Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Bishkek and Ashgabat
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan on a two-day visit undertaken on 20-22 May to promote bilateral ties among these countries. He was accompanied by Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan, Minister for Petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Mohammad Asif and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Tariq Fatemi. Prime Minister met with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, besides other leaders Pakistan’s desire to forge strong trade and economic relations is hampered by lack of modern physical infrastructure and peace environment in Afghanistan. To build a modern physical infrastructure, they lack funds, however. The Afghan stalemate in not under their control. They need strong diplomacy and funds to achieve their common desire. China is a great hope to overcome their myriad economic woes. The building of the modern Silk Road and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would bring about a phenomenal regional change. China has also set up a Silk Road Fund and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to help ease funding constraints. Pakistan and Central Asians States are connected with Chinese assistance and regional role. Since independence 25 years ago, no one came to assist them in their development process. This lack of development negligence, prompted China to divert its funds to Central Asian regional development but it also entails unhealthy criticism by other big players who want to keep the region under-developed from the perspective of their socalled ‘great game’ in Central Asia since the Soviet time. Unfortunately, enough ‘great games’ had been played with Afghanistan as the focal point. However, the fate of region must be changed. Chinese role is a welcome and positive development in this gloomy picture. As for Pakistan, Central Asia is an integral part of Pakistan’s foreign policy since the early 1990s. Geographically, Pakistan does not directly connect with any State in Central Asia but historically and culturally people of Pakistan and Central remain close. Tajikistan’s border is only 20 km away from Pakistan’s border divided by a narrow strip of Wakhan in northeastern Afghanistan. This makes proximity between Pakistan and central Asia. Invaders, , scholars, preachers, scientists, and people etc had used to come to the Indian Sub-continent by crossing Afghanistan. The modern invasion was closed after the creation of Pakistan. This aspect is fully incorporated in the address of PoetPhilosopher of Allama Iqbal delivered at Allahabad in December 1930, which also became the basis of the creation of Pakistan as a separate Muslim State of the people of the Indian Sub-Continent. The great visionary poet-philosopher died with the pain of Central Asian’s liberation as told by the great-living scholar Professor Fateh Malik. The poet-philosopher’s last thinking is plight of the people of Central Asia under Soviet control but Central Asia gained independence right after 62 years of the Poet-philosopher’s death. Today, political turmoil in Afghanistan that started a decade ago of Central Asian States’ liberation, still hampered any progress between Pakistan and Central Asia. However, efforts have been made by Pakistan and Central Asian States to
create a peaceful environment but with a tiny success so far.
The visit of Prime Minister Nawaz the poet-philosopher thinking. Prime Minister carried the historical baggage of Pakistan and Central Asia. People and scholarly achievements of Central Asian scientists and scholars. This has lasting impact on the thinking of Pakistani people.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pressed to fast track the implementation of regional energy connectivity projects such as Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline project. Pakistan and Turkmenistan can enhance cooperation in agriculture, communication, telecommunication and other sectors. People-to-people contacts need more exchanges between Pakistan and six Central Asian States. Trade, energy links, railway, and road could integrate Pakistan with Central Asian States. This is a common vision.
In the past 25 years, however, both sides have not achieved any concrete progress. They have to move from mere oral expression to particle development. Even enough visits have been exchanged. It is now time to work on the TAPI and KASA-1000 projects and to link the region via rail and road. What they have achieved so far? It is expected that Peshawar will be connected to Tirmiz (Uzbekistan) via the Jalaabad and Kabul Motorway to be constructed by Pakistan.
This entirely depends on Afghanistan and its relations with Pakistan. Afghanistan demands an equal transportation from Wagha border between Pakistan and India in lieu of goods coming from Pakistan into Central Asia. At present, Pakistan allows Afghan trucks carrying goods meant for India only up to its last checkpoint at Wagah, and not to the Indian checkpoint at Attari, less than a kilometer away. India strongly pushes that idea and Afghanistan appears convinced. Breakthrough is needed on these fronts to promote land-bourne trade between Pakistan and Central Asia.
Trade between Pakistan and Central Asian States is quite meager and it needs a major breakthrough. There are virtually no direct civil aviation links between Pakistan and Central Asian States. While geographically close, (Dubai and Qatar) and Turkey. The Islamabad, no longer exists. This narrates the messy state of affairs between Pakistan and Central Asian governments. However, oral claims are un-matching and running very high.
Relations have not gone beyond beautiful diplomatic rhetoric. There are no free visa regimes. Why they adopt strict visa’s policies? There is no tangible outcome of even this current visit in concrete terms. ‘Visit for the sake of visit’, will not produce any result. As far MoUs, enough have been inked. There is need to give them a practical shape. Lets move from these ‘initial’ progress slogans happening in the past 25 years. The TAPI and CASA-1000 are decade-long projects. Rather, the Turkmenistan’s gas pipeline project is as old as the independence of Turkmenistan. Pakistani policy has not provided any relief to Central Asian energy-sellers and cash-strapped governments so far. Their energy diplomacy seems to be exhausted if not completely over.
Hope the historical images are not changing. Lets preserve them. And the completion of the CPEC, then it will require decades to put economic relations between Pakistan and energyrich Central Asia on strong footing. The picture is yet gloomy. Why great potentials are being wasted for decades? Is it an strategic game and we are victims of that?