Socialist Worker

Craig Murray, the doorstep diplomat

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, now standing as an independent anti-war candidate against Jack Straw, spoke to Anindya Bhattacharyya

Issue No. 1946

Map of Central Asia

Map of Central Asia


Why did you leave your former job as British ambassador to Uzbekistan?

I left the foreign office over the issue of MI6 allowing the use of intelligence obtained during torture. They take torture intelligence coming out of Uzbekistan and pass it on to the CIA.

I’ve seen the “war on terror” from the inside and I think it’s completely perverting Britain. I discovered this country did not stand for the things I rather foolishly believed it did.

There’s also the whole question of the legality of foreign policy. The government’s justification for war was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, based on a dossier of so called intelligence.

But the “dodgy dossier” is not atypical of the quality of MI6’s work. They live in this James Bond world and so much of what they say is absolute fantasy. On the basis of evidence obtained by torture from Uzbekistan, the former Metropolitan police commissioner John Stevens is able to say there are 200 active Al Qaida terrorists in Britain. I get so angry at the rubbish the British public has been sold, having seen it all from the inside.

How did you end up leaving the foreign office?

I first raised the issue of torture intelligence with Whitehall in November 2002. In August 2003 I found myself facing disciplinary charges. They claimed I was selling visas for sex, that I was an alcoholic and that I was stealing money from the office account. They called me in and told me I had one week to resign. I refused to resign and they leaked their allegations to the media.

Reporters went out to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, to investigate the allegations. They all drew a blank. By January 2004 I was back at work, cleared of all the allegations, and still banging on about torture. But in October 2004 a strongly worded telegram I sent was leaked to the Financial Times. That was their excuse for removing me as ambassador.

How would you characterise Islam Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan? What role does the US play there?

Uzbekistan is one of the most repressive dictatorships on earth. There’s no right to protest, no right to demonstrate and no free media. Everything is either owned by the state or by Karimov’s daughter. It’s a rotten dictatorship, but one with strong US backing.

Karimov’s regime is nationalist, even though only 65 percent of the population are Uzbek. It’s pretty much impossible to hold a job unless you speak Uzbek.

The boundaries between the various central Asian states are artificial. They were devised by Stalin in order to weaken ethnic groups by dividing them between different states. So there are some 250,000 Kyrgyz people in Uzbekistan. The second city, Samarkand, is Tajik.

Why is Uzbekistan so important to the world’s great powers?

Central Asia is swimming in oil and gas, enough to keep the West going for 50 years. There are plans for a pipeline from Turkmenistan and Afghanistan over Pakistan and on to the Arabian Sea. It’s been finalised in the last couple of weeks.

Uzbekistan itself hasn’t got a huge amount of oil and gas, but it’s important because half the population of central Asia lives there. It’s also strategically important. The US has a permanent airbase in Uzbekistan. It’s 15 minutes flying time from Iranian airspace, and less than one hour from Russia and China.

America funds Karimov to the tune of $500 million a year. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin also strongly supports the Uzbek dictatorship. But he doesn’t have so much money.

China keeps a low profile. It’s very worried about Uighur nationalism. The Uighurs are a Turkic tribe of people who live in very large numbers in the far west of China. They are kept down because there is an alternative plan to ship Central Asian oil and gas out through China.

What is your take on the recent “democratic revolution” in Kyrgyzstan, on Uzbekistan’s borders?

Kyrgyzstan is the most liberal of the Central Asian republics. The opposition was allowed to campaign, though the elections were rigged. Kyrgyzstan has a reasonably free media. But as the political theorist de Tocqueville once said, the greatest danger to a state is when it starts to reform.

The Americans supported Askar Akayev, Kyrgyzstan’s former president. The US only came out against him after he had left power. Then Condoleezza Rice said “we support democracy”.

In Uzbekistan, in contrast, the opposition was not even allowed to take part in the elections of 26 December 2004. And did you hear the Americans complain? Of course not — in fact they welcomed the elections as a “step on the road to democracy”. But they never say Uzbekistan should be a democracy — they say it’s not ready.

What made you decide to stand in Blackburn against Jack Straw?

Election times are the one time we can come back at politicians. My basic message is that there are millions of Labour voters around the country who are furious at Labour’s foreign policy. But in Blackburn they have a unique chance to hurt the foreign secretary.

To get involved in helping Craig Murray’s Blackburn election campaign phone 07979 691 085 or go to www.craigmurray.co.uk


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Features
Sat 9 Apr 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1946
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