On the 22nd Anniversary of the Independence of Uzbekistan, Ambassador Otabek Akbarov outlines how his country has developed into a modern, mature and self-sufficient nation with a stable political system, dynamic economy and secular society
Inspired by its unique historical heritage and proud of its spectacular achievements, on 1 September 2013 Uzbekistan celebrated the 22nd Anniversary of its Independence.
Under the leadership of President Islam Karimov, our country has successfully completed a ‘transitional period’, proving it to be a modern, mature and self-sufficient nation with a stable political system, dynamically developing economy and secular society. Despite our difficult Soviet legacy, we succeeded in implementing our own ‘Uzbek Model of Development’ based on the principles of deideologisation of the economy and its priority over politics, ensuring the role of the state as the main reformer, the rule of the law, strong social policy and the gradualness of reforms.
Despite the grave situation regarding the global economy in recent years, Uzbekistan has continued to advance its economy, and was able to secure steadfast growth in the population’s living standards, and reinforce its standing in the world market. In 2012, Uzbekistan’s GDP grew by 8.2 per cent, the volume of manufactured goods increased by 7.7 per cent, and agricultural production expanded by 7 per cent, while retail turnover grew by 13.9 per cent. Macroeconomic stability and economic steadiness have been ensured.
Last year, the volume of exports grew substantially to reach 11.6 per cent, and the structure and quality of exported goods has been improving, resulting in an increased share of non-raw ready goods, now at more than 70 per cent. The surplus external trade balance exceeded US$1.12 billion. Inflation rates were kept within projected levels and did not rise above 7 per cent.
Uzbekistan is committed to further development on the basis of the President’s Concept (November 2010), which prioritised the democratisation of state power, reforming the legal system, developing electoral legislation, ensuring freedom of speech, strengthening civil society institutions, deepening market reforms and liberalising the economy.
In the meantime, the country faces a number of challenges which can put the security, well-being and future of our people at risk. Particular danger comes from the conflict in Afghanistan, which has been taking place for over 30 years. Our position is open and clear: there is no military solution; peace and long-term stability can only be reached by political agreement among all confronting sides, establishing a provisional government, the organisation of elections and tackling complicated social problems. We are concerned that International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops are launching their withdrawal, which may intensify the current complicated situation in this country and cause new confrontations. This situation may also inspire anxiety and swelling problems in neighbouring countries.
Another serious concern involves the use of water resources
of trans-boundary rivers in Central Asia. Territories found in the Amudarya and Syrdarya river basins have been supplied by their waters since ancient times, and shape a hydrological system that affects the interests of over 50 million people. In this regard, Uzbekistan believes that upstream countries (Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) should pay attention to the concerns of downstream countries (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) before launching any large-scale projects using water from these rivers. In particular, issues surrounding the construction of the Rogun Hydro Power Station in Tajikistan and Kambarata-1 Hydro Power Station in Kyrgyzstan should be considered in accordance with special UN Conventions. We call for an international, independent examination of these projects, especially on the damage they could inflict on the region’s ecological balance, their effect on the change in volume and regime of the watercourse, their degree of protection from technogeneous menaces, especially the threat posed by powerful earthquakes. The importance of such an examination is shared by the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Union, the Asian Development Bank and other international institutions.
The environmental situation in Uzbekistan is also affected by industrial emissions from the Tajik Aluminium Plant (TALCO). Constructed in 1975, this plant annually emits about 23,000 tonnes of pollutants, including more than 200 tonnes of hydrogen fluoride, a large proportion of which is carried in the air towards the Surkhandarya province of Uzbekistan, where over 1,100,000 people reside. As a result, the region faces a number of negative consequences such as contamination of soil and water resources, reduced crop yields and livestock productivity and, most importantly, serious impact on health and the gene pool of the population. Rapid measures should be taken to stop these polluting emissions from TALCO.
In recent years, Uzbekistan has proved its reputation as a reliable and responsible partner. We are open for further dialogue and cooperation with foreign countries and international organisations on the basis of mutual respect and interests. We are glad to have a new quality and dynamic in our relationship with the UK, particularly reflected in the intensification and increasing levels of intergovernmental contacts.
Based on agreements reached during the visit by UK Senior Minister of State to Uzbekistan, Baroness Warsi, in June 2013, we are looking forward to further senior ministerial visits. We appreciate endeavours on an inter-parliamentary level inspired and advanced by Senator Sodiq Safaev and Lord JD Waverley, chairmen of respective groups in the Uzbek and British parliaments. There is also mutual engagement in the area of defence on Afghanistan and other related issues.
A further increase of economic cooperation is anticipated in view of the 20th jubilee meeting of theUzbek-British Trade and Industry Council planned for November in London, under joint chairmanship of Uzbekistan’s Minister of Foreign Economic Relations, Investments and Trade, Elyor Ganiev, and Rt Hon Peter Lilley MP. Inspired by business success stories such as of Rio Tinto, British-American Tobacco, Worley Parsons and Tethys Petroleum, the number of British and international companies interested in investing in Uzbekistan is growing.
We are proud of our collaboration with the British-Uzbek Society and appreciate the leading roles played by its President Lord Fred Ponsonby, Chairman Hartley Booth OBE and Vice-Chair Dr Shirin Akiner.
Education remains one of the most prosperous avenues of Uzbek-UK bilateral exchange, based on fruitful and ongoing cooperation with the British Council and the Universities of Cambridge, Westminster, East Anglia, London Metropolitan amongst others. Priorities here include implementing the President’s decree on measures to further improve foreign language (especially English) learning systems, as well as establishing the Centre of High Technologies in Tashkent, developed with Professor Siddharth Saxena and other partners from Cambridge.
Following the spirit of the London Olympics 2012, we are also developing sports exchanges. For example, Bournemouth was chosen as the host city of the VII World Junior and Cadet Kurash (Uzbek wrestling) Championship in October last year, and will host the X International Kurash Tournament this autumn.
Along with the UK, I am accredited to Norway and Ireland too. I am also enthusiastic about prospects for closer dialogue and interaction with these important countries in political, economic and cultural fields.