Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Undiplomatic Diplomat

Craig Murray's Cocktail

Craig Murray's book "Murder In Samarkand" is a compelling read because it is such a heady cocktail.

In part it is a fascinating travel book about Uzbekistan. Whilst this takes the reader into the harsh downside of life in this much blighted nation, we are also given telling descriptions of the splendours of Samarkand and the humanity of many Uzbeks; especially of those who bravely stand out against the tyranny of the ruling elite.

Elsewhere, it is a book of confessions. Craig openly deals with his love of women, alcohol and the good life. Yet he firmly puts down Foreign Office allegations which claimed that he had abused his position as Ambassador in Tashkent to gratify such desires. The claim that he traded visas for sexual favours is seen as the deepest insult by a man who obviously feels that its is his personality, charm and the propensity to wear a kilt which sweeps women off their feet.

Another part of the book is a heart-rending horror story, detailing systematic abuses of human rights by top level and minor officialdom. Hideous beatings, sadistic murders, regular rapes and the disgusting and widespread exploitation of child labour are all fully detailed.

On top of all this, there is intrigue in the diplomatic service and manipulations by Western Governments. It all has the grip of a top John Buchan adventure story, yet we are dealing with cruel facts and not fiction.

Craig, Jack And Claire

The book also holds a wide range of personal fascinations for me.

To start with, my wife Ann and I met Craig in Ghana in 1999. He was British Deputy High Commissioner in Accra and was standing in for the High Commissioner who was out of the country. We were with a Commonwealth Parliamentary delegation.

He organised a first rate visit, participating in a whole host of our activities and ensuring we gained the maximum benefit and understanding from our visit.

He also openly displayed that side of his character which was later twisted by his diplomatic and political bosses over his human rights work in Uzbekistan. After a key visit to the gold mines at Obuasi in the middle of a crisis about world gold prices, most of our group were ready for an early night when we finally reached the mining compound. But Craig was up until the early hours drinking and chatting with engineers and managers, who were astonished to see him leaving the following morning in a Land Rover flying the Diplomat's Union Jack from its bonnet.

He delivered a top flight reception at the Ambassador's residence when we returned to Accra. It was his typical blend of seriousness and enjoyment.

A second fascination for me is that he writes about a world I have peeped into. It is filled with Diplomats, high ranking Civil Servants, Government Ministers and fellow politicians. Jack Straw comes in for fairly justified hammering. Yet I also know something of the other side of Jack's character. He is the person who helped to progress one of my proposals to improve electoral registration and is the only Minister I ever came across who pushed to get invitations to address Socialist Campaign Group Meetings - so he could confront the flack. I am, however, disappointed about Craig's revelations about Jack's human rights failings; especially as I was always impressed that Jack had a well thumbed copy of John Keane's "Tom Paine" in his room in the Commons.

In particular, I found Craig's description of Claire Short's visit to Tashkent when she went to Chair a conference of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development to be highly revealing.

Claire did a fine job in standing up for human rights against the Uzbek regime. As soon as she returned home she resigned her post as Secretary of State of Overseas Development over the Government's involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

I had been amongst those who criticized Claire for not resigning earlier when Robin Cook went. Yet what she stood out for in Uzbekistan was of great importance and is a justification in itself for the delayed resignation. Her period at Overseas Development was also one of the limited avenues of achievement of the Blair Government.

I have two final minor links with what Craig has to say. First, I feel I can come up with a good shot at the name he deletes from Simon Butt's pathetic letter which he reproduces on page 252. Then when he is rushed into St. Thomas's hospital which is opposite the Commons, he seems to have been placed on the same floor and in a similar room to the one I occupied 5 years earlier when I had a stroke.

The Politics Of Diplomacy

Whilst it might add to a good read when you can put some known faces to places, it isn't essential. I have never been to Uzbekistan, but I was pleased to been taken there via Craig's writings.

The final fascinations about Craig's book are his peculiarities. He is a most undiplomatic diplomat. Not only does he never hide his interests in wine (or whisky), women and song; but in Uzbekistan he behaved overtly in an open political fashion and did not limit himself to the hidden form of politics which is the diplomats forte. No matter how he gets there, he even ends up addressing a meeting set up to establish a united opposition made up of varying dissident groups.

He is a man with considerable abilities (and sees no reason to be modest about these). He moves with speed and outrage when he sees an injustice. This is fine when he sees a specific injustice, but there are times on the wider canvas when he seems to be guilty of resorting to what Nye Bevan termed "an emotional spasm". The only question here is whether such an approach undermined his overall effectiveness for the values he adhered to. Although many of us would have remained in ignorance about Uzbekistan but for his actions and his book.

A Sociable Non-Socialist

In being bounced out of the diplomatic game, Craig became a hero of the Hard Left. But he fits this role oddly.

In no way is he a socialist. Some of his most effective work in Uzbekistan was on behalf of British Companies seeking to operate in that alien climate. He is the strongest possible advocate of privatisation.

His eye for women. his passing comments to and about them and his attempts to have his wife act as a female version of a cuckold, will upset many feminists.

It is his human rights stance that appeals to the Hard Left and what makes him their friend is his related opposition to Bush and (at the time of his book) Blair.

I suspect, however, that if Craig was pushed into meeting terror from terrorists on a daily basis that he would try to undermine their actions just as he did with State terrorism in Uzbekistan.

A Human Rights stance is one that in logic and emotion is opposed to both Imperial aggression and Terror Group tactics. Perhaps there is enough on Craig's Web-Site to show that he has a foot in both Human Rights' Camps. If not, we still need to accept that he did more for the cause of human rights in a couple of years in Uzbekistan than the rest of us achieve in a lifetime.


Chris Paul said...

Excellent review! Gerblogged.

Anand said...

Its a good review. I look forward to reading this book. I have heard good things about it from others.

You know that Babar (grandfather of Akbar) spent some time in Samarkand." Samarkand/Mazar e Sharif use to be called Gandhara in ancient Indian religious texts.

Gandhara plays a critical role in several very important Indian legends including the Mahabharata.

Gandhara remains very much central to Bharatiya identity.

HB, please come by Iraqi Mojo a little more often and post your comments. They are always a pleasure to read.

Also, when you get around to it, let us know what you think about how the ISF is progressing.

Harry Barnes said...

Chris Paul and Anand; thanks for the comments. Ann and I have been just returned from London after meeting up with the rest of the family. Below is Craig Murray's pleasing response to my review of his book with an interesting comment from "Tom". I will respond to them as soon as I get organised after that four day break.

Harry Barnes said...

My above comment was too rushed and assumed that there was only one comment linked to the item posted by Craig Murray, when there were two. As "Uzbek" had attempted to post his response here, but was faced with technical problems I present it below (For clarity I have added quote signs and my initials at the end of the 2nd paragraph).

"This is a comment which I was not able to paste into Harry Barnes web blog.

'A Human Rights stance is one that in logic and emotion is opposed to both Imperial aggression and Terror Group tactics. Perhaps there is enough on Craig's Web-Site to show that he has a foot in both Human Rights' Camps. If not, we still need to accept that he did more for the cause of human rights in a couple of years in Uzbekistan than the rest of us achieve in a lifetime.' (HB).

Yes, it is absolutely true. I have honour to know Mr Murray personally and admire everything he did for uzbek people and is still doing. While Mr Murray in office uzbek people knew a lot of good about Britain. It was the only person who spoke true without any hypocrisy without any hesitation. He showed uzbek people that it is possible to fight for rights and freedom. He also showed that not every so called “free democratic countries” are supporting evil karimov, that UK was actually as we thought that time on our, uzbek people side. It was difficult to believe in it because we all saw how so called “heart of democracy, leader of free world” I mean US was constantly backing karimov and his bloody murderers in exchange of his support in military operation in Afghanistan. Of course we (I mean Uzbeks) did not know that Mr Murray was actually acting in controversy with British government and that at the end he will ruin his career and part of his life for us.

After all, when I knew true about all of this I admire Mr Murray’s actions even more. Because of Mr Murray British Embassy in Tashkent gained very huge support and popularity among uzbek people. It became sort of last resort for the most desperate people, for those seeking justice. It should be Ombudsman I suppose, but Ombudsman in Uzbekistan is controlled by uzbek government and it means it is part of terror machine. I remember when we all were shocked after Mr Murray’s speech in Freedom House in Tashkent, when he was the first person ever criticised uzbek official policy in public. I also remember when people were shocked to hear criticism about all happening in Uzbekistan during EBRD session in Tashkent. It was broadcasted live and there was no chance for uzbek government to switch transmission and made some cuts.

After all of these we started to believe that we can strike against regime and we can protect our rights and that we are actually not slaves, that we are people, we are citizens. But after Mr Murray’s departure from Tashkent UK Embassy became a shadow of what it was during his time in office. British Embassy became the same as it was once before Craig Murray tried to do something to brighten that dark part of the world.

Uzbek refugee in the UK

Posted by: Uzbek at November 30, 2007 11:14 AM"

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