We live in a very difficult time, a time of tectonic changes both in nature and between civilizations. Global warming, drought, fires on the one hand, melting of glacial ice, rising ocean levels, storms and floods on the other. Wars, the division of spheres of influence on the one hand, the confrontation of various models of development, the fading of the influence of some world currencies and the emergence of new centers of development, and much, much more.
In such times, it is important to choose the right development model for small countries like Uzbekistan. Being in the sphere of influence of such large economies as China, Japan and India in Asia, the USA, Russia, Turkey, Germany and Great Britain in Europe and America, it is difficult for Uzbekistan to find its own most suitable development model and a worthy place among the worthy.
The economic model currently used by Uzbekistan, based on the export of mineral resources (copper, gold, natural gas, etc.), industrial goods (mineral fertilizers, textile products, cars, etc.), agricultural products and labor, does not give the desired effect. The country is developing very slowly, lagging behind in terms of development from many developing countries, including neighboring ones, is gaining more and more loans, but industries are slowly being created that will allow to return the loans received and give rapid growth to the economy and the standard of living of the population.
It seems that Uzbekistan, based on the experience of a number of developed and developing countries, should focus on the development of the service sector, in particular, on the export of services. In our opinion, it is the rapid development of exports of various types of services that can become a driver for the accelerated development of the economy of Uzbekistan in the existing very difficult geopolitical and climatic conditions.
We consider it necessary to include the most important drivers of Uzbekistan's development in modern conditions:
I. Development of financial services and transformation of Uzbekistan into the financial center of Central Asia.
II. The development of ziyarat tourism and the transformation of Uzbekistan into the center of Islamic civilization.
III. Development of transport infrastructure and transformation of Uzbekistan into the Central Asian aviation hub.
We will try to briefly reveal the essence of each of the development drivers.
I. Development of various types of financial services and the transformation of Uzbekistan into the financial center of Central Asia
According to the Global Financial Centers Index (GFCI 31)*, published on March 24, 2022, 119 financial centers from more than 60 countries are included in the category of global financial centers. The top ten largest financial centers include 3 American, 4 Chinese, 1 British, Singaporean and Japanese financial centers.
From this we can conclude that most developed and developing countries have established international financial centers. These centers provide international financial services to residents and non-residents of these countries, as well as store financial resources worth hundreds of trillions of US dollars.
In order for Uzbekistan to join the number of such countries and provide various types of financial services on an international level and transform Uzbekistan into the financial center of Central Asia, it is necessary to create an International Financial Center "Toshkent" (IFCT) - a free financial zone using English law.
Unlike other regional and international financial centers, we consider it expedient to develop the following business areas in the IFCT:
a) development of various types of equity and debt instruments of Islamic finance. Islamic finance is developing rapidly in the world, and we see the interest of the younger generation of businessmen in Uzbekistan in using financing tools based on Sharia law.
(b) creation of an exchange of precious metals and provision of services for the sale of gold and other precious metals for producers of precious metals from the countries of Central Asia. The region produces more than 138 tons of gold per year**, the main buyers of which are Asian countries, and the pricing of this gold takes place in Europe, far from producers and buyers. We believe that the time has come for us to set the price for our products and store them ourselves.
c) development of IT, including fintech. A lot is being done in Uzbekistan for the development of IT and business, and we think that within the framework of the free financial zone, by uniting with financial resources, this line of business will receive an even greater impetus for its accelerated development.
We are confident that the development of the above and other areas of services, traditional for international financial centers, will allow the IFCT to become a catalyst for the development of the economy of Uzbekistan, attracting a huge amount of foreign capital to the country.
At the same time, it should be noted that the creation of the IFCT will not require large capital investments from the government of Uzbekistan. Either Tashkent City or IT Park can be turned into an IFCT by adopting special legislation.
Ansher Capital has been trying to implement this idea for the past five years (see www.ansherglobal.com), so far unsuccessfully.
Separate attempts to create the IFCT in Uzbekistan are being carried out now. This process activates, but then weakens again.
The main drawback of these attempts is that the government of Uzbekistan has not yet made a decision to establish the IFCT by adopting a special legislative act, has not appointed an authoritative manager as a leader with special powers to implement the project, and has not allocated sufficient financial resources for these purposes.
All work is currently being carried out on the initiative of certain business and / or government structures. To implement the project, attempts are being made to obtain grants from foreign public and private funds.
We consider this approach to be fundamentally inefficient.
The creation of the IFCT requires pulling financial flows from other financial centers into Uzbekistan, which, for objective or subjective reasons, become unable to provide such high-quality financial services that are required for owners of financial resources. In other words, Uzbekistan will claim a share of the global pie of international financial services revenues. We must understand that no one wants to give it to Uzbekistan just like that.
Therefore, the government of Uzbekistan must stand firm in its position on the creation of the IFCT and protect the interests of the country in the face of serious international competition.
And it is impossible to build the IFCT at the expense of competitors' grenade funds.
In case of interest, Ansher Capital is ready to provide a specific action plan for the implementation of this ambitious project.
II. The development of ziyarat tourism and the transformation of Uzbekistan into the center of Islamic civilization
Tourism brings huge incomes for a number of countries of the world, some countries are still looking for their niche in the world of the tourism industry. For many years we have been unsuccessfully trying to develop recreational, educational, business and gastronomical types of tourism, but we have not been able to attract a significant number of tourists to the country (the volume of tourists did not exceed 6.7 Mln. people in 2019). And apparently, we will not be able to compete and win over tourists from France (217.8 Mln. people), Spain (126.2 Mln. people), the USA (165.5 Mln. people), China (162.5 Mln. people)*** and a number of other countries where the above types of tourism are developed.
At the same time, we are losing sight of the religious, transfer and mountain types of tourism, in the development of which we have competitive advantages. In particular, we have good prospects for the development of religious tourism. The names of Imam Bukhari and Bahouddin Naqshband alone can attract tens of millions of tourists to Uzbekistan and turn the religious tourism industry into a source of huge income for the people of our country.
However, the development of religious tourism in Uzbekistan must be carried out comprehensively, bringing together religious, business, transfer and other types of tourism.
At the same time, Uzbekistan needs to carry out consistent work on the gradual transformation of the country into the center of Islamic civilization based on the development of Islamic theology, education in Uzbekistan, as well as by popularizing Uzbekistan as a center where annual events are held to identify people and organizations that have made an outstanding contribution to the development Islam throughout the world.
Conducting a Forum on the Development of Islamic Civilization and an International Awarding Ceremony named after Imam Bukhari
The contribution of Uzbekistan to the development of the global Islamic civilization is enormous. Many outstanding thinkers and scientists who made a significant contribution to the development of Islamic civilization, such as Imam Bukhari, Imam At-Tirmizi, Bahouddin Naqshband and others, lived and created in the territory of modern Uzbekistan.
Currently, the government of Uzbekistan attaches great importance to the development of Islamic civilization, the study of the works of prominent thinkers and scholars of Islam and the perpetuation of their contribution to the development of Islamic civilization. The creation of the Imam Bukhari memorial complex in the Samarkand region, and the Center for Islamic Civilization in Tashkent are vivid examples of this.
To promote the work carried out in Uzbekistan in this direction, to attract the attention of the world community, especially the Muslim world, to Uzbekistan, as the center of Islamic civilization, it would be considered necessary to organize an annual forum dedicated to various issues of the development of Islamic civilization. It would be advisable to hold this forum at the Center for Islamic Civilization in Tashkent as part of its official opening ceremony (first part) and on Registan Square in Samarkand (second part).
Prominent scientists and public figures in the field of Islam from various countries of the world will be invited to the forum.
Also, within the framework of the forum, a business forum will be held, organized by the Islamic Development Bank, at which issues of the development of Islamic finance in Central Asia will be discussed. Representatives of the world's largest Islamic banks and investment funds will be invited to this business forum, along with representatives of traditional banks and funds, to whom projects throughout Central Asia will be presented, which will allow the introduction of various types of Islamic finance in the region. Within the framework of the forum, tete-a-tete meetings and visits to companies and banks will be organized.
After the completion of the first part of the forum, the forum participants will make a ziyarat to Samarkand and Bukhara, where they will visit the memorial complex of Imam Bukhari and other places revered by Muslims in the Samarkand and Bukhara regions.
The second, final part of the forum will be held at Registan Square in Samarkand, where the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan will address the forum participants and other guests (including the leaders of other countries and representatives of the diplomatic corps) with a welcoming speech.
This will be followed by the ceremony of awarding the laureates of the Imam Bukhari Prize of various nominations to scientists and public figures from their world who have made an outstanding contribution to the development of Islamic civilization in the past year (similar to the ceremony of awarding the Nobel Prize laureates awarded by the King of Sweden).
Thus, every year prominent figures of the Islamic world will gather in Uzbekistan to discuss pressing issues of the development of Islamic civilization (including economic ones, conducted jointly with the Islamic Development Bank), and thus gradually Uzbekistan will turn into a real center of Islamic civilization.
And the presentation by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan of the prestigious award and a special order named after Imam Bukhari to scientists and public figures who have made an outstanding contribution to the development of Islamic civilization will further raise the influence and weight of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan and Uzbekistan in general in the Islamic world.
Besides the rest of the leaders of the Islamic world, it would be advisable to invite the King of Jordan Abdullah II ibn Hussein al-Hashimi, who is the 43rd direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and has great authority both in Islam and in the western world. King Abdullah's speech on the forum will give the forum a special charm and status.
After the end of the second part of the forum, at a solemn ceremony on Registan Square in Samarkand, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan could present King Abdullah with the order named after Imam Bukhari.
This has great symbolic significance, since the prize and the order named after Imam Bukhari will be awarded to the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) King Abdullah and the award ceremony will take place in the city of Samarkand, where in the Shahi Zinda memorial complex lies buried Kusam ibn Abbos, cousin of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).
Much attention will be paid to this event in the Islamic world. Subsequently, it will be possible to invite King Abdullah to join the committee for the selection of laureates for the Imam Bukhari Prize.
This solemn event will be broadcasted to the whole world and it will be interesting for Muslims to visit those places in Uzbekistan, which were previously visited by prominent scientists, theologians and public figures of the Islamic world.
Thus, this annual forum and award ceremony will become a powerful engine encouraging the more than 1.8 billion Muslim part of the world to make ziyrat tours to Uzbekistan.
The need to grow the economy of Uzbekistan through the development of tourism in Uzbekistan, in the place of the revival and development of Islamic civilization
There is an urgent need to take measures to organize new types of tourism, in order to attract tourists from Muslim countries during the period of their Hajj and Umrah, to visit Uzbekistan.
It is necessary to accelerate the development of the ziyarat tours "Umrah + Tashkent", "Hajj + Tashkent" and their wide promotion in Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries where a large number of Muslims live, as well as the creation of favourable conditions in Uzbekistan for such types of ziyarat tours. It would be advisable to invite foreign tourists to stop in Uzbekistan for 1-2 days during their trip to Umrah or Hajj and visit the memorial complexes of Imam Bukhari, Imam At-Termizhi, Bahauddin Naqshband and other great thinkers and scientists. This alone will attract tens of millions of tourists to Uzbekistan every year.
It would be advisable to organize the arrival of foreign pilgrims making Umrah or Hajj from their countries to the Tashkent airport, from where their Uzbek travel companies would take them by high-speed trains to Samarkand and Bukhara for 1-2 days and then bring them back to Tashkent airport, from where they could to fly to Jeddah or Medina. To this end, the construction of a new multimodal airport complex connecting rail and road, that can service tens of millions of tourists annually, is a requirement today.
III. Development of transport infrastructure and transformation of Uzbekistan into the Central Asian aviation hub
The need to build a new multimodal airport complex in the Tashkent region - Imam Bukhari International Airport
The creation of a modern transport infrastructure is an urgent task in the development of tourism in Uzbekistan. The current Tashkent International Airport and 9 more airports, railways and highways do not meet the requirements for the development of foreign and domestic tourism.
Therefore, it is necessary to build a new modern multimodal airport complex outside Tashkent (30-40 km), combining air, rail (metro) and highways. The airport, which will be built in the Tashkent region, within 10 years will become a Central Asian aviation hub with a capacity of 50 million passengers per year. The infrastructure of this hub could be used by 20-30 international airlines of the world, transporting transit (transfer) passengers and cargo from Asia to Europe and America and vice versa.
If this new modern airport is named after Imam Bukhari, it will be an important indicator and impetus to stimulate the more than 180 million transit (transfer) passengers annually flying over Uzbekistan from Asia to Europe and America, and vice versa, including pilgrims, to make a stop at the Tashkent airport, in the center of Islamic civilization, in the homeland of Imam Bukhari.
The mosque, built inside the airport complex, will become one of the largest mosques in the world, built on the territory of the airport. This will allow Muslim pilgrims and travellers not to miss prayer times and create an attractive environment for pilgrims performing Hajj and Umrah.
Financing of construction on the basis of public-private partnership will be carried out through market instruments (issuance of infrastructure bonds) and/or Islamic financing - Sukuk.
In case of interest, Ansher Capital is ready to provide a specific action plan for the implementation of this project.
As a result of the implementation of the above development drivers in the medium and long term, Uzbekistan should take a place in the world that would allow:
A) to significantly develop its economy and the standard of living of its population, so that from a developing country Uzbekistan can join the developed countries of the world;
B) to become the center of Islamic civilization through the development of Islamic science, education and culture, studying and implementing the works of their great ancestors like Imam Bukhari, as well as developing Islamic theology and creating new traditions;
C) widely using the brand of the world-famous name of Imam Bukhari and developing the infrastructure of holy places located on the territory of Uzbekistan, develop ziyarat tourism, become the second center of Islamic religious tourism after Saudi Arabia with a tourist flow of more than 50.0 million people a year;
D) to become one of the powerful financial centers of the world, where the divisions of the largest commercial and investment banks, legal, consulting, insurance and other companies providing international level financial services, including Islamic finance and fintech, will be located, as well as storing huge financial resources, potentially for investing in the economy of Uzbekistan and the region;
E) become an aviation center (hub) of Central and Southeast Asia by building a modern airport complex named after Imam Bukhari in the Tashkent region, with the ability to serve more than 20.0 million religious, transfer, transit passengers annually, as well as cargo coming from Asia to Europe, Middle East, America and back.
At the same time, we will gradually reduce the dependence of the Uzbek economy on the export of mineral resources, preserving them for future generations, reduce labor migration, create new jobs within the country, using the labor of educated and talented youth for the benefit of the development of our country.
It should be noted that the Government of Uzbekistan is carrying out certain works in the above areas, work is underway to create the International Financial Center "Toshkent", the center of Islamic civilization is being built in Tashkent, the memorial complex of Imam Bukhari in the Samarkand region is being rebuilt, many holy places have been repaired, work is underway to develop ziyarat tourism, the work of airports in receiving tourists is improving. However, this is done in a non-complex, fragmented way, it is not subject to a single idea and program.
We would consider it necessary to develop the above types of services as a national idea, the idea of reviving Uzbekistan, finding its rightful place in the world, which no country in the world can claim, the place that our great ancestors left Uzbekistan and the time has come to occupy it.
Thus, we think that the time has come to develop the aforementioned drivers of Uzbekistan's development. If we miss the chance now, we think that tomorrow we will not have such a chance again. We will continue to trail behind a rapidly developing civilization, gain more and more loans and lose our financial, religious and transport security.
We are firmly convinced that our generation has no right to allow such a thing.
CEO of Ansher Capital,
PhD in Economics
*) Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI 31)