Ambassador Said Rustamov offers an insight into three decades of independence and development inspired by centuries of history
In 1402, King Henry IV despatched a letter to Samarkand in what is now Uzbekistan. It was addressed to the Amir of the Timurid Empire, Timur Gurkānī, the Central Asian conqueror known in the west as Tamerlane. The letter, archived at the British Library, accepts the Amir’s offer of free trade between England and Timur’s vast empire.
During his reign Timur was establishing ties across Europe, seeking friendly relations, alliances and expanding trade. Records of his extensive correspondence with leaders in France and Spain – at one stage appealing to Charles VI of France to send more traders to Asia – attest to the importance he placed on economic ties. He was a formidable general but also an enlightened ruler whose policies gave further rise to the Islamic Golden Age, multiculturalism and free trade.
Six centuries later, the descendants of Amir Timur in modern Uzbekistan continue to hold these values and aspirations as the basis for their nation’s development.
From the first days of Uzbekistan’s independence in 1991 the nation has set an ambitious goal: to become a developed, sustainable, democratic state with ample opportunities for individual self-realisation.
In a relatively short period, profound structural and institutional transformations were carried out that laid the foundations for a multi-structured economy and principles of secular, democratic governance. A predominantly agrarian economy has been transformed into the most diversified economy in Central Asia with an emphasis on industrial development and services.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s modernist reform programme, launched five years ago, has set a new milestone in the country’s development. New strategic priorities have been established in the fields of state construction, the rule of law and the judicial system, economic liberalisation, development of the social sphere and the pursuit of an open and constructive foreign policy.
National development strategies have been adopted on human rights, gender equality, schools and higher education, transitioning to a green and digital economy, innovative agriculture, environmental protection and education, as well as other fundamental guidelines.
Reforms in the field of public administration are unprecedented. The role of parliament and parties in expressing the interests of the population and monitoring the activities of the government has been strengthened. Institutions of civil society as well as the media have been actively developed. For the first time, Uzbekistan was elected to the UN Human Rights Council in 2020.
Priority has also been given to accelerated development of human potential – qualitative and inclusive education and healthcare, private and free entrepreneurship, gender equality and poverty eradication. In 2020, government spending on the social sphere increased 1.3 times and accounted for 51 per cent of the budget. The number of women in the national parliament has reached 32 per cent, and in entrepreneurship – 35 per cent. The preparation of a large-scale programme on poverty reduction has begun, and President Mirziyoyev has proposed a UN General Assembly session focusing on the issues of poverty eradication and to hold a global summit on the topic.
The country has opened its doors for foreign capital and advanced technologies, eradicating long-standing restrictions on currency conversion and repatriation of profits, as well as providing additional legal guarantees and benefits to investors.
Uzbekistan’s place in a number of international rankings, including the Index of Economic Freedom, the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, the OECD Country Risk Rankings and the World Open Data Rankings have improved considerably. Recently, the EU granted Uzbekistan ‘GSP +’ trade beneficiary status. The country is in the process of joining the WTO. Liberalisation and diversification of the economy has ensured Uzbekistan’s continued inflow of investments, as well as positive economic growth, even during the coronavirus crisis.
Largely thanks to the initiative of Uzbekistan, many long-standing problems in Central Asia have been resolved, borders have been opened, and stable trade, economic, transport and communication ties are being formed. Tashkent actively promotes peace, stability, confidence and good neighbourliness, and strives to develop relations on this basis with all countries and regions. This July Uzbekistan hosted a conference on regional connectivity, which, despite the pandemic, brought together heads of state, foreign ministers, officials and high-level experts from 44 countries and about 30 international organisations.
Retrospectively, Uzbekistan is celebrating its 30th anniversary of independence with a solid record of achievement. The country has secured the status of a significant regional power, and its comprehensive reforms, which enjoy public and international support, are a driver of further development.
In October, open and transparent presidential elections will be held in Uzbekistan. They will be monitored by international observers, including the OSCE/ODIHR mission. To a certain extent, the elections will also become a public referendum on the continuation of large-scale transformations.
The 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Uzbekistan and the UK will also be celebrated early next year. During the period, a solid base of multifaceted cooperation has been developed, including a close political dialogue.
A broad and mutually beneficial agenda prompted the parties to sign a bilateral partnership and cooperation agreement, the first for post-Brexit UK in Central Asia. The wide scope and versatility of bilateral cooperation areas was reflected in this document, which created a solid foundation for further development of the Uzbek-British partnership.
The desire to develop trade and economic ties, reflected in the correspondence between Amir Timur and King Henry IV, today is complemented by a number of other promising and actively developing areas – education, innovation, finance, fintech, green economy, climate change and culture.
Uzbekistan, which considers the UK to be one of its main foreign policy partners, is interested in further developing long-term and mutually beneficial cooperation, and jointly advancing goals and objectives that meet the interests of both sides.