central Asia but the Russia is at stake as well, if they will not act now, tomorrow they will be asking – Who lost Russia and Central Asia?
Regarding those statistics I would say, in contrast to Ivanov’s comment on the US allegations about transfer of intelligence to Saddam, that it is a bull shit. It is one of those Shirin Akiner style of analysis and data gathering on the back of the Karimov limos and SNB analysts, he must have gotten info from “Ijtimoiy fikr”, Karimov’s challenger to Gallup Poll, take a look at their polls, 80% plus say that they adore Karimov after Andijan, does it say anything?

David March 30, 2006 at 8:18 am

Another fatuous UNDP report, spending 248 pages pointing that people would live better if they were nicer to each other. All these UN-led regional cooperation projects have failed, and they might start thinking a bit more deeply on the political reasons why they failed. Russia and China are not participating in the forum because they know that it is a waste of time: they’re getting on with practical stuff on the ground. As for that opinion polling, well, either you get the completely obvious or people tell you what they know you want to hear. In Uzbekistan the mahalla head takes you round, and you find out that 90% of people are ‘happy with their lives’.

All in all, a shocking waste of taxpayers’ money…

James March 30, 2006 at 8:23 am


Naturally you can poke holes in any statistics, but I think the UNDP/WB/ADB poll you refer to is pretty reliable; at the very least I don’t see what incentive those organizations have to suck up to Russia.

Also, that poll was conducted before Andijon, and therefore before Putin backed Karimov and implicitly condoned Andijon as you describe.

Brian March 30, 2006 at 10:36 am

James, I once saw published an international poll (like over 50 countries) that asked people if they have a positive or negative view about the future of their nation. Uzbekistan was one of the top 3 most positive, right next to Canada. Does that sound right to you? Do you really see that much sheer joy and enthusiam oozing from the masses as you stroll through the countryside? Or, is it more likely that the people answering the questions were not entirely sure who was going to be hearing and seeing the results, and just to be safe gave the least contraversial answer.

Anyway, I wonder how much money goes into funding all these conferences and congresses and meetings.

James March 30, 2006 at 12:49 pm


I realize that it might seem that I am arguing a broader point than I actually am. I don’t think these surveys are the holy grail of information on Central Asia. Nor do I think they are worthless; like anything else, they are just another piece of information to take into account.

When I said they were reliable, I was saying that I thought the organizations conducting the surveys are relatively reliable, and are probably not driving around “on the back of Karimov limos.”

Your point about peoples’ incentive to lie on these surveys, however, is completely valid. Does that make the surveys worthless? Again, I would say no – to look at any survey as the gospel truth is a mistake; one always needs to take into account what biases and incentives are involved, and I think even the architects of the surveys are aware of their limitations. The statistics tell you something, even if it isn’t the answer to the question that was posed. In your example, it might be that people are so terrified of speaking their minds that they will even misrepresent the truth on anonymous surveys to outside observers.

Finally, regarding funding: “wasting” is a relative term. Could the money be spent more effectively? Probably, but I can think of a lot of much more outrageous ways tax payers’ money gets wasted all the time, so I’m not going to get too upset over people getting together to exchange ideas about important issues.

David March 30, 2006 at 1:50 pm

Exchange ideas? Name one important new idea that was discussed at Brookings. A bunch of crooked ambassadors sounding off? Its the same old rubbish recycled, with the same people saying the same things. Nobody suggests that better regional cooperation is the answer to the problems posed by Myanmar, or Belarus, or Iran. Until the UN is willing to face the serious political agenda in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, its programmes and publications will continue to be ineffective.

Laurence March 30, 2006 at 3:33 pm

Here’s a link to Pakistan’s KASHAR website’s account of the Brookings-UNDP event, via the SANA news agency:

WASHINGTON, Mar 30 (SANA): John Fox, director of the State Department’s Office of Central Asian Affairs, has said that Pakistan seems more interested than India in linkages to Central Asia at present.

Addressing participants at a conference on Central Asia at Washington’s Brookings Institution, Fox said that energy-starved Pakistan and India immediately could take advantage of the abundant hydropower resources of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, though he acknowledged the distance to India could make it costly.
He said the United States long has given high priority to integration among the five Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but more recently its focus is on a broader integration of the region with Afghanistan and South Asia.

Fox said any scenario for US disengagement from Afghanistan is predicated on an Afghanistan better connected to the outside world. This connection can be facilitated by Afghanistan becoming “a corridor for energy and trade” between Central Asia and South Asia, he says.

Fox said the US role in the region also is focused on building road links such as the ongoing construction of a bridge across the Panj River between Afghanistan and Tajikistan by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Matt W March 30, 2006 at 8:42 pm

Yeah, I don’t think anything is strange about an “anti-Russian tone” when talking about the RF’s influence in Central Asia. Russia is obviously basking in, exacerbating and exploiting the fallout in relations between Uzbekistan and the West– no surprise at all, but another thing that makes me disappointed in a country that is capable of so much more.

I mean, just look at ORT or Rossiia, the most watched news outlets by the Uzbek elite, to see how Russia is supplying Central Asia with a more polished source of xenophopia, narrow-mindedness and rumor-mongering.

What’s more strange than an “anti-Russian tone” at an open forum on Central Asia is that academics are taking cheap shots like this one: “Probably not what the US State Department and USAID types who paid for the Tulip Revolution wanted to hear, or even the UNDP or Brookings people.” Real constructive…

Laurence March 31, 2006 at 6:24 am

Well, Matt, I’ll rise to your bait and add one more comment from the Kyrgyz diplomat that was probably not what the US State Department, USAID, UNDP or Brookings wanted to hear:

He told the audience that Kyrgyzstan wanted to return Uzbek refugees after Andijan, because “some of them were criminals.” Because of “pressure” from the West, Kyrgyzstan did not return them.

In other words, Kyrgyzstan had been advised by Westerners–who pay lip service to regional cooperation–not to cooperate with its neighbor.

jonathan p March 31, 2006 at 9:18 am

Well, duh. Of course Western bureaucrats will send mixed signals when it’s in their countries’ own best interests. What’s your point? That western politicians only serve the interests of their own countries? Is that news to anyone here?

Matt W April 2, 2006 at 10:21 pm

Laurence, I wasn’t trying to bait you. I hope for your sake that you were only pretending to miss the point. Just in case, I’ll reiterate: all I’m saying is that when you make a statement treating it as a given that the color revolutions were orchestrated and paid for by the US government, an opinion most reasonable people consider completely ridiculous, it makes your entire post less credible. You can’t just take some looney conspiracy theory and insert it into your main post and then pretend that someone is baiting or attacking you when they call you out on it.

Laurence April 3, 2006 at 8:28 am

Matt, It’s no “looney conspiracy theory.” LTC Kurt Meppen stated that the US “sponsored” the Tulip Revolution in his presentation to SAIS, as reported on Registan:

Meppen blamed “cowboy diplomacy” in the aftermath of the Rose, Tulip and Orange Revolutions, which he said were sponsored by the United States. Meppen even quoted from statements made by State Department official Lorne Craner claiming credit for them, and pointed to Freedom House’s role in printing opposition newspapers in Bishkek.

So, your argument is with one of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s former top aides, who was certainly in a position to know what the US was up to–not with me.

Dan April 3, 2006 at 11:03 am

The U.S. didn’t rig the election in Kyrgyzstan, nor did it force Akaev to steal a whole array of state assets, nor did it encourage his family to join in the general plunder of companies under the guise of privatisation, nor did the U.S. create the economic and political situations that led to the change in government in Kyrgyzstan. Laurence lives in the same fantasyland as the crazed right and left wingers who think that the Srebrenica massacre never happened, Milosevic was misunderstood, that all post-Soviet dictators are good guys and that nobody in Central Asia aspires to democracy or even to being treated with the slightest decency by their government. This attitude is so patronising, indeed it even borders on racist, in that people like Laurence cannot accept that Kyrgyz did this for themselves without any outside help or guidance. It is the most arrogant position to hold and just denigrates the people of Central Asia. It is also based on complete ignorance of what went on there. It plays into the worst ambitions of appalling authoritarian governments like that in Moscow.

A few statements from Lorne Craner and a printing press does not a revolution make. In fact the U.S. has nearly always preferred the status quo in Central Asia, not regime change. The Embassy in Bishkek was utterly unprepared and uncertain as to what to do during the events, as were most people.

Just because some right-wing nut case from the Pentagon says something, it does not make it true. Otherwise there would be no insurgency in Iraq and they’d all be waving flowers at the American forces there. The Pentagon is the least credible institution in the United States when it comes to knowledge of other societies.

Laurence April 3, 2006 at 2:36 pm

Dan, It’s an old lawyer’s trick that when people don’t have the facts on their side, they pound the table. So you call LTC Meppen “some right-wing nut” and smear me and my post with insults like “based on complete ignorance” and “borders on racist.”

My posts were based on comments I heard from the Kyrgyz diplomat who spoke at Brookings. Your argument is with him, or with Brookings, not me.

Dan April 3, 2006 at 3:29 pm

You quite clearly state in your post that Meppen said that the US had sponsored the “revolution” in Kyrgyzstan which is clearly not the case and quite clearly qualifies him as a right wing nut.

You have expressed the same belief in the past — you are always stating things like NGOs were behind Andijon and the various colored revolutions as you act as a unthinking, glorified stenographer for Uzbek and Russian propaganda — so my argument is not with Kyrgyz diplomats but with you. Your position is ignorant and borders on racist for presuming that if something happens in Kyrgyzstan, it is not possible for the Kyrgyz to have done it themselves. There was no outside involvement, indeed many of those involved have complained publicly that they got no support from the West during the revolution when they thought they would.

The Kyrgyz diplomat is quite right in saying that the West pressured them not to send the refugees back — they very did pressure them as the Kyrgyz government was looking as though it was going to bow to Uzbek thuggishness and send them back to be tortured. Kyrgyzstan had an obligation under international agreements that it signed voluntarily not to return refugees to a country where they might face torture or execution. Fortunately sense and decency prevailed in Bishkek and they were not sent back whatever your diplomat wanted.

Laurence, like myself and many other Americans, you may well owe your existence to the fact that your forebears were allowed to seek refuge here. It is an extremely important part of international law that is not to be shrugged off lightly.

Matt W April 4, 2006 at 2:52 am

No, Laurence, my argument’s not necessarily with you per se– in that you are correct. You are certainly only one of many that hold this opinion. I think that the Russian mass media, you and others who treat it is a given that the color revolutions were orchestrated by Western secret services, have never been able to argue your case well or logically. No one has ever bothered to try and prove it.

Your original post is not about the color revolutions at all– you insert the highly suspect assertion that the color revolutions were essentially western-run into an entirely unrelated sentence as a modest subordinate clause, following the principle that the more something is repeated, the more true it must be. If western sponsorship of the color revolutions becomes a widely-accepted cliche, then no one will have to prove it.

The way I see it is this: there were democracy promotion programs in all of the countries– indeed, they exist in most countries of the FSU. These programs put money into promoting free press, civil society support, opening political debate, political party development and many, many other areas. These programs are not secret– on the contrary, they are quite transparent and anyone who wants to can know what they’re doing. What happened that was much more significant was that people in these countries had legitimate gripes and there were also entirely internal forces in each country against each of the regimes. Turnover is a normal event in the political life of most countries– why should it be so shocking that turnover happened in a handful of CIS countries.

Of course, independent media outlets and opposition politicians, some of which may have at some time attended a US- or Soros-sponsored conference or activity, took some role in these revolutions, but that doesn’t make these things US-sponsored by any stretch of the imagination. You can play “six degrees of separation from Uncle Sam” all you want, but it really does sound like conspiracy theorizing. I like to think that US Government activities had some small role in promoting increased pluralism in politics in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan– if true that’s something to be proud of, but I just don’t see HOW the revolutions could have been sponsored by the West– that’s MUCH harder to proove. So Freedom House helped publish opposition papers– that’s supporting press freedom and it’s an entirely legal activity that anybody who wanted to knew about; I certainly don’t think it’s what tipped the scales against Akaev. Saakashvili went to study in the US on an exchange program– big deal, that doesn’t make him forever unable to take an independent position; Shevarnadze studied and built much of his career in Russia, that does not ipso facto make him a Russian pawn.

Kurt Meppen May 23, 2006 at 6:57 pm

For the record, I have never used the phrase “cowboy diplomacy” which has been credited to me. It was inserted into someone’s blog within days of the event at SAIS, and I have seen it quoted several times since. I don’t usually respond to blogs, but in this case it is also now being asserted that I claimed the tulip revolution was orchestrated by the U.S.

In fact, I claimed that the various revolutions were not sponsored by the U.S., but that a very poor choice of words by Lorne Craner (then A/S at DRL) after the Rose Revolution would have made the leaders think the U.S. was behind them, as he seemed to take credit for it.

I was part of the staff working behind the scenes with our Central Asian policy for the last several years. While not entirely satisfactory in its outcome (with respect to Uzbekistan), it was not cowboy diplomacy. Some very dedicated individuals at State and Defense and within our embassies have really labored over the right mix of sticks to carrots.

You are wrestling with the some tough issues…and I check in on you pretty often to see what new observations you’re passing along. Keep it up.


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