By Nasurullah Brohi
The geo-strategic, political and economic significance of the Central Asia makes it one of the most important regions in the world which connects the South Asia, West Asia, Russia, China and other parts of the world through the historic Silk Route which always has served as a crossroads in terms of trade between Europe and the Asia.
The Central Asian region is also immensely rich in oil and natural gas resources and has a compelling attraction for all the regional and international countries to get into the closer interaction through bilateral or multilateral relation with the Central Asian Republics CARs.
For Pakistan, the geographic proximity and many commonly shared features along with eternal religious bounds are some of the reasons which bring two sides closer to each other, but despite of these factors unluckily due to the political instability, poor law and order situation, an unstable economy and lack of transport infrastructure-essential to connect both sides has badly affected the opportunities of mutual benefit.
The recent visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Kazakhstan is seen as a step to overcome the existing obstacles which deprive the region from its due right of prosperity and progress in spite of having remarkable prospects. The current pace of trade turnover between Pakistan and Kazakhstan is also limited to $33 million in a year, which indicates the exceptional setbacks at the part of two countries, and seriously need to be addressed as both sides have immense economic and trade potential and can easily exploit the available means particularly by Kazakhstan crucial role to enhance the trade interface with Pakistan through the WTO.
In addition, recently, the United Nations has also accepted Pakistan’s request to access the Customs Convention on International Transport of Goods (TIR Convention) and is expected to be enforced by January, 2016. The TIR Convention is a tax and custom duty free setup which involves the traffic-in-transit of the goods across the border. The TIR has been working since 1978 with 68 member states and the European Union as parties to the Convention providing a framework of free trade within the ECO region but prior to this all the member states of the ECO had acceded to the TIR convention except Pakistan.
The TIR Convention can prove as a momentous prospect for Pakistan in enhancing its trade with Afghanistan, Central Asian States and with the European countries. One of the main hurdles for slow cooperation in the past was principally due to the lack of transport infrastructure which is always essential for the bilateral trade between the two countries and the current China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project will relatively overcome the issue and will bring immense opportunities for the Central Asian countries in the economic fields. The Kazakh government is also deeply interested to become part of Pak-China Economic Corridor project and has offered for an alternative access route to the sea, whereas; Pakistan has already planned to be connected with Central Asia via Termez, the southern city of Uzbekistan and the landlocked CARs can hugely benefit from an access route to the international markets through CPEC. In addition, the recent development of Pakistan’s permanent membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization further enhances the chances of huge economic opportunities for the whole region.
Afghanistan is also one of the countries in the region whose importance can never be overlooked. The security situation in the wake of 9/11 brought a colossal snag for many countries which adversely affected the regional trade and other mutually benefiting opportunities. Notably, for all of the countries in the region a peaceful Afghanistan will become a ray of hope and a sign of progress because it is the only easiest land route which connects the Central Asian region with the other parts of the world. Moreover, the CARs and the Afghanistan are mainly dependant on Pakistan due to its exceptionally important geographic location and the sea ports like Gawadar and Karachi but all that is needed for progress and prosperity in the region is a collective move by Central Asian Republics CARs, Afghanistan and Pakistan to firmly address the security issues, weak law and order situation and internal instability. Particularly, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, almost all of the CARs passed through serious challenges due to terrorism, religious extremism, separatism, drug trafficking and organized crimes which were some of the major reasons that seriously hampered the economic progress and development of these countries.
The visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Kazakhstan is also seen as a foresighted move towards the greater aspirations for further strengthening the bilateral relations and increasing the economic and the trade cooperation with the CARs therefore, the two sides also realized the importance of extraordinarily accentuate for exploring the variety of options to further boost-up their cooperation in the fields of engineering, infrastructure, agriculture, medicine and many MoU were also signed particularly aiming to focus on defence and strategic research, trade development and the exchange programs for the training of diplomats.