Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan
Bilateral relations between the Republic of Uzbekistan and Pakistan are getting momentum these days. The seeds of trustworthy political consultation, socio-economic integration, and cooperation in tourism, textile and energy was planted by former Uzbek ambassador H.E. Furqat Sidiqov who has now been elevated to deputy foreign minister slot.
Most recently, Uzbekistan’s Deputy Prime Minister for Investment and Foreign Economic Relations, Sardor Umurzaqov visited Pakistan and met with Prime Minister Imran Khan. During the meeting, matters of mutual interest, including the Covid-19 pandemic, bilateral cooperation, regional connectivity, and regional peace and securitywere thoroughly discussed.
The Prime Minister upheld that Pakistan and Uzbekistan enjoy cordial and brotherly relations. He also emphasized the potential for enhanced trade with increased regional connectivity as a result of different planned railway projects.
He showcased Pakistan’s positive and participatory role in the Afghan peace process. He stressed that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan was of paramount importance for Pakistan and the region. He supported Intra-Afghan Negotiations which would commence at the earliest and culminate in a negotiated political settlement, thus contributing to peace, stability and prosperity in the region and beyond. He reiterated Pakistan’s desire to work with Uzbekistan to strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation, bilaterally and in the region.
On his part, the Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister conveyed the cordial greetings and best wishes of the Uzbek President and noted that President Mirziyoyev looked forward to visiting Pakistan. He also expressed Uzbekistan’s desire to have improved economic relations with better connectivity and make investments in Pakistan.
Sardor Umurzakov met with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters. During the meeting, matters of mutual interest with special emphasis on regional security situation and connectivity were discussed. Uzbek side acknowledged and appreciated the Pakistan Army’s contributions for peace and stability in the region. Both pledged to support the vision for the better regional connectivity and improved security.
Sardor Umurzakov Adviser had a meaningful meeting with Abdul Razzak Dawood, advisor to the Prime Minister on Commerce and Investment in Islamabad during which both sides signed a memorandum of understanding for establishment of a joint working group on trade and economic affairs for promoting economic relationship.
The MoU will help both sides to identify areas for trade enhancement, promotion of inter-governmental projects in different sectors and improvement of connectivity.
During the meeting the commerce adviser both sides agreed to start negotiations for a Bilateral Early Harvest Plan (BEHP), proceeding to Preferential Trade Agreement (PTAs) to provide increased market access to each other’s products.
It was also agreed to have mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) for harmonisation of standards and sanitary and phytosanitary measures. It was also agreed to arrange a business forum for the private sector of both countries.
Pakistan and Uzbekistan agreed to explore unlimited untapped opportunities in the fields of trade and investment and jointly work to achieve the shared goal of strengthening political and commercial ties.
During his stay in Pakistan Sardor Umur Zakov showed his government willingness to become the Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA) which has already been signed by Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The government of Pakistan has now decided to have access to market of Central Asian States (CIS) through China. Pakistan would support the desire of Uzbekistan to become part of the QTTA. Uzbekistan has since long been expressing seriousness to join the QTTA, which will enable Pakistan to export its products under QTTA to Central Asia.
Uzbek deputy prime Minister for Investment and Foreign Trade, Sardor Umurzakov had a fruitful meeting with Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs, Syed Ali Haider Zaidi and thoroughly discussed establishment of trade routes and utilization of Pakistani seaports to connect CARs to the world. The Uzbek delegation included First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, First Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade and Investments, Deputy Minister of Transport and Chairman of Uzbekistan Airways JSC.
Uzbekistan has a huge export markets in Gulf Countries Cooperation (GCC), Southeast Asia, Europe and Africa. The cheapest route is through Pakistani ports. A dedicated terminal for goods from the Central Asian States and ease in the transit after the completion of ML1 project was discussed in detail. So strategic importance of the CPEC is obvious which has already developed Gwadar Seaport to be used for transit trade between Afghanistan and beyond.
During the meeting a dedicated shipping fleet for central Asian exports was also proposed. The trade volume of Uzbekistan and Pakistan has increased significantly in the past couple of years and with establishing an efficient trade corridor it will increase manifold. Formation of a Joint Working group was also proposed to further discuss the modalities for the execution of this plan. Pakistan has the requisite environment to benefit from this opportunity as the incumbent government’s business friendly policies and the new shipping policy will strengthen Pakistan’s role as the shortest and cheapest route to the world, hence making it a gateway to Central, South and Southeast Asia.
The delegation also held meetings with the ministers for industries & production and maritime affairs to actualize existing investment opportunities in the fields of textile, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and tourism.
Pakistan can import cotton or cottonseed from Uzbekistan and there is a potential for Pakistan’s pharmaceutical industry to export its products to Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan can export oil and gas, minerals and other products to Pakistan. Pakistan is also keen to develop backward and forward linkages in the textile, leather, and agriculture sectors with Uzbekistan.
In a major development, Pakistan has decided to have access to market of Central Asian States through China as Uzbekistan has agreed to become part of the Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA) already signed among Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
The QTTA provides an alternative gateway to Central Asia by completely circumnavigating Afghanistan. Pakistan would use the Karakorum Highway, which connects Gilgit-Baltistan to China’s Xinjiang region which links with Central Asian States. Pakistan would support the desire of Uzbekistan to become part of the QTTA. Uzbekistan has since long been expressing seriousness to join the QTTA, which will enable Pakistan to export its products under QTTA to Central Asia.
The bilateral trade between the two countries is not up to the mark as in 2019 trade turnover of Uzbekistan with Pakistan reached more than $122 million. In 2018, the volume was estimated at $98 million while in 2017 it was just $36.6 million. Both the countries, however, have the potential to increase the bilateral trade up to $1 billion in next 5-6 years.
The government of Uzbekistan has been showing its keen interest for the further development of regional economic integration including its railroad connection up-to Peshawar through Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is taking an active part in constructing the railroad system in neighboring Afghanistan and is going to co-finance this project. Uzbekistan has been following noble policy of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev i.e. “Neighbors First Policy”. In this context, a railway project linking Mazar-e-Sharif with seaports in Pakistan could become part of the Eurasian concept of connectivity, which is now supported by the European Union.
It is hoped that the opening of this route will provide the shortest access of the Central Asian states to the Pakistani ports of Gwadar and Karachi and will facilitate the transit of goods further to India and Bangladesh. Once Uzbekistan is connected to Peshawar and Gwadar, thousands of people will benefit from it in the shape of jobs, trading, commuting and education.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan H.E. Abdulaziz Kamilov also highlighted the strategic importance of South Asia and termed Pakistan as one of the key regional actors and partners of Uzbekistan both at the bilateral and multilateral levels. Relations between Uzbekistan and Pakistan have advanced significantly. In 2017-2019, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev held four meetings with the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan within the framework of multilateral forums, where important agreements were reached in the areas of economy, investment, politics and security.
On its part, Uzbekistan has been trying to promote peace in Afghanistan by initiating “6+2” peace formula that was later transformed to “6+3” format with participation of the six neighboring countries to Afghanistan, plus the United States, the Russian Federation and NATO, all aimed at peaceful resolution of the Afghan conflict. Tashkent Declaration (March, 2018) revolutionized Uzbekistan’s sincere efforts to bring peace and harmony in Afghanistan. Afterwards, Uzbekistan held several rounds of negotiations with the main stakeholders and leaders of the main Afghan internal political forces, as well as Taliban representatives in order to better understand their position and seek compromise. Moreover, Tashkent has maintained continues dialogue with the United States, Russian Federation, China, Pakistan, Iran and other countries of the region, as well as with key states of the Muslim world on the issue of Afghan settlement.
- Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway with access to Gwadar and Karachi ports would be a game and fate changer for the entire region in the days to come. It will provide shortest access to the seaports of Pakistan.
- Pakistan-Afghanistan Transit Trade (PATT) would another effective means to achieve greater regional connectivity and get connected with Uzbekistan.
- Both countries should also explore the opportunities to untapped Cluster-Trading Routes (CTRs) mechanism for the further enhancing the bilateral or trilateral trade.
- Commercial cargo may be another useful option to connect with Uzbekistan.
- Construction of logistic center “Termez-cargo” with cargo servicing capacity of 70 containers per day, that provides a complex of transport and logistics services for customs clearance, cargo handling, terminal warehousing, intermodal transportation to and from Afghanistan. Moreover, construction of the Free Economic Zone (FEZ) at the Termez border would be a valuation addition.
- Uzbekistan has been providing energy supplies to Afghanistan for the last 15 years. Construction of 500 kilowatt “Surkhon-Puli Humri” power transmission line in Afghanistan is being carried out. Most recently a new MOU has also signed during August 2020. Moreover, it can become an integral part of the CASA-1000 project, connecting Kabul to the unified energy system of Central Asia.
- Educational Center in Termez to train Afghan specialists holds great importance. Currently the Center is successfully operating with so many Afghan students training them based on skill-oriented programs.
Being prominent regional expert of Uzbekistan, I suggest holistic approach and business & investment friendly policies to speed-up diversified but integrated activities of trade & commerce, joint ventures, formation of economic free zones and last but not least, technical cooperation in a diverse fields between the two countries.
Prospects are bright and opportunities are unlimited. Keeping in view the geographical advantages of both the countries along with their unlimited natural reservoirs the prospects of enhanced bilateral relations between Uzbekistan and Pakistan are very bright. The essential thing is needed, a strong political commitment of both the countries, close linkage between the business communities, chambers of commerce and industry, better understanding between the intelligentsia and people-to-people interaction would bring dividends in the days to come. From Sialkot to Samarkand and from Faisalabad to Ferghana and from Karachi to Khiva there would be bridge of trust, harmony, cooperation and collaboration in the days to come.
The Writer is Director: Geopolitics/ Economics Member Board of Experts: CGSS, Pakistan Regional Expert: Azerbijan & CIS.