Britain seeking to end Central Asia 'neglect'

(First Edition)

AN END may at last be in sight to what many have construed as a British policy of 'benign neglect' towards Uzbekistan, a country emerging as the commercial centre of the resource-rich expanses of Central Asia.

'It's good, but what kept them so long? And will this be a real embassy, or just a small mission?' asked the Uzbekistan Foreign Ministry's chief of information, Ahmadjan Loukmanov, after Britain's ambassador in Moscow visited Tashkent last weekend to convey London's decision to send permanent envoys.

Few Central Asians can believe official British explanations that lack of funds is the only reason for the relative absence of Britain, which only 70 years ago was playing the Great Game against Russia for control of Central Asian markets and mountain approach routes to India.

The last British consul-cum-secret agent resident in Tashkent, Lieutenant-Colonel F M Bailey, was in fact one of the game's last great players, fleeing Communist advances in 1922 disguised first as a Bolshevik agent and later as a Turkoman trader.

But when the vast oil-, cotton- and mineral-rich region opened up for substantial Western business opportunities last year, Britain was reduced to covering four of the five new Central Asian states from Moscow, snowed under by its own problems 2,000 miles away to the north-west.

Even under the proposed new arrangement in Uzbekistan, a mainly Turkic-speaking nation of 22 million, only three British diplomats led by a charge d'affaires will still report to Moscow. The same applies to another mission upgraded last week in the sixth former Soviet Muslim republic, oil-rich Azerbaijan.

The British diplomats who arrive later this year will find several well-established Western ambassadors reporting straight back to their capitals. Most are already putting finishing touches to the best embassy buildings in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, which for the past 120 years has been the chief commercial, industrial and administrative capital of Central Asia's 50 million people.

'I suppose you'd have to call Britain's policy one of benign neglect,' said one European ambassador, an echo of straitened times in the 19th century when British India justified inaction with a policy of 'masterly inactivity'.

The mission will certainly be important. Uzbekistan typifies many of the world's new countries where an impressive mission makes a real impact on governments, and individual diplomats are still far more important than telephones and mass media.

Uzbekistan may be the most populous state in Central Asia and home to its biggest single ethnic group, the Uzbeks. But there are extraordinary gaps in officials' knowledge of the outside world, Western business practices and even languages. In the Uzbekistan Foreign Ministry, for instance, fluent Arabic is far more common than English.

Strategically, the United States has long recognised an interest in buttressing Central Asia as a split widens with the European states of the Commonwealth of Independent States - although, like many others including Britain, it gave an unbalanced initial weight to nuclear-armed Kazakhstan.

Some businessmen argue that, with the respite in Tajikistan's civil war, the conservative Central Asian states even look somewhat stabler than those to the west and certainly offer more manageable economies. Others warn that a big ethnic explosion may yet occur if no outside help arrives.

'In these times of decay in the former Soviet Union, it is in everybody's interest to create a zone of stability here,' said one ambassador in Tashkent. 'We have raised great hopes in the people here . . . We should not see another area submerged in struggles, and the economy is the key.'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform