The speech published below was delivered in Tashkent, ussr, during the last week of April 1985, at a conference on ‘Peace and Security in Asia’ jointly organized by the United Nations University in Tokyo and the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Such events are not new, but the special interest of this gathering lay in its location and the composition of the delegates. In addition to ‘experts’ from North and South Korea, the People’s Republic of China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Japan, India, the United States and New Left Review, a large and authoritative delegation from the Soviet Union was headed by Academicians Fedoseyev and Primakov. The former is a member of the Central Committee of the cpsu, out of favour during the last decade of Brezhnevism for suggesting that there were ‘contradictions within socialist countries’, and the latter is a key adviser on strategy in the Third World.
On Afghanistan Academician Primakov stated very firmly that the ussr had no interest whatsoever in prolonging its military presence, and that a comprehensive agreement with Islamabad had been repeatedly sabotaged by the United States, mainly throughout the pouring in of money and weaponry to the military junta. What was rejected as unrealistic, however, was my suggestion that a unilateral move by the ussr was necessary to regain the initiative on Afghanistan. With regard to Sino–Soviet relations, a general impression was confirmed that both sides are moving towards some form of ‘normalization’–though without a reversion to the status quo ante. Contrary to cold-war stereotypes and related prejudices, it is quite clear that the official intelligentsia of the ussr (members and aspirants of the Academy of Sciences) cannot be dismissed wholesale as crude apparatchiks. It is undeniable that much published material on contemporary politics has an instrumental function largely serving diplomatic needs, but I found that knowledge and research on the West and the Third World—if not, ironically, on Eastern Europe—is often very impressive. The fact that much of this does not find its way into official publications is a grim reminder of the jealously guarded bureaucratic monopoly of information and knowledge, which irritates many established intellectuals and which they expect Gorbachev to modify or abolish altogether as part of a cultural and intellectual relaxation. Private conversations with Academy members were often highly stimulating and instructive.
Lastly I saw absolutely no evidence of a revival of religion in Soviet Central Asia. The beautifully preserved mosques in Samarkand are viewed largely as a historical curiosity. Western ‘analysts’ who have been talking of Khomeini-type stirrings are wide of the mark. A major reason for this is the economic and cultural progress that has made Soviet Central Asia one of the most advanced regions of the ‘Third World’.