After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Central Asia Republics (CARs), these countries with their huge economic potential have been less explored foreign policy options of Pakistan. Despite the fact that being located in the same region and sharing common characteristics, the geo-political and geo-economic importance of Pakistan and CARs should stimulate the two sides to reach out to each other.
Pakistan has always sustained a hope to become a gateway to the Central Asia but other than some occasional efforts, the two sides have not been so successful to forge closer political and economic relations, and even after almost three decades, Pakistan is yet to make any breakthrough into the Central Asian region. Despite CARs immense richness in terms of energy and other natural resources, Pakistan could not benefit much, and not even to address its energy issues through bilateral relations with these countries.
Gas fields of Uzbekistan are also overlooked, whereas if the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) connected with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the region can linkup the natural gas resources of Uzbekistan that could easily be utilised to overcome Pakistan’s energy crisis and help boost Pakistan’s ties with all the states in the Central Asian region. The Central Asian region vastly rich in untapped natural resources and being landlocked have no sailing route and sea connection with the rest of the world; this is actually one of its foremost drawbacks that also decreases the chances of trade and exports of the resources from this region. And therefore not surprisingly, despite being located in the immediate neighbourhood, the South Asian region is colossally energy-starved.
However, together with the Gwadar port of Pakistan and the CPEC project there is incomparable potential to make over the regional dynamics in terms of trade, investment and development. It would be without any exaggeration to actually call it a game changer that would of course uplift the lives of about three billion people across China, Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. The Gwadar port and the CPEC have outstandingly brought the strategic and economic moments in favour of Pakistan, and have presented a wide range of opportunities for the country where it has assumed the position of economic pivot for
the whole region.
The Central Asian States also show enthusiasm for a regional linkage and are eagerly desirous to benefit from the projects that will remarkably assist in connecting the Central Asian countries for trading and exporting their energy resources to the European markets. Moreover, with the advent of the CPEC, regional geopolitics has also assumed new characteristics as the region and their people are going to be better connected than ever before
Notably, during the visit of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in March 2016, the two sides keenly agreed to overcome their detachment and explore options on enhancing trade, economic relations, energy sharing, people-to-people contacts and tourism. The particular focus also remained on the timely completion of the projects of extraordinary importance, ranging from the TAPI pipeline to Dushanbe’s potential linkup with the CPEC. Moreover, because of the unique geo-economic and geo-political significance of both sides, Pakistan and Turkmenistan have decided to pay special attention to establishing air, road and rail links on a priority basis.
The greater interests of the two sides link with the TAPI and the CPEC that would further move forward to improve the regional connectivity and serve the economic activity. The emergence of the CPEC is an incomparable trade route to discover the potential of the region. Besides, Pakistan’s accession to the TIR (international road transport) convention is another good opportunity, whereas the TAPI could provide crucial linkage to the CPEC. Nevertheless, with the initiation of the CPEC project, the manifold options have increased the optimism about Pakistan benefitting from lucrative foreign trade and investment, with the prospect of Central Asian states joining
aboard as well.
Finally, to make the long cherished dream a resounding success, the reality lies with the facts of regional peace and stability. The chaotic security situation in Afghanistan is one factor that could seriously undermine and hinge the linkage between Pakistan and the Central Asian States. The instable political and security situation in Afghanistan has gloomy repercussions for the rest of the region, and the main reason for the delay in the timely execution of the TAPI project conceived since 1990s. Aware of its importance Pakistan considers the TAPI project a ‘trailblazing project’ that enables the region to become an energy hub and source of diplomatic networking. However, all possible efforts should be made to address the Afghan issue on a priority basis. The region’s economic development mainly depends on the fact that the TAPI will only work if there is peace and stability in Afghanistan since the pipeline will pass through the northeastern part of Afghanistan.