Sherzod Faiziev, Head of Department, International Institute for Central Asia
«A deeper interconnection with our neighbors is already underway, and the continuation of this course will make Uzbekistan stronger and the Central Asian Region more stable and sustainable», Sherzod Faiziev, the Head of the Department of the International Institute of Central Asia (IICA), has concluded.
The Presidential address to Parliament in December 2022 was one of the main political events of last year, which identified both the main tasks and main directions of work in all branches of power for 2023, and the key priorities for further reforms and modernization of Uzbekistan in upcoming period.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s speech focused on the building New Uzbekistan, in which the highest value must be the individual, his honor and dignity, rights and freedoms, where free, prosperous and peaceful life of the multi-ethnic people is ensured.
The priorities outlined by the President are ambitious. Despite the great progress that has been made over the past six years, the tasks he has set are possible only with the active participation of society, our citizens and, of course, with the hard and effective work of all branches and levels of government, whose potential requires further development.
As part of a practical implementation of the set goals, it was noted that the country needed to adopt a new model of political system, which would create conditions for achieving the specified objectives. In this context, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev identified the improvement of the Basic Law, which should be in line with the modern development of society, as one of his priorities: «In order to take the country’s development to a new stage, we must change both the system of governance and legislation, as well as our society. If we do not do this, if we continue to ignore the obvious problems, we will fall behind in life and progress. We need to develop a modern Constitution, saturated with the goal of ensuring human interests, respect for his honor and dignity as the highest value, such the Basic Law, which will fully meet the objectives of building New Uzbekistan, and benefit future generations».
Undoubtedly, the constitutional reforms aimed at improving the work of the government itself are necessary to implement the adopted New Development Strategy of Uzbekistan for 2022-2026 and to build a fair state that truly respects the people. As a priority in this case, the harmonization of Constitution with modern realities of society was considered.
As part of a broad discussion and popular debate related to the improvement of the Basic Law, a total of more than 220 thousand proposals for its alteration were received. The amendments made to the draft document, in fact, included all the necessary and missing parts for a complete reformatting of the Constitution, which must meet the new realities and be tailored to the new tasks.
Along with a considerable number of amendments (more than 65% of the Constitution), which are designed to complement and concretize the rights and freedoms of citizens, balance the system of power and authority, and improve conditions for the full development of citizens and society as a whole, qualitative changes were also made to Chapter IV, which formulates the principles and approaches of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy.
A new edition of the Constitution included a thesis that « The Republic of Uzbekistan shall pursue a peaceful foreign policy aimed at the comprehensive development of bilateral and multilateral relations with states and international organizations» (Article 18).
The integration of this important and, at the same time, fundamental address into the Basic Law is not accidental and largely reflects the current state of the world, characterized by the rapid growth of distrust between the leading states, the militarization of international politics and open demonstration of power in building relations.
It is appropriate to quote President Shavkat Mirziyoyev from his address at the Samarkand SCO Summit last year. The President noted that humanity is in a “period of historical rupture, when one era ends and another, even more unpredictable and unknown, begins.”
In this challenging environment, the role of regional communities with strong economic and humanitarian ties and, at the same time, forward-looking plans and projects to further strengthen interconnectedness is vital.
In this context, the region of Central Asia deserves a particular attention, which in recent years, thanks to the efforts of all five countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – has been rapidly changing, gaining stability, unity and international identity.
Indeed, the key factor that has served as a trigger for increasing the cooperation in Central Asia in recent years has been Uxbekistan’s new foreign policy course, which formed after the election of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2016.
In the first address to Parliament, the President of Uzbekistan specified the hierarchy of priorities, placing the consolidation of relations with the Central Asian states at the top of the list. Further development of this approach came in the adopted Action Strategy of Uzbekistan for 2017-2021.
The document indicated Uzbekistan’s intention to pursue an open and constructive policy toward its closest neighbors, resolve regional issues and problems based on equal rights, mutual interests and reasonable compromises, as well as to create a belt of friendship and prosperity, security and stability around Uzbekistan as a countries located at the heart of the region.
The transformations in Tashkent’s foreign policy course have created conditions for the formation of a healthy political climate in the Central Asian region, and led to both consistent as well as fundamental improvements both in inter-state relations and multilateral formats of interaction.
The implementation of the new policy built on the principles of mutual trust and good neighborliness has facilitated the progress on many long-standing issues. This has made it possible to resolve most of the problems that for many years have been a source of conflict, as well as hindered projects and initiatives necessary for the development of the countries of the region.
Over the last six years, the conditions for gradual completion of the legal registration of Uzbekistan’s state borders with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been provided. The checkpoints for citizens at Uzbek-Tajik and Uzbek-Kyrgyz borders have been reopened. The visas with Tajikistan have been abolished. The transport communications by rail, air and land, which were interrupted in the mid-1990s, have been relaunched. The corridors for the export of goods have been opened.
In addition, the investment cooperation has intensified, and the implementation of significant cooperation projects in trade, industry, energy, transport, agriculture, and other sectors of the economy has launched. As for trade, it has grown by over 2,5 times. The number of joint ventures has increased by over five times – from 312 up to 1600.
All this has created conditions for transformation of the region into a single trade-investment and transport-communication platform. Industrial cooperation projects are being implemented in various sectors of the economy, ranging from automobiles to agriculture. The contacts between regions of the states are expanding, cultural and humanitarian ties are deepening.
Today, a stable Central Asia is already becoming one of the important centers of investment activities and economic growth. In the last five years, according to a number of experts, the aggregate GDP of the countries of the region has grown by 20% and exceeded $340 billion.
In terms of Uzbekistan alone, the trade turnover with the countries of the region has increased to $7,4 billion. The same cooperation dynamics is being seen in the neighboring countries.
The outcome of general changes in Central Asia have been a consistent development of coordinated positions by the states on intraregional issues and the close coordination at international platforms such as the UN, CIS, SCO, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Economic Cooperation Organization and others.
As a result of this transformation, in recent years, the countries of the region have also developed a common approach to building relations with the leading states and centers of power such as the European Union, India, China, Russia, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) through the “Central Asia plus” dialogue format.
The role of Uzbekistan in these processes is undoubtedly of primary significance and beyond questions, as numerous assessments by foreign experts and specialists confirm.
Enshrining in the Constitution of Uzbekistan the thesis on a peaceful foreign policy shall be considered as a fundamental change, which demonstrates not only the greater responsibility and maturity of the state, but also an understanding of the prospects for developing the cooperation with its neighbors in the region, with which the country is bound by a common history, common values, culture and religion.
Indeed, Uzbekistan needs to continue systemic and fundamental changes both within the state and in Central Asia. This is a daunting task that does not simply end with the adoption of Constitutional amendments, but rather begins with them.
Competently set goals and their equal consistent implementation are becoming an important factor in the sustainable development of the entire region. The deepening of connectivity with our neighbors has already been taking place and the continuation of this vector shall make Uzbekistan stronger and the region of Central Asia more stable and sustainable.