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Role of Uzbekistan in Promoting Regional Connectivity

Role of Uzbekistan in Promoting Regional Connectivity
September 24
03:43 2020

Dr. Pravesh Kumar Gupta
Research associate
Vivekananda International Foundation

Introduction

Since 2017, Uzbekistan is undergoing a steep transformation under the vibrant leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The opening up of the economy, development of the social and educational sector, increased investments, and a growing industrial and agricultural sector are few changes to be noted. The new Uzbek President has also proved himself as the one of the proficient and competent regional leader. Since assuming power, he garnered greater ambitions of getting all the Central Asian leaders on a single platform to discuss the issues of bilateral and regional importance.

On 23 September, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev had virtually addressed the high-level General Debate of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly. In his address to the session, he presented his vision on the pressing issues of regional and global importance. He also outlined the priorities of the political, social, and economic modernization of Uzbekistan. In his speech, Uzbek President put forward a range of important initiatives designed to bolster peace and stability, secure sustainable development, and enhance constructive dialogue in the region and globally.

Also, promoting human rights and freedoms and addressing contemporary challenges and threats, including climate change, food security, poverty reduction, was on the agenda of his address. Uzbekistan’s role in helping other Central Asian nations in their fight against Coronavirus has been commendable.  President Mirziyoyev proposed to develop under the United Nations (UN) auspices an ‘International Code of Voluntary Commitments of States during pandemics.’

Uzbekistan President has consistently stressed on the formation of an extensive transport and communication system in Central Asia which will fully cater to the transport and transit potential of the region and will also have a multiplier effect on the sustainable development of the Central Asian region.

In this regard, he put forward the initiative to create a ‘Regional Center for the Development of Transport and Communication ‘ under the auspices of the UN, which has acquired a special significance.

The establishment and operation of this center will contribute to providing solutions for effective and mutually beneficial use of international transport corridors and intensification of joint efforts to develop existing and form new transport corridors. Simplifying cross-border transport procedures and increasing the competitiveness of the Central Asian states in the world market of transport services would also be a focus of the proposed center.

Regional Cooperation

President Mirziyoyev’s efforts to intensify regional integration in Central Asia have become a success. First ‘Consultative Meeting’ of the Heads of all the Central Asian Republics held in Nur-Sultan, the capital city of Kazakhstan, on 15 March 2018. The Second ‘Consultative Meeting’ was held on 29 November 2019 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In these meetings, a wide range of topics related to regional development were discussed, and subsequently, a variety of suggestions came out with the line of the discussions. Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has initiated this policy of bringing Central Asian Republics closer in their security, economic and political affairs so that intra-regional issues would not become an obstacle in the regional development process. 

Regional Connectivity

Central Asia is geo-strategically located between the East and the west, Middle East, and South Asia, which place it at the center of facilitating the shortest routes connecting large international markets. Being a doubly landlocked nation, Uzbekistan attaches great importance to regional cooperation in the transport and communication sphere. Thanks to the efforts of the Uzbek President, a favourable regional environment in Central Asia has added to the development of regional connectivity initiatives.

With the joint efforts of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the Turkmenabad-Farab railway and road bridges have been built. It provides the countries of Central Asia with the shortest access to the markets of the Near and Middle East.

Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have launched bus routes and high-speed rail links. Also, new railway communications have been launched with Kyrgyzstan. Traffic has been opened along the Tashkent – Andijan – Osh – Irkeshtam – Kashgar road corridor, which for the first time, allowed road carriers directly from Central Asia to China.

Uzbekistan has also built the Hairaton-Mazar-i-Sharif railway in Afghanistan, which is operating successfully. An agreement was reached to extend this railway line to the Afghan city of Herat. This will ensure access to the Iranian and Indian railways through the port of Chahbahar within the framework of the North-South project.

Uzbekistan’s initiatives have been well received and supported by the countries of the region. For example, the authorities of Turkmenistan have proposed to create a modern transport and transit infrastructure in the region, which will include the shortest and most profitable section of transport, logistics, and energy flows along the East-West, Asia-Europe lines. Kazakhstan also supports this proposal. Kyrgyzstan’s proposal to develop a system of transport corridors, ensuring the access of the Central Asian countries to foreign markets, is also a vital initiative for regional development.

Also, cooperation within the SCO in the field of transport and connectivity is intensifying. To create new and to improve the existing transport and logistics, infrastructures are required for the common interests of the SCO member states. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in his speeches at SCO meetings, has put forward several initiatives aimed at the consolidation of efforts of the SCO participants in the transport sector.

Connectivity: A Factor between India and Uzbekistan

India has invested in Chabahar Port in Iran, which will serve as a gateway to Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Eurasia. Uzbekistan is also a stakeholder in improving connectivity with Iran. In this area, Uzbekistan and India are playing corresponding roles. Uzbekistan played an active role in making India a part of the Ashgabat Agreement, establishing an international transport and transit corridor to which India was admitted in 2018. The corridor is expected to smooth the transportation of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. India expects it to function as a gateway to Central Asia in addition to Chabahar Port.

In return, India involved Uzbekistan in the Chabahar project, which is crucial in granting Uzbekistan access to a deep-water port. Like Uzbekistan, India is also a significant stakeholder in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has invited to join the rail link of approximately 650 km, connecting the Afghan cities of Mazaar-e-Sharif and Herat, which may later be extended to Kabul.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Iran has launched a pilot project for the Iran-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan road transit corridor. The effective use of the transit potential of this highway can become an essential structural link of the North-South international transport corridor. India and Uzbekistan’s partnership in this regard are also crucial.

Conclusion

Uzbekistan’s role in enhancing regional integration and connectivity in Central Asia is praiseworthy. President Mirziyoyev’s address to the 75Th Session of the UNGA has prominently highlighted the course and actions of Uzbekistan’s initiatives. It is anticipated, that with this pace, Uzbekistan will represent Central Asia as a region of growth and development to the world community.

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