Policymakers in Washington have begun to wake up to the changes taking place in Uzbekistan.
In official Washington, which is routinely awash in foreign dignitaries, it’s all too easy to miss the comings and goings of world leaders. But even by the rather selective standards of the Beltway, last week’s state visit of Uzbekistan’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, was noteworthy because it provided policymakers with an authoritative glimpse into the momentous changes now taking place in Central Asia.
Since taking office in December 2016, following the death of Uzbekistan’s founding president, Islam Karimov, Mirziyoyev has spearheaded a series of sweeping reforms affecting virtually every aspect of life in the historically autocratic Central Asian state. The effort—codified in February of 2017, when the Uzbek parliament formally adopted Mirziyoyev’s National Development Strategy—is ambitious and unexpected. It marks a significant departure from the established political trajectory of Central Asia’s most populous state, which U.S. and European officials had long written off as an authoritarian backwater.
Economically, Tashkent has mapped out an ambitious effort to attract foreign investment. This has entailed implementing major steps to make the country more competitive, which includes such measures as loosening currency and exchange controls and transforming the Uzbek som into a fully convertible currency. The results have not been long in coming. Last year, Uzbekistan saw a surge in bilateral trade with its neighbors, as well as billions of dollars worth of new deals concluded by Uzbek businessmen and commercial enterprises.