(MENAFN- Trend News Agency) BAKU, Azerbaijan, Aug. 30
By Ilkin Seyfaddini - Trend:
It is often said that the past can be an excellent predictor of the future, and here in Uzbekistan, the recent past, with extraordinary reforms and advances across the broad spectrum of government and society, predicts positive development and a better future for the people of Uzbekistan, OSCE Project Co-Ordinator in Uzbekistan, Ambassador John MacGregor told Trend in an interview.
"What I have observed since late 2016 were the major reforms and improvements in the Justice sector, Rule of Law, Human Rights, economic issues, environmental concerns, and overall comprehensive security, which have contributed to positive trends apparent in today's Uzbekistan. The fundamentals of a State with 34 million well educated and motivated people, with good leadership, improving governance, and an increasing practice of international cooperation bodes well for the future," said MacGregor.
He admitted that the current COVID-19 pandemic has slowed development in Uzbekistan and caused setbacks around the world, but, as MacGregor said, he still sees an overall positive tendency for the future in Uzbekistan.
Taking into account the progress of Uzbekistan, MacGregor stressed that in 2016, Uzbekistan was the second-most difficult country to visit in the OSCE, in terms of ease of getting visas and other entry documentation, however by January 2020, Uzbekistan had become the second-easiest country to visit, in terms of visa-free access and simple visa upon arrival.
According to him, that, of course, has had a direct and immediate positive impact on tourism, but it has also been an important positive signal for foreign investors.
Since late 2016, the economic and political development of Uzbekistan has been tied to the Governments' National Action Strategy for 2017-2020, a major document setting OSCE reform priorities across Government and society that are aligned closely with OSCE commitments.
"I find that it's helpful to try and put a bit of historic perspective on what has been achieved. All of us who have been resident in Uzbekistan over these past four years need to think back to the conditions and situation in late 2016 and recall just how much progress has been made in all aspects of our lives. Certainly, the economic indicators have moved in a very positive direction," stated OSCE Project Co-Ordinator.
He stressed the fact that the World Bank recently predicted that of all OSCE participating States, only Uzbekistan is expected to experience an increase in GDP for 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
MacGregor believes that this resiliency is an extraordinary testament to just how much progress has been made on all the factors that contribute to sustainable economic development.
"Foreign direct investors look at many factors when looking for safe places to invest, particularly including Rule of Law and the Justice sector along with freedom of expression. Much progress has been made in those areas too. There has been increased contribution of women and youth to the economy, to government, and society as a whole," he said.
MacGregor gave an example that 36 percent of parliamentarians most recently elected to Uzbekistan's Parliament (Oliy Majlis) are women, much higher than the worldwide average; and six percent are youth, about three times the worldwide average.
Moreover, according to him the recent Samarkand Human Rights Webforum that promoted the President's initiative for a UN Convention on Youth Rights is an excellent example of Uzbekistan's increasing worldwide leadership and the 'virtual cabinet' mechanism for online submissions of concerns and complaints and the peoples' reception centers are additional examples of Uzbekistan initiatives that are examples of good practices worldwide.
"Of course, there are still many areas of the OSCE commitment-related National Action Strategy for 2017-2021 that still need additional attention and the reforms are continuing. But, in historical context, what has been achieved in the past four years in quite singular among OSCE participating States, and the staff of the Project Coordinator in Uzbekistan have been proud to be able to contribute to joint projects that advance the Action Strategy reforms," he said.
MacGregor stressed that the OSCE-Uzbekistan relationship has improved to historically high levels in the past few years
As he said, relationship has improved helped by high level visits to Tashkent and Samarkand especially in 2019, including the highest level Chairperson-in-Office and other top officials such as the Secretary General, and 20 OSCE Ambassadors who were permanent representatives of their States to the OSCE in Vienna.
"At the same time, senior Uzbekistan Government officials have fully represented Uzbekistan at OSCE bodies, including at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Ministerial Council, and Permanent Council. It is noteworthy that Deputy Foreign Minister Sherzod Asadov had received the highly prestigious appointment as Chairman of the OSCE's Economic and Environmental Committee during his final year as Ambassador to Austria and Permanent Representative to the OSCE in Vienna," said MacGregor.
He stressed that the excellent relationship has allowed for excellent co-operation and collaboration on joint Uzbekistan-OSCE projects across many areas of government and society.
"Just to mention a few, those have included Justice reform, combating corruption, dealing with transnational threats such as illicit drugs, cyber threats, terrorism, and trafficking in persons, developing a new Electoral Code, promoting Young Women in Tech, support to improving digitalization of the economy and improving open data ecosystems," said MacGregor.
According to him, a common theme of the projects is that they are consistent with national priorities and with OSCE commitments and they are all benefit the people of Uzbekistan.
"Finally, it is important to note that, in Uzbekistan, the OSCE projects are carried out by a dedicated team of 35 national staff, many of whom have more than 15 years of experience with the OSCE. In fact, the OSCE Project Coordinator in Uzbekistan has the smallest number of international staff, only four, of any OSCE field operation," he said.
MacGregor also emphasized the important role of Uzbekistan in terms of helping Afghanistan in a number of directions.
"The development of good neighborly relations by Uzbekistan has included Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has undertaken a number of initiatives to further the goal of peace in Afghanistan, by hosting or otherwise creating opportunities for dialogue," said ambassador MacGregor.
In terms of direct support, Uzbekistan has established an educational center for Afghan students in Termez, on the north side of the Amudarya River, and close to the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. This center provides courses in agriculture, applied sciences, and mining for Afghan students, particularly women.
"Moreover Uzbekistan provides resources such as electrical power to Afghanistan and is currently contributing to the upgrading the power transmission lines serving Kabul. Uzbekistan is also upgrading the railway connecting Uzbekistan with Mazar-i-Sharif and is part of a consortium seeking to build a railway from Mazar-i-Sharif westward to connect with the current railhead at Herat, thus providing a new link from Central Asia to Iran and westward through Azerbaijan to Europe," said MacGregor.
He also noted that contributing to the economic development of Afghanistan helps to increase security and stability, thus Uzbekistan is showing a very practical way of helping resolve the underlying reasons for conflict.
John MacGregor believes that this, in turn, can contribute to lowering the security concerns and transnational threats across Central Asia
He also touched upon the Aral Sea problem and measures taken by Uzbekistan to solve it.
"Particularly since 2017, the foreign policy of Uzbekistan has included the development of good neighbourly relations, and that includes bringing stakeholders together to attract attention to the grim reality of the Aral problem. Recognizing the need for international cooperation to try to mitigate one of the worst man-made global environmental catastrophes of all time, the Government of Uzbekistan and the United Nations jointly established The Multi-Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea region in Uzbekistan (MPHSTF), which has commenced work under the aegis of the UN Development Program," stated MacGregor.
"In terms of work on the ground that will most immediately benefit the residents of the area, Uzbekistan has instituted a plan to plant Saxaul trees across the entire former bed of the Aral sea," he said.
The Saxaul trees were chosen because they can survive with little moisture and because each fully grown tree can fix up to 10 tons of soil around its roots. This then prevents the winds from picking up contaminated sand from the dried up sea bed and spreading them through the atmosphere.
"I have also seen much attention improving infrastructure and social support services for the people living in the area of the former Aral Sea, generally improving their lives, living conditions, and prospects for the future," said John MacGregor.
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