Jakarta. Uzbekistan is very serious in constructing massive cross-border railways that will connect the double-landlocked country to South Asian countries and eventually the Southeast Asia region, its diplomats said on Tuesday.
The so-called trans-Afghan railroad involves collaboration by Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan following their meeting in Tashkent in February.
“Our new foreign policy initiative is to build the trans-Afghan railroad. We focus on infrastructure so now we are working on the railroad from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan to Pakistan,” said Muzaffar Abduazimov, Second Secretary of the Uzbek Embassy in Jakarta.
When the project is completed, “we will have access to Asian countries and from there to Southeast Asian countries”, he added.
Without access to the open sea, Uzbekistan relies on land transportation to connect its economy to its Central Asian neighbors and beyond.
“We wish Uzbekistan had the access to the sea. With the help of the sea we can flourish even better,” Muzaffar said, adding that the Uzbek people cannot just stay put and complain about the geographical constraints.
The country has taken major economic reforms, diversified the economy, and lifted restrictions on the private sector since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office in 2016, he said.
The economy is transforming from agriculture to industry and services with a stronger presence of foreign investments.
As a result, Uzbekistan is now one of few nations in the world to avoid negative growth amid the devastating economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
According to the latest World Bank report, the country has achieved substantial progress in transforming its economy and society since 2017.
GDP growth in Uzbekistan increased to 6.2 percent in the first half of 2021 after slowing to 1.7 percent in 2020.
“Strong industrial and services growth tempered weaker growth in agricultural production,” it said.
The global lender projected GDP growth in Uzbekistan to accelerate to 6.2 percent in 2021 and will remain strong at 5.6 percent in 2022.
With a stronger economic foundation, Uzbekistan can now allocate billions of dollars for key infrastructure. The 573-km trans-Afghan railroad has been dubbed “the event of the century” in Uzbekistan and it may take at least a decade to complete.
“It’s a long-term project -- we aren’t talking about a 2-year or 5-year project, it may take 10 to 15 years for the railroad to complete,” said Sherzod Ismailov, the embassy’s trade counselor.
Muzaffar said Uzbekistan is pursuing a stronger economic and people-to-people relationship with Indonesia, which similarly has a huge percentage of the Muslim population.
Both countries have agreed to cooperate in the halal tourism industry and closely connect each other’s cities.
“When I came here in 2019, my first trip was to Lombok. I was the head of the delegation and we signed sister cities agreement between Lombok and Bukhara,” Muzaffar said.
One of Uzbekistan’s most popular attractions for Indonesian visitors is the mausoleum of Imam al-Bukhari near the city of Samarkand. Al-Bukhari is widely considered as the greatest narrator and author of hadit, a record of the words and actions of Prophet Muhammad.
Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno visited the tomb in 1956 and helped raise awareness in the Muslim world about its existence, Muzaffar said.
Travel requirements have been eased for Indonesian visitors, who don’t need to undergo quarantine upon arrival.
“Indonesian Muslims can make a pilgrimage to the mausoleum on their way to performing Umrah in Mecca,” he added.
Uzbekistan also intends to boost the bilateral trade value and considers buying bananas, dragon fruits, and pineapples from Indonesia, he said.
On the other hand, Uzbekistan offers yellow carrots, cherries, and strawberries with the best quality to Indonesia, he said.