As plans move ahead to set up a United Nations-sponsored Regional Centre of Preventive Diplomacy in Ashgabat, NBCentralAsia political commentators are questioning whether the totalitarian regime in Turkmenistan is best placed to manage conflict prevention.
In an October address to the UN General Assembly, South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki-moon, who takes over as UN Secretary-General in 2007, urged member states to set a date for opening the preventive diplomacy centre, saying it would cost little and bring immense benefits.
The same month, President Saparmurat Niazov called on the UN to press ahead with setting up the centre, since the infrastructure was already in place and the initiative had received the backing of Russia and all the countries in the region.
Commentators interviewed by NBCentralAsia say Niazov’s determined push to offer the UN structure a home is no more than a populist bid to kill two birds with one stone: first, to flirt with the international community, and second, to show his people that he has international partners, as a way of bolstering his regime’s reputation.
The UN’s human rights bodies have repeatedly criticised Niazov’s dictatorial behaviour and expressed concern that the Turkmen authorities are ignoring their obligations under international conventions.
In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticised the account the Turkmen government gave of its implementation of the relevant convention. The committee spoke of forced assimilation, limits on access to employment for ethnic minorities, and restrictions placed on freedom of movement and internet-based foreign media.
Yet despite their doubts, some political analysts hold out hope that the Turkmen political elite might undergo some change under the UN’s influence.
“At the moment, the UN is the only organisation able to get any kind of mechanism going in Turkmenistan,” human rights activist Tajigul Begmedova told NBCentralAsia.
Another NBCentralAsia analyst, Mars Sariev, disagrees with this view. He believes the idiosynchratic political regime that exists in Turkmenistan has nothing in common with the principles underpinning the UN.
“A totalitarian state which crushes dissident opinion and refuses to make concessions to the opposition cannot play host to warring sides and encourage them to show tolerance and resolve their conflicts,” he said. “That’s nonsense.”
Sariev fears that if the UN locates the preventive diplomacy centre in Ashgabat, the Turkmen authorities will obstruct its work, because in order to carry out conflict analysis and warning, the institution will need a large staff of expatriates monitoring events not only in the region, but also in Turkmenistan itself.