David Cameron said on Sunday night he was in Kazakhstan to “secure jobs back home”, as he put concerns over human rights behind a bid for billions of pounds of new investment at the start of his controversial visit to the Central Asian republic.
The Prime Minister suggested that he would raise Kazakhstan’s treatment of its own people during a meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, as he arrived at Atyrau, the oil hub on the Caspian Sea coast.
Pressure groups have been calling on Mr Cameron to challenge the Kazakh leader over “credible allegations” of abuses including torture, repression of the media and religious freedoms dating back over 15 years.
But he insisted that Britain’s business interests would be at the top of his agenda throughout his brief trip to one of the fastest-growing oil-producers in the world.
“I always raise all these issues with all the partners that we have around the world,” the Prime Minister told the BBC as he arrived for a helicopter tour around the Kashagan offshore oil field. “But let me be clear, why am I in Kazakhstan on a Sunday? We are in a global race for jobs and investment. I have more than 30 British businesses with me and we hope to sign £700m-worth of new deals. That will mean jobs back at home and also investment in this rapidly growing economy. That’s what this is about.”
Mr Cameron has been under increasing pressure over meeting President Nazarbayev, who has been in control of Kazakhstan for more than 20 years. Amnesty International yesterday challenged the Prime Minister to tell the President that he would not “turn a blind eye” to his regime’s behaviour. Amnesty’s UK head of policy and government affairs, Allan Hogarth said: “Kazakhstan might be knee-deep in oil and gas wealth, but David Cameron shouldn’t let lucrative energy deals prevent him from raising human rights.”
The Prime Minister is the first ever serving British PM to visit Kazakhstan and the Government believes the returns could amount to a total of £85bn in the coming years. Downing Street said Mr Cameron was determined to link British businesses up to emerging markets as part of efforts to ensure Britain succeeds against tough global competition.
Earlier, Mr Cameron promised to “stand together” with Pakistan in the fight against terrorism following talks with his newly elected counterpart Nawaz Sharif, on the second leg of his whistle-stop tour of the region.
The Prime Minister said the battle required “tough and uncompromising” action but also efforts to combat the roots of extremism and radicalisation. On Saturday, during a visit to Kabul, Mr Cameron had urged Pakistani leaders to recognise that a stable Afghanistan was in their “short, medium and long-term interests”.