Report prepared by Dr. Muhammad Akram Zaheer and Dr. Muhammad Asim for the Islamabad Institute for Russia and Central Asia.
In the age of globalization, a miracle has now been occurred in Central and South Asia. After the long waited dream of two great regions Central and South Asia are going to be connected and materialized. Both the regions are pertaining historical connectivity with the colossal human efforts. Since the post-cold war, Pakistan has been seeking political, economic and security relations with the new Central Asian states. But, the uncertainty and instability in Afghanistan created hesitation among Pakistan and Central Asian Republics to develop bilateral relationship. After the fall of Taliban regime, both the sides started to enter in to new era of relationship. The history of religious association, economic aspiration and strong political commitment of the people of two sides has been playing a vital role to enhance mutual relationship and to build up strategic collaboration. Moreover, Pakistan aims to enhance long term sustainable engagement with Central Asian States by forging strategic partnership.
Uzbekistan is one of the most important countries of the region due to its glorious history of knowledge. Post-cold war, Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Uzbekistan. Pakistan wishes to gain access to the Central Asian market, while landlocked Uzbekistan also wants to access ports of Arabian Sea. During the regime of President Islam Krimov, Pak-Uzbek relations faced some hesitations but Uzbekistan outreach the regional countries under his successor Shavkat Mirzlyoyev. Under the president Mirzlyoyev, Uzbekistan is undergoing a huge economic transformation. Similarly, Pakistan has also reoriented its focus from geopolitics to geo-economics under the leadership of Imran Khan. Now both the countries have cordial and deep relations as they have their own interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan has always been seeking stability in Afghanistan whereas Uzbekistan also has hosted Taliban in 2019 to facilitate peace process.
Both the countries have also been intertwined with religious, spiritual and historical binds of the ancient times. The ancient Buddhist sites of Kara Tepa and Fez Tepa at Uzbekistan reveal the untold stories of travels by Julian Monastery Monks in Taxila and Swat Pakistan, and beyond spreading their message from South to Central Asia. The pearls of wisdom have been emanating from Samarkand and Bukhara during the 10th and 11th century which illuminated the hearts of the people living in today’s Pakistan. Uzbekistan was the part of Abbasid and Great Amir Timor’s dynasties which was stretched to almost the area of present Pakistan and beyond. The interconnected area has been facing geopolitical divides, artificial barriers, iron curtains and great games since the last two centuries.
Present Uzbekistan has introduced many reforms to boost its economy since March 2019 as it announced a visa of three years for the participants of foreign investment companies. Furthermore, the foreign investors who invest more than $3billion can get residence permit for ten years. Within a one day, a certificate of origin of goods will be issued to foreign traders. With the participant of international financial institutions, 89 projects were launched in 2019. Then 31 project of more than $3billion are also planned with the help of World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Banks are able to open account for those who are Uzbek residents and businessperson with the requirement of FATF. Such initiatives of Uzbek government attracted Pakistan and its business community to get benefits from the business and investment environment.
Today Pakistan and Uzbekistan are members of some international forums like UN, OIC, ECO and SCO. Both the countries have formed Joint ministerial Commission (JMC) which held meeting regularly and discuss bilateral, regional and international issues. Both the countries share common aspiration of peace, prosperity and development of their people. Several initiatives are underway to transform Pakistan and Uzbekistan to regional trade hub. The CPEC is also progressing to fruition and both the countries may achieve maximum their economic goals. The world is also on the way of realizing that Pakistan is emerging as a hub of regional trade, economic activities and commercial potential due to CPEC.
Prime Minister of Pakistan has embarked two days visit of Tashkent. The leadership of both the countries has covered the full range of bilateral relationship particular focused on bilateral trade and economic cooperation and regional connectivity. The prime minister has addressed Pak-Uzbek business forums and Joint Business council. The leadership of both the countries has also discussed international and regional issues, Covid-19 situation and particularly the situation of post withdrawal United States and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Being the neighbors of Afghanistan both the countries has more stake than extra-regional players for the peace and stability in Afghanistan. The ties between these two countries may form a strong connectivity between South and central Asia. The prime minister of Pakistan also participated in an International conference “Central and South Asia regional Connectivity: Challenges and Opportunities”.
The geography, strategic, geopolitical, geo-economics, regional interests and common aspirations for the development and prosperity of both the countries have potential to achieve the benefits of regional connectivity. The visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan may lead to promising initiatives for mutual interest and bilateral cooperation between both the countries in future. Hopefully, Uzbekistan may prove a gateway for Pakistan to Central Asia Republics.