Pakistan’s relations with the Central Asian Republics have made good progress during the past few years. The Central Asian States (CAS), i.e., Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are located on historical Silk Route. The region has adjoining borders with South Asia, West Asia, China and Russia and is of great geo-strategic and politico-economic importance. Its potential is attracting the attention of extra regional powers.
Pakistan-Central Asian relations are based on geographical proximity, common history, religion, culture, traditions, values and destiny. Pakistan and these states can work together in matters of security, stability and development of the region.
They can collaborate in numerous areas such as scientific and technical fields, banking, insurance, information technology, pharmaceutical industry, tourism and media. The economies of CAS and Pakistan are complementary to each other. There is cooperation in several spheres notably, war against terrorism, combating religious extremism and drug trafficking.
ECO, Pakistan And Central Asian States:
Pakistan and Central Asian States are also the members of Economic Cooperation Organization; it provides a good opportunity for the Heads of States and Government to meet.
Bilateral meetings on the sidelines offer a closer focus on bilateral relations.
Common Security Policy:
There is a desire in Pakistan that the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) of the CAS, which is basically an economic grouping, should try to play to assume a political role and in due course of time also aspire to the possibility of geopolitical and geo-economic role.
ECO may help in adopting a common security policy on similar grounds as pursued by EU in the European States combating religious extremism and Terrorism.
Trade And Economic Cooperation:
Pakistan should concentrate on the economic and trade ties with CAS.
An important agreement has been concluded with Germany for a rail-road from Hamburg to /Shanghai, through Eastern Europe, Moscow, Tashkent, Kabul, Lahore, Delhi and Shanghai.
This would open the rich mineral deposits of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for exploration and export by Pakistan and through the Arabian sea again, with a new railway road from the Khyber Pass to the Russian land.
Investing In Untapped Natural Resources Of CAS:
The Caspian Sea in Central Asia contains the world’s largest untapped oil and gas resources.
All countries in the region are getting close to CAS and they geared up their trade.
Pakistan’s loans of $ 10 to 30 million to each of the CAS and its commitment to cooperate in the building of $ 500 m hydel power station in Tajikistan are some of the many indicators of its keen wish to assist them on their economic development.
Direct Air Link:
The expansion of PIA’s air network to Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Alma Ata in Kazakhstan is a major step forward in cementing ties with these two states.
Cooperation In Admission To OIC:
Pakistan cooperated with CAS in their admission to the organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
Communication Network And Media Exchange:
Radio Pakistan is working on projects to strengthen its service for the Central Asian region so that the people there can be informed and educated about Pakistan in their own native languages.
An expansion of Pakistan Television’s Transmission facilities in Peshawar can enable it to beam its TV programmes to the entire Central Asian region, covering all of Afghanistan as well.
Establishment Of Joint Economic Commission:
Pakistan developed institutionalized arrangement to promote cooperation in the economic and commercial fields.
For this purpose Joint Economic Commissions (JECs) have been established with all the Central Asian States.
Technical Assistance Programme:
Under Technical Assistance Programme initiated in 1992-93, Pakistan provided training facilities, which are fully funded.
The programme includes courses ranging from English language, banking and accountancy to diplomacy.
These have contributed to better understanding and closer cooperation. Pakistan wishes to keep up the momentum.
Following measures and implementations will improve the ties between Pakistan and CAS.
i) Pakistan An Attraction Of Shortest Land Route:
Pakistan would enjoy the role of middleman between the SAARC, ECO and EEC and the attraction of the shortest land route to the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and the Black Sea would clearly irk Russia.
ii) Encourage Mutual Trade:
The government of Pakistan, despite its economic difficulties, should provide more credit facilities to the Central Asian States to encourage mutual trade and the setting up of stable banking channels.
iii) Better Port Facilities For Handling The Transit Trade:
Despite their ethnic bonds with Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, the CA States can benefit more from Pakistan’s port facilities, trade and commerce with the countries in entire Southern Hemisphere.
The port of Abadan and Bader Abbas in Iran and Karachi port in Pakistan can handle this transit trade by expanding their facilities rapidly. The Tajik capital of Dushanbe is about 3000 km from Bander Abbas in Islam and about 2200 km from Karachi. While the Black Sea port of Odessa for access to the Mediterranean is about 4200 km away.
iv) Speedy Implementation Of Projects.
Bilaterally and through the ECO, many schemes and projects are rapidly emerging, whose speedy implementation would be to their mutual advantage.
v) Expertise in Banking System To Be Shared:
A strong modern banking system capable of operating internationally is a dire need of all Central Asian States and Pakistan has the expertise and the infrastructure to assist them in this direction.
vi) Joint Shipping Company To Be Established:
The landlocked Central Asian States can even set up a joint shipment company with Pakistan under the aegis of the ECO to handle a large port of their transit trade.
vii) Gwadar Port An Asset For Pakistan And The CAS:
If Pakistan speeds up the development of the Gwadar port on the Baluchistan coast into a large-size modern port, it can be an asset for this province as well as for the CAS.
viii) Trade Via The Land Route:
Kazakhstan’s ruling leaders, who are energetically improving their relations with Beijing, have shown interest in building rail and road links with Urumchi, capital of the Chinese province of Xinjiang, and thus using the Karakoram Highway between Pakistan and China for trade via the land route.
ix) Cheap Air Cargo Service:
A cheap and regular air cargo service between Pakistan and the CAS is the need of the hour.
x) Dynamic Railway Network:
The Pakistan railway network should be linked via Iran with Turkmenistan.
xi) Pakistan TO Invite Senior Editors Of Newspaper Of CAS:
Pakistan should invite senior editors of newspapers of the CAS to Pakistan and provide them with ample opportunities to know facts about Pakistan’s economic development and industrialisation.
xii) Business Encouragement Backed By The Government Of Pakistan In CAS:
With Government encouragements, Pakistani entrepreneurs can set up industrial units in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other CAS.
xiii) Cooperation Between The Universities:
There is immense scope for cooperation between the Universities of Pakistan and those in the CAS. Pakistan can learn a great deal from the CAS which have made nearly 95% of their population literate.
xiv) Regional Security Is TO Be Improved:
Pakistan’s relations with the Central Asian Republics have made good progress during the past few years. With improved regional security after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan have decided to push ahead with plans for the ambitious 1500 kms-long gas pipeline. The leaders of the three countries have signed a framework agreement (The Trans Afghanistan Pipeline).
The Trans-Afghanistan pipeline would export Turkmen gas (from Dualtabad gas field) via Afghanistan to Pakistan, from where it could reach world markets. Proponents of the project see it as a modern continuation of the Silk Road.
The Asian Development Bank is the leading coordinating financial and technical partner.
The stabilization and steady expansion of these relations may take time and would require deft, patient and wise handling on the part of the States concerned. A time may come, perhaps sooner than expected, when Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the six West and Central Asian States; having a population of nearly 300m and an area larger than that of the SAARC region, may form a Common Market.
In the meantime, Central Asia and Pakistan must keep on vigorously pursuing the peace option in Afghanistan. Mutual Pak-Afghan trade is expected to reach Rs. One billion in this year.
In the final analysis, it is the “Afghan corridor” that is still blocking Pakistan’s physical access to the CARs, and vice versa, only its unblocking will materialize the connectivity with South and Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, the war-torn Afghanistan remains a major stumbling block. Yet it holds the ultimate key for Pakistan to gain access to the CARs. Therefore, all efforts need to be focused to try opening this passage to gain access to the ex-Soviet Republics.
While regional and international circumstances have no doubt conspired against Pakistan, the latter should have no stone unturned in combating international terrorism, building a sound infrastructure along Pak-Afghan border and cleansing its own fraction tribal belt of foreign militants. At the same time, there is a dire need in setting its political house in order by co-opting major political parties and regaining the trust and goodwill of Afghans through trade assistance and policy of non-interference.
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