Economy and energy
In the first five years of independence, Uzbekistan plunged into an economic crisis that reached its peak in 1992 (with a decrease in GDP of 11%). From 1996, however, the economy recovered, settling on growth rates of around 4%. Since 2005, the country has grown considerably, showing an average annual growth of more than 8% which, albeit in the context of a slight slowdown due to the worsening of regional economic conditions, should be confirmed in the five-year period 2016-20, settling around at 6.5%. Thanks to this extraordinary economic expansion, the GDPit has more than doubled in twenty years (and today exceeds 60 billion dollars). Uzbekistan is the second largest economy in Central Asia, after that of Kazakhstan (which has a GDP of 195 billion dollars), although Uzbek GDP per capita, at purchasing power parity, is still a long way from Kazakhstan. and from the Turkmen one: 6000 dollars in 2015 against, respectively, 24,300 and 15,335 dollars.
The extraordinary economic growth was driven by the increase in cotton exports and, above all, by the rise in the price of gold, of which the country is the tenth largest producer in the world. However, the agricultural sector has experienced fluctuating periods, due to the fact that only 9% of the country’s surface can be cultivated and that almost all of it needs artificial irrigation channels (source of important disputes with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). Despite growth, Uzbekistan has moved slowly and with contradictory results on the road to economic reform. While declaring himself in favor of the market economy, President Karimov has only started timid liberalizations since the beginning of the twenty-first century. On the other hand, only the oligarchic circles close to Karimov benefited from the equally timid privatizations, who often influences the outcome of tenders and conceives the liberalization of the economy as an extension of his patronage system. Extremely widespread corruption hinders the attraction of foreign capital.
According to indexdotcom, the main industrial sector is the energy one. Unlike its Caspian neighbors, Uzbekistan does not have vast reserves of oil (as is the case with Kazakhstan) or gas (such as Turkmenistan). However, oil was sufficient to ensure energy self-sufficiency until 2010, when the country began to import limited quantities. The expansion in gas production made it possible in 2009 to export a significant part of the production. The gas exports their main recipients are Russia and Kazakhstan, also because the country was connected only to the Kazakh infrastructure network. New prospects for diversification of export channels have opened with the inauguration, at the end of 2009, of the gas pipeline between Turkmenistan and China, which passes through Uzbek territory. Since August 2012, Uzbekistan has started exporting gas to the east, based on an agreement for the supply of 10 Gmc / y of methane – a volume that could be increased thanks to the Sino-Uzbek agreement for the increase of infrastructure capacity. In addition, Uzbek territory is included in the expansion project of the gas pipeline between Turkmenistan and China, which will also include Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
However, the high internal consumption of the resource weighs on the increase in gas export flows, which covers more than 87% of the national energy mix. Unless introducing tools for the rationalization and diversification of national consumption, the increase in gas production estimated for the next twenty years could be totally absorbed by the parallel increase in domestic demand. So much so that, according to forecasts from the international energy agency, Uzbekistan could even become a net importer of gas around 2035.
Defense and security
The Uzbek is the largest army in Central Asia. In the twenty years since its independence, the country has never suffered direct threats to its security from the outside, but has had to face the problem of the instability of its borders, also intervening with its own military contingent during the civil war in Tajikistan (1992-97). The rise and fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan then prompted Uzbekistan to strengthen cooperation with the United States. From 2001 to 2005 the country conceded to the USthe use of the Karshi-Khanabad base, used by the US air force as a hub for the northern supply route for the military in Afghanistan. The fight against cross-border networks of terrorism was, on the other hand, the most traditional concern of the Uzbek government which, since the second half of the 1990s, has identified Islamic fundamentalism as the main threat to the country and the region. The reduction to silence of the political and parliamentary opposition was accompanied by the rise, in the second half of the 1990s, of clandestine Islamic groups that adopted armed struggle, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (Imu), towards which the frequent repressions of the security forces have been directed, often also used to strike political opponents and as an instrument of pressure on neighboring countries. The government, accused by the international community and the United States of using Islamic extremism to justify disproportionate reactions on the part of the security forces, with the aim of preventing a possible contagion of the ‘color revolutions’ which at that time were spreading in the post-Soviet space, revoked the concession of the base to the Americans and, in 2006, returned to the CSTO. In addition, the Uzbek government has built, in recent years, an electrified and, in some parts, mined protective barrier, especially at its southeastern borders with Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The barrier is almost 2,800 kilometers long, equal to 45% of the land borders. However, the rapprochement with Moscow in security cooperation has not been univocal: Uzbekistan has progressively deepened relations with China, while it has not completely interrupted dialogue with Western interlocutors and, in particular, with the United States.