USAID says committed to vital Central Asia
Interview with assistant administrator for USAID's Europe and Eurasia bureau

Reuters English News Service, 7 December 2001

(C) Reuters Limited 2001


MOSCOW, Dec 7 (Reuters) - The U.S. Agency for International Development said on Friday the Central Asian states were crucial to stability in Afghanistan and it was committed to providing aid for those countries as well.

Unprecedented world attention has focused on ex-Soviet Central Asia in recent months after the United States launched a military campaign in Afghanistan and looked to nearby states to provide logistical support and aid routes.

"You really can't deal with Afghanistan if you don't deal with those Central Asian republics," said Kent Hill, assistant administrator for USAID's Europe and Eurasia bureau.

"The humanitarian assistance we have been involved with there...did not just deal with Afghanistan," he told Reuters in an interview during a trip to Moscow.

Kent, who took over the job only a month ago, toured the Central Asian states last month with a USAID delegation.

Afghan neighbours Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have provided vital aid routes into the war-weary country, helping supplies reach millions of hungry and displaced people. Aid has also been airlifted from Kyrgyzstan.

"The emphasis not only in the short term, but in the long term, is going to be much more on Central Asia than in the last 10 years," he said.


Commentators have suggested the strategic importance of Central Asia may mean the West turns a blind eye to complaints about human rights abuses and authoritarian leaders. Hill disagreed.

"The countries in my portfolio, including the Central Asian republics, have all been problematic in two areas," he said. "The openness to economic reforms, and their openness to moving in the direction of what we might call a fully civil society."

"So these have been some of the reasons why we have tried to be very careful about aid there...but there seem to be some signs of hope that there may be some greater openness now."

Hill said economic reforms would undermine Islamic radicalism, a niggling fear in Central Asia, by denying it a breeding ground of poverty in which to develop.

"The best way to do that is to have economic reforms that distribute wealth more fairly, to give people human rights."

He also said the West needed to take some responsibility for the desperate situation in Afghanistan.

"When the Russian troops left (Afghanistan) through Termez (on the Uzbek border)..., by not staying much more involved in what happened in Afghanistan we ourselves didn't do all that we could have to make less likely what has occurred," he said.

The Soviet army pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989 after an ill-fated, decade-long campaign.

The ensuing years of chaos saw the rise to power of the hardline Taliban, who have been targeted by U.S. strikes for sheltering Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 hijack attacks on the United States.

But Hill also said he was cheered by the deal putting together an interim government signed by various Afghan factions at talks in Germany this week.

"We are painfully aware that the opportunity for the Taliban to take power in the first place was because the forces in Afghanistan were so much in conflict with each other," Hill said. "This is a chance for them to do it better this time."

Reuters English News Service, 7 December 2001