Pakistan and Uzbekistan – A relationship on the move
On the invitation of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Honorable President of Uzbekistan, H.E. Shavkat Mirziyoyev will pay a State Visit to Pakistan on 3-4 March 2022.
The visit will coincide with the 30th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Pakistan was among the first countries to recognize Uzbekistan and the third to open its Embassy in Tashkent.
Since the independence of Uzbekistan, the two countries have worked to forge a strong and closer relationship.
Pakistan’s geostrategic location naturally makes it a connectivity gateway for Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. Similarly, Uzbekistan is strategically located to serve as Pakistan’s gateway to Central Asian and beyond.
Such an ideal complimentary equation has so far been subdued by regional developments and geopolitics. It needed a healthy mix of vision, will, and conducive environment to sprout into full blossom.
Pakistan and Uzbekistan are experiencing an unprecedented phase in flourishing of their bilateral relations. During the past two years, the relationship has transformed dramatically. Uzbekistan is a key country in Pakistan’s 2021 Vision Central Asia.
Today, the two countries see each other as anchors of regional peace and stability; partners in mutually beneficial cooperation; and as lands of overlapping history, religious affinity, spiritual kinship, cultural similarities, and economic opportunities.
In my view, five distinct and interlinked factors have come into unison in orchestrating this beautiful symphony of warmth, friendship, and affection in Pak-Uzbek relations: the personal rapport of the two leaders and their willingness to cooperate with each other; their geoeconomic visions to transform their respective countries; the regional connectivity initiatives; their global initiatives for common good and issues of international concern; and developments in Afghanistan.
Today, beyond any rhetoric, Pakistan and Uzbekistan are closer to each other, as never before. Firstly, Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Mirziyoyev have deep mutual trust and brotherly respect for each other. During the past two years, they held two Summits and four meetings on the sidelines of international events.
Similarly, under the guidance of the two leaders, their Foreign Ministers, Trade Ministers, Railway/Transport Ministers, Culture Ministers, defense and security establishments, as well as Provincial Governors have interacted regularly. The two leaders are also making efforts to strengthen bilateral trade and economic relations.
The 1st Pak-Uzbek Business Conference was held in Tashkent in July 2021. Since July last year, there have been regular business exchanges in textile, pharma, agriculture, industry, and logistics sectors. Pakistani businesses are opening their branches in different cities of Uzbekistan.
Various Joint Working Groups have been constituted to institutionalize cooperation in diverse sectors. These initiatives are all making a positive contribution in bringing the two countries closer.
Secondly, both leaders have a shared vision for the future of their countries, both domestically as well as internationally.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision of ‘Naya Pakistan’ and President Mirziyoyev’s Development Strategy for ‘New Uzbekistan’ both are centered on inclusive development, social protection, youth participation and social justice. These visions have profoundly transformed the socio-economic profiles of the two societies.
Thirdly, at the regional level, the two leaders have taken unprecedented visionary initiatives for connectivity. Soon Uzbek trucks will be reaching Pakistani seaports and Pakistani trucks would traverse through Uzbek territory.
Pakistan is the shortest and most economical gateway for Uzbekistan to the Arabian Sea. Pakistani seaports are strategically located to serve as the ideal gateway to Central Asian markets via Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
It takes less than ten days for truck to reach from Tashkent to Karachi. With security, road infrastructure, and efficient customs procedures, the travel time is likely to be reduced to less than seven days. No other seaport in the region can compete this time-efficient and cost-effective option.
Likewise, about 90 minutes flight duration between the two capitals Islamabad and Tashkent, is shorter than many of domestic flights in both countries. This proximity opens abundant opportunities for trade and tourism.
The visionary ‘Mazar-i-Sharif – Kabul – Peshawar Trans-Afghan Railway Project’ of President Mirziyoyev, supported by Prime Minister Imran Khan, would bring enormous socio-economic and developmental benefits to the people of three participating countries.
It would also more efficiently connect the heart of Asia, Afghanistan, to its two immediate neighbors. Both leaders consider regional stability and connectivity as a prerequisite for development and are working to create an integrated, stable, and peaceful region.
Fourthly, the two leaders have earned respect and recognition for their initiatives at domestic, regional as well as international levels.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has distinguished himself for his stance on countering Islamophobia, Vaccine Equity, and combatting Climate Change.
Similarly, President Mirziyoyev’s global initiatives on preservation of Aral Sea, Code of Voluntary Commitments of States, and Central Asia- South Asia Connectivity have earned global acclaim.
Finally, both leaders are playing constructive and supportive role in bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The historic visit by Prime Minister Imran Khan to Uzbekistan on 15 July 2021 and the in-depth exchanges between the two leaders laid a firm foundation for a trust-worthy relationship regarding their future engagements with Afghanistan.
The Uzbek President fully supported Pakistan’s initiative of building trust and cooperation among the ‘immediate neighbors of Afghanistan’.
Both countries see the urgent need to avert humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and have consistently advocated making efforts for bringing political and economic stability in Afghanistan.
In my view, the growing closeness in Pak-Uzbek relations is not a new beginning, rather revival of the centuries-old linkages between the peoples of the two lands.
These relations are dictated by the connections that percolate deeper into popular psyche and transcend the vicissitudes of geopolitics.
The growing closeness and warmth in Pak-Uzbek relations, the visit by Prime Minister Imran Khan and the return visit by President Mirziyoyev within few months, signing of important connectivity and trade enhancing initiatives, the re-establishment of air connectivity between different cities of the two countries, all manifest a relationship on the move to revive the old bonds of connectivity, trade, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual exchanges.
The two countries are probably covering the distance of decades in years. The forthcoming visit by the Uzbek President to Pakistan would build on the solid foundation laid by the visit of Prime Minster Imran Khan to Uzbekistan for a win-win Pak-Uzbek journey to a prosperous, peaceful, and mutually beneficial relationship.
Besides Pakistan and Uzbekistan, the third biggest beneficiary of this growing relationship would be Afghanistan.
Both countries have played and are determined to play a constructive role in bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and its people. Peace and stability in Afghanistan would have positive impact on the progress and prosperity of the entire region and beyond
. On a broader futuristic canvas, President Mirziyoyev’s visionary initiative of connecting the economically vibrant regions of South and Central Asia would reach the optimum potential once all long-standing regional disputes festering the peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia are resolved.
In this regard, the two leaders have taken the first step to connect Uzbekistan with the Arabian Sea through Pakistani seaports. As Ambassador of Pakistan to Uzbekistan, I am confident that the forthcoming visit of President Mirziyoyev to Pakistan would make historic breakthroughs in bringing the mutual benefit, progress, and prosperity for the people of two countries and the entire region and beyond.
Moving together, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, will make it happen, Insha Allah! This is the second Op-ed of the Ambassadorial series on Pakistan-Uzbekistan relations.
The first Op-ed titled “Pakistan-Uzbekistan: for a brighter future” was published in July 2021. The writer is the incumbent Ambassador of Pakistan to Uzbekistan.