Exclusive Interview of the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan Mr. Saddik Safaev

On the eve of the visit to India the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan Mr. Saddik Safaev allowed to give an exclusive interview to Aloke Shekhar an Indian journalist working in Central Asian Countries.

“In Central Asia and Uzbekistan, gradual formation of Central Asian Common Market will be like a key for resolution of the main problems in the region," Safaev says with visible satisfaction." Before flying to India Mr. Saddik Safaev answered not only on India related questions but also with the relationship between the neighbor countries including Russian Federation , policy of Uzbekistan, regarding SCO, about foreign investors as well as on  terrorism and also about neighbor Afghanistan. Here is the short part of the exclusive interview:

Question: Your opinion about foreign policy of Uzbekistan and its priorities?

Answer: Let me start from the priorities of the foreign policy of Uzbekistan and I think that will be an answer for the first part of your question as well.

I think that to day foremost priority of our foreign policy is to secure peace and stability in the country for the national interest of Uzbekistan and to facilitate our international interest in regional and global contacts. We think that the priority of every foreign policy should match with hopes and goals of every nation and to take the challenges faced by the nation.

First of all we think that we should realize that today Central Asia and Uzbekistan are in the process of unfolding ,of opening up to the world community. We are still in the process of recreating our wings to the world and for us it is of utmost importance in this changing geopolitical environment to find the equable interests of different powers and to establish the coherent policy with all external forces acting in Central Asia. And I think that balancing between different forces having their own ambitions and aims in Central Asia is one of the most important priorities of our foreign policy. We all are today confronting the threat of international terrorism, organized crime, narco -trafficking and religious radicalism. It is not a problem of Uzbekistan alone. It is a global problem and I think that foreign policy is aimed to consolidate the efforts of international community to confront and combat these transnational threats. And I think that last development in the region mainly has the positive impact on the future development of Central Asia.

We think that peace process in Afghanistan transforming this country from the source of threat to Central Asia to the source of unique opportunities has of course historic significance. We think that normalization of situation in Afghanistan will create new chances to open up new links of Central Asia to the world market, namely Trans Afghan transport corridor and now many countries – India, Afghanistan, Iran , Uzbekistan are working together to build up this new bridge which will change tremendously not only geopolitical map of the world, but geo-economic as well. And I think that the facilitation of this project is one of most important aims of the Uzbek foreign policy.

Question: What your ministry are doing to promote and attract foreign investors in Uzbekistan?

Answer: First of all every Embassy of Uzbekistan has a task let say to present business opportunities in Uzbekistan, the potential of our country and legal environment created in this country for attracting foreign investment into Uzbekistan. We are trying to use every event in our Embassies to demonstrate the great opportunities of Uzbekistan. We are also working hard to make bridge between foreign business community and Uzbek economic team here to facilitate their cooperation. I think this is usual and normal way to do our part of the business. But I would like to emphasize once again and it is important that our foreign policy is oriented to contribute for implementing the big regional infra structural projects. For instance I mentioned already Trans Afghan transport corridor and the agreement signed 1.5 year in Tehran ago between three countries was in very order.

As you know now I am heading to India and one of the highest places in our agenda of bilateral talks will be cooperation in the field of transportation which will connect Central Asia with Indian ports .But this is one of the ways which were involved in.

TRACECA project which means to establish East- West transport corridor in EUROPE with Central Asia via Caucasus. The transport communication projects between the Shanghai group. We are trying to be pro active within the Shanghai group as well to build up the East ward transport route connecting Uzbekistan with main world markets.We realize that the main problem of Uzbekistan is that it is the only country in the world which is double land locked.Not only Uzbekistan itself does not have access to sea ports, but all its neighbors also do not have access to the sea ports.

And to overcome these obstacles is main priority for us and we are trying to establish new alternate trade routes for our country.

Question: May I know your comments on changing relations of Uzbekistan with its neighbors and also former Soviet Republics? Sometimes they are on rise and sometime they are falling down. Could you answer that what is the main reason behind this?

Answer: You know it is very natural. I think that newly independent countries after collapse of the USSR are in the process of defining their long term national interests and their long term foreign policy. Uzbekistan from the very beginning has demonstrated its unchangeable intention to build up democratic, secular state oriented to equal relationship with all countries.

We should build up our relations on mutual interests and equality. Among the other countries we can find nuances distinguishing them from each other in their orientation. We clearly tried to convince our neighbors in Central Asia that main priorities for all of us are Central Asian, regional issues and that is why Uzbekistan proposed to form the Organization of Central Asian cooperation and during last summit Uzbekistan initiated the idea of common Central Asian market.

Only together we can overcome the problems of the region. This is priority of our policy in Central Asia and we think that other Central Asian states will also concentrate in this direction. And the realization that we are all bound to be together will help to overcome the sense of rivalry and competition between the countries which still exist. And sometimes explains the different level of cordiality between the countries.

Question: That means Dushanbe summit (17-18 October,’04) was quite success?

Answer: Off course, the Dushanbe summit was a success. First of all two main factors determine the success of this summit. First of all – joining of Russia. It was very important turning point in the development of Central Asian Cooperation Organization. Russia with its tremendous resources – both intellectual, natural and its huge interest in Central Asia, historic, traditional presence in Central Asia might bring very important ingredients in successful development of cooperation in Central Asia.

Second-the fact that all countries supported the idea of Uzbekistan to form Common Market in the region will be important and significant step in raising our cooperation at new level. We think that the idea of Common Market is kind of integration which can not be limited to only economic dimension.

It covers regional trade, harmonization legal framework of cooperation, security and other problems related to water sharing. We think and sincere believe that gradual formation of Central Asian Common Market will be key for resolution of main problems in the region.

And one important element- we think that Afghanistan might be seen as an organic component of the process of integration in the region. And again it means that we don’t limit our vision to traditional Central Asian forum only. It is broader and it means to bring Central Asia closer to India as well.

Question: Anti terrorist Centre of SCO has started functioning in Tashkent and how did this affect international image of Uzbekistan. What is the action of plan of Uzbekistan for the future?

Answer: You know that Shanghai group has two main wings-guarding trans national threats- terrorism drug trafficking, religious extremism and ethnic separatism and second – promoting regional economic policy. In fact these are two cycles of the same corner.

There can not be economic prosperity and projects unless there is profound stability and regional stability will boom the economic development. We think it is logical. That is why Uzbekistan supported the creation of the regional Anti terrorist Center, welcomed and hosted its Executive Board here in Tashkent. It just launched its activity last year. It was inaugurated in the last June. It will be too premature to make some conclusions regarding its activity. Only 5-6 months passed. In this short time it has been equipped and skillful staff has been selected in this Executive Board representing all six countries. We are in the process of harmonizing our interests and creating multilateral mechanism of cooperation. SCO is confronting the threats I mentioned above. We think that SCO itself can not resolve all those issues. Obviously we should cooperate with other countries. Those threats have an international essence. And some countries or group of the countries can not fight against them efficiently .We should have broad international dialogue.

Question: Since you are going to visit India that is why my few question is related with India. My question: India is one of the largest cotton production & processing center. As a result high expertise is available. Are you going to meet industrialists related with cotton sector. Since, this is the priority sector identify by Uzbekistan.

Answer: Yes, we are going to have a meeting with the Confederation of Indian Industries a day after tomorrow and also I am going to attend presentation “Opportunities of Uzbekistan” in different spheres of economy. One of the first components of my presentation will be possibilities of our cooperation in cotton and textile. We are all aware about wonderful achievements of Indian industry, especially in textile. And I think that expertise of Indian specialists in processing cotton is very important for Uzbekistan which is as you know is one of the leading cotton producers in the world .And we know about interest of Indian business to do joint projects in the field of cotton in Uzbekistan. We welcome them and we are ready to facilitate such cooperation , because we see huge opportunities for our joint business here.

Question: What is the reason why Indian investors are less in Uzbekistan in comparison with other foreign investors?

Answer: I think that first of all this might be explained by the fact that were physically divided by Afghanistan and that there were no direct links between Uzbek and Indian economies. I think for Indian businessmen to come to Uzbekistan, to invest into economy of Uzbekistan, to export their products to Uzbekistan they had to cross many countries including not peaceful Afghanistan – this was the main obstacle. But situation has changed for better and now Tashkent can have direct linkage to Mumbai via Afghanistan.

Question: What is the view of Uzbekistan on possible membership in SCO by India?

Answer: We welcome the interest of India towards SCO. It is up to India and all countries together to find the optimal format of cooperation. I think that the future will show the most suitable and convenient form and format of such cooperation.

Question: After different phases of questions if you will allow  me I want to come on a question related with Terrorism. Terrorism is one of the topic to be discussed by the world leaders and journalists like to ask this question to hear something new. What could you tell in this regard?

Answer: Today we have phenomenon of new terrorism which has global minded view. And we see if we can use this word-amalgamation of regional terrorism to a new global terrorist network. They use same methods, same slogans, same explosive devices, even same technology for implementing terrorist attacks. What happened last year in Uzbekistan, I mean first of all suicide bomb attacks. This was unusual way for implementing terrorist attacks here. Even the targets of such attacks- US Embassy, Embassy of Israel, Prosecutor's General Office showed that they had international links. It would be simplistic to explain source of terrorism by one factor-say for example poverty only or lack of democracy or certain foreign policy orientation.

We see that today terrorists are targeting all kinds of the countries regardless of their status. They do not care are those countries with well developed democracy or just developing democracy, are those countries pro –western or anti – western, whether they are rich or poor.

Their aim is to seed or to plant fear and horror in the minds and hearts of the human beings there. We are confronting global phenomenon and we should realize that only together we might confront the global terrorism.

And another conclusion. We should not limit ourselves by acting against those who committed terrorist attacks. It would be aimless. It a time to address those who organize such attacks, who poison the minds of the people by their ideas of national, religious hatred.

It is time to think over about descendants who spread out and disseminate their extremist ideas. And the main message which we would like to bring to attention of our partners everywhere and in India is that India and Uzbekistan have wonderful experience in cultural and tolerant philosophy and in religious philosophy as well and enlighten Islam cultivated both in India and Uzbekistan. We might demonstrate and we might do a lot two countries both India and Uzbekistan to help Islam to fight against militant, radical Islam and to promote and enlighten tolerant Islam.

Question: After terrorism -Afghanistan. This is not secret that despite of all efforts being undertaken by the world community drug trafficking from Afghanistan via Central Asian Countries to the other countries is growing day-by-day. May I know the successes and failures of Uzbekistan as well as neighbor countries in their fight against drug trafficking?

Answer: It is an irony that as number of coalition forces in Afghanistan rising day by day volume of drug production in this country is also increasing. It might be explained by many things, but we should realize that world community, the international coalition will not achieve its main goals in Afghanistan- peace, stability and economic prosperity unless the drug production is suppressed and eliminated for ever. Because the main source of feeding terrorism is coming from drug trafficking.

That is why Uzbekistan says we should address the core of the problem, its roots. It means drug production in Afghanistan and we are ready to do our utmost to facilitate resolution of this problem. Second part of the problem – we should not only identify places of production of narcotics, but also fight more efficiently against consumption of drugs. Adequate measures are to be taken to cut the network of drug suppliers going to Europe. Uzbekistan has proposed to establish under the aegis of UN here regional anti drug informational center which will facilitate exchange of information ,will coordinate efforts of different countries in combating drug trafficking. Again and again – it is not an issue where one country alone might be successful ,we should act together in very well orchestrated manner.

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Author`s name Andrey Mikhailov