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Old Saturday, November 10, 2012
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Pakistan and the Central Asian States

Pakistan’s relations with the Central Asian Republics have made good progress during the past few years. A time may come, when Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the Central Asian States may form a Common Market.

The Central Asian States (CAS), i.e., Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, with a total population of over 60 millions spread over an area of about four million square kilometers, 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 Asia 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.
Current Scenario of Relations between Pakistan and Central Asian States

1. ECO, Pakistan & 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 State and Government to meet. Bilateral meetings on the sidelines offer a closer focus on bilateral relations

2. Common Security Policy
• There is a desire in Pakistan that the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) of the Central Asian States, which is basically an economic grouping, should try 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.
• Although Central Asian States are land-locked and dependent on other regional partners for export purposes but still all eyes are set on central Asian States. 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 Central Asian States and they geared up their trade.

3. Trade and Economic Cooperation
Pakistan should concentrate on the economic and trade ties with CA States.
• 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 Kazhakistan 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.

4. Investing in Untapped Natural Resources of CA States
• Although Central Asian States are land-locked and dependent on other regional partners for export purposes but still all eyes are set on central Asian States. 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 Central Asian States and they geared up their trade.
• Pakistan’s loans of $ 10 to 30 million to each of the CA States and its commitment to cooperate in the building of $500 million hydel power station in Tajikstan are some of the many indicators of its keen wish to assist them in their economic development.

5. Direct Air Link
• The expansion of PIA’s air network to Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Alma Ata in Kazakstan is a major step forward in cementing ties with these two states. The PIA is has finalized plans for air services to the capitals of the other three Central Asian States

6. Cooperation in Admission to OIC
• Pakistan cooperated with the CA States in their admission to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

7. Communication Network and Media exchanges
• 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.
• Media exchanges between Pakistan and the Central Asian States are at present skimpy and their canvas must be expanded rapidly.

8. 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.

9. Technical Assistance Programme
• Under Technical Assistance Program initiated in 1992-3 Pakistan provided training facilities, which are fully funded. The Program 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

Measures to improve the Relations with CA States
Following measures and implementations will improve the ties between Pakistan and Central Asian states.

1. Pakistan an attraction of Shortest Land Route
• Pakistan would enjoy the role of middle man 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 give discomfort to Russia.

2. Encourage Mutual Trade
• The Government of Pakistan, despite its economic difficulties, should provided more credit facilities to the Central Asian States to encourage mutual trade and the setting up of stable banking channels.

3. 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 tire Southern Hemisphere.
• The ports of Abadan and Bander Abbas in Iran and the Karachi port in Pakistan can handle this transit trade by expanding their facilities rapidly. The Tajik capital of Dushanbe is about 3000 kilometers from Bander Abbas in Iran and about 2200 kilometers from Karachi while the Black Sea port of Odessa for access to the Mediterranean is about 4200 kilometers away

4. Speedy Implementation of Projects
• Bilaterally and through the ECO, many schemes and projects for intra-regional cooperation in trade and travel, industrial enterprises as joint ventures, banking and exchange of technology and technical know-how are rapidly emerging, whose speedy implementation would be to their mutual advantage.

5. Expertise in Banking system to be shared
• A strong, modern banking system capable of operating internationally without dependence on or control by Moscow, is a dire need of all Central Asian States and Pakistan has the expertise and the infrastructure to assist them in this direction.

6. Joint Shipping Company to be established
• The landlocked Central Asian states can even set up a joint shipping company with Pakistan under the aegis of the EC.O to handle a large part of their transit trade.

7. Gwadar Port- An Asset for Pakistan and the Central Asian States
• If Pakistan speeds up the development of the Gawadar port on the Baluchistan coast into a large-size modern port, it can be an asset for this province as well as for the CA States.

8. Trade via the Land Route
• Kazakstan’s ruling leaders, who are energetically improving their relation with Beijing, have shown interest in building rail and road links with Urumchi, capital of the Chinese province of Xinjiang, and thus using the Karakorum Highway between Pakistan and China for trade via the land route.

9. Cheap Air Cargo Service
• A cheap and regular air cargo service between Pakistan and the CA states is the need of the hour.

10. Dynamic Railway Network
• The Pakistan railway network, which runs Zahidan in Iran, should he linked via Iran with Turkmenistan, Pakistan and China are now working on the expansion of the Sino-Pakistan and Karakorum Highway in such a way that it will be extended to Tajikistan, Kyrgistan and Kazakstan will give a boost to intra-regional trade among these states.

11. Pakistan to invite senior editors of newspapers of CA States
• Pakistan should invite senior editors of newspapers of the Central Asian States to Pakistan and provide them with ample opportunities to know facts for themselves and to study Pakistan’s economic development, especially its industrialization, in the past 48 years of its independence

12. Business Encouragement backed by the Governments of Pakistan in CA States
• With Governmental encouragements, Pakistani entrepreneurs can set up industrial units in Uzbekistan, Kazakstan and other CA states, especially for footwear, textiles, building materials, agro-processing, cold storage, petro-chemicals, garments and pharmaceuticals.

13. Cooperation between the Universities
• There is immense scope for cooperation between the Universities of Pakistan and those in the CA States. Pakistan, which has a low literacy rate of 30 per cent, can learn a great deal from the CA States which have made nearly 95 per cent of their population literate. It would have a salubrious effect on their relations with Pakistan for their mutual benefit.

14. 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 1,500-kilometre-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 300 million 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 pursing 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-tossed 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 pry open this passage to gain access to the ex-Soviet republics.

While regional and international circumstances have no doubt conspired against Pakistan, the latter should leave no stone unturned in combating international terrorism, building a sound infrastructure along Pakistan-Afghan border and cleansing its own fractious 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.

Sohaib Nisar Ahmad
True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing. "Socrates"
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