Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif in Bishkek and Ash­ga­bat

The Diplomatic Insight - - Con­tents - Dr Ah­mad Rashid Ma­lik

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?

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