Head of the Centre of the Institute for Strategic and Regional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Master of International Relations
Abstract. The Ferghana Valley, due to its geostrategic position, is characterized by its unique geographical location, geopolitical importance, energy and human resources, plays a key role in ensuring sustainable development in Central Asia. However, this region has been viewed for many years through the prism of challenges and threats to regional security. Meanwhile, the creation of a favourable atmosphere and positive dynamics of regional cooperation not only prevents the emergence of any serious conflicts, but, on the contrary, open up huge opportunities to turn the Ferghana Valley into a growth point for the entire Central Asia.
The Fergana Valley has always been in the centre of attention of representatives of the expert and analytical community. Analysis of modern scientific works shows that when studying the Fergana Valley, experts and scientists often use definitions such as “powder keg” , “hotbed of smouldering conflicts”  or “FATA” (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) in northwest Pakistan .
Indeed, in all fairness, it is worth recognizing that in the 1920s and 1930s in Central Asia, state demarcation was carried out without taking into account ethnic and geographical factors, which gave rise to problems of unresolved state borders, a shortage of fertile land and water resources, interethnic contradictions, unemployment and poverty. All this not only had a negative impact on the socio-economic situation, but also acted as a serious constraining factor in the development of regional cooperation.
However, are there any objective justifications and preconditions for the definitions characterizing the Fergana Valley as a so-called depressed region?
In the Republic of Uzbekistan, three regions (Namangan, Fergana, Andijan) are located in the Fergana Valley. In recent years, under the leadership of President Sh. Mirziyoyev, large-scale reforms have been carried out to improve the socio-economic situation and create the necessary infrastructure which are of strategic importance for ensuring sustainable development and stability at the national, regional and international levels.
Since taking office the president of the country, Sh. Mirziyoyev, as of October 2020, made 13 visits to the Fergana Valley region (4 times to Fergana, 4 times to Andijan, 5 times to Namangan region). The intensity of visits at such a high level to the three regions of the Fergana Valley testifies to the priority attention paid by the leadership of Uzbekistan to development of the entire region. Increased attention is primarily directed to addressing the socio-economic issues of the region, taking into account the following main factors: Since taking office as President of the country, Sh. Mirziyoyev, as of October 2020, made 13 visits to the Fergana Valley region (4 times - to Fergana, 4 times - to Andijan, 5 times - to Namangan region). The intensity of visits at such a high level to the three regions of the Fergana Valley testifies to the priority attention given by the leadership of Uzbekistan to the development of the entire region. Increased attention is primarily directed to solving the socio-economic problems of the region, taking into account the following main factors Since taking office as President of the country, Sh. Mirziyoyev, as of October 2020, made 13 visits to the Fergana Valley region (4 times to Fergana, 4 times to Andijan, 5 times to Namangan region). The intensity of visits at such a high level to the three regions of the Fergana Valley testifies to the priority attention paid by the leadership of Uzbekistan to the development of the entire region. Increased attention is primarily directed to addressing the socioeconomic issues of the region, taking into account the following main factors:
firstly, it is the overpopulation of the region. It is noteworthy that in Andijan, Namangan and Fergana regions, which occupy 4.12% of the territory of Uzbekistan (18.5 thousand sq. Km), 28.2% of the population (9.69 million people) live; the first is the overpopulation of the region. It is noteworthy that in Andijan, Namangan and Fergana regions, which occupy 4.12% of the territory of Uzbekistan (18.5 thousand sq. Km), lives 28.2% of the population (9.69 million people);
secondly, the population density. According to the State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Statistics, the population density in the three regions remains the highest compared to other regions. In particular, as of January 1, 2020, the population density per 1 sq. km in Andijan region is 727.4 people, in Fergana and Namangan regions it makes 555 people, and 377.8 people respectively. At the same time, the average population density in the republic per 1 sq. km does not exceed 75.5 people;
thirdly, human resources. Given the overcrowding in all three regions, there is a surplus of labour resources. This is also evidenced of the relatively high unemployment rate in the region. So, at the end of 2019, in the Fergana region, the level of unemployment, according to the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations of the Republic of Uzbekistan, amounted to 9.7%, while the overall indicator for the country was 9.4%;
fourthly, the geostrategic location of the Fergana Valley in terms of strengthening the regional cooperation in the economy, energy and transport. Being the most densely populated region of Central Asia, the Fergana Valley has a promising consumer market. The total population of the region is about 15 million people or about 30% of the total population of the three countries. The Kyrgyzstani part is home to 3.5 million people, the Uzbekistani is for 9.6 million people, and the Tajikistani part is for 2.5 million. The Fergana Valley forms the bulk of the flow of the Syrdarya River (about 70% or 29 km3 / year), which plays an important role in increasing the hydropower potential of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
The Fergana Valley is also of great interest from the point of view of logistics, in particular, the region can act as the shortest route from China to the countries of Europe and the Middle East. In the case of integration of the railway infrastructures of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan against the background of existing routes the distance between China and Europe and the Middle East will be reduced by 900 km, the time of delivery of goods by 7–8 days.
In these conditions, taking into account the specifics, resources and capabilities of each region of the Fergana Valley, comprehensive measures are being taken to create new job places, reduce poverty and develop key sectors of the economy. Creation of the necessary conditions for development of small and medium-sized businesses, modernization and improvement of irrigation facilities, which opens up wide opportunities for the development of agriculture, entrepreneurship and industry, which are the key directions of economic development, deserve attention.
In particular, within the development program of the Fergana region in 2019–2022, it is planned to launch 688 projects for development of horticulture, fruit and vegetable clusters, production of building materials, handicrafts, silk industry, family entrepreneurship with a total cost of 26.5 trillion soums. In 2020 alone, within 544 projects, it is planned to develop 7.6 trillion soums of investments. As a result of the work carried out to date, within 571 projects, investments in the amount of 6.8 trillion soums have been allocated and almost 11 thousand jobs places have been created. In general, in 2020, the region plans to implement 913 investment projects and create 62 thousand jobs places.
In the Andijan region, in 2020, within 789 projects, it is planned to master 7 trillion soums of investment and create 42 thousand job places. 13 projects for the sum of 106 million dollars will be implemented in the textile industry.
In 2020–202, in the building materials industry the goal was set to launch the production of import-substituting products in the amount of 106 million dollars as a result of implementation of 74 projects.
In the Namangan region, work is underway to create 55 thousand job places as a result of development of projects for the sum of 13 trillion soums by the end of 2020. In this year, 1.6 thousand projects were launched for 8.3 trillion. soums, which will create 35 thousand new job places. An illustrative example of solving the problems of unemployment is construction of 1,000 greenhouses on 36 hectares of undeveloped hilly lands. Currently, 800 greenhouses have already been built and handed over to the owners with a production capacity of 7 thousand tons of vegetables per year. The remaining 200 greenhouses are expected to be commissioned by the end of 2020.
The measures for improvement of the socio-economic situation in the Fergana Valley are not limited to the above examples. The country’s leadership pays special attention to the development of human capital and raising the level of education, which is a guarantor of ensuring advanced development. Over the past two years, branches of leading foreign higher educational institutions have been opened in all three regions. Among them are the branches of Korea University Sejong and Latvian Higher School of Information Systems Management in Fergana, Indian Sharda University in Andijan and Ural State University in Namangan.
It is necessary to pay attention to the strategic approach of the Government of Uzbekistan at implementation of social, economic and infrastructure projects in the Fergana Valley. This is, first of all, a targeted approach and taking into account the features of each separate area. The main focus is on maximizing the existing potential and advantages of the region. Taking into account the specifics of the region, the country has determined the spheres that can become the drivers of its development.
Secondly, in order to reduce poverty, the focus is not on providing subsidies to the poor, but on creating conditions and opportunities for their earnings. For these purposes, the country has created conditions to stimulate the entrepreneurial activity of the population. Subsidies, concessional credit lines are issued, investment is allocated to ensure working capital.
Thus, improvement of the social, economic and transport infrastructure contributes not only to prevention of conditions for emergence of social tensions, but also to increase the investment attractiveness of the regions of Uzbekistan in the Fergana Valley.
Sustainable and stable development of the Fergana Valley opens up wide opportunities for using the untapped potential of regional cooperation, which is due to the key role of the Fergana Valley in the regional security system of Central Asia. The main feature of the Fergana Valley is that the issues related to development and security are common for neighbouring states and are of a transboundary nature.
Due to the unity of geographical, civilizational, ethnic and economic conditions, the challenges and threats to security arising in this sphere cannot longer remain within the national borders for a long time and begin to manifest themselves on a regional scale.
In particular, the longest transboundary river in Central Asia, Syrdarya, small and large canals (Big Fergana, North and South Fergana, Big Andijan and Big Namangan), as well as hydropower facilities form a single integrated water-energy facility form the general basis of irrigation in the Fergana Valley.
The Fergana Valley also has a significant potential in the regional transport system, which in the context of openness and interconnection can become an important regional hub connecting the countries of the region with China, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
The importance of the Fergana Valley in the field of regional security is determined by its proximity to Afghanistan. In this context, the socio-economic development of the Fergana Valley can make a significant contribution to prevention of drug trafficking and the activities of various extremist and terrorist organizations in Central Asia.
Taking into account the above, the Republic of Uzbekistan pays priority attention to strengthening multifaceted cooperation with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Led by President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirziyoyev, in a short time, it was possible to sign agreements on state borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, within the framework of which 85% of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border were determined and 99.9% of the previously undivided sections of the Uzbek-Tajik border were agreed. Completion of the processes of delimitation and demarcation of state borders will undoubtedly help to prevent the emergence of conditions for border conflicts. As the analysis shows, the main reason for most border conflicts between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan occurs as a result of minor everyday problems: a) construction of houses; b) use of water resources and pastures; c) issues between neighbours.
The particular attention is paid to the development of cross-border cooperation. It is noteworthy that today all existing 17 checkpoints operate on the Uzbek– Tajik border, and 16 checkpoints between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which have created favourable conditions for strengthening public diplomacy and developing cultural and humanitarian cooperation. If five years ago, the Uzbek– Kyrgyz state border was crossed by 200– 300 people a day, today it is more than 30 thousand a day. A similar situation is observed with Tajikistan. In particular, 20 thousand citizens cross the Uzbek-Tajik border every day.
Introduction of new mechanisms of cross-border cooperation is noteworthy. In particular, since 2018, the Council of Heads of Border Regions has been effectively functioning between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as in accordance with the Agreement on Cooperation Between the Regional Chambers of commerce and Industry of the Border Regions of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, meetings between the business circles of the two countries are held on a regular basis, in the course of which the parties exchange views on topical issues of cooperation in the field of economy, investment, tourism and holding joint cultural and sports events.
Cooperation on water issues on a bilateral basis has noticeably intensified. A working group has been created to develop proposals for developing cooperation in all areas of water relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan . Currently, work is underway to sign the Interdepartmental Agreement on Establishment of a Joint Bilateral Water Commission with Kyrgyzstan.
All this became not only an important step in the regional cooperation on the use of transboundary water resources, but also contributed to removing the issue of acute conflict potential from the regional agenda, while increasing the level of political confidence.
Interaction is rapidly developing to prevent challenges and threats in the field of emergency situations. From April 2019, it is planned to hold joint meetings of the collegiums of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan every two years. Following the results of the first meeting held from 4 to 7 April 2019 in Bishkek, the parties adopted the Protocol. At present, the Regulations are being developed for the exchange of information on radioecological, hydrometeorological and geotechnical situations in the border areas.
In 2019, in order to strengthen the cooperation in the field of combating terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, illegal migration, organized crime, the Tajik-Uzbek Interdepartmental Coordination Working Group in the Field of Security was created. The countries reached the agreements on jointly countering the activities of extremist and terrorist structures, they signed the relevant Plans of Comprehensive Measures for the security forces of Uzbekistan with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Joint antiterrorist measures were held with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. All these measures have a positive impact on the timely identification and adequate response to the challenges and threats of religious extremism. It should be note that as a result, in the Global Terrorism Index-2019, Uzbekistan rose from 127th place (2017) to 135th and Kyrgyzstan from 79th (2017) to 87th.
The above results achieved in all areas of interaction between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan confirm the correctness of the chosen course of enhancing regional cooperation. There has been an unprecedented growth in mutual trade. In particular, the trade turnover of Uzbekistan with Tajikistan at the end of 2019 amounted to 480.9 million dollars, which is 19.1% more compared to 2018 (389.3 million dollars) and 200% compared to 2017 (236.8 million dollars). The increase is also observed in trade with Kyrgyzstan. In particular, at the end of 2019, this indicator amounted to 818.4 million dollars (an increase of 40%).
In particular, the trade turnover of Uzbekistan with Tajikistan at the end of 2019 amounted to 480.9 million dollars, which is 19.1% more compared to 2018 (389.3 million dollars) and 200% compared to 2017 ($ 236.8 million). Growth is also observed in trade with Kyrgyzstan. In particular, at the end of 2019, this indicator amounted to $ 818.4 million, an increase of 40%.
Given the impact of sustainable development and security in Central Asia on development of neighbouring regions, ensuring stability and peace in the Fergana Valley opens up great opportunities for transregional cooperation.
In particular, the work of the United Electric Power System (UES) of Central Asia has been practically restored. At present, mutual supplies of electricity between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan are actively carried out. Turkmenistan has expressed a desire to join the system. In July 2019, a joint declaration was signed on regional cooperation in the field of energy reforms and the creation of a single electricity market .
The intensification of cooperation between the CA countries in the energy sector, including Uzbekistan with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, will increase the export potential in this industry throughout the region.
In particular, the new power transmission line Surkhan-Puli-e-Khumri transmission line with a length of 260 km, which is being built by Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, may become part of the CASA-1000 project. The construction of the Surkhan-Puli-e-Khumri power transmission line will increase the supply of electricity from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan by 70%, that is up to 6 billion kWh per year, which will allow serving 10 million households per day. The transmission line will also connect Kabul to the unified energy system of Central Asia and accelerate implementation of the CASA-1000 project.
Accordingly, a stable and uninterrupted supply of electricity to the population and facilities of the national economy of Afghanistan will fully reveal the potential of the Afghan economy. The solution of socio-economic issues is an indispensable condition for establishment of a lasting and long-term peace in Afghanistan, the achievement of which is one of the priority issues of ensuring international security.
Achievement of concrete results in the transport and communication sphere deserves special attention. In particular, the commissioning of the restored section of the Uzbek–Tajik interstate railway line of Galaba–Amuzang–Khushadi in March 2018 made it possible to connect Uzbekistan with the southern regions of Tajikistan, which gave an additional impetus to development of regional economic cooperation.
In turn, expansion of cooperation in the transport and communication sphere allowed, after 20 years of negotiations, to make significant progress in implementation of the construction of a railway connecting China and Central Asia through Kyrgyzstan. In particular, in June 2020, the first block train consisting of 25 containers with electrical products departed for Turkmenistan from Lanzhou Railway Station in Gansu province (China) along the China–Kyrgyzstan– Uzbekistan multimodal transport corridor with the use of road transport on the Kashgar–Irkeshtam–Osh–Andijan section.
It should be noted that today Uzbekistan has all the necessary conditions and infrastructure opportunities for implementation of the China–Kyrgyzstan–Uzbekistan railway Project. In particular, the launch of the Angren–Pap railway with a tunnel on the Kamchik pass may become one of the key elements of the planned China–Kyrgyzstan– Uzbekistan transit corridor.
The construction of the China– Kyrgyzstan–Uzbekistan railway will allow not only expanding the transit potential of the CA region, thereby increasing rail traffic between Asia and Europe, but also integrating it into the trans-Afghan transport corridor, which will eliminate transport isolation and break the transport isolation of the Central Asian region strengthening the interconnectedness of Central Asia with the regions of Europe, South Asia, the Middle East and the Caucasus.
Elimination of existing contradictions and conditions for the emergence of conflicts in interstate relations in the Fergana Valley opens up wide opportunities for development of regional cooperation.
In this context, as a result of the observed positive trends in the region, a significant increase in trade turnover, investment and tourist inflow attracts attention. In particular, in 2019, the volume of trade turnover between the countries of Central Asia made 7.1 billion dollars, which is 16.9% more than in 2018. (5.9 billion dollars).
A similar situation is observed in the matter of attracting foreign direct investment, the volume of which in 2019 to the CA countries (excluding Turkmenistan) amounted to $ 35.922 billion, which is by 32.3% more than in 2017 (24.315 billion dollars). Besides, the number of tourists visiting the CA countries in 2019 amounted to 25.49 million people (excluding Turkmenistan), which is by 24.9% more compared to 2017 (19.15 million people).
Undoubtedly, the stable and sustainable development of Central Asia will have a positive impact on ensuring the security of neighbouring regions in terms of the possibility of achieving mutually beneficial and comprehensive solutions based on consensus on all pressing issues on which countries have different visions and approaches.
The emerging model of the regional cooperation in Central Asia is widely discussed today among leading politicians and experts from the foreign countries and international organizations noting the need to study the positive experience of the CA countries.
As noted by UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, Head of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia N. Herman, “Central Asia is noticeably increasing the trend of regional cooperation and strengthening good- neighbourly relations with an emphasis on economic complementarity and cultural and civilizational proximity of states. Amid a decline in economic activity due to the global pandemic and the continuing threat of the spread of coronavirus, the positive dynamics of cooperation and mutual trust allowed the countries of the region to provide necessary and safe corridors for the movement of strategically important goods, food, humanitarian aid, medicines and medical supplies, energy resources.”
According to her, this example of unity, solidarity and well-coordinated work in the period of serious challenges is worth studying, it must be consolidated by international normative documents for a sustainable response in similar and more difficult situations in the future.
In general, opinions about the potential for conflict in the Fergana Valley are largely ingrained stereotypes that do not correspond to modern realities. The presence of the geographical, human and energy potential of the countries located in the Fergana Valley, the favourable atmosphere and positive dynamics of regional cooperation not only exclude the emergence of any serious conflicts, but, on the contrary, open up great opportunities for turning the Fergana Valley into a growth point for the whole of Central Asia.
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