Uzbekistan Deepens Ties with the UAE
Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev meets with UAE Crown Prince Mohamad bin Zayad al Nahyan. (Photo: UAE Ministry of Presidential Afffairs)
By Aditi Bhaduri

Uzbekistan Deepens Ties with the UAE

Apr. 16, 2019  |     |  0 comments

One has transformed a desert into a fabled land of prosperity, harmony, and innovation. The other is sitting on a mound of natural resources, just started to come on its own, out of the shadow of previous regimes.


Relations between the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan would seem to be a match made in heaven, as was demonstrated recently during the visit of President Shavkat Mirzoyoyev of Uzbekistan to the UAE. The chemistry between him and the UAE leaders whom he met — Crown Prince Mohamad bin Zayad al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and UAE Vice President and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum — was terrific. And it was not without reason.


Both the UAE and Uzbekistan stand to greatly benefit from each other and deepening bilateral ties and mutual confidence and faith in each other is only a matter of course.


The UAE has much to teach the world about good governance, ease of doing business, tolerance, religious and ethnic diversity, and managing expatriate populations. Dubai, for instance, embodies the latest achievements in science and technology. Uzbekistan on the other hand is a resource rich state, with enormous reserves of natural gas, uranium, and gold, which is eager to engage the outer world. Having cast off the shadow of the gigantic Soviet Union, under the dynamic leadership of its current president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, it is eager to chart out a new course on its historic destiny. It seeks to embrace the world, even while claiming its rightful place in the international community. With centuries old ties binding one to the other, both sides therefore, and rightly, seem eager to consolidate the ties that already exist, while exploring for expanding them in newer areas. The experience of the UAE and other nation states that have made great strides in exploiting technology and harnessing human potential is vital for Uzbekistan. As President Mirziyoyev pointed out the UAE has created a “miracle in the desert within a historically short period of time to become one of the global centers of economy, innovation, trade, finance and tourism”.


In recent years, bilateral relations between the two countries have risen to a qualitatively new level. The UAE with a sovereign wealth fund of USD 800 billion is a valuable economic partner for the cash strapped and doubly landlocked Central Asian country. The UAE has long been looking to diversify its economy, away from oil, and away from the traditional Western markets. Today, 107 enterprises operate in Uzbekistan with participation of investments from the Emirates, while 28 firms and companies from the UAE have representative offices in Uzbekistan. They specialize mainly in the production of textiles, building materials, canned fruit, in the printing business, wholesale trade, services. The trade turnover between the two countries currently is USD 400 million, but the potential was much higher, as President Morziyoyev pointed out.


It was to expand these ties and take them to the logical next step that President Mirziyoyev paid an official visit to the UAE from March 24-26, 2019. Agreements worth a whopping USD 10 billion were signed — a far cry from 2007 when the late President Islam Karimov had visited the UAE in the quest for USD 3.5 billion worth of deals.


Both countries also have immense potential for cooperation in the tourism sector. Last year, the number of tourists from the UAE to Uzbekistan grew 1.5 times. Apart from the many tourist attractions, what also attracts visitors to Uzbekistan from the Middle East is the numerous shrines of significance to Muslim populations the world over. A recently signed decree of the President of Uzbekistan enables citizens of the United Arab Emirates to enter Uzbekistan visa-free. This would contribute not only to the development of tourism, but also to the further intensification of trade-economic, scientific-technical and cultural cooperation between the two countries.


But Uzbekistan also has the potential to be a valuable partner to the UAE in other spheres too. It has a highly trained and skilled human resource pool. Hundreds of Uzbek nationals live and work in the UAE.

Both as modern Muslim countries have amply demonstrated religious moderation and tolerance, a respect for diversity, and for ensuring women’s rights. They serve as role models for countries like Afghanistan and others in the Muslim world.

Uzbekistan has a successful counter terrorism program and its program to counter religious radicalism sets the paradigm for other countries struggling with such threats to follow. It has battled insurgency and extremist movements like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb-ur-Tehreer. It has had numerous citizens flocking to the Islamic State in Syria and views the threat from it very seriously. Nevertheless, as the center for Muslim learning for centuries, it has adroitly managed to leave healthy space for people’s religious beliefs and traditions, as well as to publicly maintain a healthy space from overt religiosity and harmony and diversity. Hosting the Regional Anti Terrorist Structure (RATS) of the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Uzbekistan thus makes for an important partner for sharing intelligence, cooperation in counter-terrorism and in regional peace.


Similarly, the UAE, as a model state for its citizens and the millions of expatriates working there, is particularly invested in battling the scourge of religious radicalism and violent extremism that it can breed. In particular, religious radicalism and terrorism in the region seeks to overthrow the existing order, and therefore targets the very regimes in place there. Countering extremism is synonymous with regime protection in the region and the countries of the Gulf Coordination Council therefore take this threat extremely seriously.


Both countries therefore have a major role to play in combating radical Islam and violent extremism in the region. This was also reflected in the joint statement issued by both sides in which the leaders reiterated their determination in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism, illegal migration, drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and other threats and security challenges. This also makes the partnership a valuable factor in the stabilization of Afghanistan — another area that both countries are invested in. Both countries want to see a stable and secure Afghanistan in peace with itself and the region.


Both the UAE and Uzbekistan have clout in the Muslim world. While UAE was one of the only three countries to have extended legitimacy to the Taliban rule in the 1990s, it more recently hosted the militant group and facilitated talks between it and US officials in December 2018. Its financial and other aid to the country together with the leverage that the UAE has over Pakistan through its financial aid to the latter makes it an indispensable partner for the stabilization of Afghanistan. Moreover, in 2017 UAE officials suffered direct terror attacks in Afghanistan which claimed the life of the UAE ambassador to that country. This makes it even more urgent for them to usher in some kind of stability in the war ravaged country. Further, as a modern prosperous multi-ethnic state, the UAE is wary of regressive regimes like the Taliban and has the leverage to keep it in check, should any future government in Afghanistan include the Taliban.


Uzbekistan, as a bordering state with Afghanistan, had directly suffered from the fallout of the Afghan jihad, which has spawned groups like the IMU. Many Uzbek nationals have flocked to join the ISIS and Uzbekistan is wary of ISIS cultivating a base in Afghan, as it is of returning Uzbek recruits to ISIS. In view of all this, Uzbekistan has been playing an extremely positive role in trying to solve the Afghan conundrum. Not only did the country allow its territory to be used as a transit route by US and NATO forces in the immediate aftermath of the war in Afghanistan and overthrow of the Taliban, in recent years it has been facilitating peace talks and mediation between different stakeholders regarding Afghanistan, as was seen in the Tashkent international conference on Afghanistan in March 2018, and in which the UAE had also participated.


Finally, both as modern Muslim countries have amply demonstrated religious moderation and tolerance, a respect for diversity, and for ensuring women’s rights. They serve as role models for countries like Afghanistan and others in the Muslim world. Which only goes to make the partnership between the UAE and Uzbekistan even more valuable for the region, and beyond.

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