Both West and the East

Guli Yul­da­sheva, ex­pert on in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and in par­tic­u­lar geopol­i­tics in Cen­tral Asia, au­thor of the book Geopo­lit­i­cal Pro­cesses in Mod­ern Cen­tral Asia: Iran and the United States, has named fa­vor­able fac­tors for en­hance­ment of Iran’s en­gage­men

Uzbekistan Today (English) - - VIEWPOINT -

- Lately, an­a­lysts have been ac­tively dis­cussing the forth­com­ing Uzbek­istan-Iran talks at the high­est level, with pre­cau­tions about the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East over a pos­si­ble rap­proche­ment be­tween the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran and the Repub­lic of Uzbek­istan. What do you think about that?

- First of all, I would like to stress that the com­mon his­tory, re­li­gion, lan­guage and cul­ture have al­ways in­flu­enced and will con­tinue to pos­i­tively ef­fect the de­vel­op­ment of Uzbek-Ira­nian re­la­tions. Re­gard­less of the course pur­sued by the gov­ern­ment, bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in fact are al­ready evolv­ing at the non­po­lit­i­cal level (shut­tle trade, small busi­ness, and so on).

The very fact of the close at­ten­tion be­ing paid by the ex­perts to the Uzbek- Ira­nian re­la­tions is also a de facto recog­ni­tion of the ob­jec­tive close­ness of Iran and Uzbek­istan.

Pro­ceed­ing from this, I think the ne­go­ti­a­tions will un­doubt­edly take place: there is a se­ri­ous in­ter­est in talks from both sides. How­ever, it is dif­fi­cult to iden­tify the time frames. It is ob­vi­ous that the am­bigu­ous sit­u­a­tion in­flu­ences the process of de­ci­sion-mak­ing in this is­sue, both in the Mid­dle East and around it, where Iran plays a huge role and the in­ter-state dis­agree­ments among lead­ing ac­tors with their spe­cial Ira­nian po­si­tion (USA, Saudi Ara­bia, Rus­sia, etc.).

It would be naive to say that Uzbek­istan, where more than 88% of the pop­u­la­tion is Mus­lim, will refuse to have in­vest­ment and tech­nol­ogy co­op­er­a­tion with the Mid­dle East re­gion. The his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural ap­peal played an im­por­tant role in the flow of mi­gra­tion from the land of Uzbek­istan to the neigh­bor­ing Mus­lim coun­tries, in­clud­ing in the Mid­dle East. Ev­ery year, hun­dreds of peo­ple from Cen­tral Asian na­tions join the ranks of rad­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Is­lamic State (IS). Ob­vi­ously, part of the pop­u­la­tion has nostal­gia for the “lost” Is­lamic past. The mood of an­other large part of the pop­u­la­tion is ex­pressed in the spread of Is­lamic way of cloth­ing, tra­di­tions and cus­toms. The gov­ern­ment of Uzbek­istan re­acts to these chal­lenges with the well-known pol­icy, namely, by the re­vival of Is­lamic her­itage and lo­cal cen­turies-old tra­di­tions, the con­struc­tion of mosques, Is­lamic higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, the or­ga­ni­za­tion of hajj, and so forth).

Even the com­mu­nity of prob­lems, if you think about it, fol­lows from the com­mon his­tory, cul­ture and men­tal­ity of the Ira­nian and Uzbek peo­ples. A sim­i­lar de­mo­graphic sit­u­a­tion with high birth rates, the preva­lence of youth in the pop­u­la­tion com­po­si­tion, a semi-colo­nial past, de­pen­dence on de­vel­oped coun­tries, and, in many re­spects, the cur­rent so­cioe­co­nomic prob­lems stem­ming from all this. In ad­di­tion, such his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence as the Soviet sys­tem in Uzbek­istan and An­glo-Amer­i­can dom­i­na­tion in Iran caused a sim­i­lar di­vi­sion of so­ci­eties into con­ser­va­tive and mod­ern­ized parts. The dif­fer­ence is only in the de­gree of mod­ern­iza­tion and tra­di­tion­al­ist ap­proach. On the other hand, state na­tion­al­ism in both coun­tries is by no means alien to Is­lamic ide­ol­ogy: lead­ers them­selves come from this tra­di­tional but mod­ern­iz­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Hence the prac­ti­cal ad­her­ence of both Iran and Uzbek­istan to the for­eign pol­icy slo­gan “Both West and the East”, re­liance on re­gional part­ner­ship with ac­tive co­op­er­a­tion with global part­ners and or­ga­ni­za­tions. To­gether, these fac­tors will stim­u­late bi­lat­eral part­ner­ship. The only ques­tion is how both states will be able to over­come the un­suc­cess­fully de­vel­op­ing bar­ri­ers to bi­lat­eral part­ner­ship.

- Will not dif­fer­ences in po­lit­i­cal regimes – the sec­u­lar gov­ern­ment in Uzbek­istan and the theo­cratic regime in Iran, ham­per co­op­er­a­tion?

- I do not think so. First, the en­tire Is­lamic world to­day, in spite of lo­cal cat­a­clysms and chaos, is gen­er­ally de­vel­op­ing in the di­rec­tion of sec­u­lar­ism, rather prag­matic and ra­tional in re­la­tions with sec­u­lar states. Suf­fice it to re­call the friendly re­la­tions of Saudi Ara­bia and Pak­istan with the sec­u­lar coun­tries of Cen­tral Asia. Iran is no ex­cep­tion; it is worth men­tion­ing also the eco­nomic mu­tu­ally ad­van­ta­geous re­la­tions of Western na­tions with Is­lamic states, in­clud­ing those be­tween the EU coun­tries and Iran.

Sec­ond, both so­ci­eties are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sim­i­lar mod­ern­iza­tion pro­cesses and, as noted above, the at­ten­dant split of so­ci­eties into west­ern­ized and con­ser­va­tive seg­ments. Fi­nally, and cru­cially, Iran, as time has showed, not only was not in­volved in the ac­tiv­i­ties of any rad­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, but is it­self an ac­tive fighter against the Is­lamic State.

In gen­eral, the Uzbek-Ira­nian re­la­tions are grad­u­ally be­gin­ning to emerge from the pre­vi­ous stag­nant state, which is purely prag­mat­i­cally as­so­ci­ated, first, with Uzbek­istan’s pol­icy of en­sur­ing re­gional good­neigh­bor­li­ness and the for­ma­tion of a zone of sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity around the Cen­tral Asian re­gion; sec­ond, the neu­tral­ity of Tashkent in the Iran-US con­fronta­tion; thirdly, the con­sol­i­da­tion of ties be­tween Iran and the lead­ing re­gional play­ers in Cen­tral Asia – Rus­sia, China, Turkey and In­dia.

- Ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, from a mil­i­tary-de­fense point of view Iran is quite a strong state and a re­li­able part­ner. Given the com­mon na­ture of global threats and chal­lenges, the main topic of pos­si­ble ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Iran and Uzbek­istan, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian an­a­lysts, could be the fight against ter­ror­ism. What do you think about this and, per­haps, the co­op­er­a­tion of Uzbek­istan and Iran in the mil­i­tary-po­lit­i­cal sphere?

- I agree with the fact that there are com­mon threats and chal­lenges in the Cen­tral and South Asian re­gion (CSA), so is their re­la­tion­ship with those in the Mid­dle East. How­ever, as you know, mil­i­tary ac­tion can­not ad­dress the prob­lems of the re­gion, take, for ex­am­ple, Syria and Afghanistan. Es­pe­cially in the con­text of in­ter­state con­flicts and dis­agree­ments. Sta­bil­ity can be achieved by eco­nomic means.

One of the main ar­eas of pos­si­ble ne­go­ti­a­tions with Iran may be the dis­cus­sion of the con­struc­tion and launch­ing of trans­port routes, in par­tic­u­lar, the cor­ri­dors Mazar-e Sharif – Heart, Uzbek­istan-Turk­menistanIran-Oman, China-Kaza­khstanUzbek­istan- Turk­menistan- Iran, Baku-Kars with the in­volve­ment of Iran and Uzbek­istan, and the lo­gis­tics hub Chaba­har with the po­ten­tial to im­ple­ment the NorthSouth pro­ject. Mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial trade along the tra­jec­tory of fu­ture routes can smooth out the ma­jor­ity of re­gional dis­agree­ments, in­clud­ing those be­tween the in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal forces of the par­ties in­volved. By the way, the United States, be­ing Iran’s main op­po­nent, does not ob­ject in fact to the re­al­iza­tion of cor­ri­dors Mazar-e Sharif – Herat and through the port of Chaba­har, pre­fer­ring also neu­tral­ity over other routes. There is an un­der­stand­ing that with­out the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Iran it is im­pos­si­ble to sta­bi­lize a huge re­gion of Cen­tral and South Asia, in­clud­ing Afghanistan.

At the same time, global threats and chal­lenges (in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism, drug traf­fick­ing, etc.) are not re­moved from the agenda. In this re­gard, along with trans­port is­sues, one can also ex­pect dis­cus­sion of the is­sues of mil­i­tary-po­lit­i­cal part­ner­ship in cer­tain ar­eas, in par­tic­u­lar, the pro­tec­tion of the eco­nomic fa­cil­i­ties un­der con­struc­tion and al­ready func­tion­ing. The ex­pe­ri­ence of Iran here can prove in­valu­able.

- Ear­lier, the in­ten­tion of the two coun­tries was an­nounced as to in­crease the trade turnover from $ 250 mil­lion to $ 1 bil­lion. Do you think that is pos­si­ble in the com­ing years and what role can the UzbekIra­nian Trade House opened in Tehran this April play?

- It is un­likely that in the com­ing years we could achieve such a level of turnover. Tehran it­self is in need of investments in its econ­omy. More re­cently, for ex­am­ple, Tehran needed $ 500 bil­lion in investments in the oil sec­tor alone and $ 1.5 bil­lion to ex­pand the net­work of rail­ways. The sit­u­a­tion has hardly changed dra­mat­i­cally given the cur­rent tight­en­ing of US sanc­tions regime.

Ac­cord­ing to the Trade De­vel­op­ment Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Iran, the vol­ume of bi­lat­eral turnover be­tween Iran and Uzbek­istan in 2017 was as lit­tle as $ 227 mil­lion. It is no ac­ci­dent that Tashkent poses a more real­is­tic task, namely, to in­crease trade with Iran to reach $ 500 mil­lion.

This said, the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Uzbek-Ira­nian Trade House can prove lim­ited. We need largescale sys­temic mea­sures to shift the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion from a dead end. First of all, it is es­sen­tial to achieve progress in three main ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion: in the trans­port sec­tor, in en­sur­ing ap­pro­pri­ate cus­toms and tran­sit regime, and in the bank­ing sec­tor. Only by achiev­ing suc­cess on these is­sues can we talk about deep­en­ing the process of in­volv­ing Iran in the econ­omy of Uzbek­istan.

• The suc­cess of talks be­tween the diplo­matic agen­cies of the EU and Iran over Ye­men, which could prove the start of a di­a­logue and deesca­la­tion be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia. Pak­istan’s will­ing­ness to me­di­ate be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia strength­ens the trend;

Mean­while, the Min­istry of For­eign Trade of Uzbek­istan is pre­par­ing a roadmap for co­op­er­a­tion with Iran in the field of tex­tile, con­struc­tion, oil in­dus­tries, hy­giene and health­care sec­tors, and pro­cess­ing of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts.

Thus, en­hance­ment of eco­nomic part­ner­ship be­tween Iran and Uzbek­istan is an achiev­able and real­is­tic task. How­ever, the pace and scope of in­ter­ac­tion will de­pend on the many vari­ables emer­gent in the course of this process.

• Re­al­iza­tion of the gov­ern­ment’s plans to cre­ate the in­fra­struc­ture of Is­lamic bank­ing and fi­nance in the coun­try. In ad­di­tion, pri­vate com­pa­nies and sovereign funds of the Per­sian Gulf coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to rough es­ti­mates, own a global in­vest­ment port­fo­lio of $ 4.5 tril­lion, which makes them the largest in­vestors in the world. • The will­ing­ness of the EU, Rus­sia, China, Turkey and In­dia to in­crease eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion with Iran in spite of US sanc­tions.

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