U.S. Congress holds hearing on U.S. policy in Central Asia
The picture is found not reassuring

Political Transcripts, 15 June 2001


Political Transcripts by Federal Document Clearing House, 06/06/01

GILMAN: The committee will come to order.

Today, the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia meets to receive testimony on U.S. policy towards Central Asia from the administration. This is the first of several hearings we'll be holding on the subject during our 107th Congress.

And I'd like to welcome Clifford Bond as our witness, and I'll introduce him properly in just a few moments. Despite its remoteness from the United States, Central Asia is a very important region for U.S. interests. It's a region of serious human rights problems; an area that faces extremist movements influenced by Afghanistan.

Central Asia is a transit point for drugs. On the brighter side, Central Asia has enormous energy export potential that could ease our own current energy problems. It's also represented by secular Islamic governments and benefits from many educated, energetic people.

In short, Central Asia may not be in the headlines every day but it's certainly a very important area of the world. Take the issue of human rights. Just this past April, we raised a number of concerns with the visiting Kazakh foreign minister. These included proposed amendments by the Kazakh government that would restrict the independent media and religious practices in that country.

Nor is the picture more reassuring in the rest of the Central Asian republics. President Karimov of Uzbekistan has used the legitimate concerns about an extremist Islamic insurgency as a pretext to crack down on legitimate political and social activities.

Kyrgyzstan is perhaps the most disappointing of the Central Asian countries. In the early 1990s, President Akayev seemed to be providing a model of political openness and economic reform. Those promises have now been dashed. Turkmenistan is probably the most repressive of the Central Asian countries. It promotes one of the few remaining cult of the personalities of the world in the person of President Niyazov and suffers from a command economy.

On the brighter side, the U.S. has important energy interests in Central Asia. With its recent energy finds, Kazakhstan could become one of the largest oil exporters in the world. Our nation has a strong interest in this oil getting to the world market at reasonable prices by way of multiple pipelines. To that end, I fully support our government's efforts to promote a new pipeline from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan, to Georgia and Turkey, the gateway to the entire western oil market.

In addition to energy interests, our nation also has a strong interest in working with the existing Central Asian governments on combating drugs and on divesting themselves of their weapons of mass destruction material.

Finally, the U.S. has a strong interest in assisting the Central Asian governments with their legitimate domestic security concerns, particularly about violent political movements. The strongest such organization is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan whose violent tactics have resulted in its being placed on our State Department's terrorism list.

Central Asian states also have legitimate security concerns about defending their territories militarily. Before we begin our testimony, however, I'd first like to ask Mr. Ackerman if he's -- I assume that he's on his way. He may have some opening comments when he arrives.

Mr. Bond is well-placed to give us his views on all of these issues. He's had a distinguished career at the State Department in a wide range of posts, including Moscow, the European Union in Brussels, Belgrade and Prague. He's currently acting principal deputy to the special adviser for the new independent states.

Mr. Bond, your full statement will be entered in the record, and you may proceed as you deem appropriate. Thank you for being with us today. Please proceed.

BOND: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate this opportunity to represent the administration today and discuss our policies toward Central Asia with you and your colleagues.

I agree with you on the importance of this region. Like all the nations of the former Soviet Union, the Central Asian states confront multiple challenges brought on by independence and the social and political problems that they inherited from the Soviet past.

But Central Asia also faces some additional handicaps by its geography. It's bounded by Russia, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. It's a tough neighborhood, in brief, Mr. Chairman.

The overarching and the long-term goal of U.S. policy in Central Asia is to see these states develop into stable, free market democracies, which can serve as a bulwark against the spread of potential instability and conflict in the region. This broader goal serves three strategic core strategies or interests of the United States: regional security; political and economic reform; and energy development.

In the area of regional security -- and by regional security, I mean broadly, and to address problems that you mentioned, drugs as well as external terrorist threats -- we are encouraging the Central Asians to work with each other as well as with the U.S. and other regional powers. Central Asia faces a number of transnational threats, many emanating from Afghanistan in the south. Chief among these are terrorism, Islamic extremism and illicit trafficking in narcotics and arms, including weapons of mass destruction.

We're working with the Central Asian governments to help develop effective capabilities in areas of customs and export control and border security for dealing with these problems. But we want to do so without compromising the rights of their citizens. We want to ensure that the responses of these countries to these threats are proportionate.

BOND: We developed, for example, a Central Asian security initiative last year which is providing assistance to Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan. This assistance has been extended this year to include Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The current administration has endorsed this policy fully. And we will also be sponsoring later this month in Istanbul a follow on to a conference on regional counterterrorism cooperation.

We are also attempting to help the Central Asians better integrate into European security structures. We actively support their participation in NATO's European-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace. And we encourage expanded -- an expanded OSCE role in regional confidence building and in democratization and work to develop a civil society.

All the states of Central Asia have indicated that they welcome security cooperation with the United States. They see our engagement in the region as an additional element of stability as they seek to balance their relations with more powerful neighbors in the region.

As to political and economic reform, we encourage and provide assistance in the formation of political institutions in the development of free market economies. We foster these values and institutions, as we do elsewhere in the world, because we believe that they are essential guarantors of the long-term security and prosperity of these countries.

Only by empowering their citizens through democratization and economic reform can these governments ensure lasting popular support and stability. This is an integral part of our message to the governments of Central Asia.

Unfortunately, I have to say, Mr. Chairman, that progress on reform has been slow and at best uneven in the region. At one extreme, as you mentioned, we have the government of Turkmenistan, which remains one of the most repressive regimes in the world with a Stalinist-era command economy and a cult of personality that rivals North Korea's. Uzbekistan has rejected serious economic reform and is carrying out repression among independent Muslims that could exacerbate its own security concerns.

Kazakhstan, through its oil wells, has achieved a macroeconomic stability. But even as its government has publicly touted democratic principles, it has progressively sought to silence political opponents, the independent media and NGOs.

Kyrgystan, as you rightly said was once a regional leader in reform. Unfortunately, we've seen regression over the past two years.

I could say that perhaps the only one ray of hope politically in the region is Tajikistan which has just emerged from a civil war. The very lack of a strong central government has allowed an independent media and diverse political parties to flourish in this country.

BOND: You rightly mentioned energy development as a key interest of the United States. And it can have the potential not only to promote the development of two of the Central Asian states that hold vast energy reserves, but also promote prosperity throughout the region. Kazahkstan could well become one of the top five world producers in the next ten years. And Turkmenistan sits on top of world-class natural gas reserves.

The degree to which these states can exploit these resources responsibly will determine their ability to achieve economic independence and improve the lot of their citizens. U.S. policy in the energy area focuses on enabling these states to develop multiple, commercially viable, and reliable transport corridors for the delivery of these resources to the global market. We believe this will have a positive impact on the diversification of energy supplies and on promoting regional cooperation.

Let me end with two final thoughts, if I may, and a conclusion. First, we do not want our relationship with Russia to be a complicating factor in our engagement in Central Asia. We acknowledge that Russia has a traditional hold on the region. It's based on history. It's based on geography. Indeed, we maintain and continue a dialogue with the Russian government on issues related to the region such as Afghanistan. Where our interests coincide, such as on Afghanistan or regional security, we look to active cooperation with the Russian government.

Where we have divergent interests, such as energy policy, we want to discuss our differences openly and respect our varying perspectives. My point is that neither side should seek to exclude the other from the region. Second, I'd like to mention the importance of Tajikistan, one of the smaller states in the region. Tajikistan's state is particularly important to the future of Central Asia. Its collapse or its return to civil war could easily lead to spread war through this country to the other states in the region of the radical Islamic narco-terrorist system presently creating chaos in Afghanistan.

Therefore, we and our allies and the states in Central Asia should do everything possible to stabilize, protect and respect the territorial integrity and the security of Tajikistan.

Let me conclude by noting that in the 19th century, Central Asia was the subject of a great game in which great powers competed to impose their will on weak, local regimes. So long as the Central Asian states fail to create modern political and economic institutions, fail to respect human rights, fail to work towards regional cooperation, and fail to overcome ethnic and national rivalries, they will remain vulnerable to external pressure. The United States is trying to help these countries choose another path. This is the road towards integration road towards integration into a wider community of nations based on a commitment to democratization, the rule of law, market economics and an adherence to the Helsinki final acts and the other OSCE documents which the Central Asian governments have themselves signed.

BOND: It's our hope that these nations, which now find themselves at a geographical and historical crossroads, will develop over time into true market economies that can adopt and will adopt the values that will allow them to develop a strong relationship with the United States and the West.

Mr. Chairman, I'd be happy to answer any questions you have.

GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Bond, for your extensive statement. We welcome having your remarks before us.

I'll turn now to my colleagues and I'll reserve my questions after my colleagues have had an opportunity to enquire.

The gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Pitts?

PITTS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for convening this important hearing on U.S. foreign policy towards Central Asia. I would like to submit my opening statement for the record and just make a couple comments before the question.

In the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union...

GILMAN: Mr. Pitts, your opening statement will be made part of the record. Please proceed.

PITTS: Thank you.

In the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, I think there was a lot of hope and optimism about the future of Central Asia. Unfortunately, United States foreign policy towards the region, I think has been one that just emphasized a stand back and watch approach. I don't think it's been as successful as it could have been.

I think we can still affect positive change in the region by engaging these countries. I think we must work with the leaders of the countries, build bridges with them both economically and politically. I think we must let them know that the United States is not going to turn a blind eye to the region. We need to show them we do care about their stability, their economic growth and engage them in all aspects. And I'm looking forward to the testimony this afternoon.

I have a couple of questions, Mr. Bond. Number one, you mentioned Kyrgyzstan. You described the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan as one of the best in the region until recently. And you said -- I think you used the word regression or deterioration. Why has that happened?

BOND: It's difficult to explain, but...

GILMAN: Would you use the mike please?

BOND: Sorry.

It's difficult to understand or explain President Akayev's motives over the past two or more years. But we've seen a turn towards regression since 1999 and the onset of a set of parliamentary and then presidential elections in the year 2000.

In the leadup to those elections and as the opposition became more vociferous and more organized, we saw harassment of opposition figures who were running in the parliament, their exclusion from campaigns. We saw the exclusion in the presidential elections themselves of principal opponents to President Akayev. We saw that expand beyond activities directed against individuals to the suppression of the free media, to the harrassment of NGOs that were going to participate in election monitoring.

I would have to interpret all of those actions as an interest in President Akayev and his supporters in not running or wanting to --not wanting to run a fair election. They wanted to assure their reelection to power, and that entailed handicapping media, handicapping NGOs and excluding their political opponents from the election process.

PITTS: I'm concerned about the insurgency mounted by Islamic extremists in several of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. And what is of particular concern are the actions of some of the governments who tend to be more repressive or corrupt in generating popular support for the insurgents. And you've mentioned a couple of examples that have eliminated independent judiciary, freedom of press. Would you agree that this kind of behavior that generates support for Islamic extremists threatens U.S. interests in Central Asia?

PITTS: And what does the administration propose to do to try to persuade some of these governments that it's in their best interest to end repression or try to eliminate corruption?

BOND: I agree with you on both counts, Mr. Pitts. The policies that have been carried out, and here particularly by the government of Uzbekistan, but there are similar policies pursued by some of the other governments in the region, to repress independent Muslim groups is creating a climate in which extremism, Islamic fundamentalism, is attractive.

What we need to do is to convince these governments that their failure to move forward and respect human rights and move forward on democratic reforms; their failure to move ahead in terms of economic reform so that they can help create a situation in which jobs are created and economic growth provides opportunities for the youth, is very much in their security interests.

I'd admit that there is a security threat out there in terms of Uzbekistan. I wouldn't exaggerate it. The Islamic movement of Uzbekistan is still a relatively small movement. But what the regime is doing in Tashkent, unfortunately, is exacerbating and creating more of a problem and will over time.

We're engaged in a dialog with the government. We've made some progress in modest ways to get them to respect human rights. But frankly, they need to do a lot more. And we need to continue to talk to them.

As you may be aware, Uzbek Foreign Minister Kamilov is in Washington this week. He's been meeting with the secretary and other members of the administration. I can assure you that questions of human rights, questions of economic reform are in the forefront of the discussion even as we admit that we should cooperate with them to respect -- or to help them meet legitimate security concerns.

PITTS: Now, if you were to look at all the different countries of Central Asia, which one would you say is the best hope for the region, where there are the most opportunities for it?

BOND: Are you talking commercially or...

PITTS: Well, both, commercially and democratically.

BOND: I would say in some respects Kazakhstan has enormous potential because of its energy resources. And it also has done quite a bit on the macroeconomic side to try and create a modern economy.

But I'd also think that Uzbekistan, if reforms were implemented, has tremendous potential. It's the largest market. It has natural resources. It has the infrastructure. And it would be a natural hub.

I think the key, however, to the region's development politically and economically, is regional cooperation, looking for solutions, whether it's the environment or security, looking for regional solutions to the problems.

PITTS: And you stress in your testimony border security as being key. You mentioned a couple of countries, one, Tajikistan. But I notice in your testimony you say that you're requesting only $9.5 million for those purposes.

BOND: That's the monies that we did dedicate this year. We're not requesting it, it came from the (inaudible) Support Act. It's a small figure, I agree, but I think it's accomplishing a lot.

PITTS: OK. Finally, what can be done about the corruption that seems to be endemic?

BOND: Corruption's a problem, not just in Central Asia, but throughout the former Soviet Union. First of all, we have to work with the governments to put in place the legislation. We have to train law enforcement people so they can do a professional job. We've got to work with them to implement this legislation.

But the most important thing is political will. We have to see a desire on the part of the leaders of these countries to address the problem of corruption because it is eroding legitimacy. It is making it difficult for the countries to develop economically. And it's a concern to foreign investments.

PITTS: And can we make sure the aid that we put there will not be bled off by corrupt officials?

BOND: We're doing everything we can to prevent that assistance being used by local officials, corrupt officials.

GILMAN: The gentleman's time has expired. Thank you, Mr. Pitts.

Gentlelady from Nevada, Ms. Berkley?

BERKLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Hello, Mr. Bond. I was hoping to catch your testimony before I asked you the questions. And perhaps they've already been answered and I apologize in advance.

I'd like to -- one of the questions I was going to ask was semi asked by Mr. Pitts, but I'm wondering if I can phrase it in a different way. I am very concerned about the rise of radical Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia. Could you tell me what influence the Taliban, Pakistan, Iran are having in this region. And what, if anything, we can do to stem this tide? And I know you answered it partially when it came to too much repression and lack of economic opportunity. But is there something else? And can you share with me more.

BOND: Let me say first of all, that Central Asia is not fertile ground for Islamic fundamentalism. The Islamic tradition in these countries is a very tolerant one. The Taliban's variety of Islam has little attraction to the great mass of people who accept the idea of a secular state.

Recently, however, we have seen groups, Hizb-e Tehrir, a group that's elsewhere in the world and professes a non-violent, but a radical form of Islam in which they'd like to see a Islamic caliphate created in Central Asia, has been developing.

The IMU, which is a foreign terrorist organization, designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, grows out of repression in the Ferghana valley that occurred early in the 1990s. Most of its leaders are there.

I guess my response to you is that we do not see Islamic fundamentalism right now as a threat to the states of Central Asia, but that the policies that are being pursued by the governments now are driving the young, particularly because there is a lack of economic opportunity, into the arms of extremists. And that's a message which we have to make and continue to make with the leadership in Central Asia.

BERKLEY: Why do you think these nations keep making the same mistake? Is it cultural? Is it historical?

BOND: It's hard to respond. I believe that -- President Karimov believes that he needs to be in control of the political and social situation in his country, and he fears a threat from independent groups, whether they are religious in nature or political in nature. And it's his response to that situation that I think is causing the problem.

BERKLEY: Let me ask you one other question that's a little far a field from what we've been discussing.

BERKLEY: It's my understanding that Kazakhstan has had problems with citizens who've been exposed to high levels of radiation from previous nuclear testing experiments. Since this is an issue in my home state of Nevada, I'm kind of curious if you have any information about this and what's being done in Kazakhstan to help these people?

BOND: I'm afraid I don't, off the bat. I'd be happy to look into it and get back to you with some information. I can tell you that we have a very active nonproliferation program in Kazakhstan which has enabled us to work with Kazakhstan to make it a nuclear weapons-free state, remove its infrastructure for weapons of mass destruction and to clean up its environment.

On the question of exposure, however, I'm not familiar, and I'd be happy to get some information to you on that.

BERKLEY: Thank you. I'd appreciate it.

No further questions.

GILMAN: Thank you, Ms. Berkley.

I'd be pleased to yield to the gentlelady from Virginia, Ms. Davis.

DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you, Mr. Bond, for being here today.

I'd like to talk to you a little bit about the drug problem. Do you believe that Central Asia is emerging as a major drug trafficking and production center? And if so, how is the United States assisting them to combat drug trafficking? And are any of the drugs making their way to the U.S. or are they just staying there in Europe? And then specifically, could you comment on what's occurring in relation to drug eradication of opium in Central Asia?

BOND: Several questions there. I do not see Central Asia --Central Asia is not -- the five countries that I've talked about in my testimony -- a source of drugs. The drugs are emanating from Afghanistan. Central Asia is a transit point, and there are groups --some terrorist, some drug traffickers -- that are moving drugs through Central Asia, primarily to Europe. That's the destination.

We have active drug enforcement programs and anti-trafficking programs with all of the states in the region. And we'd like to do more. We have also invested considerable assistance monies in building up their capabilities in terms of customs, border security and drug enforcement to allow them to interdict these drugs as they cross through the region.

One of the problems we have in managing the drug problem in Central Asia is that their borders are new. The borders between these countries were administrative borders in the period of the Soviet Union. There were no guardhouse posts there. There were no fences. Those barriers are going up, but it's a very, very open terrain in which drug traffickers can operate pretty freely.

DAVIS: One more question, Mr. Chairman, and switching gears a little bit. What do you think is the state of the U.S. military assistance and military-to-military relations with Central Asian countries?

BOND: As I said in my testimony, all the states in Central Asia told us they want security cooperation with the United States. They see us as a factor balancing their neighbors. We have programs there. They may look small in a global context, but we approximately send something on the order this fiscal year of $50 million on security assistance programs. That's just not military. That's drug. That's customs and border security. We do a range of things with these countries, including standard foreign -- maybe FMF (ph) and IMF programs. We do defense contact programs. We're working on military exercises, both bilateral and multilateral, with them. And we're working with them to bring them into the Partnership for Peace within NATO.

Our commander-in-chief of CENTCOM visits the region frequently. He has an active dialogue with his military counterparts and he's working with them to reform their militaries, establish civilian control. So I think we have a program -- it's small now, but it's growing.

DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Bond.

I have no further questions.

GILMAN: Thank you, Ms. Davis.

Mr. Rohrabacher?

ROHRABACHER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

First, for your witness, you are the acting principal deputy --what does that mean?

BOND: It means that we had a change in administration in January. Several individuals left and I took the position of principal deputy...


ROHRABACHER: You're a career...

BOND: I'm a career Foreign Service officer. That's right.

ROHRABACHER: Mr. Chairman, I'd just like to note that it is a cause for some concern by this member of Congress that the administration has been slow to make appointments to important jobs like the one that we're talking about today that you represent. It would have been, of course, most preferable for us to have someone who is going to have this job for the next four or eight years to be with us today discussing the president's policy toward Central Asia.

GILMAN: If the gentleman would yield, I might make my colleagues aware of the fact we got a note from the State Department, from Paul Kelly, assistant secretary legislative affairs, dated June 5, "I want to thank you for the opportunity to send an administration representative to testify before your subcommittee on June 6 on U.S. policy towards Central Asia.

We would normally want to be represented by our Acting Special Adviser John Beyrle, who recently traveled to the region, but regrettably Mr. Beyrle will be unavailable. He's been asked by the Helsinki Commission to address human rights in Russia at a hearing on June 5 and feels that (inaudible) that he needs personally to be the one to address these issues before the commission. That testimony, plus other commitments on both June 5 and 6 will make it impossible for him to prepare adequately for testimony before the subcommittee.

I am pleased to tell you that Cliff Bond, John's principal deputy, will represent the department at this hearing. Cliff has been following Central Asia closely for three years now, taken many trips to the region, and has met most of the region's leaders."

ROHRABACHER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. That does answer my question. However, it does not eliminate my concern that the administration has been behind schedule in appointing people, not only at the State Department, but elsewhere through the administration. And I imagine Mr. Beyrle will be with us, and is an appointee by the president and will be with us for four to eight years.

GILMAN: And we look forward to having him come before the committee, Mr. Rohrabacher.

Now, Mr. Bond, you wanted to say?

BOND: Just as a point of information, I will not have a successor. The secretary of state, after consultation with members of Congress, has decided to merge the Office of the New Independent States with the European Bureau.

BOND: And we will be one bureau.

ROHRABACHER: Well, that may or may not be a good decision. We'll have to talk about it. And I believe Central Asia has been --you know, as much talk as there is has been about the silk road and about Central Asia, there's been very little done in Central Asia by the United States government. And because of that, for these last 10 years, what was a tremendous opportunity for expanding the democratic system into the region and opening up the region economically, I'm afraid that by all of the criteria in judging how far we've come, we have not made very much progress.

Countries like Kazakhstan, where they still have the same brutal thugs controlling the political life of those people, and you still have an iron grip on that population, there is no democracy in that country. And maybe his little finger has loosened up, maybe, I don't know. But it appears from the outside that they still have a tightfisted control of that country. And Turkmenistan, you still have a regime where a man has statues of himself and pictures of himself all over the country with a huge hat on his head. I mean this is a cartoon character. And Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, especially Uzbekistan, that had great, promise and their very sophisticated leadership. Instead of permitting freedom of elections and freedom of the press and having the United States lead these countries into a more democratic situation, we've seen no real lasting democratic reform in those countries. And I'm sorry to have that evaluation.

And I know that a lot of people are blaming that on de-stabilization by the Taliban. And I was one of the first ones to step forward and say we should be lockstep with people in trying to eliminate the Taliban and bring in a more representative government to their own people. But, the Taliban, if it was faced with democratic governments in Central Asia wouldn't have the ability to undermine those governments because the governments would have the support of the people.

And instead we have dictatorships which drive the young people right into the hands of extremists, of Muslim extremists. And perhaps you would like to comment on that observation.

BOND: I don't disagree with your analysis about the state of democracy in Central Asia. But I'd say first and foremost it is the peoples and leaders of Central Asia that have to have the political will to make the changes to make democracy possible. We had a lot of folks in Central Asia who were reflected in Congress' generous assistance to the NIS in the region. We have had to lower expectations over time. We expected a dramatic transformation, democratic transformation, in the region. It hasn't happened.

But I think our assistance has had some successes. I think we've seen elements of a civil society develop in many of these countries. You mentioned Kazakhstan. I don't disagree with the political control that's exercised there, but there are a lot of very active NGOs in areas from the environment to women's issues to whatever. And the U.S. government has been instrumental in promoting and development of those. And hopefully those seeds will develop into democracy over time.

ROHRABACHER: I applaud the positive things you've done, obviously. And our State Department has been trying. It just would seem to me that we should have been a lot tougher in demanding political reform. I noticed that, Mr. Chairman, even some of the legislation that's come out of the Congress, the silk road legislation and such, we end up giving economic concessions to some of these Central Asian countries, but not demanding a political reform with those economic concessions. And that I think exemplifies the type of strategy that leads to no political reform and people taking it for granted that we don't really care about that political reform.

I thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Rohrabacher.

Mr. Bond, I understand that all the Central Asian countries suffer from human rights shortcomings. Could you summarize what the major problems are, for example, in the Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, the most populous of the countries?

BOND: I'd make a distinction between the two countries to begin with. I think in Kazakhstan, to give it credit, there is, as I said, an active NGO community. There is political activity and political parties in opposition to the government.

There are fewer dimensions to political life in Uzbekistan. I think the major failings in Uzbekistan are a lack of respect for human rights, a lack of the conduct of free elections, and the allowance of human rights groups and political organizations to register and be active in the country.

In Kazakhstan, the failure to, as you mentioned, to pass legislation to permit a free media, restrictions that are being considered on religion, and the poor record the country has had in elections as well. The OSCE has documented the faults in elections both in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and I think those governments should follow up on those recommendations.

GILMAN: You stated, Mr. Bond, in your testimony that Kyrgyzstan is perhaps the most pluralistic of the Central Asian countries right now. Could you give us some examples of that kind of pluralism? Does it translate into civil liberties there?

BOND: It does, and it's one of the reasons why when Congressman Pitts asked me what led to this regression, this reaction from President Akayev, it was active NGO monitoring of elections, for example. The local NGOs observed the elections, detailed the election fraud, the vote and ballot stuffing that went on. It had a very vibrant media, so that to some extent, which the government has gone after through libel cases and through harassment.

It has political opposition figures who have organized political parties and tried to run in the elections. And that led Mr. Akayev to carry out criminal prosecutions against these people. It's a much more open political system when you compare it to some of its neighbors like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

GILMAN: My question was about Tajikistan.

BOND: Tajikistan. Yes. I think the key to Tajikistan is the fact that there's a weak central government. If it wanted to, it could replicate the sort of controls that we see in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. It doesn't run the whole country. And what we've seen develop there are, as I said in Kyrgyzstan, more NGOs, more political opposition. There are actually Islamic fundamentalist opposition members in the Tajik parliament, and more media -- more free media. GILMAN: I understand, Mr. Bond, that Kazakhstan has continued to make major oil discoveries. How much oil do you think Kazakhstan will be exporting within a 10-year period? And would that have some impact on the international oil prices?

BOND: I've seen various estimates on its potential oil exports. I think in relative terms, people have suggested that in five to eight years, Kazakhstan might be exporting as much oil as Kuwait does now. I think it will have -- it's hard, again, to project what oil prices will be -- but it would seem to make sense to me that an increase in oil supply and the diversity of supply would have a lower impact on prices in the world.

GILMAN: And are we doing anything to make certain the region's resources do not merely result in short-term consumption, excessive weapons purchases, as opposed to investment?

BOND: In the case of Kazakhstan, we've actually worked with the Kazakhs to set up a generational oil fund. And the purpose of that fund -- they've worked with the IMF, but we were also instrumental in helping them set it up -- is to collect these revenues and use them in a way that will benefit the Kazakh people over time.

GILMAN: And I understand in Turkmenistan that they have enormous gas reserves. Can you give us an idea of their dimensions and where the gas is most likely to be exported to?

BOND: Well, they are enormous. I've heard gas reserves on the order of 4 to 5 percent of world reserves. That's substantial for one country. Unfortunately, the regime in Turkmenistan has been irrational in making demands on potential commercial partners, and it's meant that the prospects for its actual export haven't materialized. It's been selling some gas to Russia; selling some gas to Iran. But major exports are unlikely to happen unless the government changes its policies in the energy area.

GILMAN: Is Central Asia emerging as a major drug trafficking and production center today, compared to other areas?

BOND: Drug trafficking, yes, not a major production center. As I mentioned, it is one route from Afghanistan in which a great volume of drugs has gone to Europe.

GILMAN: And could you describe Central Asian elite and their popular views of our nation, both of its government and society? The elite in Central Asia, what are their views of our nation?

BOND: I see. I have traveled in Central Asia. I find the people there very positively inclined towards the United States, very interested in learning more about the United States. In terms of elite opinion, I found them to be very interested in seeing the United States engage commercially, because they think we bring the best technology and excellent management. They also want to see us engage politically and on security matters, because as I said before, they'd like to see us balance some of their larger neighbors.

GILMAN: And Mr. Bond, what's the status of our public diplomacy effort in Central Asia?

BOND: We have public affairs officers in all of our embassies in Central Asia. We have an active exchange program that brings young people, members of the opinion forming elite, to the United States. We're active in presenting information about the United States and our views on developments in the region. I think we've got a strong program.

GILMAN: And one last question. What can be done to rationalize the legislative authorities related to the security of the Central Asian states to make certain that our assistance is adequately coordinated and covers all the appropriate activities? And does the administration have any firm proposals in that vein?

BOND: Actually, that's a very good question, Mr. Chairman, because we are reviewing our assistance to the region. One of the things we're looking at is the authorities that were given to various agencies of the U.S. government, to see that the division of labor that's developed really reflects the expertise that is located in those various agencies.

And after that review, we are going to propose going to Congress and sharing our findings with you to see if there isn't some way to perhaps arrange the authorizations in a way that give those authorities to the most effective agency to take the lead.

GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Bond.

We'll go for a second round.

Mr. Pitts?

PITTS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Bond, yesterday the Human Rights Watch\Helsinki issued a memorandum on U.S. policy in Central Asia. And among other recommendations, it said this, quote, "The United States must take a consistent and principled approach to International Religious Freedom Act implementation. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan should be designated as countries of particular concern this year. The clear signal should also be sent to the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Kurdistan that continue repression of peaceful, religious expression also risk their designation as countries of particular concern," end quote.

Do you agree with this assessment? Why should not Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan be designated as countries of particular concern this year? BOND: Mr. Pitts, we have designated Turkmenistan in the past as a country of particular concern, and I would suspect that we would support doing so again. In the case of Uzbekistan, we realize there are religious problems there, and I mentioned the problems in persecution of independent Muslims. And we have a dialogue with the Uzbek government on that. We have been able to make progress in some areas on religious freedom in Uzbekistan. And based on that progress in the past, we have recommended to begin certification. We'll have to see whether we can achieve the progress this year to justify that it not be designated.

PITTS: Well, now in Uzbekistan, the government has adopted a policy of punishing family members of (inaudible) stating that the father will be punished for the sins of the sons. Family members have proved an effective form of leverage in the battle against radical Islam. And relatives are held in prison indefinitely. Other things are used.

Is the U.S. government aware of such practices in Uzbek prisons? And, if so, what are we doing about that?

BOND: We are aware of the prison problem in Uzbekistan. One of the accomplishments that I was talking about, or progress I was talking about, was the agreement that we got from the Uzbek government late last fall, it may have been as late as January, to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons in Uzbekistan to review the situation there and report to the government so that action could be taken to clean up the prison system. It was a step towards transparency. It's just begun. But that's the sort of thing we're trying to do to get at the problem.

PITTS: OK, then, finally, besides the energy sector, are there significant trade and investment opportunities for U.S. companies in Central Asia?

BOND: I think there are substantial investment opportunities. There would be more if the Central Asian governments adopted market oriented policies. And in the case of Uzbekistan, which, as I said, is the largest market in the region, convertibility of the currency is key if it's going to attract foreign investment. But, it's true in terms of cleaning up their act in corruption and other measures they need to take. The potential is clearly there, but they've got to do things on the economic side to make it more attractive.

PITTS: And could you finally comment on the Chinese role in Central Asia. To what degree are you concerned about China and the interest they have?

BOND: Well, as I said, a core U.S. interests is seeing this develop into a stable area. To be stable, it's got to move in terms of political and economic reform, it's got to address these threats I was talking about in terms of extremism.

China has a role, a constructive role, to play in the region. It's a founding member of Shanghai Forum, which is this group of Russia, China and several of the Central Asian states, which has looked at first and foremost, border security, but they're talking about customs cooperation now and addressing some of the capability the Central Asian countries have to develop to meet these threats. So I think China has potentially a constructive role to play.

PITTS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Pitts.

Mr. Issa, the gentleman from California.

ISSA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And Mr. Bond, I hope that you will bear with me.

ISSA: With multiple committees, I'm afraid I wasn't able to be here for this whole hearing.

I tend to be somebody who looks for the brightest spot in everything and sees what we can do to pursue that. And so my questions, and I hope if they're repetitive just -- I'll get them out in a minute.

But in the case of Kazakhstan, which to me appears to be still the bright spot -- one that has much potential, but some challenges. I wonder if you could characterize whether on balance with their history of liquidating -- altogether too publicly probably --liquidating some of their surplus arms left over from their Soviet days, if on balance you believe that engagement as a strong initiative is the most appropriate?

BOND: I think I know what incident you're referring to. We have engaged in terms of nonproliferation on conventional arms as well as weapons of mass destruction and dual-use technologies with the Kazakhs. Where there have been some incidents in which there have been arms transfers, we've objected to them. We've obtained commitments from the Kazakh government that those will not be repeated.

We've seen them begin to apply a new export control regime, to tighten it up. We have various programs of assistance in the customs area and export control area which we believe are helping them identify and deter and if necessary interdict transfers. So I think our engagement is producing results with Kazakhstan.

ISSA: I appreciate the good result there. My question, though, had to do more with investment and trade on the commercial side. If in light of what you've just described -- all this progress -- isn't it the brightest spot in the region to invest?

BOND: Certainly it is in terms of the energy sector; there is about $10 billion of investment in Kazakhstan. Less in terms of opportunity in some of the other sectors of the economy. Again, I've said this before, and I don't want to sound like a broken record, but Uzbekistan has tremendous potential in the region if it would get its economic act together.

ISSA: Thank you, Mr. Bond. I guess my time has expired.

GILMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Issa.

Mr. Rohrabacher, second round.

ROHRABACHER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I'm afraid that I don't see the light, or even the glimmer, that my colleague sees. It seems to me in Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev has basically maintained power at the expense of his country's prosperity and certainly at the expense of his country's and his fellow countrymen's freedom.

There will not be economic progress in Central Asia until there is democratic reform in Central Asia. This is not what businessmen keep telling us about China, just invest, invest and interact economically and there's going to be democratic reform as a byproduct of economic progress. It's just the opposite.

You cannot expect people to invest in a dictatorship that has no free press and has no opposition parties. That's what keeps a country honest. That's what keeps a country honest enough for foreign investors to come in, because they know they're not going to be asked for bribes or be intimidated by the corrupt officials in that country. And that's true of Kazakhstan and the other countries of Central Asia, too. So if we're looking for prosperity and American investment, we better look for a commitment to democratic reform first.

But I'd like to go back to something that you said just in passing a moment ago about China. And let me just say that -- am I mistaken that the Chinese in the last decade have moved billions of Han Chinese out living -- now that they're living on the border areas of Central Asia, when before they lived in the other parts of China? Is that a mistaken report or am I...?

BOND: It's not an area that I follow.

ROHRABACHER: Well, let me note that if indeed the reports that I have read -- that Communist China has moved tens of millions of Han Chinese to the border areas of Central Asia -- that does not indicate that China is a potential positive force, but instead indicates to me that China has very serious plans for Central Asia, and it ain't positive. It indicates to me, from what I've heard while traveling in the region, that there's already considerable illegal Chinese immigration going into Kazakhstan and these other Central Asian republics.

And the Central Asian republics are justifiably scared to death that the Communist Chinese intend to inundate them and eventually take over their countries, if not by force, by evolution, or forceful evolution.

I would say the Chinese represent a major threat to the stability, rather than a potential positive force. And I would hope that our career diplomats would recognize that. Of course, we've had eight years of groveling to Beijing. And maybe the new administration will change people's views on the nature of the Communist Chinese dictatorship.

ROHRABACHER: Back to the Taliban. Is there any indication that the Taliban drug shipments that are coming out of Afghanistan have ceased in the last six months, as the Taliban claim?

BOND: My information, and it is limited, is that there has been an end to growing of poppy in Afghanistan, but that stocks remain; substantial stocks remain and trafficking continues.

ROHRABACHER: Yes. I think it's important for the West to note that it's very easy for the Taliban to claim that the poppy fields have ceased to grow, Mr. Chairman, because there is a drought in Afghanistan and everything has ceased to grow. And my only question is, when they get some water, are those poppy fields going to be back in production? Until then, I think it's a -- to analyze the Taliban in a positive way that they are trying to cooperate in controlling the poppy fields by the fact that they can't grow them because of the drought is a big stretch.

Of course, it's always easy to look for that glimmer. And maybe I hope that those people are looking for a more optimistic analysis of Central Asia. And I hope they're right. I'm pretty pessimistic myself. But that doesn't mean that we can't get there and work with those people and turn it around and try to make things better.

Thank you very much.

GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Rohrabacher.

Mr. Bond, do you anticipate any violence in the area this summer?

BOND: It's hard to tell, Mr. Chairman. We've had incursions into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over the course of the last two summers. Expectations are high in Central Asia that there'll be some repeat of that sort of terrorism. But we'll have to see.

GILMAN: And one last question: Would you describe the role of Iranian policy in Central Asia? To what degree has it been counter to our own interests?

BOND: Iran's export of Islamic fundamentalism has been very unwelcome in Central Asia. The Iranians have been active there, and we're concerned about that.

We look though to Iran too to cooperate within the 6-plus-2, this UN process for trying to reach a settlement in Afghanistan, which hasn't been successful. The Iranians have cooperated in that. And the region has appreciated that cooperation and that effort to try to find a solution to Afghanistan.

GILMAN: Well, if there are no further questions, Mr. Bond, I want to thank you for being here. We had a staff briefing Monday by your office and we had a good turnout there. So there is interest by our members with regard to these issues. I imagine we'll have a continuing interest in this area. And I want to thank you and my colleagues.

Just one last note that I happened to think of as I'm closing. President Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan has been a very hard ruler. Corruption, repression, they're staggering. And his policies need to change. Are we trying to do anything to change his policies.

BOND: Yes, sir. Again, we had the Kazakh foreign minister here only a few weeks ago. And the subject of democracy, of respect for human rights was in the forefront of the discussions we've had with him and will have with the government.

GILMAN: And we've made some progress there, do you think?

BOND: I'm afraid -- you mentioned the media, the problems with the media. We've seen some backsliding there. I can't point to too many successes. And they're very well enumerated in the human rights report we will produce this year on Kazakhstan.

GILMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Bond, for being here.

BOND: You're welcome.

GILMAN: The committee stands adjourned