This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
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PORTER: Before decades of war and strife tore Afghanistan apart, textiles were one of the countries most important exports. In Europe and America, Afghan carpets and rugs are not just decoration, but highly prized works of art that can cost thousands of dollars. But wealthy Western buyers may not realize that many of the carpets they buy are woven by children, some no older than six or seven years old. Clark Boyd reports from Washington.
CLARK BOYD: For Washington-area native Bill Seward, an Afghan carpet or rug is much more than just a product—it’s a passion. As a businessman who sells Afghan textiles, Seward touts the craftsmanship and skill that goes into each piece. As a trained anthropologist, he revels in the minutia of ancient designs and dye methods. And as an employer, Seward strives to understand the difficulties faced by those who weave for him. In fact, he recently returned with a homemade videotape from a trip to Pakistan, where many of the Afghans who weave his products have been living as refugees for more than 10 years.
[The sounds of a busy Lahore street—car horns and vehicles.]
BOYD: On the tape, frenetic street scenes give way to quiet courtyards, where ethnic Turkmen refugees from Afghanistan weave on large looms.
[The sound of people working on looms.]
BOYD: Seward’s video makes it clear that creating carpets is dirty, difficult work. The workers, all men in this case, can spend months just weaving the carpet. Then they get down to the dirty work of shearing the product.
[The sound of people shearing carpets.]
BOYD: Bill Seward admits that carpet weaving is a tough job, but that the workers are treated fairly.
BILL SEWARD: I wouldn’t want to do it. But it is hard work but they, you know, the places that I went, which are, you know, run by various American people I know, they’re not sweatshops at all. Everybody is doing good work. I mean, they’re really nice people. Everyone’s fed, everyone’s paid and they want to do the work.
BOYD: For an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, carpet weaving can generate about one to three dollars a day in income. That doesn’t seem like much, considering that these products will sell for thousands of dollars apiece in the United States and Europe. Some say it’s an economic situation that can lead to serious abuses of child labor. Nina Smith is the Executive Director of Rugmark Foundation, a nonprofit working to eradicate child labor in the weaving industry worldwide.
NINA SMITH: You get situations where families are very poor, they can’t afford to take care of their children, and they send their kids to the city or to a village where they’re producing rugs, sometimes with an aunt or an uncle. And they go to weave carpets to help earn money for the family.
BOYD: In some cases, says Smith, children as young as five and six will be sold to carpet weavers, and used almost as slave labor. Rugmark Foundation’s goal is to create market incentives that will eliminate these abuses. Nina Smith says the organization has a threefold approach.
SMITH: The first is that we inspect the looms of registered producers who are willing to participate and who want the Rugmark label on their carpets. We inspect those looms on a random basis and make sure no children are found. When children are found, we work with the manufacturers to get them into a safe place. We support schools and rehabilitation centers for children who have come out of work. And thirdly, we focus on raising consumer awareness, so that consumers can affect the problem through the purchases that they make.
BOYD: But so far, Rugmark’s having a hard time selling its approach to the industry. Only 13 importers currently agree to have their looms randomly inspected by Rugmark for signs of illegal child labor. Importer Mehmet Yalchin thinks that Rugmark’s approach fails to appreciate that Western answers might not be right for Eastern problems.
Mehmet Yalchin: We immediately think, how dare can they do that? You know, who would have the heart to allow a seven, eight-year-old child to weave a carpet? We don’t realize the conditions they live in. We don’t realize sometimes that if it weren’t for the seven-year-old weaving, his six member family could be dying of hunger.
BOYD: And moreover, says Yalchin, to an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, weaving is more than a job—it’s a traditional art form and way of life.
Yalchin: Sure you will see a four-year-old Afghan boy or girl weaving, ’cause this is when they start doing these things. Anyway, this is a part of life for them. But I don’t think it’s fair to call that child slave labor. I mean, it’s like sending one of our kids for piano lessons. There, they’re weaving carpets.
BOYD: That’s why Yalchin and others in the carpet industry have started policing themselves when it comes to keeping kids off their looms. Mason Purcell, owner of the Purcell Oriental Rug Company in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been using Afghan weavers for more than 20 years. As a standard part of her contract, Purcell insists that no children work on the looms. In the past, she’s made regular checks with her employees in Pakistan. And if she finds a child working, she’ll void the contract. In return for her employees’ compliance, Purcell says she sets up smaller looms where adult women can teach young girls the art of weaving.
MASON PURCELL: It’s important that the girls do learn to weave because they don’t leave the compound, all right? And a Turkomen girl who’s a good weaver will bring a dowry—which is hers by the way—of in excess of $6,000 or $8,000 US, if she’s a good weaver. And she’s very well treated when she marries because she’s considered an asset to her husband’s family. And if they don’t learn young, they don’t learn. And I’m not gonna stand there and tell somebody’s mother that they can’t teach their kid the craft that’s gonna make their living.
SMITH: Some of the manufacturers genuinely believe that they know what’s going on in their looms, and they don’t need to add another layer of bureaucracy to what they’re doing.
BOYD: Again, Nina Smith of Rugmark Foundation.
SMITH: But it’s impossible, being here in the United States, to know what’s going on on the looms. So, so I’d like to think that more and more importers would view Rugmark as an important service to them, so that they know at any given time what’s going on in their looms, and that with certainty they can, they can tell their retailers and their consumers that their rugs aren’t being made by children.
BOYD: That’s a goal increasingly shared by the carpet industry itself. Many importers say throughout the 1990s, their buyers grew savvier, choosing to purchase those carpets and rugs that would benefit indigenous weavers, instead of keeping children locked in a carpet factory. And in the wake of September 11th, more carpet buyers than ever before are asking serious questions about the textile products they purchase. But, the importers admit, that trend may continue only as long as attention is focused on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries in the region where illegal child labor thrives. For Common Ground, this is Clark Boyd in Washington.
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MCHUGH: Programs designed to keep Afghanistan’s youth in school and out of the workplace are a top priority of the country’s rebuilding efforts. Julia Taft is the Assistant Administrator of the United Nation’s Development Program, or UNDP. She’s also the Director for the Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery. I recently talked with her about the U.N.’s ongoing recovery efforts in Afghanistan.
Julia Taft: Within the United Nation’s Development Program I lead the task force to organize the way that we can assist in the transition from crisis to recovery. Among the things that we’ve been involved in, it’s quite broad. We’re working, for instance, with the Minister of Women’s Affairs, Dr. Sima Samar, to try to help her in organizing advocacy throughout the government and the country to deal with women’s issues. We are providing Internet connectivity to all the ministers of the Interim Authority. We are assisting them in paying the civil service salaries. We have also been working on developing reintegration initiatives for refugees and internally displaced persons who are now starting to go back home.
MCHUGH: Now you just recently came back from Afghanistan, is that correct?
MCHUGH: How much time did you spend there and what was your job while you were on the ground?
TAFT: Well, I was there for about a week. My principal reason for going was to attend a major international conference of all of the donors to Afghanistan, as well as the, obviously the cabinet of Afghanistan, to discuss the development program for the year and the national budget. I also had an opportunity while I was there, of course, to meet with a number of the ministers that are responsible for programs of education and women’s affairs and development. And went out beyond Kabul to some of the locations where refugees have started to return and we are engaged in helping to build schools and, and help in the reintegration of the people.
MCHUGH: Can you remind our listeners how much money was pledged in the original donors conference?
TAFT: In January there was an international conference in Tokyo and the donors pledged over the course three to four years $4.3 billion. The first year amount of that was $1.8 billion, to cover all of the humanitarian and transitional assistance activities. To date, about $800 million has already been disbursed, which is good.
MCHUGH: I have heard several stories about complaints that the money isn’t coming fast enough and that this is a problem in terms of stability.
TAFT: There are several reasons that some of the funds have not been distributed. One, of course, is security. The assistance that’s going into Kabul is quite fulsome. In the outlying provinces, however, it’s much more problematic. As we have to understand, there is a war going on. And accessibility is a constraint. So that’s one of the reasons. A second reason is that there has been some criticism on the part of the Afghan authorities that they have not received the $1.8 billion. But that was never really the intent. The donors, particularly for the first year, expected most of the funds to be channeled through the United Nations organizations or through nongovernmental organizations. Not to be given directly to the government.
MCHUGH: What are conditions really like on the ground? I think it’s hard sometimes for us to get a sense of that just from, you know, short video clips that we might see on the evening news.
TAFT: One sees on the highways a number of Pakistani buses, stock full with beds and, and furniture, and suitcases, and hundreds of people, virtually, trying to come back to Afghanistan. These are mostly refugees who’ve lived in Pakistan during the past 20 years. So there’s that, that movement on the road. In Kabul itself, it’s madhouse. There are more taxis, I think, in Kabul than there are in New York City. And you see lots of activity on the street. The stores are starting to open up, the markets are busy, and I think all of this can be attributed to the fact that there is a great international and growing presence there from international relief agencies and the UN. A lot of people are going to work. Eighty-five thousand people have salaries now from the civil service. And a lot of economic revitalization is taking place. So there’s a lot of energy and a lot of activity.
Now, it’s not quite so active and vibrant in other parts of the country—I’m told. I have not gone to Heart and, Kandahar. But my sense is that as security improves one will see the replication of this, this vibrancy throughout the country.
MCHUGH: Do you get a sense from talking with the, the local people that there’s finally that will, that things are going to get better and enthusiasm for life that certainly hasn’t been there for 20 years?
TAFT: I certainly did. I often get asked the question, whether women are still wearing the burkha on the street. And they are. Many of them are. The, one of the reasons they are still wearing the burkha is they’re concerned about whether or not there’s going to be a solid peaceful future. But my sense is that we have to be patient. It has only been five months since the new authorities took over. And one can’t expect a huge change overnight. But there are, the signs are all quite good.
MCHUGH: You know, Afghanistan is actually starting to fade from our memory here state-side in terms of it’s not necessarily mentioned on the nightly news every night. We don’t see pictures from Kabul anymore. Are you concerned that things will fade too quickly?
TAFT: One of the most encouraging signs is that the donors consistently meet to discuss their continuing commitment. The United States, Japan, the EU, Saudia Arabia, other countries, have made a long-term, visible, public commitment that this is not going to be a short-term investment. And that is, never, that’s never happened before. So while it’s not on the nightly news the donors do have it very much in their, their mind.
MCHUGH: What do you see are the biggest obstacles to long-term recovery in that region?
TAFT: Whether or not the Afghan people want peace?
MCHUGH: And do you think that they really want peace? We do hear about warring factions that are still happening, even outside of Kabul. Is that hard to gauge at this point?
TAFT: The whole United Nations approach for Afghanistan has been quite refreshing and quite different. What we have basically said is that the United Nations is not running Afghanistan. We do not have our own peacekeepers there. We do not run the country as we have done in East Timor or Kosovo. In fact, everything that we have been trying to do has been to enable the Afghans themselves to make decisions about their own priorities and how they want to manage things. So the future of Afghanistan is very squarely on their shoulders.
This is also true in one of the other critical issues and that is in poppies. Poppies have fueled the warlords. That’s how they get their money. Poppies have also been a huge problem for addiction in all the surrounding countries. Most of the poppies end up there or in Europe. And the attention and the dedication of the Afghan authorities to ensure eradication of poppies will be one of the key determiners as to whether or not the country is able to really assume the stature of a, a country in control of its own destiny. We’ll have to wait and see.
MCHUGH: Julia Taft is the assistant administrator of the United Nation’s Development Program and the Director of the Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery. I spoke with her in New York.
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PORTER: North Korea is characterized in the West in two ways—as a repressive Stalinist regime that supports terrorism, and as a country wracked by famine where most of the population lives in dire poverty. But relatively few westerners have seen the country first hand. One of the few is Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor whose experiences in North Korea led him to take extreme actions. Judith Smelser has his story.
DR. NORBERT VOLLERTSEN: Inspiration was simply curiosity. I wanted to know something about North Korea, because in Germany there is nothing known about North Korea. There’s no travel guide available, no photo picture books.
JUDITH SMELSER: Dr. Norbert Vollersten’s experiences in North Korea went far beyond any picture book. He first set foot in the country in 1999, working as a humanitarian aid doctor with a small German NGO. He traveled to hospitals around the country doing emergency surgery and delivering supplies—and what he saw there changed his life.
VOLLERTSEN: There is no running water, and it’s all dirty, old fashioned. They do not have any material, they do not have any disinfection, no bandage material, no anesthesia, nothing. And when there’s an emergency case, like an appendicitis or whatever, and they’re doing an appendectomy, they’re doing this without any anesthesia, without any disinfection, without any soap. They do not have any soap to clean their hands in front of the operation.
SMELSER: At one hospital he visited, he found the staff had lined up to donate their own skin to a patient who’d been burned beyond recognition. In hopes of building trust, Dr. Vollertsen and one of his colleagues decided to give their skin as well. Little did they know that act of generosity would end up attracting the attention of the state media and catapulting them into North Korea’s limelight.
VOLLERTSEN: They made a real propaganda show out of that, and because there is only one TV channel in North Korea, it was broadcasted on the main prime time news in the evening, so afterwards, we became real prominent. We became nearly VIPs because in every shop, in every hotel, every hospital, they recognized, “Ah, these are the two togiseram (foreigners) who gave their skin.”
SMELSER: Their new celebrity status soon translated into real advantages, including a government medal, a VIP passport, and most importantly, a private drivers license. Suddenly, they could travel the country without supervision, and Dr. Vollertsen took full advantage of the rare opportunity. He put almost 45,000 miles on his car, visiting kindergartens, orphanages, and of course, more hospitals.
[The sounds of a hospital]
VOLLERTSEN: I think the main thing what I discovered was the huge difference between the nice lifestyle of the elite in Pyongyang, in the capital city, where they’re enjoying food and fashionable diplomatic shops, casinos, and restaurants. In the countryside, the people were starving; they were literally dying under my hands. I saw so many little children dying.
[The sound of children crying.]
SMELSER: He took stacks of pictures and shot over an hour of video from underequipped hospitals where emaciated boys and girls are hooked up to IVs crudely fashioned from beer bottles. Their gaunt faces stare listlessly into a bleak and probably short future. Dr. Vollertsen is not the only one who’s seen these conditions. His descriptions are echoed by others who’ve worked in the country, like United Nations worker and academic Hazel Smith.
HAZEL SMITH: I’ve been to hospitals and clinics and schools and nurseries and kindergartens and orphanages all round the country over the past few years. And the lack of inputs, ranging from soap and disinfectants to heating and electricity and food, is everywhere.
SMELSER: Smith agrees with Vollertsen that North Korean doctors are well trained and competent, but that their hands are tied by the complete lack of materials there. Dr. Vollertsen felt that frustration himself, realizing there was little he could do for his patients medically. But he became more and more determined to find some way to improve their plight.
VOLLERTSEN: I was really shocked, and I was so moved, and when I looked into their eyes, and they were so sad, and so I felt like crying. And I thought, “I have to keep my promise with those children. I have to, you know, do something.”
SMELSER: What he did was to embark on a die-hard campaign to let the world see what he’d seen during his time in North Korea. He started by giving unauthorized tours to western journalists who came to cover visits by foreign dignitaries. Then he began giving statements to the dignitaries themselves, describing the human rights violations he’d observed. Not surprisingly, his standing with the North Korean authorities took a nose-dive. Just a year and a half after he first arrived in the country, he was forced to leave. But his crusade was only just beginning—and so was his education.
VOLLERTSEN: I realized that I was an idiot. I do not know nothing about North Korea. Despite all my access in North Korea—I traveled around so many times—I got access to the high elite, I got access to all my patients. I learned I do not know nothing about the reality of North Korea. And this I learned after I was expelled. When I was in Seoul, I learned about all those refugees who are hiding at the Chinese-North Korean border.
SMELSER: From the refugees he heard stories of political prisoners and even rumors of concentration camps. Whether these stories were true or not, Dr. Vollertsen felt a special duty to report them.
VOLLERTSEN: We Germans—you know about history—we were accused that we kept silent when there were the first rumors about concentration camps in Nazi Germany. And we were accused that we failed to act when there were some rumors about Jews who were killed in Auschwitz, and so. And so I think it’s my duty to pay back to history.
[The sounds of Dr. Vollertsen testifying at a hearing on Capitol Hill.]
SMELSER: His quest to pay that debt took him to Capitol Hill recently for a hearing on human rights in North Korea. He’s determined to make people listen to his story—and on this occasion, he felt there weren’t quite enough listeners.
VOLLERTSEN: [testifying before Congress] Unfortunately, most of the people are gone to lunch. Maybe that’s one of the most problems of North Korea. Here are now the eyewitness of human rights violations in North Korea, but there’s nearly nobody who can listen. There’s nearly no more attention. Unfortunately, even some of the Congressmen are gone!
SMELSER: For Dr. Vollertsen, attention is the name of the game. With his shock of blond hair and his boundless energy, he’s hard to ignore… But just to make sure, he’s taken his crusade beyond the quiet halls of Congress and onto the streets of Beijing. Earlier this year, he led a group of North Korean asylum seekers in an invasion of the Spanish embassy there.
VOLLERTSEN: It created a breaking news story, and we got some attention for some North Korean human rights issues, and I think there was a lot of inspiration for North Korean refugees to do it in the same way, and that was our intention.
SMELSER: The incident has touched off a series of similar invasions of embassies and consulates in Beijing, and there have been serious consequences. China has now clamped down on its border with North Korea, meaning North Koreans can no longer travel to China when food supplies at home get dangerously low. UN worker Hazel Smith says Dr. Vollertsen’s heart is in the right place but that he didn’t consider the full ramifications of his actions.
SMITH: With the invasions of these embassies and consulates, both sides—China and North Korea—have felt that they’ve been humiliated internationally, that their sovereignty has been called into question, and so have closed the borders. That means that several hundred thousand people don’t have access to food. So for the sake of political theater and a couple of families getting into Seoul, this has been at the expense of many people suffering and probably dying.
SMELSER: Indeed, Dr. Vollertsen’s methods have opened him up to plenty of criticism. Some in the humanitarian community think he’s too self-promoting, saying aid workers can help more people by keeping their heads down and staying out of the public eye. Hazel Smith says it’s important to weigh the need for political reform against the need to simply keep people alive.
SMITH: Human rights include the right to eat and the right to survive, as well as the right to take part in elections. And in the DPRK at the moment, the need is so severe to simply survive, through having enough food and through having basic inputs which will stop people dying, for instance basic medicines, that’s an absolute priority need. Dead people can’t vote in elections.
[The sound of children]
SMELSER: But Dr. Vollertsen believes handing out food and medicine just doesn’t go far enough for the ailing children he tried to treat.
VOLLERTSEN: You can’t cure it by simple medicine. What shall I do? Shall I make a prescription about anti-depressiva? Shall I give an IV with anti-depressiva? I have to change the political system. Because this is not a natural disaster, this is a man-made disaster because of the North Korean government, and they are responsible for the condition of those children.
SMELSER: It’s a big job for one person to take on, but Dr. Vollertsen is tackling it the only way he knows how. He crisscrosses the globe, from Washington to Seoul to Beijing, telling his story, handing out his illicit photos, and planning protests. He flashes a mischievous smile as he hints at more “crazy ideas” up his sleeve—all in hopes of making up for old sins and preventing new ones. For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser in Washington.
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PORTER: In the months since last September’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States has redefined its relationships with a number of countries that are now its pivotal global partners. The US military offensive in Afghanistan, for example, would have been impossible without the strategic support of Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf. And the US relationship with Russia has, according to President Bush, entered a new chapter, with Washington and Moscow sealing nuclear arms reduction agreements, exchanging intelligence information, and cooperating within NATO. But, as Simon Marks reports from Moscow, not everyone thinks Russia should be forging a partnership with the country’s Cold War nemesis.
[The sound of American rock on the streets of Moscow.]
SIMON MARKS: American rock on the streets of Moscow—blasting out from a loudspeaker in the center of the city, tunes from the other side of the Atlantic entertain moviegoers standing in line for tickets. [The rock music continues to play in the background.] The movie they’re lining up to see: Star Wars, which has been playing on every big screen in the city.
[The sound of a busy movie theater.]
MARKS: Once inside, they grab a bag of popcorn, a Coke, and settle down to enjoy the show. In every regard, it’s an American experience, albeit in the center of Moscow. But stop some moviegoers after the credits have rolled and they’ll tell you that while they love seeing American movies, they do not love the USA or President Bush.
A RUSSIAN MOVIE-GOER: [via a translator] There is too much dictating going on from America. I don’t like Bush. I have serious doubts about his intellectual abilities.
A SECOND RUSSIAN MOVIE-GOER: [via a translator] It seems as though America is a country that likes to dictate its will to other countries. You have to make some decisions taking other opinions into account. Bush is a peasant, a cowboy. Putin is much better. He speaks better, he is more educated. Or at least that is my impression.
A THIRD RUSSIAN MOVIE-GOER: [via a translator] I don’t like what America does. I think the Americans should pay more attention to the opinions of other nations, the United Nations especially.
MARKS: I’m standing in Pushkin Square, often considered the spiritual center of Moscow, dominated as it is by the giant statue of the poet Alexander Pushkin. And yet today within yards of me I can see the sign showing the way to the Moscow branch of TGI Fridays, the golden arches of McDonald’s, which opened its first Moscow branch here some years ago, and also a placard advertising the services of the United Parcel Service. With American trademarks everywhere, the center of Moscow today looks much like any other big European metropolis.
[The sounds of Pushkin Square.]
MARKS: But while this generation of Muscovites follows American fashions, eats at American restaurants, aspires to drive American cars, drink American sodas, and smoke American cigarettes, despite all that, the Russian public remains at best ambivalent about their country’s relationship with the last remaining superpower.
LILLIA SHEVTSOVA: Usually Russians are very friendly towards Americans.
MARKS: Lilia Shevtsova with the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
SHEVTSOVA: There was a poll after 9/11, and Russians were asking widely across the country whether they would donate their blood to Americans. You know 89% of Russians said yes, immediately, without any problems. And at the same time there are 30% of Russians who are still thinking that Russia should be a superpower, that Russia should confront the United States, that Russia should get anything, some kind of important deliverables from the United States. So there is part of the population—probably you’ve met these guys on the street—that are torn, torn between their former reminiscences of the superpower role, and envy, probably envy towards the only superpower, the elephant that now is controlling the world order.
[The sound of President Putin welcoming President Bush to Russia.]
MARKS: Into the jungle, Vladimir Putin has stepped. The Russian leader welcomed President Bush to Moscow earlier this year. He’s emerged as Russia’s most pro-western leader since Peter the Great, agreeing arms reduction treaties with the United States, signing strategic cooperation documents and generally backing President Bush’s war on terror. But at home, he’s also perceived as an authoritarian—a tough, ex-KGB man who has cracked down militarily in the breakaway region of Chechnya and launched an offensive against Russia’s free media. Reformist lawmakers like Alexei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the Russian Parliament’s Defense Committee, accuse the United States of investing too much in the personality of Vladimir Putin, and being complicit in some of his more authoritarian moves.
ALEXEI ARBATOV: I think that the United States has not revised their international security policy, and policy towards Russia very deeply. And they hope that having a deal with Putin is enough, just like they hoped in the past that having a deal with Yeltsin was enough. They do not take into account that Russia is now a different society, there is public opinion, Parliament, mass media, and even though Putin is now very popular that may not last forever. And if domestic situation changes, economically for instance, or if there is some escalation of violence in the North Caucusus, then Putin’s relations with the West would be for him a deficiency rather than an asset.
[The sound of American rock on the streets of Moscow.]
MARKS: That may lie in the future. Today in Moscow, moviegoers are getting ready for “Spiderman,” plus visits to the city by James Brown, Joe Cocker, and even Ozzie Osbourne. All those shows are expected to be sold out. But that doesn’t imply that many Muscovites are losing their faith in Russia’s great power status, or their concerns that their country is increasingly dancing to an American tune. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Moscow.
[The sound of American rock on the streets of Moscow.]
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT EDUARD SHEVARNADZE: [via a translator] We are waging a serious fight against terrorists in Georgia and I sincerely hope that our American friends will continue to provide their technical assistance and their advice.
MCHUGH: Plus, Angola’s peace plan.
Lukamba Paulo Gato: And we must change the culture of violence into one of dialogue and cooperation.
MCHUGH: And, Ecuador’s modern folk singer.
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PORTER: Since the start of the US-led anti-terrorism campaign, American and coalition troops have established presence not only in Afghanistan, but also in the countries surrounding it. Nearly overnight, the United States developed friendly relations with several Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union. Now, the US is slowly taking a large share of influence in this region from Russia. Anya Ardayeva reports from Moscow.
[The sound of Muslim calls to prayer.]
ANYA ARDAYEVA: Muslim call to prayer sounds out over downtown Dushanbe, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan. Nearly 5,000 miles from Moscow, the now independent Central Asian republic is forging a new and unexpected relationship with the United States. In the months since September 11th, Tajikistan and its neighbors—Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgzystan—have suddenly found themselves in the spotlight. The United States expressed interest in establishing friendly ties with these countries since Tajikistan and Uzbekistan share a border with Afghanistan, and the other two are also close. But diplomacy here is tricky because these central Asian states have long been considered part of Russia’s sphere of influence, having close military and economic ties with Moscow, left since the Soviet Union. On a recent visit to Central Asia, US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld said the US is eager to establish a presence in countries where it has not been able to do so in the past.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DONALD RUMSFIELD: [Departing Ireland, speaking on the plane] I have felt since September 11 that it was important to see that we dealt with the war on terrorism, but also I have felt that the events of September 11 have shifted the priorities for an awful lot of countries in the world and their perspectives about the United States and about the problems of the world. And it does offer an opportunity, it seems to me, for us to reconnect with those countries in this new circumstance.
[The sounds of Secretary Rumsfeld being introduced to US troops in Uzbekistan.]
ARDAYEVA: Mr. Rumsfeld has met with American servicemen in Kyrgzystan and Uzbekistan, which has the biggest US presence at the moment. Uzbekistan has also suffered from terrorist activities by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in 1999—a group, included in the White House list of terrorist organizations. Tashkent allowed the US to use its air base in the town of Khanabad. Almost 1,200 servicemen are stationed there for what looks like an indefinite period of time. Dmitri Trenin at Moscow’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explains why the US government has decided to shift its priorities toward countries which were virtually unknown to the American public before September 11.
DMITRI TRENIN: I think that the US will value those bases both for their immediate validity in the struggle against international terrorism in Afghanistan and also because they provide an advantageous position to help solidify the situation in Central Asia. And then, who knows what happens to Pakistan in the medium-term future; who knows what happens to Saudi Arabia, who knows what happens to US bases in the Persian Gulf. So as a backup, Central Asia could be very useful.
ARDAYEVA: And the US have turned their attention to Central Asia at a critical time for these countries; their economies have fallen apart since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the majority of their population lives in poverty. US financial aid to Uzbekistan tripled this year to $160 million. Other nations have also received aid, or at least promises of it, in exchange for cooperation.
[The sounds of Georgian singing.]
ARDAYEVA: Georgia, a small mountainous country which has seen its share of war and social turmoil since gaining independence, clearly wants closer ties with the West. There are about 150 American instructors stationed there at the moment training Georgian military personnel to face possible terrorist attacks. They are located not far from Pankisi Gorge, known as “no man’s land,” where some of the world’s most notorious terrorists are believed to be hiding. Georgia’s long-time President Eduard Shevarnadze, as well as the American Defense Secretary, are using very warm words to describe their relations.
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT EDUARD SHEVARNADZE: [via a translator] The United States has provided crucial assistance in building Georgia’s armed forces, as well as border guard patrols, and in many other areas, too. This is, in fact, a very long-term cooperation, a program, which is already in place. We are waging a serious fight against terrorists in Georgia and I sincerely hope that our American friends will continue to provide their technical assistance and their advice as well as other means to enhance our ability to counter terrorism here.
ARDAYEVA: Russia’s relationship with Georgia has seen its ups and downs recently. While Georgians accuse Russia of giving little respect to the country’s sovereignty by keeping relations with Georgia’s breakaway Abkhasian province, Russians say Georgia provides safe haven to Chechen terrorists. And these ongoing disputes are forcing Georgia to look for a more reliable partner.
RUMSFIELD: The United States values highly the relationship with this country. We recognize that it’s on a historic transition towards freer economic and freer political systems. And that that is a difficult transition for any country. And that there is no doubt, but that it will be in the best interests of the people of Georgia as they succeed. And it’s very much in the interests of people of the United States to see that Georgia succeeds.
ARDAYEVA: Such plans for long-term friendship in Georgia and Central Asia is starting to alarm Russia, which has so far promised support in the American fight against terrorists. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says his country will seek to put some limits on the American military presence in Central Asia. “In the dialogue with the United States, we now and in the future are going to seek maximum transparency of their military activities in the region and time limits of their military presence,” he says. But Dmitri Trenin says Russia has no choice but to put up with the American presence.
TRENIN: Well, first of all, what’s the alternative? Suppose Russia decided to prevent Americans from gaining ground in Central Asia. Islam Karimov, the Uzbek president, would have loved to use it, to use the occasion to tell Moscow in no uncertain terms that Uzbekistan is no longer under Moscow’s tutelage. That decisions about Uzbekistan are not made in Moscow any longer.
[The sounds of a busy market in Tashkent.]
ARDAYEVA: But they are unlikely to be made in the US, either. Most of the countries Washington is developing relations with, especially Uzbekistan, have very strong authoritarian leaders, whose policies have changed very little since the Soviet times and can hardly be called democratic. With the vast majority of people in these countries living in poverty, that still poses a strong threat to long-term stability in the region. For Common Ground Radio, I’m Anya Ardayeva, in Moscow.
Listen to This Segment: MP3
PORTER: As governments extend the global war on terrorism to cyberspace, an abandoned military platform in the waters off the south coast of Britain claims to have found a new way to give authorities the slip.
MCHUGH: So-called Sealand is making a sizable profit by renting out space on its many computer servers to clients around the globe who want to keep their data from prying eyes. Those who claim ownership of Sealand insist they are outside the law because they declared independence from Britain before territorial waters were extended. Suzanne Chislett has more on this offshore portal to the Internet.
[The sound of a boat cutting through waves.]
CHISLETT: An often bumpy seven-mile speed boat ride over the choppy waters of the English Channel is the only way to reach the principality of Sealand. It may sound like the mythical Atlantis, but this is a concrete and metal tennis-court sized platform, which stands an impressive 50 feet above the waves. [Now with the sound of machinery in the background.] It’s a paradise to the nameless and faceless clients who want to ensure their Internet servers and confidential documents are as far away from the prying eyes of the world’s governments as possible. Sealand began life as a World War II gunnery platform, but following its abandonment fell into disrepair and was almost forgotten by the British government. Then in the 1960s…
[The sound of a 1960s Radio Essex jingle.]
CHISLETT: Pirate radio stations took off and the sea giant became the home of Radio Essex.
[The sound of a 1960s Radio Essex jingle continues, followed by 1960s rock music.]
CHISLETT: Away from the licensing laws of the UK the abandoned defense post was an ideal base. And as one tenant departed another arrived, as the men now aboard Sealand fondly remember.
MICHAEL BATES: The day before Britain extended its territorial waters from three miles to twelve miles during the fishing wars, the Bates family declared independence here and made it a principality.
CHISLETT: The current self-styled Prince of Sealand is Michael Bates and it is thanks to his interesting take on entrepreneurship that the platform is now making money by renting out server space to those who don’t want to be tracked down. In just one year Sealand’s computer deck has grown from three servers to row upon row of machinery, which 24 hours a day, every day, keep the secrets of their clients. Prince Michael flatly refuses to name any names.
BATES: I can’t discuss the clients. I mean that’s just a confidential thing. That’s the whole idea. It’s a secure location with secure clients. Even the clients don’t get to access the machines and when the machines are bought, the machines come directly from our suppliers in case somebody puts a bugging device in or a bomb in it or anything like that.
CHISLETT: It’s widely believed the majority of clients are finance and gaming companies. Bates’ only stipulation is no child pornography. Recently a group of Canadian students investigated the prospect of following in the footsteps of online music swap site Napster by examining the opportunity of renting server space on Sealand. Matt Goyer, one of those involved, says the no tax rule of Sealand was just one of the advantages.
Matt Goyer: Well, Sealand is a good place for a couple of reasons. One, they have no copyright laws. Two, they haven’t signed the major intellectual property convention, the Bern Convention and three, they do no real trade with the United States’ government, so the US government can’t impose any trade embargoes on them and they can’t be pressured into a situation where they would have to shut us down.
CHISLETT: But international legal experts are not convinced that Sealand really is a safe haven.
BARRY SOOKMAN: The courts in the United States and elsewhere don’t look to where the server resides. What’s really more important is where the damage caused by using the server results or where the person resides who controls the server.
CHISLETT: E-commerce lawyer Barry Sookman believes individual nations could take action if they wanted to.
SOOKMAN: The courts in those countries have made it very clear that where infringement results from activities in foreign places but that have implications in the United States or Canada, that they have jurisdiction to deal with it.
CHISLETT: So far though, Sealand and its various mysterious clients appear to have escaped the law and business is reportedly booming.
[The sound of 1960s rock music.]
CHISLETT: Whether that situation continues, remains to be seen. For Common Ground, I’m Suzanne Chislett in London.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security