Putin and Mirziyoyev, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, the threat of Afghanistan. Interview with a “highly suspicious diplomat”


QALAMPIR.UZ organized a special interview with Tim Torlot, the Ambassador of Great Britain to Uzbekistan. We bring to your attention the ambassador's answers regarding the international image of Uzbekistan, the situation related to human rights, and reform processes in the country.

You can watch the interview with Tim Torlot, the ambassador of Great Britain in Uzbekistan, in the video player above or on the YouTube channel of QALAMPIR.UZ.

Shahzod Nusratullayev, reporter: - Hello, dear Ambassador 

Tim Torlot, UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan: - Good morning

Sh.N.: - Thank you for accepting our proposal to hold this meeting. We are so happy to be here with you and it is such an honor for us to hold this interview.

T.T.: - Thank you. You and your audience in Qalampir.uz is well. It has taken a long time to be in this meeting and the fault has been mine. But it's good to be talking to this morning 

Sh.N.: - Thank you, we came here with a bunch of questions about different topics about politics, about social life in Uzbekistan. Now we want to give you our first question. What do you think? How has the international image of Uzbekistan changed in the last five years from your perspective?

T.T.: - I am better talk about my own country. If I am honest, not large numbers of people know where Uzbekistan is. When I told my friends and my family that I was going to Uzbekistan, almost everyone had to look it up on the map. I think it suffers a little bit from being a long way away. It suffered until twenty sixteen with an image which was not an image that any country wants - an image of poor human rights and a closed autocratic society. I think that has changed enormously and it is changing enormously since twenty sixteen. I think lots of things have contributed to that. First of all, a government, the president who set out to build closer relationships not only with your neighbors, with your closest partners but also with a whole host of other international states. To open your borders and your business to us - to the world ,I think that is making huge strides to transforming the Uzbekistan's image. You will see that, I am seeing that in Britain by little things like television coverage we have had in the last two years three different programs about the silk road, the about the history of this part of the world, and showing people what is wonderful about this country. But also an increasing business interest in the opportunities that exist for trade and investment with Uzbekistan. Indeed we have opened up our own markets to Uzbek business through our equivalent of GSP    +, but also through tourism and through cultural exchange. We have worked hard here to help to develop your creative industries through the work of the British Council. We are seeing increasing numbers of tourists coming here. I think that can only continue for as long as the reform process continues and traditional Uzbek welcome is offered to the whole world. It is a really important progress

Sh.N.: - Thank you, now let’s some focus on international events. We know that the United Kingdom is supporting Ukraine side in Ukraine-Russian war. So my question is about the war in Ukraine and Uzbekstan’s position on it. How this can affect the relations between United Kingdom and Uzbekistan?

T.T.: - The first thing is that we understand that Uzbekistan has had traditionally strong relationships with Russia. It is your first or second trading partner. There are large numbers of Uzbek people working in Russia, continuing to work in Russia. The financial relationships are strong as well with Ukraine. And position of neutrality has been at the heart of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy in the war. We understand that. We respect that. But I think as the war continues, Russia's actions are testing that's neutrality very strongly. I think both in terms of particularly president Putin, rhetoric about of the expansionist, trying to recreate the former soviet union, it threats to look beyond Ukraine. But also I think the Russia's actions during the war, the the atrocities, the attack shown on civilian infrastructure, the forced filtration of ukrainian nationals away the war crimes, threats not particularly subtle to use nuclear weapons, all of these will be deeply worrying to Uzbekistan government and will be sorely testing that position neutrality.

Sh.N.: - Thank you, you know in the last year's, Uzbekistan is trying to restore the economy in Afghanistan and our government is trying to stabilise the situation in the country. Also, we are implementing trans-Afghan railway in this country. And how can the United Kingdom assess the situation in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan’s efforts to restore economy and social life in Afghanistan? Are the approaches of two countries the same?

T.T.: - I think Uzbekistan is always going to have a slightly different perspective on Afghanistan because you are Afghanistan's neighbor. You have not too distant past. It had to deal at first hand with the taliban administration in Kabul whose actions were adversarial, who was harboring and supporting terrorists movements in a in Afghanistan but which were targeted here. You don't want a repetition of that. So I think Uzbekistan’s policy of supporting ,on the one hand, the humanitarian and economic development of the people of Afghanistan, but also building pragmatic relationships with Taliban administration both in Kabul and also in the parts of Afghanistan that the borders Uzbekistan. Those are sensible pragmatic welcome policies. The humanitarian objective we very much share. The United Kingdom in the course of this year has given two hundred and eighty six million pounds since probably about three hundred fifty million dollars in humanitarian support to Afghanistan. We will continue to do that. We continue to explore how better we collectively can provide economic support to the people of Afghanistan - not to the regime itself but to the people. We are having to think creatively and unimaginatively about how we do that and in that we look to work very closely with partners that that which of course includes the United Nations. But it also includes bilateral partners. So we do work very closely with Uzbekistan on our understanding, your understanding of the situation that which is getting terrible. I mean I think, first of all, Taliban control of the country is getting less security situation, is getting worse. But most of all I think the humanitarian situation is disastrous in Afghanistan. At recent United Nations data are telling us that nearly half the population lack basic food supplies. With a government that is new regime, that is unable to provide security or economic support this is a critical time and we need to work together

Sh.N.: - Thank you, we know some time ago in UK new prime minister was appointed, Mr Sunak, my question is that what new chapters can we expect in relations between Uzbekistan and UK during the time of Mr. Rishi Sunak?

T.T.: - We have had three prime minister's this year. It has been a difficult time. It is one of the prices you occasionally have to pay for having a true democracy. We hope we will now have a period of stability until the next elections in 2024 or the beginning of 2025. I don't think the course of our relationship is going to change very much because we have a new prime minister. I think we have a relationship which is is genuinely progressing and changing for the better. There is more substance to that relationship. In trade we have had as I mentioned earlier increasing numbers of British business people who are taking a strong interest in investing and trading here. At our last bilateral trade and industry council there was British trade and industry council meeting that we had earlier this year, that there were eight hundred British business people who were participating in the event. We are about to have annual meeting later on this this month. I think we will see a strong commitment to working in the business sector. The political relationship is as good as it has ever been. We talk about a wide range of issues, including defense and security where I think more and more and more with seeing a  strong partnership emerging. I think actually it is strangely covered helped that because all of a sudden we were forced to bring our two governments, our two people together by video conference, videolink, which is much easier than traveling a long way to the UK or up to Uzbekistan. I think that's helped. Unculturally the education relationship is so strong here. The numbers of British universities who are involved here, British schools who are establishing partnerships grows year by year. I think those educational links provide the warm contact between our young people who have the future of this country but also vows.

Sh.N.: - Thank you, dear ambassador. you know a few months ago, in Karakalpakstan some protests and demonstrations occurred. My question is that as the representative of the United Kingdom in Uzbekistan, how do you assess the protests and demonstrations in Karakalpakstan? What do you think how did Uzbekistan handle the situation in Karakalpakstan?

T.T.: - It is difficult for me officially as a as a British person to assess that. I have visited Karakalpakstan only once and I am looking forward to being able to to go back because I loved Nukus. We traveled up to the Aral sea as well. But I think i haven't got under the surface of Karakalpakstan yet. So I think it would be wrong of me to comment in great depth. I think everyone is looking forward to the publication of the reports of the independent commission that was set up to study the events and were encouraged by the level of access that commission has been given. We are now very much impatient to see the results of that. I think when that comes out, that will provide an opportunity to get to grips with some of the difficult questions that of we have come out of this. I think first of all the government has been quick to acknowledge that it made a mistake in trying to remove the autonomous status of Karakalpakstan in the new constitution and it reversed that very quickly. I think that was a welcome step. I think that we will look very carefully at the reports of the commission on exactly what happened, the extent to which there were foreign influences as the government has said, what those foreign influence were. I am very interested to find that out those. Also, the use of force by the security forces. Again I have seen criticisms. So I wasn't there first time so I can't judge it but I have seen the criticism. Also when the detentions of some of the protesters and I know that a number of those who have already been released but we don't know yet exactly how many were detained and how many are still imprisoned. So there's lots of questions that we look forward to seeing the answers. I don't have strong views on those. I am just interested to hear what the commission has to say

Sh.N.: - Thank you. You have supported the freedom of speech, freedom of press and journalist’s rights in Uzbekistan, also woman’s rights. To what extent have these conditions changed in your time in Uzbekistan. What should change more?

T.T.: - First of all, I am a strong advocate of freedom of the press, not just in Uzbekistan , all over the world. We see had just how important a robust civil society which includes a free independent responsible media, too strong democracy a strong economy which is transparent and open. The corruption will always exist but it helps to expose corruption. So I think the first thing needed is that a strong free media, robust free media is really important. I also know that I have been in Uzbekistan three years so I did not see what it was like to be a journalist before the reforms began. But I talk to journalists and I recognize that your media has evolved and advanced in a really important way. I don't think we would have been having this interview five years ago. That is great. I think we've seen the emergence of stronger independent media, particularly online. I think there are some really good media outlets now on line. But also the emergence of not quite the media but of the blogosphere here, with people of all sorts of different backgrounds who feel able to express themselves freely and to put out their views on what's going on, sometimes outrageous, sometimes not so outrageous but I think there is a space for that. The government has allowed that space to emerge. I have seen particularly it around 2020, around the time the Covid. it was a real threat. In a sense that some of those important reforms had slowed down or perhaps even stopped. Important things like the attacks both physical and online on independent journalists and bloggers including some quite nasty brutal assaults on journalists. The closure by security services and but partial closure generally by some of the social media outlets which mercifully have been reversed. That was not something we were expecting of New Uzbekistan and I am pleased that those have been reversed. Some of the disturbingly high prison sentences were given to journalists and bloggers who had been critical of local government or even of central government sometimes. So all of those are disturbing elements. I think I am heartened by the way that the independent media have been allowed finally to cover the war in Ukraine in a little bit more depth. That was frustrating, I think, for many people trying to find out what was happening in Ukraine from the from news. But media was difficult at the beginning. I think it is getting better. What that meant was that a lot of Uzbek people were getting news from Russian media channels which were not impartial, which a controlled by the government of which were being used as propaganda tools. I think that is dangerous. So I think that the government's decision to allow greater freedom to cover Ukraine was really important for you to make up your own mind. So these are some good things but some not so good things. But I think the trend generally is in the right direction I think. Latterly the government has taken good steps to force forward the importance of a free media which is always which has always been at the heart of what president Mirziyoyev has been arguing. So I think if there have been problems it's not that the president is condoning that people have passed misunderstood his best interest

Sh.N.: - Thank you. Next question. First time in 31 years during the last independence celebrations Uzbekistan broke some taboos and openly mention the Turkistan republic which was destroyed by soviet troops in Fergana valley in 1918. This topic and its details have been kept hidden so far. My question is that what are your thoughts on this? Is Uzbekistan finally breaking its Soviet chains?

T.T.: -  I think that is a really interesting question. I think my first comment as an someone who is not an expert on the history of Turkestan region is that any effort to open up the countries’ past to be honest and transparent about countries’s past is a good thing. Because we have to understand that our history to be able to forge our future and sometimes that history is uncomfortable. We have a colonial legacy of which in many ways we're not proud. Just sweeping its all under the carpet is not the solution. We have to be honest about the things that we did wrong. I think opening up and understanding what what happened in any situation is important. The former soviet union is the former soviet union. As I said right at the beginning , I think one of the most important things that this country did and continues to do is creating a strong independent identity for yourselves, for your people based on your own histories and cultures and ethnicities all of which makes in this wonderful country, which allow you to forge your own way forward - not pressurized and dominated by other actors, malign actors in the region. I think you are doing that in Uzbekistan. You are doing that by building a strong resilient Central Asia alongside your partners in Kyrgyzstan, in Kazakhstan, In Turkmenistan, and in Tajikistan. But I think Uzbekistan is physically at the heart of Central Asia and Uzbekistan has been at the heart also of attempts to forger a closer more stable region. And that's a good thing. We were a long way away and we are never going to be your most important international partner but we very much want to be a strong supportive partner for the New Uzbekistan.

Sh.N.: - Thank you. One more question we have. You know a few days ago in Samarkand summit of organization of Turkic states was held and different leaders the from different countries which are the member states of the organization participated in the summit and made some agreements and documents. My question is that how the United Kingdom can assist the operation of this organization because we know it from history that the United Kingdom or the British Empire was in some dispute with the Ottoman empire and also now today some experts from foreign organizations considered the activities of this organization, I mean Turkic states organization as the rise of Pan-Turkism ideas. What is your opinion about this?


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