On the eve of the 30th anniversary of its independence, Uzbekistan’s ambassador to India, has amplified on the strategic ties between Tashkent and New Delhi, which cover major connectivity projects such as access to the Indian Ocean by the Chabahar route, and the Ashgabat Agreement which connects India with Oman, Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan along a giant transport corridor.
In a free-wheeling interview to Aditi Bhaduri, Ambassador Akhatov discussed Uzbekistan’s strategic relationship with India and Tashkent’s Eurasian and international outreach which includes forging special ties with Central Asian neighbours to fostering a unique “Central Asian spirit.
Ambassador Dilshod Akhatov
Excerpts of interview:
Q: Excellency, it is very symbolic that we are speaking with you at the eve of very special day – 30th Anniversary of the Independence of Uzbekistan. Please tell us the main historical achievements of your country during its 30 years journey.
Answer: Thank you. Yes, you rightly mentioned that in a few days, we will celebrate very significant date - the 30th anniversary of the Independence of our Motherland.
Undoubtedly, during the years of independence, Uzbekistan has made historical efforts to build a new state and society, as well as high milestones have been reached thanks to a resolute will and enormous potential of our courageous people. In a historically short period of time, the Constitution was drafted and adopted. The foundations of modern statehood have been laid and the constitutional system of Uzbekistan has been established. Three independent branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial - were created. A truly constitutional state has been built.
The Armed Forces that are able to reliably protect the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the inviolability of our borders, the peaceful life of our people and our national interests have been organized. The national currency – the Uzbek Soum has been introduced. The Gold and Foreign Exchange Reserves were formed.
Our ancient history, rich cultural heritage, national and religious values and our identity have been restored.
It should be noted that along with achievements during the years of independence we also faced some mistakes and shortcomings. There were cases when our knowledge and experience, will and firmness have been sufficient and sometimes not sufficient to meet these challenges successfully.
Therefore, revival of our country’s development to a new, higher level, the implementation of the new reforms for this purpose have become an objective necessity, a major strategic task.
Under the dynamic leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev new initiatives and large-scale reform process were launched in Uzbekistan since end of 2016 in almost every sphere of national life.
All those reforms are enshrined in the Uzbekistan's Development Strategy for 2017-2021. Development strategy included large reforms and initiatives in following five priority areas:
– improving the system of state and public construction;
– ensuring the rule of law and further reforming the judicial system;
– economic development and liberalization;
– development of the social sphere;
– field of security, inter-ethnic harmony and religious tolerance, and implementation of balanced, mutually beneficial and constructive foreign policy.
Speaking about the true essence and idea of the Action Strategy adopted by the initiative of the President five years ago, it will be correct to say that this unique document has set strategic goal of building a New Uzbekistan and laying the foundations for the Third Renaissance.
Therefore, it would not be a mistake to say that the idea of “New Uzbekistan”, which has taken a deep place in the hearts of our people and today becomes a national movement, is based on the dreams and aspirations of our great ancestors, through whose efforts the first and then, the second era of Renaissance began in our national history.
Therefore, the words “New Uzbekistan” and “Third Renaissance” harmoniously resonate with our life and inspire our people to great goals.
Today, Uzbekistan is becoming a country of democratic transformations, big opportunities and practical deeds. I would like to once again note that, this process is the greatest result of reforms which were initiated by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
During his recent interview to one of the leading newspapers of Uzbekistan President noted that “the building a New Uzbekistan is not a whim, not a subjective phenomenon, but an objective necessity, which has its own fundamental historical foundations, due to the current political, legal, socio-economic, spiritual and educational situation, based on the centuries-long aspirations of our people and fully conforming to their national interests.
The New Uzbekistan is a state, developing in strict compliance with the universally recognized norms in the field of democracy, human rights and freedoms, on the basis of the principles of friendship and cooperation with the international community, the ultimate aim of which is to create a free, comfortable and prosperous life for our people”.
President also mentioned that “we are carrying out these democratic transformations not in order to please someone, not for someone’s praise, not to get into various ratings, but because the democratic processes are vital to us, we implement them for the benefit of our people, primarily, thinking about the present and the future of our young generation, for the sake of national interests”.
Q: India and Uzbekistan are strategic partners, especially for the last 3-4 years we are witnessing intensification of bilateral cooperation in all spheres. How would you analyse the current status and perspectives of Indo-Uzbek relations?
Answer: The strengthening of long-term strategic partnership with India is one of the priorities of Uzbekistan's foreign policy. During the past four years, Uzbek-Indian cooperation has reached new heights. The relations between the two sides are based on traditional friendship and solid historical foundation. Dynamic bilateral cooperation has been developing practically in all areas.
First of all, there are regular and intensive political dialogues and official contacts. The state visit by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to India in October 2018, which resulted in the signing of 20 documents on cooperation in various areas, opened a new page in our relations. The President's visit to India in January 2019 to participate in the "Vibrant Gujarat" global investment summit as a Chief guest confirmed Uzbekistan’s desire to intensify cooperation with India.
A virtual summit between President of Uzbekistan and Prime Minister of India was held in December 2020. In the framework of summit, a "Joint Statement on Close Friendship and Strong Partnership" was adopted and 9 documents on cooperation in different priority areas were signed.
Regular dialogue between the leaders of the two countries is added by active contacts at the level of governments, parliaments and ministries. The 12th session of the Intergovernmental Commission on trade-economic and scientific-technical cooperation and the 14th round of political consultations between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs were held successfully in 2020. Inter-parliamentary friendship groups in the Senate and the Legislative Chamber of Oliy Majlis (Parilament) of Uzbekistan created on cooperation with the chambers of Indian Parliament.
Active regional and international interaction between Tashkent and New Delhi has become an important part of political dialogue and practical cooperation.
Particularly, the Uzbek side supports India’s candidacy to obtain the status of a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In this context, it should be noted that the sides take a principled position in countering such threats and challenges as terrorism and extremism, drug trafficking and other transboundary crimes that directly impact on security, prosperity and sustainable development of the international community.
India-Central Asia Dialogue initiated by the leaders of the two countries in Samarkand in January 2019 at the level of foreign ministers was a major event. As part of the Dialogue, the India-Central Asia Business Council was established in New Delhi in February 2020, underscoring the practical orientation of interaction. The 2nd meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue and the 2nd meeting of the Business Council were held in October 2020 by videoconference.
The Uzbek side actively supported India joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which became an important part of bilateral political dialogue.
I would like to note that the current challenging situation in the world related with coronavirus pandemics made us and our relations even stronger and more effective.
Starting from March 2020 Uzbekistan and India cooperated very closely in evacuating their citizens stranded in the territories of both sides. Both Uzbekistan and India have provided friendly assistance to each other in challenging periods which consisted of very crucial and necessary pharmaceutical products and medical equipment.
Despite coronavirus pandemic bilateral relations between our countries are continuing to develop steadily. Different level contacts are taking place in the format of video conferences.
Cooperation in the sector of IT and education have an important place in our relations. In July, 2019 The Technological Park of Software Products and Information Technologies (IT-park) was created in Tashkent with the assistance of the Society of Software Technology Parks of India (STPI). In 2020 branches of the IT-park were opened in a number of cities of the republic (Andijan, Jizzakh, Gulistan, etc.). Active work in this direction continues. Branches of Indian universities Amity in Tashkent and Sharda in Andijan opened in 2018. Now several other Indian universities are working on establishing their campuses in other regions of Uzbekistan. In this regard, it is a pleasure for me to note that Sambhram Institute of Technology has established its branch recently in May this year in Jizzakh region.
Expansion of direct ties between cities and regions of the two countries, cultural and tourist exchange can contribute not only to the socio-economic development of the territories of Uzbekistan, but also strengthen the humanitarian basis of relations.
In general, the economically fast-growing India is set to become an important and stable partner of Uzbekistan in trade, investment, high tech and tourism. The consistent deepening of political dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation between Uzbekistan and India corresponds to long-term interests of the two countries and can make a significant contribution to the restoration of historical connectivity of the Central and South Asia regions.
Q: How strong are current India-Uzbekistan trade and economic ties and how can they be deepened?
Answer: As you know Uzbekistan and India have huge untapped potential in terms of further strengthening bilateral cooperation in the spheres of trade and investments.
During the last four years, we have witnessed a considerable intensification of trade and economic cooperation with India. The establishment of the Uzbek-Indian Center for Entrepreneurship Development in Tashkent in 2018, Uzbek-Indian Business Council together with the Confederation of Indian Industry - all this are aimed at ensuring intensive trade and investment exchange between business circles of both countries. The Uzbek-Indian Committee for the Coordination and Promotion of Practical Implementation of Bilateral Projects, formed in 2019, is expected to strengthen state support for cooperation.
In 2020 the trade turnover between Uzbekistan and India reached $442.6 million, exceeding the indicator in 2019 by $87 million despite the geographical distance between the two countries, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economies of both countries and the disruption of global supply chains. But it is still a small reflection of the trade potential between the two countries. Therefore, the leaders of Uzbekistan and India identified the task of increasing the level of bilateral trade to at least $1 billion within a couple of years.
It should be noted that during the last 3-4 years sides had tangible results in terms of the expansion of the investment partnership. The interest of Indian investors to Uzbekistan is growing. In particular, strong cooperation has been established in such areas as IT, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, hotel infrastructure management, production of automotive components, and the implementation of joint programmes in various areas of higher education. Currently, there are about 330 enterprises with the participation of Indian capital in Uzbekistan, including 210 enterprises with 100% Indian capital. Joint projects worth over $650 million are being realized.
Special attention should also be paid to the fact that the Indian side confirmed the approval of a credit line for $448 million for four development projects in Uzbekistan in road construction, wastewater treatment and information technology.
The government of Uzbekistan creates favorable conditions and welcomes investments by Indian companies in the production of chemical goods, medicines, textile, leather industries, information technologies and telecommunications. Special attention is given to the implementation of joint projects with Indian companies in Uzbekistan's free economic zones, including seven pharmacological FEZs.
Another positive dynamic of the development of Uzbekistan – Indian ties is the establishment of the direct cooperation practice between regions. In this context, the partnership relations between Andijan district of Uzbekistan and Gujarat state of India have shown its advantages. It is noteworthy that in a short period about 10 projects are already being implemented together with Indian companies in Andijan.
Now we are together with our Indian friends working on establishing a similar mechanism of cooperation between Fergana and Haryana.
So further development of the direct economic partnership between the regions of Uzbekistan and states of India can contribute to strengthening our economic ties.
Moreover, Uzbekistan and India are working on a very promising document for further development of investment partnership – the draft of bilateral investment agreement, which is defined to promote and protect investments.
Uzbekistan is interested in further deepening cooperation in the high-tech realm with India, which is one of the world leaders in IT technologies and occupies a dominant position in the global market of programming and IT outsourcing. Over the past years, our Indian friends have made a significant contribution to the growth of the IT field. A Joint Committee for Cooperation in the Field of Science and Technology was established in 2019. As I mentioned, since July 2019, Tashkent Technopark has been developing in cooperation with the STPI. All at once, the number of joint ventures in the IT field has tripled in only the last 3 years.
The development of cooperation in the transport and logistics sector is of great importance in promoting cooperation with India. A cardinal improvement of transport and other infrastructure connectivity of the two countries, as well as the Central and South Asian regions, is necessary for ensuring a significant increase in mutual trade and investment.
In this context, the government of Uzbekistan supported India's accession to the Ashgabat Agreement (on the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman transport corridor). Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries also support New Delhi's efforts to develop Iran's Chabahar port, which is set to become a key transit hub for India's trade with Afghanistan and other Central Asian states. In December 2020 Uzbekistan, India and Iran held the first meeting of a trilateral working group on joint use of Chabahar port.
There is considerable potential for cooperation in civil aviation and air cargo transportation. The Indian side proposes opening air corridors to Central Asian countries for transportation of fruits and vegetables, food and other agricultural products.
Q: As you mentioned very rightly, connectivity is one of the important factors in the interstate economic relations, as well as between Uzbekistan and India. Recently Uzbekistan hosted a very important high-level conference on connectivity. Can you inform us about some main outcomes of the Tashkent International Conference?
Answer: The participation of the two countries in promoting the connectivity of Central and South Asian regions can become an important component of regional interaction between the two countries and a key to enhancing bilateral and interregional trade and economic cooperation.
The recent high-level international conference "Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities", which was held in Tashkent on 15-16 July 2021 has shown huge opportunities for deepening the political dialogue, economic cooperation and people-to people contacts between the two countries as well as two regions.
The conference is attended by heads of states, ministers of foreign affairs and high representatives of Central and South Asia, other foreign countries, heads of international and regional organizations, global financial institutions and companies. In total, about 600 participants took part in the event, including delegations from 44 countries and about 30 international organizations, heads of foreign research and analytical centers. About 90 representatives of foreign media arrived in Tashkent to cover the event.
The main aim of the Conference was strengthening historically close and friendly ties, trust and good-neighborliness between the Central and South Asian countries in the interests of all peoples and countries of both regions.
In the inaugural session President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev addressed the conference. In his speech President outlined 10-point proposals aimed at opening the new opportunities for fuller accomplishment of trade-economic, cultural and civilizational potential of the countries of Central and South Asia. All those proposals and initiatives aroused interest not only in the states of these regions, but also in the world community. In particular, the issues of creating new transport corridors connecting Central Asia with the Indian Ocean were discussed. The conference has once again demonstrated the “Tashkent spirit” of cooperation.
During the plenary and breakout sessions, the participants discussed the possibilities of promoting initiatives aimed at developing trade, economic, transport, communication, cultural and humanitarian cooperation in the context of further deepening regional connectivity.
I would like to separately note that during the Conference we had the high-level delegation from India headed by External Affairs Minister Dr. S.Jaishankar. Minister Jaishankar with his speech opened the ministerial plenary session and co-chaired it together with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Kamilov. In the sidelines of the Conference Dr. Jaishankar was received by the President of Uzbekistan and had very fruitful meeting on the priority areas of bilateral relations.
As I mentioned the conference aroused great interest in Central and South Asia and abroad. Uzbekistan has managed to create a high-level international political and expert platform for discussing security issues, both on a regional and subregional scale, in the light of the current situation in Afghanistan.
The Forum provided an important platform for discussing the use of existing and future experience in strengthening security through cooperation in Central and South Asia, as well as ways to address existing and emerging problems and threats. It can become a productive start for a serious interregional geopolitical and geo-economic process with the participation of all interested parties.
It can be noted that by promoting socio-economic, energy, transport, and communication projects and strengthening trade ties, Uzbekistan seeks to establish transformative ties between Central and South Asia and the establishment of peace in Afghanistan - one of the most important priorities of Uzbekistan's foreign policy.
Secondly, the discussions at the conference made it possible to reveal and show the relevance of the initiative of regional connectivity between Central and South Asia in the context of modern world processes, the presence of common long-term interests of the two region's countries.
Expanding and promoting connectivity, trade and transit corridors between Central and South Asia represent an invaluable economic opportunity for two dynamic regions, as well as a path to the common prosperity of their peoples. The holding of this conference is an important step in strengthening comprehensive intraregional ties.
Thirdly, the forum participants carried out a comprehensive analysis of the strategic opportunities and prospects of interregional cooperation, the remaining obstacles to the further development of mutually beneficial interaction between the countries of Central and South Asia in the trade, economic, investment, transport and logistics, cultural and humanitarian spheres, as well as in the field of security.
I think that the conference in Tashkent will give another impetus to the development of new directions and forms of Indian-Uzbek cooperation and their comprehensive deepening.
Q: Under new open policies of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev what are the foreign policy directions of Uzbekistan, especially towards Central Asian countries? Also, how does Uzbekistan view the current situation in Afghanistan?
Answer: When we talk about Uzbekistan’s foreign policy towards the Central Asian region, our conversation will be incomplete without mentioning our immediate neighbor – Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is interested in the early establishment of peace and stability in this country.
Regarding the current situation in Afghanistan, I would like to say that our side is closely following the developments in the country. We support the statements of the intra-Afghan parties about their readiness to form an inclusive government.
We look forward to achieving a comprehensive peace in the framework of the inter-Afghan talks in Doha. We express the hope that the transit of power in the country will be carried out peacefully on the basis of a general consensus, taking into account the generally accepted norms of international law. We are confident that the development of the situation in this direction will lead to the achievement of national accord and create conditions for the formation of a strong and capable state.
Uzbekistan firmly declares its commitment to maintaining traditionally friendly and good-neighborly relations with Afghanistan and the principles of non-interference into the internal affairs of the neighboring country.
I would like to inform that our diplomatic missions in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif are working as usual.
The Uzbekistan maintains close contacts with representatives of the Taliban Movement on issues of ensuring border protection and maintaining calm in the border area.
The reforms, openness, transparency, renewal, and changes observed in the domestic policy of Uzbekistan in recent years are also evident in the country’s foreign policy. Uzbekistan, as an equal actor in international relations, pursues an active foreign policy at the regional and global levels by developing mutually beneficial relations with foreign partners.
One of Uzbekistan’s main foreign policy objectives is to create an atmosphere of peace, stability, and security around its territory. In this regard, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has identified the development and strengthening of friendly, good-neighbourly, and mutually beneficial relations with Central Asian states as a key foreign policy priority. For the last five years Uzbekistan continued its consistent, open, and pragmatic foreign policy activities, including with its neighbours in Central Asia.
In particular, to bring relations between Uzbekistan and the countries of the Central Asian region to a qualitatively new level, throughout 2020, state bodies for foreign policy and economic activities carried out 35 high-level visits and held various events at multiple levels. Moreover, Tashkent effectively implemented public diplomacy by conducting more than 90 different meetings, video conferences, roundtables, and other events with the participation of scientists and artists, cultural and religious figures, businesspeople and youth, tourism and sports organizations, public associations, and NGOs.
It should be noted that in recent years, as a result of the initiatives of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev that the leaders of neighboring countries fully supported, political dialogue and personal trust among the Presidents have been strengthened. Regular consultative meetings of Central Asian leaders have been established. The first and second ‘Consultative Meeting’ of the Heads of all the Central Asian Republics were held in 2018 and 2019 in Nur Sultan (Kazakhstan) and Tashkent (Uzbekistan). And third meeting of head of Central Asian states took place in Turkmenistan on August 6, 2021.
As a result of those joint efforts, the level of bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the region has notably improved. In particular, in 2017-2019, trade turnover with Central Asian countries increased by an average of more than 50 percent annually and amounted to $5.2 billion.
Such improvement in trade and economic relations among the Central Asia states has helped to increase the investment attractiveness of the entire region. In particular, during 2017-2020, more than 300 agreements and about $75 billion worth of contracts were signed between Uzbekistan and the countries of the region.
The problems accumulated over the years in our relations with neighboring countries have been resolved. The borders were opened. The broken bonds between the neighbors, brothers, relatives were restored. The people began traveling freely from one country to another. The visa issues have been resolved. The trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian ties are developing at an accelerated pace.
At this point, I would like to underline one fact: if five years ago, the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border was crossed by 200-300 people a day, before the pandemic this figure reached 30,000 a day, and 20,000 citizens a day crossed the Uzbek-Tajik border.
Our countries, since the ancient times linked by the ties of friendship and fraternity, have started to closely cooperate on the regional and global issues, the socio-economic development. The term «the Central Asian spirit» has appeared in the world political science.
The growing importance and role of Central Asia in the world community can be seen in the organization of various formats of multilateral cooperation between the region and external actors. Existing multilateral cooperation formats such as “Central Asia – United States”, “Central Asia – European Union”, “Central Asia – Republic of Korea”, “Central Asia – Japan” were enriched with the new ones such as “Central Asia – India”, “Central Asia – China” and “Central Asia – Russia”. Significantly, this indicates that the new environment created by the positive changes in the region has increased the attention of the world’s leading countries to Central Asia. It also indicates that foreign countries are focusing on developing not only bilateral cooperation but also a single regional, multilateral relationship.
It should be noted that the stability and solidarity of the Central Asian states, firstly, contributes to the well-being of the people, and secondly, increases the investment attractiveness of the region and creates opportunities for cooperation with foreign partners and investors. The new environment formed and further strengthened between Uzbekistan and the countries of the region will serve to achieve these goals and strengthen mutual political, trade, economic, cultural, and humanitarian cooperation.
Another aspect is that Uzbekistan today, with its far-sighted policy, has become an active participant in the political processes in our region and in the world. Our cooperation with the United Nations, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Islamic Cooperation Organization and other international and regional organizations has risen to a new level.
Uzbekistan became a member of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States, gained an observer status at the Eurasian Economic Union. For the first time in its history, Uzbekistan was elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council and has successfully participated at its 46th session held in Geneva on February 22, 2021, via videoconference.
Last year, Uzbekistan chaired the Commonwealth of Independent States for the first time and, despite the pandemic, all international events envisaged within the CIS were successfully held. About 70 important documents were adopted.
As it is well known, Uzbekistan will chair the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2021-2022. Thorough preparations are underway for this important high-level political event.
Q: Excellency can you brief us about upcoming important events in Uzbekistan as well as planned events of Indo-Uzbek relations?
Answer: 2021 and 2022 are very important for Uzbekistan and as well as for Uzbek-Indian relations.
As I mentioned in the beginning of our conversation, on 1st of September we will celebrate very significant date - the 30th anniversary of the Independence of Uzbekistan. Moreover, in March 2022, we also celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Uzbekistan and India. In framework of celebration of both significant dates large number of events are planned to take place throughout the year.
Another most important socio-political event in our country is Presidential elections which will take place on 24 October this year. Representatives of the election commission of India, academicians and journalists from India are expected to visit Uzbekistan as an International observer during the elections.
On 14-16 September 2021 in Khiva the International Forum "Central Asia at the Crossroads of World Civilizations" under the auspices of UNESCO will be organized. Academic institutions, experts, and scholars of Central Asian studies, scholars of Social and Human Sciences including Philosophy, Linguistics, History, Heritage, Arts, Anthropology and Ministers of Sciences, Education and Cultures of foreign countries are invited to the Conference.
I am very glad to inform you another important event, which is revived recently at the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev. It is the legendary Tashkent International Film Festival of Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is revived under the name “The Pearl of the Silk Road” Tashkent International Film Festival. The 13th edition of International Film Festival will be held from September 28 to October 3, 2021 in Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Kokand, Khiva in the format of the "Festival of Festivals".
The festival will consist of some key events such as "World Cinema Days", Youth Film Festival "New Generation of the Great Silk Road", "Pearls of Uzbek cinema classics", competition young movie makers "Movie in 5 Days", Inaugural ceremony of the Palace of Cinematography of Uzbekistan, presentation of the modernized studio "Uzbekfilm", master classes from legendary filmmakers from around the world and more.
In general, despite restrictions due to pandemic, we are very keen to conduct all the important bilateral events and programs which are planned in our agenda during 2021 and 2022.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to congratulate all of our compatriots and as well as our Indian friends with the 30th Anniversary of the Independence of Uzbekistan which will be celebrated soon on 1 September.
I also thank you for organizing this conversation today at the eve of National Day of our country.