Foreign Policy Blogs

Turkmenistan: 'Coming Out'

Though the state of Turkmenistan still has to be considered one of the world's most oppressive societies, ever since the death of President Saparmurat Niyazov, a man who seemed to rule over his people like he was trying to ensure a spot in the Dictators Hall of Fame, slight signs of progress have been made on many issues.

First off, a couple weeks ago the nation held parliamentary elections that though were far from free and fair, when combined with the new constitution appear to give the legislative branch a bit more power in formulating the countries political agenda. Progress on two interrelated issues have also moved the country out of its isolationist, ‘neutral’ shell, its outreach to neighbors and to the United States and Europe and in its new emphasis on tackling the nation's horrific drug problem.

President Berdymukhamedov has sent strong signals to his government and his people that he is willing to address the nation's drug epidemic. In a region that usually shuns talk about AIDS and drug use, many Turkmen state agencies hosted informational events titled ‘Unite for Future! Unite Against AIDS and Drugs!’ this December. This event was actually held on World AIDS Day and included printed materials displaying the risks involved with drugs and HIV. Also in December, several members of parliament voiced their concern over the growing epidemic, attempting to bring light to the tremendous social costs they incur. Berdymukhamedov, a former medical professional, visited with Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN Office for Drug and Crime, in Vienna to discuss ways they could tackle the problem. Of course, not is positive when it comes to Turkmen's efforts to combat drugs and drug-related illnesses as corruption still runs long and deep in the state, with many government officials profiting from the Afghan-Turkmen drug trade. There is also a lack of technical experts and medical professionals in the country, forcing many citizens to seek inadequate medical attention.

Connected to the Turkmenistan's efforts at combating the drug and AIDS epidemic is their cooperation with Afghanistan and the NATO forces there. Since Niyazov's death, Berdymukhamedov has worked hard to formulate a positive relation with the Karzai government and has made at least two diplomatic trips to the country. The drug trade, insurgency, and energy and transport projects were all high on the agenda. Turkmenistan is a vital element in the stability of Afghanistan as its border with the country is long and porous and it is hoped that they will one day have a profitable relationship when it comes to gas (TAPI pipeline) transportation.

Recently, NATO officials have been meeting with Turkmenistan counterparts to discuss furthering their strategic relationship in terms of the transportation of goods into Afghanistan territory. The talks are not the first to occur between the two as Ashgabat has been a transport corridor for flights into the region for years now. Ties appear to be getting closer though as a new deal will hopefully be stroke soon regarding greater amounts of transit for NATO goods. Berdymukhamedov also made a strategic step last spring when he attended the NATO summit in Bucharest to discuss cooperation. At this summit he reportedly garnered a personal meeting with US President Bush.

These are not the actions of a ‘neutral’ state and we must hope that this is just the beginning of a long coming out party for Turkmenistan's government and its people.

 

Author

Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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