Tashkent: International Conference on „Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities”

Following the initiative of the President of Uzbekistan, Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev the Conference on „Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities” was held in Tashkent on July 15-16, 2021 as part of a new open foreign policy strategy.

The aim of the conference was to further deepen economic cooperation in Central Asia, with access to South Asia, which has been closely linked to the region historically. It was a form of a political and expert platform for multilateral discussion of the mutually beneficial strategic model “Central Asia – South Asia” in transport, logistics, energy, trade, industry, investment, technological, cultural and humanitarian domains. 

The conference was attended by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, as well as Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres (via video message), the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, and a total of more than 250 participants from over 40 countries and international organizations. It consisted of a plenary session and three breakout sessions, focusing on regional connectivity, trade and transport, prospects for the modernization of the economies of Central and South Asia, including projects to expand existing and build new transport corridors. Regional security was the focus of the third breakout session, which focused on the prospects of regional cooperation in combating new threats and challenges, as well as ensuring the security of cross border infrastructure.

Opening of the IICA

The opening ceremony of the International Institute of Central Asia (IICA) took place on July 15 and was attended by the heads of the foreign affairs agencies of the countries of Central Asia, high representatives of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, who arrived in Tashkent to participate in the International Conference “Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities”.

The event began with a greeting from the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, which was read by the Chairman of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis, Tanzila Narbaeva. In his speech, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Kamilov, noted that the creation of this institution testified to the growing importance of regional political and economic processes, which have been especially pronounced in the region in recent years. Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Central Asia, Natalia Gherman, welcomed the initiative and underlined the importance of the cooperation between the countries of the region as well as the focus on women and youth and the tackling of environmental problems such as water management. The new institute will focus on trade, transport and effective green technologies, as well as cultural heritage. 

International Conference „Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities”

On July 16, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev opened the plenary session with a speech, where he further stressed the importance of regional connectivity, describing Uzbekistan as a stable and reliable partner for mutual cooperation. He spoke about the historical closeness between the Central and South Asian regions and its importance today based on mutual trust and interest. He also stated that peace, good neighbourliness and confidence-building, the development of cooperation and the establishment of an open and practical policy were in the interests of all Central and South Asian countries. In his speech, the President put forward essential initiatives aimed at these goals.

The conference participants noted the priority importance of trade and economic cooperation. They proposed an annual interregional forum to discuss topical issues of expanding the economic agenda of alliance, deepening cooperation and investment interaction between the countries of the two regions.

President Mirziyoyev also paid particular attention to the issue of building a transport and logistics infrastructure that would effectively and safely connect Central Asia and South Asia. The construction of the Termez-Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway will be an essential link in this architecture. It fully reveals the transit potential of the two regions, significantly reducing the distance and time of transportation. Therefore, this project is supported by the participating countries and international financial institutions.

The President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, welcomed the initiative of President Mirziyoyev and said that Afghanistan was dedicated to a vision of peace and cooperation and willing to find mechanisms to embrace connectivity in the region. 

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, said in his speech that “Geoeconomics not geopolitics should be the main driver of the current development” and also stressed that regional connectivity was a big part of his country’s policy.

EU High Representative Josep Borrel also welcomed the initiative and stated that: “For the EU, connectivity within and with Central Asia is also in our own economic interests: the EU is the region’s top trading partner. We account for a quarter of Central Asia’s trade in goods. It is in our interest to see the region develop as a resilient, prosperous and more closely interconnected space.”

At the end of the conference, a statement was adopted by the Governments of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the Republic of Uzbekistan, and the United States of America, including the following points:

The C5+1 countries affirm their commitment to enhancing engagement through our regional diplomatic platform and seeking opportunities to strengthen connectivity between the Central and South Asian regions via trade, transport, and energy links. The C5+1 recognizes that increased connectivity supports its shared goal of a prosperous and secure Central Asia. Visionary ideas for Central Asia’s economic growth and closer ties to the economies of South Asia also reinforce the C5+1’s commitment to strengthening the region’s security and stability, including through Afghan peace negotiations. The C5+1 endeavors to build upon the collaborative progress it has made on connectivity, including to: 

  • Modernize infrastructure and transit potential in Central Asia, including through the implementation of investment projects; Promote increased regional cooperation in support of transboundary business-to-business connections and people-to-people exchanges; Improve energy sector connectivity and performance, including to expand and effectively integrate renewables.
  • Meet and strengthen goals on climate adaptation, air quality, and water cooperation and protect those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
  • Uphold human rights and freedoms, further strengthen the rule of law and good governance, based on universal human values and the historical, cultural, civilizational, and spiritual identity of the people of South and Central Asia, restore cultural and humanitarian ties, and promote the inclusion of all people, across all efforts, to support the region’s sustainable economic development.
  •  Ease trade, transport, and communication between South and Central Asia, including through Afghanistan. Create stable and prosperous conditions favorable to the Afghan peace process, including reaffirming to all parties: the urgency of substantive negotiations on a political settlement; that the only path to a just and durable peace is through a negotiated political settlement that results in an inclusive political system and respects the fundamental rights of all Afghans; that there is no support for the imposition by force of a new government in Afghanistan; and that terrorists and third party forces must never be allowed to use Afghan territory to threaten or attack the C5+1 countries or any other country.
  • Advance cooperation with Afghanistan across security, energy, economic, trade, cultural, and other lines of effort; and cooperate to address challenges and threats to regional security, prosperity, and stability.