[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