Friday, October 06, 2006

Sibel Edmonds and Borat?

With any luck, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev's meetings with George Bush this past week, and Borat's new "moviefilm" Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, might help put the spotlight on the part of the world that Sibel talks about.

This is from Sibel's interview with Scott Horton, August 05:
SE: I started working three days after Sept. 11 with a lot of documents and wiretaps that I was translating. Some of them dated back to 1997, 1998. Even after Sept. 11, covering up these investigations and not pursuing some of these investigations because the Department of State says, "You know what, you can't pursue this because that may deal with this particular country. If this country that the investigation deals with are not one of the Axis of Evil, we don't want to pursue them." The American people have the right to know this. They are giving this grand illusion that there are some investigations, but there are none. You know, they are coming down on these charities as the finance of al-Qaeda. Well, if you were to talk about the financing of al-Qaeda, a very small percentage comes from these charity foundations. The vast majority of their financing comes from narcotics. Look, we had 4 to 6 percent of the narcotics coming from the East, coming from Pakistan, coming from Afghanistan via the Balkans to the United States. Today, three or four years after Sept. 11, that has reached over 15 percent. How is it getting here? Who are getting the proceedings from those big narcotics?

SH: ...Now listen, when you talk about the State Department cites diplomatic ties to foreign countries they would prefer not be stepped on. I'm sorry, but the word "Israel" is just screaming inside of my head here. I guess you can't give me any indication "yes" or "no" if that's what you're talking about?

SE: Well, one of the interesting things about the Vanity Fair article… I don't know how many people picked up on that. But they're saying 'Turkic countries'. It's plural people. And to say OK, we're looking at this region of the world that nobody is referring to [in] the War Against Terror.

OK, you're looking at Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and these are the countries that now we are busy establishing (military) bases in. And a large portion of their GDP depends on narcotics, and there is a huge al-Qaeda presence in their countries. We don't hear anything about Balkan countries, and again, their direct ties and direct relevance to al-Qaeda. They are not even naming these countries. The role that Pakistan played before and the role that Pakistan is playing today. So, as I have said before, there are several countries, there are several organizations, and you can't just isolate one country or one organization.
Here's Ted Rall this past week:
"George W. Bush says lots of nice things about President Nursultan Nazarbayev. On September 29 he portrayed the leader of Kazakhstan, who came to Washington for a state luncheon, as a "steadfast partner in the international war on terrorism." Nazarbayev, according to Bush and U.S. state-controlled media, is leading a transition to democracy and liberalizing his nation's economy. He's been lauded for privatizing old Soviet-era state industries and inviting foreign companies to invest in the exploitation of what may be the world's largest untapped oil reserves. Kazakhstan, Bush says, "now is a free nation."

It depends on what your definition of "free" is.

Considering that his Central Asian neighbors are ruled by megalomaniacal despots (Turkmenistan) and mass murderers (Uzbekistan), or disintegrating into anarchy and civil strife (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), President Nazarbayev's regime appears relatively benign. But he's merely the best of a bad lot.
Kazakhstan's geopolitical importance is obvious. It is the largest producer of Caspian Sea oil, borders Russia, China and the other Central Asian states, and has granted the U.S. Air Force landing rights at Almaty's airport for operations in Afghanistan. Moreover, it's a rare "friendly" country in the Muslim world: Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian republic to have sent troops to Iraq.

In all the ways that matter, however, Nazarbayev presides over a police state that is indistinguishable from his more notorious neighbors, such as Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan."
And here's Ken Silverstein at Harpers last week talking about the same meeting:
"While the agenda for his meeting with President Bush has not been published, there are a few topics they're likely to avoid. One is corruption—a delicate subject given that, this coming January, American prosecutors will be in court seeking to prove that James Giffen, a former consultant to Nazarbayev, funneled $78 million in oil kickbacks to the president on behalf of American oil companies.

There's also the question of democratization. Nazarbayev has severely restricted (and in some cases evicted) American groups charged with promoting political reform. Yesterday Senator Russell Feingold noted that the Bush Administration has kept very quiet about the invitation it extended to Nazarbayev. “I don't blame them,” he explained. “President Bush has said that his goal is to spread democracy and the rule of law around the world. But this goal is hard to reconcile with his support for one of the world's most repressive and corrupt dictatorships.”
That's business as usual in Kazakhstan—and playing host to this sort of dictator, it turns out, is business as usual at the White House."
Alternatively, if you'd like an unbiased view, here's Kazakhstan's ambassador to the United Kingdom:
"Kazakhstan is in reality an increasingly modern, prosperous secular state. Although the population is predominantly Muslim, we have many synagogues, not to mention churches of several denominations. Kazakhstan has a small but thriving Jewish community. The chief rabbi of Israel, John Metzger, has praised my country for its tradition of openness and tolerance. So indeed did Pope John Paul II during his visit in 2001.

Why has (Borat) Baron Cohen chosen Kazakhstan as the vehicle for his comic talents? Kazakhstan is the size of western Europe. Far from being a backwater, it is set to become one of the top five oil producers in the next decade; in the past six years it has had an annual growth rate of about 10% and, over the past three years, the proportion of those living below the poverty line has fallen from 25% to 16%. There is growing appreciation of Kazakhstan's importance in the fight against terrorism and of its role as regional economic and political pace-setter.
Nor does Kazakhstan have the advantages of a well-connected diaspora to defend its interests in the same way as Israelis, Palestinians or Armenians. Again, Baron Cohen could have caricatured a powerful developing country - like Turkey, Brazil or India - but there would have been sharp reactions, perhaps even at a political level."
For more on Uzbekistan, for example, see Juan Cole's recent article after a speech by former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray.

Borat, of course, has his acerbic knife pointed at Uzbekistan, as well. Perhaps Sibel and Borat could do a joint press conference?

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