The UK's Foreign Policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan

Written evidence from Roman Solodchenko

William Hague has stated that the country's reputation is "directly linked to the belief of others that we will do what we say and we will not apply double standards".

Summary

· In assessing the performance and success of UK foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is important to also examine the impact these policies have had on surrounding countries;

· There is a concern that democratisation and human rights commitments are being traded off against more compelling interests driven by the war in Afghanistan, energy politics, and other geostrategic calculations;

· The UK’s policy towards Kazakhstan is a clear example of the potential risks;

· Kazakhstan has taken the support of the international community, for example collaboration with the UK, as an endorsement of its internationally criticised governance practices;

· It is crucial that the UK’s foreign policy ensures that neighbouring countries support our objectives, and military presence in Afghanistan, but that this does not compromise the UK’s broader foreign policy principles, particularly in relation to human rights and the rule of law .

Evidence submitted by Roman Solodchenko

Roman Solodchenko has experience in both Government and businesses in Kazakhstan and been part of the economic transformation of this country. His experiences provide a unique insight into the way Kazakhstan has interpreted UK foreign policy in the region.

Assessment of UK Foreign Policy

In assessing the performance and success of UK foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is important to also examine the impact that the UK’s foreign policy has had on surrounding countries.

The UK has collaborated with a number of neighbouring countries in order to maintain their support for the coalition forces’ military presence in the region. Many of these countries have provided direct assistance in a variety of ways. The challenge for the UK Government however, is to ensure that other foreign policy objectives are not unduly compromised as a result of such partnerships.

The Foreign Secretary has called for more emphasis within foreign policy on protecting human rights, saying the UK must always "have a conscience".

Hague outlined this in his speech in September – the last in a series of three about the UK's foreign policy goals – saying the country's reputation was "directly linked to the belief of others that we will do what we say and we will not apply double standards".

Of particular significance to this inquiry are the countries that are part of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) and other key supply routes. The NDN has significantly impacted on the geopolitics of Central Asia and means that transit states have acquired new leverage over Washington and Westminster especially since NATO also began using the network. [1]

Only last week, the US was accused of adopting a far different approach toward local leaders, turning a blind eye to Kazakhstan’s backsliding on what it believed was the country’s commitment to release imprisoned political opponents and human rights activists. [2]

There is a concern that democratisation and human rights are being traded off against more compelling interests driven by the war in Afghanistan, energy politics, and other geostrategic calculations.

In other words, the collaboration has a serious downside as history has taught us. Nothing encourages radicalism more than unfairness. Such actions mean that the UK risks losing its reputation as an advocate of political and economic independence and committed supporter for human rights improvement.

Kazakhstan

The UK’s policy towards Kazakhstan is a clear example of the potential risks. The country’s geographical location means that it is vital as a coalition supporter and Kazakhstan will be integral to the long-term development of the region. Kazakhstan has already contributed to maintaining security in the region, particularly in its role as chair of the OSCE. During its time as chair of the OSCE, Kazakhstan has ensured Afghanistan stayed high on the agenda and it is set to form a key part of the OSCE summit in December. Kazakhstan has stated that Afghanistan remains a priority in its foreign policy and as such its support is helpful to the UK and coalition forces.

Kazakhstan has made excellent economic progress since its independence from the Soviet Union. Furthermore, it has increasingly integrated with the international community to the advantage of the country and its people. Unfortunately, democratic principles, human rights, media freedom and the rule of law have been trapped in the time warp of the old Soviet Union.

Over the past decade, following engagement and comment from the international community, Kazakhstan has responded with a number of commitments regarding these issues, for example in November 2007 at the Madrid OSCE summit, as part of its bid to chair the organisation. Many commentators believed that these commitments and the chairmanship would move Kazakhstan forward.

The reality in Kazakhstan has been quite different and the situation has deteriorated since the Madrid summit. Over the last year there has been criticism over the human rights situation in Kazakhstan. Commentators including Amnesty International, CPJ, Freedom House, the Open Society Institu te and Human Rights Watch have publicly critici s ed the decline in human rights in Kazakhstan and suggested that Kazakhstan is failing to keep promises made when it was awarded the chairmanship. These included commitments to progress in line with OSCE recommendations to liberalise laws on the media, improve human rights, and democratise with new laws on elections and political parties. Indeed, evidence suggests that the situation is worsening rather than improving .

The regime has taken the support of the international community, for example collaboration with the UK, as an endorsement of its Government. One example of this is a speech made by Kanat Saudabayev, Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, during a visit to the United States: "The unanimous decision of the 56 member nations of the OSCE, made in Madrid on November 30, 2007, to award the chairmanship to Kazakhstan in 2010, is an objective recognition of Kazakhstan’s impressive successes in social, economic and political developments under the prudent leadership of President Nursultan Nazarbayev over the years of independence." [3]

Lessons for future policymakers

The UK has adopted a somewhat equivocal position wi th regards to Kazakhstan and other countries bordering Afghanistan. T here are inevitable compromises that must be reached, however the UK must be mindful of the misinterpretations that result from its partnership or open support.

In the case of Kazakhstan it has used this position as a means of endorsement of its current governance practices . Contrary to the UK’s expectations and wishes, Kazakhstan has made insufficient progress in human rights. Current UK policy indirectly supports the status quo in Kaz akhstan. This is contrary to the principles articulated by William Hague in his speech on September 15, 2010 .

"Indeed I intend to improve and strengthen our human rights work. It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience, and neither is it in our interests."

The world faces serious challenges both in Afghanistan and increasingly with Pakistan. It is crucial that the UK’s foreign policy ensures the neighbouring countries both support our policy and the military presence, but that this does not compromise the UK’s broader foreign policy principles and objectives, particul arly in relation to human rights and the rule of law.

20 October 2010


[1] The Northern Distribution Network and Afghanistan Geopolitical Challenges and Opportunities, a Report of the CSIS Transnational Threats Project and the Russia and Eurasia Program project co-directors by Andrew C. Kuchins and Thomas M. Sanderson

[2] S teve LeVine, ( author of The Oil and the Glory ) The New Republic , October 6, 2010: ‘The End of the Great Game’

[3] Kanat Saudabayev, Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, during a visit to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York , September 25, 2009