Uzbekistan claims role of regional leader

Foreign Ministers Abdullaziz Kamilov and Salahuddin Rabbani. Photo of the author
Foreign Ministers Abdullaziz Kamilov and Salahuddin Rabbani. Photo of the author

The results of the changes that have occurred in Uzbekistan over the past year and a half are already noticeable while approaching Tashkent. On the plane you will be informed that you are arriving at the international airport named after the first President Islam Karimov and a "green corridor" is organized for you. New president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who took office on December 4, 2016, proclaimed a policy of openness, not to take anything away from the success of the first President Islam Karimov, whose name was given to prospectuses, universities, schools and monuments. Nevertheless, the line between the past and the present was drawn.

During Shavkat Mirziyev's year and a half in power, he reformatted not only the country's domestic policy, but also regional one. He carried out administrative and personnel reforms, announced his commitment to economic liberalization. One of the presidential latest decrees transformed the National Security Service into the State Security Service. The all-powerful head of the National Security Service, Rustam Inoyatov, was dismissed in February. Experts say that it was necessary for further economic reforms. Еhe State Security Service  was head by people from the prosecutor's office close to the president. Experts note that Shavkat Mirziyoyev relies on his family in personnel policy. He has no sons, only three daughters. Therefore, he strengthened his administration and power bloc with his sons-in-law. In addition, he returned to power former exile leaders, who got in wrong with President Karimov, as well as young technocrats who do not aspire to be politically influential.

The most interesting for Uzbekistan is South Korea's experience. Probably, it is not by chance that Korean specialists are involved in the management system. They use experience of other countries, for example, Russia, Kazakhstan and even Georgia. Gormer Georgian Prime Minister, member of Mikhail Saakashvili's economic team Nika Gilauri was invited to reform Uzbekistan's tax system. But Georgian experts called this decision "Mirziyoyev's first mistake."

In the economy, Mirziyoyev liberalized the foreign exchange market. He announced his commitment to the export-oriented development of the country, which should help attracting foreign investment, forming free economic zones with preferential treatment. For this, Uzbekistan needs export markets for growing volumes of products. Uzbekistan can offer natural gas, cotton fiber, uranium, non-ferrous metals, cement, fruits and vegetables, as well as  motor cars and their components. Shavkat Mirziyoyev announced Central Asia as priority direction in foreign policy.

For a year and a half, the Uzbek president managed to resolve issues that seemed to become irresolvable. In particular, the state border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan was almost completely demarcated and delimited. Only 10% of each border with both states remain to be identified, but these are the most complex areas that require additional consultations. The air service has been restored, the road from Uzbekistan to China via Kyrgyzstan has been opened. The construction of a similar railway section is under consideration. An agreement was reached with Turkmenistan on Uzbekistan's exit to the Caucasus corridor. Uzbekistan is transferring its energy-intensive enterprises to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In short, there is progress in all directions in all spheres. According to Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan managed to melt the 20-year-old ice in relations with its neighbors.

But Uzbekistan has another important goal - restoring the once-lost positions of the region's leader. These are not illusory hopes. The Conference on Afghanistan, which was held in Tashkent late March, was supported by the United Nations, Russia, the EU, the United States and other countries. The event was attended by representatives of more than 20 states and organizations, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon and other prominent and influential persons.

Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, responding to a question from the author of the article, noted that "there comes a favorable moment in Afghanistan when it is necessary to solve this old problem, otherwise it will be delayed once again, and much depends on external players which must provide conditions or at least not interfere in the process." Another respondent, director of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of Uzbekistan, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan Vladimir Norov, noted that Uzbekistan's new policy has pushed all countries of the region to solving joint problems. "For example, stability in Afghanistan is also an issue of our economic well-being, because this country has an access to the southern seas. According to the Boston Consulting Group, annually we fail to receive 20% of GDP without this exit," Norov said.

The chairman of Uzbekistan's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Adham Ikramov, noted that global issues that require solution were discussed during the conference - a whole range of political, cultural and humanitarian issues, but trade and economic issues and the development of transport infrastructure were no less important. "Uzbekistan is bordered by all the countries of Central Asia and Afghanistan, and the main vector of Uzbekistan's international policy has been regional cooperation and strengthening of good-neighborly and mutually beneficial relations with neighboring countries," Ikramov told the author. "The conference gives an opportunity to deepen our bilateral cooperation in trade. For example, in 2018, Uzbekistan, which previously has been one of the first countries to supply electricity to Afghanistan, will increase the supply of electricity by a factor of 30. If we talk about diversified economy, then Uzbekistan, being one of Afghanistan's strategic partners, provides it with wheat, food products, light industry products, textiles and metals," he added.

For Afghanistan, the Uzbek market is also interesting. 110 enterprises with Afghan capital work on the territory of Uzbekistan. Following Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's visit to Tashkent in December 2017, memorandums of cooperation were signed between the chambers of commerce and industry, which enabled Uzbekistan to open trade houses in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. An intermodal logistics cargo center has been established at the state border in Termez. Uzbekistan intends to drive the trade turnover with Afghanistan to an indicator of $3 billion from the current $617 million.

"Using the extensive network of Uzbekistan's roads and railways, Afghan goods can be brought to large markets of Russia and Kazakhstan, and to the Chinese market through the Tashkent-Andijan-Osh-Irkeshtam-Kashgar road. Of course, there is a reverse movement - by the Hairatan–Mazar-e-Sharif railway to Herat, with further access to Iran and Pakistan, to their Chabahar and Gwadar ports. Thus, the heart of Central Asia - Uzbekistan, will be able to regain a crucial role in all further regional initiatives. Including those considered or had already been adopted within the framework of the conference on Afghanistan held in Tashkent," Adaham Ikramov summarized.

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