PAK CARs’ Affinity: This article explains the bond between Pakistan and Central Asian Republics. Published in WINGS INTERNATIONAL.

The colloquially referred to as “the stans”  are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. These countries were once a part of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and now collectively form the region called Central Asia. The region historically played a role as crossroads to connect people, commodities and ideas between Europe, Western Asia, South Asia, and East Asia. It was the Silk Road that paved the path to such transfers.  Central Asia is an extremely large region of diverse geography, including high passes and mountains, vast deserts, and especially treeless grassy steppes. 

After gaining independence in 1990’s the controlled economy started moving toward market economy, and all five countries are implementing structural reforms to improve competitiveness. The fastest growth in industry was observed in Turkmenistan, whereas Kazakhstan leads the Central Asian region in terms of foreign direct investments. The Kazakhstan economy accounts for more than 70% of all the investment attracted in Central Asia. In terms of the economic influence of big powers, China is viewed as one of the key economic players in Central Asia; especially after Beijing launched its grand development strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013.

Since independence Central Asian states have acquired the attention of regional and global powers. Geographically, this region is landlocked but very rich in natural resources. Pakistan, on the other hand, lacks energy resources and therefore took due notice of the geo-strategic importance of Central Asian states in the changed security paradigm after the end of the Cold War.  Pakistan’s geo-strategic location makes it difficult for Central Asian regimes to ignore Pakistan. In recent years, Pakistan’s relations with the Central Asian Republics (CARs) have improved. 

Importantly, Pakistan and Central Asian states have common history, topographical vicinity, religion and culture. From geostrategic point of view, Pakistan provides these regional states the shortest route to global sea trade. They have signed several agreements, treaties and memorandum of understandings (MoUs), but due to political instability and fragile security situation of Afghanistan and lack of attention from the side of policy makers in Pakistan, these agreements remained ineffective. It is important to have a quick view of the history relevant to Pakistan’s relation with each of the central Asian country and then draw the futuristic prospects.

Pak-Kyrgyz Relations

A Protocol for the foundation of strategic relations between Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan was signed in 1992 aimed at   exchanging trade and financial, scientific, technical, and social collaboration. Pakistan’s ambassadorial level diplomatic mission at Bishkek was established in 1995. In the wake of Kyrgyzstan getting autonomy, Islamabad  promptly  conceded  it   a  credit   of US$10 million for the foundation of pharmaceutical  manufacturing  plant   at Bishkek, and when the republic  was incapable to pay back this credit  on time due to its extremely severe economic situation, Pakistan postponed twice, in 1994 and 2000, the due time limit  for six years  under  a  mutual  agreement. Such gesture of Pakistan is always memorized and valued by Kyrgyz counterparts. Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan have been parties to Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA) treaty alongside Kazakhstan and China, continuing since May 2004 and the agreement was restored in 2011. They communicated interest for participation in the structure of Central Asia-South Asia Regional Electricity Market (CASAREM) to permit electricity transportation from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Pakistan.  There are more than 330 Pakistani companies listed in Kyrgyzstan and doing fruitful business. Moreover with the support of Pakistan,  Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have not only become the members of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) rather Kyrgyzstan hosted the SCO summit 2019.

Pak-Kazakh Ties

Kazakhstan is the biggest landlocked state in the world and is very rich in natural resources like gas, oil, coal, uranium, lead, gold and others. Furthermore, being a dynamic  part   of  various  organizations  like  OSCE,  OIC,  ECO,  SCO,  CST O, EBRD, Kazakhstan provides Pakistan with an extraordinary chance to become a trade  and  energy  passage  via  Gwadar  Port .  Keeping before an imperative component   of Pakistan’s vital objectives in Central Asia: advancement of regional financial integration, Pakistan encourages the investments in Kazakhstan. There are around 69 Pakistani corporations that are registered in Kazakhstan and presently Pak-Kazakh trade has reached to a level of around US$28.42 million. The Pakistani export to Kazakhstan largely consists of precious stones and jewelry, textile, chemical and pharmaceutical products, agricultural and food goods, vegetables, shoes, leather items, sport and medical equipment, construction materials etc.

Pak-Uzbek Links

Since  1991,  the  governments  of  Pakistan  and  Uzbekistan  have  consented  to nearly  fifty  six  bilateral  treaties  and  MoU’s,  to  give  an  official  structure  to growing  cooperation  in  various  areas.  These areas include trade and finance, medical services, traditions, science and technology, agriculture, sports, media, tourism, communications, banking, travel, transportation, shirking of twofold tax, anti-terrorism, deportation, legal support, education and military-specialization.  The agreement   between Uzbekistan and Pakistan included special reference to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is viewed as a significant   danger to Uzbekistan’s safety and Pakistan military through her unmatchable strategy supporting Uzbekistan to fight the terror. Uzbekistan can supply electricity, cotton, gas, and such minerals as gold, copper, iron, lead, and chromium to Pakistan, while in exchange Pakistan is able to supply cement, textiles, shoes, medicines, garments, machinery, telecom and military gear. Uzbekistan has the fifth biggest gold stores on the planet and positions seventh in gold possession. Both nations crossed US$ 122 million trade turnover in 2019 that was just US$36.6 million in 2017. Each year, the trade turnover between Uzbekistan and Pakistan is increasing at a steady pace and estimated to expand in coming years.

Pak-Tajik Connections

Tajikistan is enthusiastic to be a large producer of hydroelectric power. Pakistan is  interested  in  buying  electricity  from  Tajikistan  and  is  prepared  to  make investments in Tajik hydro energy ventures. Tajikistan needs access to Pakistani ports via the 4,362.7 meter elevated Murghab Kulma road; also called Karasu Pass, that   links Tajikistan with  the  trans-Asian Karakoram  Highway. Pakistan has offered the shortest conceivable route to Tajikistan and other states of the region to reach its ports. The construction of Murghab Kulma highway from Tajikistan to China connecting the Karakoram interstate to Pakistan is on progress mode. Once operationalized, it will support the transit trade between Pakistan and the Central Asia.

Pak-Turkim Relations

Turkmenistan has the fourth biggest gas reserves on the planet and the economic part of Pakistan and Turkmenistan relations is focused primarily around construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Earlier it was TAP and India is introduced in the project by USA seeing her geographical interests. In the proposed undertaking, the 1,680 kilometer long gas pipeline, sponsored by the Asian Development   Bank, will transport 90 million standard cubic meters (MSCMD) of natural gas every day from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad gas field. In any case, a real obstacle to the venture remains the unstable situation in Afghanistan, and therefore Pakistan role to stabilize Afghanistan makes rational meaning.

The Future Outlook

Neither Pakistan nor CARs have ever underestimated the importance of each other. After 9/11 plenty of geo-strategic choices was altered and bilateral relations been obstructed. Though Pakistan kept its commitment with CARs but still there are few areas that require attention to strengthen the relation. Pakistan and CARs should exchange parliamentary and other governmental and non-governmental delegations frequently and focus on people to people contacts. Pakistan has a railway network with Zahidan in Iran that should be extended to Turkmenistan via Surrukh border. There is immense scope for cooperation between the Universities of Pakistan and those in Central Asia. Pakistan, with a low literacy rate, can learn a great deal from the Central Asian states, which have made nearly 95% of their population literate. There is also a need to enhance the media exchanges: print, electronic and social, between Pakistan and CARs. Central Asia, with a combined gross domestic product of US $ 207 billion and a population of 66 million, can offer a sizeable market for Pakistan’s goods, services and investment.

China has assumed the responsibility of developing Gwadar port with an intention to develop an energy and trade route for CARs and rest of the region. It is a golden opportunity to change the destiny of the region as Pakistan could provide a bridge between Central Asia, South Asian, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and the European Union (EU) countries.  The mutual cooperation and steady development in Pakistan-Central Asia relations will eventually lead towards socio-economic stability in the region. And in the future, all regional countries may opt for the establishment of a common market for the well-being of their people. After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s policy makers will have to design carefully Pakistan’s regional policy for the maintenance of peace and stability in Afghanistan and to safe its political and economic interests in the Central Asia.