The Envoy & His Navel Liaison

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 1, 2008


Surely, after all they've been through, the belly dancer must love the British ambassador.

He saved her from her life, from Uzbekistan, a thugocracy where she grew up a hungry and beaten child. At age 11, she was forced by her drug-addled father to smuggle heroin from Afghanistan in her underwear. Much later, as an adult, she was raped by police.

British Ambassador Craig Murray found her when she was 21, dancing for tips in a sleazy club in Tashkent, the capital. He tucked $20 into her embroidered panties, walked away from his wife and two children and brought his belly dancer to London to start a new life together.

Their liaison, now recounted nightly in her autobiographical London stage play, ultimately cost him his career -- that, and the small matter of accusing Uzbek President Islam Karimov of running a torture state, and accusing Britain and the United States of using intelligence that Karimov's men tortured out of suspects in the name of the "war on terror."

After all of that, Nadira Alieva, you must love him, right? He must be your hero, your savior, this older British man who is sipping a latte across the table from you. Tell us, are you in love?

"I don't know," she begins, leaning forward on the couch, her dark eyes cast toward the floor, turning down the volume of her striking, angular face. She is speaking slowly, struggling to find a comfortable way to sit. She laughs. Stops. Plays for time with a couple of short breaths.

"I don't know how to put this, because this is really difficult for me," she says, looking at the carpet. "I don't think I've ever believed in being in love, honestly."

Her ambassador, 23 years her senior, is looking at her tenderly through wire-rimmed glasses. He is a slightly sad-looking man with a flop of sandy-gray hair, wearing a bulky cable-knit sweater that only emphasizes the generation that separates him from his stylish, hyper-fit lover.

"I'm sorry," she says, raising her eyes to his.

He meets her gaze. It is an accepting look. It is adoration.

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