Why are relations between Pakistan and Central Asian states important?
Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics (CAR), with their close geostrategic proximity, shared cultural and religious values in general, and mutual interests based on their commercial, political and security ties in particular, are few among the areas specific, which made the two sides witness a long historical development of business for centuries. However, it was not until the disintegration of the USSR and the independence of the RCA that the two partners began to appreciate their formal relationship. Bearing in mind the current developments, for example, the current projects of CPEC, TAPI and CASA-1000, what seems quite obvious is the dawn of a new regionalization. The regionalization which is going to be centered on the port of Gwadar in Pakistan, as a gateway from the republics of Central Asia to Europe, Africa and the States of the Middle East.
Formal relations between Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics (CAR) began in December 1991, after the disintegration of the USSR and the formation of five independent Central Asian Republics, where Pakistan was the first state to send his official delegation, headed by Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali, then Minister of State for Economic Affairs, to establish diplomatic relations with the five Central Asian republics. Apart from this, Pakistan was the first state to bring Central Asian states into the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) through its Foreign Ministers Conference held in Islamabad on November 30, 1992 .
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Better understand the subject
At that time, initially started with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1992, the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) in 1997, and after a decade of regional insecurity and relative instability , the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, Central Asia-South Asia Power Project (CASA-1000), Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Khyber Pass Economic Corridor (KPEC ) in 2016, 2018 and 2019 respectively, were among the very important regional formal collaborations, which ensued between the two parties to strengthen their economic, political and energy interests in the region.
The most important areas of mutual interaction between Pakistan and CAR have been the development of land roads, pipelines and infrastructure construction, which should ensure connectivity and economic sustainability for both sides. The same three aspects were informed earlier, but due to the unstable situation in Afghanistan and the lack of attention from policymakers in Pakistan, especially during the years 1996-2007, instead turned out to be futile efforts.
However, the same aspects are taken up today, through the BRI projects, CASA -1000, and TAPI, which are supposed to be completed by 2023-2025. Besides energy security, economic and political ties, cultural and religious ties were also ensured, which were formally safeguarded initially by the OIC and ECO, in 1991 and 1992, and now by the SCO.
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The three decades of Pakistan-CAR relations have been very inclusive, as they have encountered almost every phase an alliance can face, beginning with the formation of the Alliance (1991-2000), the years of relative instability (2000-2010), very recently they also experienced the years of development (2010-2021). Pakistan’s unprecedented approach to CARs has been witnessed over the past two decades.
As for the future, there are both limits and opportunities
Regarding the boundaries, it has been observed that two factors of Pakistan’s foreign policy have remained constant since its inception – Indian Fear and Ummah Factors. When it comes to dealing with the CARs, both factors influence the shaping of Pakistan’s foreign policy towards the CARs. First, there is no doubt that Pakistan has supported Islamist factions in the CAR, extending its fraternal arms, nor that Central Asia is an important part of any future Islamic bloc, for both are real facts.
Second, India has been observed over the past decade to expand a new type of relationship with the CARs. This is quite evident from the way India 2012 unveiled its “Connecting Central Asia” policy that encompasses the consolidation of political, economic and security ties with Central Asia. Also, the Indian policy ofLook East, Act East” political, through their development of the port of Chabahar.
Geography is a major hurdle in Pakistan-CAR relations as they do not share direct borders, where Russian factor is also another limitation, subsequently improving Pakistan’s relations with Russia would have a positive impact on its relations with the CAR.
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As for the opportunities, it is the close geostrategic proximity, the immense reservoirs of natural resources and a source of significant energy supply potential in the Central Asian states, which Pakistan can help to tap into. However, it is also the growing relationship between China and Iran in the region that offers Pakistan a chance to mend its relations with Central Asian states.
If we do a futuristic analysis, Pakistan-CAR ties will be a win-win relationship. Pakistan has the potential to be an economic corridor for landlocked Central Asia in its access to the international market. Pakistan as a transhipment hub can have strategic impacts on the CARs. In addition, smooth and strong ties with Central Asia will have a positive impact on Pakistan’s energy crisis. Pakistan is therefore an important country to serve as a natural link for SCO states to connect the heart of Eurasia with the Arabian Sea and the rest of the world.
The writer is working as a researcher at Islamabad Policy Institute, Islamabad. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.