By Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
TASHKENT: Uzbekistan, ever since President Shaukat Shavkat Mirziyoyev has assumed charge of his office, is constantly on the move. The country is fast developing into hub of tourism activities. Besides, Uzbekistan leadership has sought to open up to the outer world with a view to inculcating deeper and stronger relations with various nations. Uzbekistan was once at the heart of the ancient Silk Road trade route connecting China with the Middle East and Rome. The country spent most of the past 200 years as part of the Russian Empire, and then of the Soviet Union, before emerging as an independent state when Soviet rule ended in 1991.
Under President Islam Karimov, who ruled from 1989 until his death in 2016, Uzbekistan was reliant on exports of cotton, gas and gold to maintain its economy. President Karimov’s successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has made efforts to follow legacy of Islam Karimov of building a prosperous and developed Uzbekistan. Islam Karimov, Uzbeks say, laid the foundation stone of a modern and enlightened Uzbekistan and President Shavkat is carrying forward that agenda successfully.
This culturally rich and historically compelling country, along with the rest of central Asia, has been named the No. 1 travel region for the New Year due to its easy access and new visa-free travel ability. The Economist highlighted the country as well, naming it the most improved nation in 2019 due to significant government reforms that have accelerated over the past year. All of that, plus its untouched history and remarkable food, are making Uzbekistan an increasingly popular destination.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev initiated ambitious reforms to transform the country into an attractive destination for travelers. Reforms include a 30-day period of visa-free travel privileges for visitors from 65 countries; and a simplified electronic visa system for citizens of 77 countries, including the United States, was just introduced, according to export.gov, which is managed by the US Commerce Department.
Uzbek people on December 22, 2019 voted in the parliamentary and local government elections under the theme New Uzbekistan- New Elections. Over 800 international observers were invited to Uzbekistan to observe the election process. From Pakistan 15 observers took part in this exercise and observed the election process in various parts of the country. The international observers were all praise for arrangements made for the elections.
The international observers and head of OSCE Zulueta said that since 2015, when she headed the OSCE observer mission in the presidential election, a lot has changed in Uzbekistan. The Electoral Code was adopted. OSCE observers monitored how code norms work in practice. She noted that in general, the elections in each country are different from each other, but the principle of elections is the same – citizens choose candidates. Her remarks are ostensibly a manifestation of trust and confidence of the international community in the electoral process of Uzbekistan. The observers noted with satisfaction that the opposition parties were provided with a level playing field thus making it possible for them to field candidates of their own choosing and contest election in free and fair maner.
The election event also provided us with an opportunity of talking to people of various nationalities living and doing business in Uzbekistan. We came across many Pakistanis successfully doing business in Uzbekistan while there is no dearth of businessmen who have already identified areas in which they would like to invest in the coming days.
Conducive business environment; investors’ friendly policies and flawless security situation are few factors that lead to inflow of foreign investments and businessmen. Uzbekistan ranks top among such countries. A Pakistani businessman Rashid running a restaurant in Tashkent told that he has been in this country for last 20 years and has never faced any problems.
He said all cities of Uzbekistan are safe with almost zero crime rate therefore businessmen prefer to do business here. He was also appreciative of the polices of the incumbent president saying Uzbekistan under Shavkat Mirziyoyev offers a plethora of trade and business avenues especially to the outsiders. Rashid further told that the police system of Tashkent in particular and Uzbekistan in general is one of the best. People trust police and police try its best to live up to expectations of people. Rashad told no one would dare to cast a glance at a lady packed with gold walking alone even at midnight. That is how the country has won confidence of the foreigners when it comes to security and friendly business environment.
Another hallmark of Uzbek society is their hospitality and affection especially for the outsiders. For Pakistani people they have a unique love which is difficult to narrate in words. Just tell them that you are from Pakistan and then start experiencing their great hospitality.
Here recognition of role of Uzbek embassy in Islamabad spearheaded by Ambassador Furqat Sidikov also needs to be highlighted because it all has happened with their active support. During past few years both countries have come close to each other. The ambassador and his staff took keen interest in taking bilateral relations to new heights. Opening of direct air link between Pakistan and Uzbekistan ostensibly contributed towards further deepening of this relationship.
Full text of the article will be published in the coming issue of CENTRELIE magazine.