PRIME Minister Imran Khan and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev have vowed to promote institutionalized cooperation between the two countries within the five main pillars of Pakistan’s “Vision Central Asia” political and diplomatic, trade and investment, energy and connectivity, security and defence and people-to-people relations.
The two countries also signed a number of agreements and MoUs to enhance bilateral cooperation in different fields, especially in relation to building of a strategic relationship, preferential trade agreement, railways, tourism and Radio and Television.
The visit of the Uzbek leader, his interaction with Pakistani leadership and sentiments expressed by both sides once again highlight aspirations of their people to forge ties for mutual good.
It was because of the historic relationship that Pakistan was quick to recognize Central Asian Republics and made strengthening of cooperation with them a pillar of its foreign policy.
There have always been demands from people representing different walks of life to pursue vigorously ‘Look Central Asia’ policy as such an approach has the potential to accelerate the pace of socio-economic development in Pakistan.
There are also bright prospects for forging economic and trade relations in the backdrop of all-round development of Gwadar Port, other connectivity projects under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), possibility of joining this historic initiative by Afghanistan and Central Asia States and a new window of opportunity for stability and security in the war-torn Afghanistan.
The proposed railway project, connecting Peshawar with Tirmiz Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul will open up new opportunities for developing closer economic and trade cooperation as it would have linkages with major ports of Pakistan and, therefore, needs to be taken up on a priority basis.
As a sign of their commitment to do so, it was agreed to evolve a joint “Road Map”, which includes measures to develop a feasibility study for the project and start construction work on both sides.
The decision to start direct flights between the two countries would not only improve connectivity but also help promote tourism and trade which is still insignificant despite the fact that the volume of trade increased by about fifty percent since the last visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Uzbekistan last year.
In this backdrop, the signing of a preferential trade agreement is a welcome development as it will serve to increase mutual trade by utilizing existing opportunities.
It is also satisfying that the two countries have decided to make different bilateral mechanisms functional to take the relationship to new heights.
These include convening of the 7th session of the Uzbek-Pakistan Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic and Scientific and Technical Cooperation, 2nd round of Bilateral Political Consultations, the Joint Business Forum and the 4th meeting of the Business Council.
As a result of meetings of these forums, the two countries arrived at an understanding to promote ties in textiles, pharmaceuticals, building material, banking and finance, the chemical industry and other areas.
Recognizing with satisfaction the steady development of bilateral cooperation in security and defence, the two leaders agreed to intensify dialogue and constructive cooperation between the defence forces of both countries, including through inter-staff talks and joint military exercises, training and exchange of professional experience.
The remarks that the Uzbek President made during his visit to Pakistan clearly show the resolve of his country to forge mutual cooperation meaningfully and expeditiously.
He said his ‘New Uzbekistan’ strategy lays emphasis on strengthening economic diplomacy and sets tasks to bring existing relations with South Asia, in particular with Pakistan, to a new level of strategic partnership.
The prospects are no doubt there but these could not and will not be exploited to the optimal levels until and unless there is peace, security and stability in Afghanistan.
It is encouraging that there is also unanimity of views on the Afghan issue and how to address it in the interest of Afghan people and the region.
The decision of the two countries to lobby jointly for unfreezing of Afghan assets is significant as it would lend weight to efforts for the purpose.
Similarly, their decision to meet Afghan leaders to discuss and assess what the new Afghanistan government needs to do to get international recognition is also reflective of the desire of the two countries to help Afghans address their challenges.
In a nutshell, the decisions taken and understanding reached during the successful visit of the President of Uzbekistan augur well but much depends on the follow up, which has been a big problem since long.