International Conference titled “Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity, Challenges and Opportunities” held in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, between 15-16 July 2021 marks a turning point in terms of both its timing, its participants, and the messages they give. 50 different countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, India, China and USA senior executives participated to the conference which President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres, President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan made the opening speeches. In addition, representatives from more than 30 international organizations, prominent research and think tanks, financial institutions, companies, and business world attended the conference.
Bringing together actors such as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a period of Asian-centered geopolitical disputes and power struggles exhibit the importance of the conference. Therefore, the International Conference, which reveals the common concern, seeking and will on the Central-South Asia line, which has a key place in the future of the international system that is in progress, and brings substantial project proposals in this context, has already passed into history as a “Tashkent Declaration of New Asia”.
“Trust”, “Collaboration” and “Dialogue” for Security
In the Conference which is referring to the strong civilizational history of Asia and starting from these roots, pointed to the construction of a new geopolitical line centered on Central and South Asia, the persistent emphasis on establishing “cooperation”, “dialogue” and “trust” between the states of the region can also be considered as a rightful and appropriate security reflex for the region against the “New Great Game at the Gate”. The “Tashkent Conference” is not an area of power struggle in the face of the “New Great Game” with this dimension; on the contrary, it appears as the address of the common mind and strong seeking for the formation of a new spirit that can disrupt this game.
As a matter of fact, in the speeches, it is very significant that the mentioned projects point to a wide cooperation platform, including the current-potential crisis areas in the region and their interlocutors, and in this context, the names of regional integration processes, the establishment of relevant consultative mechanisms and effective coordination are very important. To put it more concretely; The emphasis on the “Great Silk Road Spirit” as the “Ancient Way of the Old World” in this line, which starts from India and extends to Pakistan-Afghanistan-Central Asia-Caspian-Caucasus-Black Sea and is referred to by crises, is quite remarkable. This spirit was once again seen in the call of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, for the signing of a multilateral “Economic Cooperation Agreement” between the countries of the region.
Of course, it did not go unnoticed that the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in his historical speech, described Central and South Asia as a “dialogue bridge” between peoples and civilizations and called it the “Great Silk Road Junction”. This emphasis of Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev is of great importance as it points to a geopolitical reality as well as presenting a viable roadmap for the solution of the problems in the region.
Against the Clash of Civilizations Thesis, It’s Time to Break the Myth at the Historical Crossroads
The emphasis of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev on the historical background and the rich references that was given to European historians-philosophers at this point, can actually be considered as a groundbreaking narrative with the dimension of the region’s embracing, peaceful, coexistence culture and, its ethnocultural richness. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev also gave the following fundamental messages at this point:
- The Central and South Asian line is not a primitive and poor place. On the contrary, it is the center of civilization, science and wealth and has played a great role in the development of humanity. Cities, roads (Historical Silk Road) are the most basic indicators of this. The region can regain its richness and its strong role in contributing to civilization.
- The Central and South Asian line is not a geography where barbarian people and murderer live, and security problems are labeled. On the contrary, it has been the center of security, stability, justice, tolerance and coexistence for centuries. Central and South Asia is a geography that puts people and humanity in the center. Because of this, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and different peoples lived in peace in the region for centuries, a great ethnocultural partnership was occured, and a rich and colorful culture was comprised. This geocultural structure, which is being tried to be conflicted today, actually has a very different history. It is very important that this is observed on site by all the people of the region. For this, the tourism potential between Central and South Asia should be fully realized and scientific and cultural exchanges should be expanded.
- Central and South Asia is the address of unity, not clash of civilizations. For all these, it is essential for the region to catch the “Great Silk Road Spirit” as an antithesis, to cooperate. Central and South Asia must make up for the disconnect that began in the 19th century in the first quarter of the 21st century. It is still not too late for this.
- In this context, the New Uzbekistan acts within the framework of its responsibility. The new cooperation process that has developed with its neighbors is an indicator of this. Uzbekistan believes that this understanding and cooperation will dominate the entire region and will exhibit all its efforts for this.
Complementary and Constructive Projects, Not Competitors
The statements that the proposals brought to the agenda at the aforementioned conference are not a competitor but a complement to the existing projects were also found to be quite remarkable in terms of showing that “cooperation” was taken as a basis rather than “competition”. In this context, regarding the projects brought to the agenda by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s emphasizing, “It is also compatible with the objectives of the One Belt One Road initiative.” is undoubtedly important in terms of revealing a cooperation potential that covers very wide geography.
Pointing to the Caspian-Central Asia-South Asia line as the “Heartland of Asia”, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s “Tirmidhi-Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabil-Peshawar Railway Network” is the most essential line compatible with the Belt-Road Project. It should not be evaluated only in terms of economic-commercial dimension. As a matter of fact, Mr. Mirziyoyev draws attention to this, and besides the advantages of promoting economic development between the regions, transit potential and decreasing the time in the transfer of products, he also mentions the Afghanistan aspect and says: “This line will be effective in interregional cooperation, establishing peace and stability in this country and improving the economy.”
Address of Projects “New Uzbekistan” and Mirziyoyev as a Visionary Leader
Mr. Mirziyoyev, President of Uzbekistan told that “The introduction of digital platforms for the development of constructive dialogue and joint efforts should be the driving force of interregional cooperation” also he recommended the adoption of the Joint Action Strategy and the inclusion of UN agencies as well as experts from the participating countries. In addition, saying that a common policy should be adopted for food and climate security, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev underlined those efforts should be strengthened in the fight against threats to global stability and security, and that only by this means, terrorism, radicalism and organized crime can be effectively solved.
“Common Will” Announced in Tashkent
The Central and South Asian Foreign Ministers announced a joint statement after the conference. In the declaration, stating that they are belonged to the United Nations (UN) Charter and international law, transparency, equality, respect and mutual trust were determined as the keywords of the relations. In the declaration, the importance of developing regional connections and increasing inter-regional interaction was emphasized by drawing attention to the need for trade between regions. In this context, it was emphasized that the development of transportation and communication network would encourage cooperation and the need to strengthen friendly ties for development in the countries of the region, and the need to increase cooperation in the fields of economy, investments, energy and technological innovation, especially in the field of “green” technologies, was confirmed.
On the other side, the parties emphasized the importance of Afghanistan as a “regional bridge” and called for the development of the country through the implementation of joint regional projects. On another side, they advocated that digital platforms in the fields of international trade, customs, transportation, banking, health, education and science should be introduced. In addition, the parties expressed their readiness to contribute more to the strengthening of friendly relations and mutual understanding between peoples, and to deepening ties in the fields of education, science and technology, innovation, tourism, culture, art and sports. Finally, the importance of sharing experiences on environmental protection was emphasized.
Message from Tashkent: “Cooperation”, not “Problems” and “Differences”
In conclusion, when we look at the speech of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, it is clearly seen that it is desired to establish peace and stability in the geography and to establish wide and deep ties with South Asia. It is obvious that the focus of Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s speech was not “problems” and “differences”, just “cooperation”, and it once again reflected the historical role of Tashkent in this context.
As a matter of fact, the conference “Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities” was not held with the interests of one side in mind, and mutual benefit was especially emphasized. This mutual benefit plays vital role because it will promote peace and stability in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not only for Central and South Asia; it can be said that it is for the benefit of the whole Asian continent and that discourses have been developed within this framework.
In this context, the leader of the new Uzbekistan, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, turns into a figure promoting peace and stability in Central Asia, South Asia, Eurasia and the Asian continent, respectively. The conference held and the result obtained prove this. With the rise of Asia continent Uzbekistan emerges as one of the most important actors of this process.