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UK delegation to Uzbekistan highlights possibilities for future collaboration

From 25 to 29 September, I had the privilege to lead BGIPU’s first ever bilateral delegation to Uzbekistan.   I was joined by BGIPU Vice Chair Alex Sobel, Catherine West, Anna McMorrin, BGIPU Executive Committee member Lord Cromwell and Lord Hussain, and assisting us from the Secretariat were Dominique Rees and Henry Collison.

Despite arriving in the early hours of Monday morning we were greeted at the airport by our Ambassador Tim Smart and his Deputy Cathy Cottrell.  After a short sleep Monday morning began again with an excellent breakfast briefing by Ambassador Tim Smart and some of his team at the residence.  The briefing continued throughout the day with comprehensive overviews from various Embassy teams.   The official programme began in earnest in the afternoon with a meeting with a meeting with Deputy Minister Abidov Badriddin Nurutdinovich at the Ministry of Investment, Industry and Trade where the delegation learnt about the ongoing free-market reforms in Uzbekistan and discussed the need to increase trade between our countries.   The delegation then travelled to the Ministry of Justice for a meeting with Minister of Justice, Akbar Djurabayevich Tashkulov where the discussion focused on the ongoing constitutional reforms and the various steps being taken to liberalise and modernise Uzbek society.   The final formal event of the day was with the International Westminster University in Tashkent where the delegation was welcomed by Nizom Kadirov, Deputy Director for Youth Affairs, and other academic staff members and we also had the opportunity to tour the impressive campus and meet some of the students.

Tuesday morning began with a meeting with the Chair of the International Relations Committee at the Oliy Majlis where the discussion focused on the importance of regional representation as well as explaining new anti-corruption measures in Uzbekistan.   After a tour of the Oliy Majlis chamber the delegation moved on to the Senate and a meeting with Senator Safoyev, Deputy Speaker of the Senate. He reassured the delegation of Uzbekistan’s continuing commitment to improving human rights, anti-corruption measures and ensuring good governance.  After lunch the delegation headed to the Ministry of Ecology, Environmental Protection and Climate Change where the delegation learnt about efforts to relieve the ongoing water shortage issue in the country. They also discussed how Uzbekistan was dealing with the drying out of the Aral Sea, with the Ministry highlighting efforts to plant trees and the establishment of a scientific observatory on the dried-out seabed.

On Wednesday morning the delegation left Tashkent early for the 2-hour fast train journey to Samarkand.  The Afrosyiob railway connection from Tashkent to Samarkand, initially opened in 2011, is a high-speed railway network built by the Spanish company Talgo and has significantly modernised the railway infrastructure of Uzbekistan.  In Samarkand the delegation had the opportunity to visit the UNESCO world heritage sites of the Registan Mosque and madrasas, the Shakhi-Zinda compound and the Gur-Emir ensemble, as well as Ulugh-Beg’s Observatory.  The delegation then met the Deputy Governor for the Samarkand region and had the opportunity to discuss the growing industry of tourism to Samarkand. He stated that tourism represented 27% of the region’s economy and they discussed the desire for British tourism to the area to increase. They also compared the power and organisation of regional government in Uzbekistan to the UK, discussing the funding and implementation of infrastructure projects amongst other things.

Thursday morning began with a meeting with Aybek Shakhavdinov Director for Cooperation with European Countries at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the discussion focused on bilateral cooperation as well as the continued improvement of human rights conditions in Uzbekistan.  The delegation then moved on to the National Center for Human Rights where they were informed of the newly created agency’s role in monitoring and enforcing the ongoing human rights reforms.  The last meeting of the morning was with Minister Ibrokhim Yu. Abdurakhmonov at the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation where he explained to the delegation Uzbekistan’s new commitment to expanding higher education and invest in human capital, in order to meet the needs of a very young population and a quickly growing economy. Lunch that day was with the Embassy who then accompanied the delegation to visit MADAD, the newly opened citizens advice bureau. MADAD had been set up in cooperation with the British Embassy in Tashkent alongside various other aid agencies from countries such as Germany and the USA.  The final event of the visit was a farewell dinner with an opportunity to discuss all the key themes for the visit with our generous host Senator Safoyev.

Over the course of the visit we saw a young, ambitious country that wants to be part of the global community and reject extremism. There are undoubtedly issues to be addressed and the country faces many threats from hostile neighbouring states, but there is a clearly stated will to engage. Access to water and climate change is an existential threat that the UK should engage with as well as the opportunities for trade and education collaboration and shared interests in world peace and climate change.

Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP