Greater regional connectivity & emerging geopolitics | By Dr Mehmood-ul-Hassan Khan


Greater regional connectivity & emerging geopolitics

PACE and prospect of greater regional connectivity is now getting momentum.

All regional stake holders have been striving hard to overcome the looming impasse of Afghanistan for sustainable Central Asia and South Asia connectivity.

On the contrary, an unexpected increase in ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan has alarmed the entire region.

Nevertheless, Pakistan, the Republic of Uzbekistan, China and Turkey are still trying to save the idea of greater regional connectivity via turbulent Afghanistan.

In this connection, an international connectivity summit entitled “Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity.

Challenges and Opportunities” will be held in Tashkent on July 15-16 as an initiative of the President of Uzbekistan.

Heads of Foreign States and governments, representatives of international organizations, financial institutions, investment funds and companies, as well as global research and analytical centers will take part in this conference.

It has strategic importance and utility for the host country because it will present the strategic vision of Uzbekistan on strengthening connectivity in Central Asian and South Asian regions.

It will discuss specific proposals for implementing the transport & transit potential of the countries of the two regions, entering promising markets, expanding exports, attracting investment, innovation and technology and enhancing humanitarian and tourist exchanges. It will have three common themes of discussion, economy, security and culture.

In this connection, Uzbek President H.E. Shavkat Mirziyoyev has invited the leaders of four Central Asian states, together with the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan.

Leading representatives of Russia, Iran, China, the US and the EU will also be visiting Tashkent to attend this conference.

Tashkent has been working tirelessly to showcase its rich culture, economic, business and investment potential.

Thus it will utilize this conference as a launching pad for Central Asia’s deeper engagement with South Asia.

A major objective of the said conference is the development of solid foundations for closer interaction between Central and South Asian regions, identifying specific projects of a strategic nature for which various interactive sessions have been finalized.

It is hoped that this conference will be a value addition for the further expansion and deepening of mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation in Central Asia and far beyond.

It will open a new window of opportunity for greater regional and interregional connectivity and will have a new impetus to development and prosperity in the entire vast region of Eurasia.

It is hoped that Pakistan will sign trade agreements with Uzbekistan to explore over US$90 billion exports potential in central Asia for achieving its unprecedented exports target of US$35 billion set for the fiscal year 2021-22.

For the purpose of Central Asia greater connectivity, Prime Minister Imran Khan will be leaving for Uzbekistan on July 13, 2021.

During his three-day visit Pakistan and Uzbekistan will sign Transit and Preferential Trade Agreements.

In this regard, both countries have agreed to allocate dedicated space in Gwadar and Tashkent for establishing warehousing facilities to help each other in the transportation of goods to other regional countries.

Moreover, both countries have planned to transport goods under the TIR Convention because the first-ever truck from Uzbekistan reached Pakistan under the TIR Convention in 48 hours.

The government of Pakistan is contemplating offering loans to the transporters to update the country’s dilapidated logistics network.

It is hoped that several big transport infrastructure projects in the region will also be discussed, especially most recently proposed trans-regional railways project, CASA-1000 and TAPI gas pipeline.

To make this conference more valuable conflicting realities and geo-political difficulties and their doable solutions will also be discussed.

Moreover, Uzbekistan would be a starting point for building stable and sustainable interconnection in the region of Central and South Asia.

Hopefully, the diplomatic sincere efforts and rise to commercial diplomacy of Tashkent will be showcased in the upcoming conference which will strengthen its role as a reliable conductor and vital stabilizer/equalizer of all Central Asian states.

Pakistan will be benefited from increasing close ties with Uzbekistan which is indeed a gateway of Central Asia and has borders with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.

On its part, Pakistan offers its seaport to Uzbekistan for trade. In September 2020, Uzbekistan Deputy Prime Minister for Investment and Foreign Trade, Sardor Umurzakov, visited Pakistan.

During the visit, a Joint Working Group on Trade and Economic Affairs was established to explore possibilities of a preferential trade agreement (PTA) between the two nations.

Both sides vowed to cooperate in fields of trade, communications, banking, maritime and investment.

In addition, Pakistan agreed to facilitate the movement of Uzbek trade shipments through local seaports.

The two countries will hold a Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) meeting in Tashkent on July 14, 2021 followed by the Pakistan-Uzbekistan Trade, Investment and Connectivity Conference on July 15-16.

The conference will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan and the president of Uzbekistan.

The implementation of the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar will provide easy access to all the Central Asian countries, particularly to the Pakistani ports of Karachi, Qasim and Gwadar.

It will also connect the South Asian railway system with the Central Asian and Eurasian railway systems and significantly increase the transit potential of the entire Central Asian region.

Fortunately, Pakistan has multidimensional schemes of arrangement due to which the trans-Afghan route is not the only available option for greater regional connectivity.

The opportunity to access Pakistani ports via China, bypassing Afghanistan, is also on the table and now progressing.

That route would go via the Karakoram Highway, which connects Gilgit-Baltistan to China’s Xinjiang region.

Being a prominent regional expert of Uzbekistan and CIS, I am optimistic of achieving the desired goals of greater regional connectivity between Central Asia and South Asia.

During 2021 the successful virtual summit of President of Uzbekistan H.E. Shavkat Mirziyoyev with Prime Minister Imran Khan has further strengthened beneficial cooperation between the two countries.

It actually opened a new window of opportunity for both the countries to extend cooperation in diverse sectors of economy, trade & commerce, security and defense cooperation, energy & food cooperation and last but not the least, collaboration in textiles, culture, education and tourism.

Uzbekistan has successfully started its journey of immense socio-economic prosperity, economic sustainability, political stability, regional connectivity, reconciliation, innovation, qualitative education, human capital and last but not the least, “commercial diplomacy” towards its third renaissance during which dreams of greater regional connectivity will be achieved.

—The writer is Director, Geopolitics/Economics Member Board of Experts, CGSS.

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