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Reorientation in Central Asia.

UZBEKISTAN'S 22 MILLION people, natural wealth and geographic position in the heart of the region make it the most important of the Central Asian republics. In this interview with Anthony Hyman, a respected former Soviet ambassador from Uzbekistan, Bakhadir Abdurazakov, gives his views of Central Asia's place in the world and Uzbekistan's foreign relations. A former diplomat and ambassador of the Soviet Union (in Cairo, Kabul, Dacca and Mogadishu), Abdurazakov is president of the Uzbek-Arab Friendship Society. As one of the republic's most experienced professional diplomats, he was selected to lead the delegation of Uzbekistan to New York in February 1992 which successfully claimed a seat in the United Nations.

How do you estimate the changed situation for the Central Asian republics with the break-up of the Soviet Union?

The Russian empire is now a thing of the past, and Central Asia is once again able to choose its own path of development. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, a new geopolitical situation was created. One of the peculiarities of it is that now the four states of Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) have no common border with Russia, because a huge new state - Kazakhstan - has emerged, controlling nuclear weapons and having natural regional ambitions.

Independence and freedom seemed impossible to imagine only a short time ago. It was too repressive a system ever to permit free expression of nationalist views for independence of the non-Russian nationalities. The disintegration of the empire was God's gift. Really, it is enough to make one believe.

Russian colonialism was different in essence to other European nations. It was much more brutal and repressive, even before the 1917 revolution. Russian colonialism would never permit the type of open political opposition which in 1947 resulted in the granting by Britain of independence to India and Pakistan.

What effect has this legacy had upon Uzbekistan?

Our lack of political freedom in the past means we have political leaders who have no direct experience of democratic processes and procedures. The Communist party had a monopoly of power, never sharing power with other groups, and this authoritarian tendency is still strong. We were unprepared for this sudden gift of independence, and hardly thought of its effects, or the exciting possibilities opening up. In reality, we still have only a nominal independence. It has to be made real.

Comparisons are difficult. It took the peoples of Western countries two centuries to reach their present state of democracy and freedom, with the experience of civil wars, bloody revolutions and counter-revolutions. But we in Central Asia have set ourselves the task of building up democracy by peaceful methods on the basis of civil agreement. A gradual process of transition is inevitable. The indispensable condition for success in this is the preservation of civil consensus and inter-ethnic peace.

What are independent Uzbekistan's foreign policy priorities?

They must begin with ending the artificial isolation imposed. During the years of Soviet power our many-sided interests and needs, which have deep historical roots, were not realised. Uzbekistan intends to develop its links with countries of the Middle East and Asia as well as Western states. We look to our partners in the Economic Cooperation Organisation, that is Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, the only non-CIS state having a common border with Uzbekistan.

It is said that the visit to Turkey by |Uzbekistan's~ President Islam Karimov in December 1991 made a powerful impression on him. What does Turkey represent?

On his return from Ankara, President Karimov emphasised that Uzbekistan should follow Turkey's example in the transformation of society. But the rough plan of transition to the free market and implementation of radical economic reforms was worked out by the Uzbek leadership long before the state visit to Turkey. The first-hand experience of Turkish realities, together with talks and negotiations with Turkish leaders, probably convinced him of the correctness of this path.

Our friendship with Turkey is very close. Its envoy was the first to give in his credentials, although the US embassy actually opened before Turkey. The Turkish embassy in Tashkent opened at the time of Suleyman Demirel's state visit in April 1992. For us Turkey represents a successful modern and secular society. With Iran we are polite, but much still divides us in ideas and the place of religion in society. Naturally we welcome our expanding friendly contacts with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Muslim countries.

The United States, Germany, France and Italy are now represented in Tashkent. How important are relations with the West?

We need to lessen our dependence on Russia. Now with our re-emergence on the world map, opportunities must be seized. We want Western advice at a difficult time in our history. We don't ask for bread and meat, as others do - in fact, we have huge potential here. It's not charity we are asking for from the West, after all, but the best technology and a partnership.
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Title Annotation:interview with former Soviet ambassador Bakhadir Abdurazakov
Author:Hyman, Anthony
Publication:The Middle East
Article Type:Interview
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Under the banner of Islam.
Next Article:Not wanted.

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