By Muzaffar Ahmed
Proceeding with its foreign policy objectives of seeking protection, promotion
and advancement in national interests in the external domain; Pakistan makes
endeavors to engage with other countries. Our relations with neighbours and
particularly the Big Three – US, Russia and China – are quite evident due to our
frequent engagements. While glancing at the Central Asian States, though we are
engaged through multilateral forums such as ECO, OIC and SCO; yet, bilateral
collaboration potentials of Pakistan and Central Asian States remain partially
tapped. Contrarily, India has grounded its strong bases and structures in these
states and pursuing its interests quite vigorously.
Looking at these states as a whole, it can be stated that their interrelations
keep transiting in a fragile equation of moderate and good on political,
economic and ethnic grounds. Likewise, their foreign relations range from
alliances to the policies of neutrality with the US, Russia and China in line
with their interests and influences of the Big Three. Moreover besides their
native languages, Russian being the second official language leaves great impact
and becomes barrier for legacies of the British ex colonies.
First of all Tajikistan; it is a growing economy with reservoirs of aluminum and
cotton. Though, Pakistan and Tajikistan leaderships have been conducting
meetings on annual or biannual basis, yet the potentials are not being optimally
benefitted. Our bilateral trade volume rests on $70 million as compared to
India’s $80 million. Progress on long talked CASA-1000 has remained lukewarm;
thus a 13-65km of Wakhan Corridor has emphatically turned into 1000 miles
barrier. Cultural and educational exchanges are rare perhaps due to nonexistence
of direct air link and ground connectivity. On the other hand, Tajik people are
fond of watching Indian movies. The US maintains its presence at Ayne Base
(north of Dushanbe), India at Farkhore Base (south of Dushanbe) and Russia stays
with its motorized Brigade in place to further their defence and economic
cooperation. China, Turkey, US and India are bringing heavy investments by
providing IT, construction and defence related equipment to Tajikistan.
The electricity, gold, cotton and uranium enriched Kyrgyzstan favours close
relations with the members of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS),
particularly Kazakhstan and Russia. The Pakistan-Kyrgyz trade volume remains on
the lowest ebb i.e. ranging between $1-2 million, but India has $49 million. In
the recent past, Prime Minister-level meetings have been conducted to boost
bilateral trade and engagements but implementation remains a sore point.
Non-existent direct air link results in minimal cultural exchanges and lowering
opportunities. Kyrgyzstan is experiencing a dramatic increase in trade with the
People's Republic of China, its southern neighbour. Our neglects have resulted
in Kyrgyz leaderships largely supporting Indian stand on Kashmir. India and the
US are effectively engaged in bilateral defence cooperation with Kyrgyzstan.
Indian-Kyrgyz media exchanges are quite often, thus the Kyrgyz have predominant
fascination of the Indian culture.
Kazakhstan, a dominant nation of Central Asia, is economically generating 60
percent of the region's GDP; primarily through its oil and gas industry and vast
mineral resources. It pursues a multi-vector foreign policy, seeking equally
good relations with its two big neighbours – Russia and China – as well as with
the US and the rest of the western world. The Pakistan-Kazakhstan trade volume
is around $35 million far low than the Indian $995 million. Although we have
established an elaborate diplomatic setup in Kazakhstan for high or low level
bilateral engagements for trade, economic, scientific, technological and
cultural cooperation, yet the progress remains very slow. Contrarily,
India-Kazakhstan engagements such as developing joint economic and
military-industrial projects and establishing a partnership between the defence
industries have gone way forward.
The natural gas-rich Uzbekistan has been predicted by a survey of Global Bank of
Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) to be one of the
fastest-growing economies of the world (top 26) in future decades. It has fourth
largest gold deposits, tenth largest copper deposits and twelfth largest uranium
deposits in the world. It maintains friendly relations with all the countries
except experiencing few dips in the relations with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan on
ethnic and geographical grounds. Our bilateral trade volume is around $40
million – low as compared to our needs against India’s $230 million. One of the
major challenges between Pakistan and Uzbekistan was the direct link, which was
resolved when direct flights started their operations from Tashkent to Lahore
since April 2016. Pakistan has signed MoUs during high level exchanges in the
fields of export of engineering goods, medical equipment, sports goods, and
textile fabrics while Uzbekistan has agreed to export cotton fiber, silk,
minerals, fertilizers, cables, construction material, transmission lines,
transformers, consumer electronics, mobile phones and building materials along
with agriculture machinery, chemicals and aircraft. Uzbekistan has been an
active supporter of the US efforts against worldwide terrorism in Afghanistan.
Lastly, Turkmenistan possesses the world's fourth largest reserves of natural
gas resources, but economic prospects of the country in the near future are
discouraging because of widespread internal poverty and burden of foreign debt.
It bases its foreign relations on permanent neutrality, thus preventing it from
participating in multinational defence organizations, but allows military
assistance. However, it maintains good relations with other nations. In addition
to supplying gas to Russia, China and Iran; Ashgabat has taken concrete measures
to accelerate the progress in construction of the
Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI). Unfortunately, the
security situation in Afghanistan is impeding the completion of TAPI project.
The Pak-Turkmen trade volume lies around $25 million against India’s $42
million. Areas of investment remain trade, energy, agriculture, livestock,
science, technology, education, health, sports, tourism and defence. Factors of
lack of direct cargo links, safe and direct land routes, knowledge of Pakistani
products, and visa facilitation hamper expansion of trade with Turkmenistan.
High level leadership meetings have affirmed to adjoin the ports of Turkmenbasy
(Caspian Sea) and Gwadar (Indian Ocean) to shape domestic and international
The Government of Pakistan and leaderships of Central Asian States are
reasonably cautious of improving bilateral relations amongst each other.
However, the language barrier and issues of direct ground and air links are
hindering it badly. Notwithstanding these barriers, we may have to put in extra
efforts to improve people-to-people contacts and direct public or private sector
investments to get into the Central Asian markets as being followed by the
Indian and other nations’ businessmen. Our embassies abroad also need to be
appropriately resourced and equipped to look after civil and defence related
engagements. Media exchanges and cultural festivities such as fashion shows,
musical nights, airing of own movies and dramas duly dubbed in local languages
can bring us closer. Bilateral expatriate community bases and residencies need
to be enhanced by offering education and sports programmes and events. At the
end, despite security and connectivity challenges due to instable Afghanistan,
we will have to exhibit more dedication and commitment to meet the requirements
of national interests.
(The writer is a freelance columnist from Bhera)