30th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between Uzbekistan and Pakistan

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Prospects for the development of strategic partnership

One of the main priorities of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy strategy is to enhance and deepen bilateral cooperation with South Asian countries. In this context, strengthening of friendly relations between Uzbekistan and Pakistan is outlined in the strategy because of historical, geographical, cultural and civilizational closeness of both countries.

On May 10, 2022, the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan celebrated the 30th Anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations.

Over the past decades, Uzbekistan and Pakistan have made considerable progress in the development of political dialogue, practical cooperation in trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres, and interaction on regional and international issues.

During the last 5 years, the Uzbek-Pakistani relations have considerably intensified as a result of major changes in regional policies of the two countries. Current relations between Tashkent and Islamabad, based on the principles of good neighborliness, trust and mutual consideration of interests, have been witnessed an upward trend. Uzbekistan and Pakistan established close ties, deepen political mutual trust and give impetus to the interaction between the official circles and business communities of the two countries.

In Uzbekistan, the process of profound reform and opening up of the country, launched by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2016 contributed to the transition to a proactive regional policy aimed at fully strengthening good-neighborly relations and cooperation with Central Asian countries.

The resulting positive political atmosphere in the region allowed the President of Uzbekistan to put on the agenda the restoration of historical connectivity and the development of multifaceted cooperation between Central and South Asia.

In its turn, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has also made significant shifts in regional policy, has noticeably increased the priority of regional economic cooperation and connectivity and intensified interaction with countries of Central Asia within the framework of “Vision Central Asia” policy.

This convergence of interests and approaches between the two countries has ensured a significant strengthening of official dialogue and practical cooperation in recent years.

Meetings of the Uzbek-Pakistani intergovernmental commission on trade-economic and scientific-technical cooperation are held on a regular basis. Friendship groups operate in the parliaments of the two countries.

Uzbekistan and Pakistan closely cooperate within international institutions, including the UN, OIC, ECO and SCO. Uzbekistan’s chairmanship in the Shanghai Organization in 2021-2022 will facilitate further deepening of official contacts and mutually beneficial cooperation.

In July 2021, relations between the Uzbekistan and Pakistan were elevated to the level of strategic partnership, which verified both countries’ mutual eagerness to maintain long-term regular comprehensive cooperation. The two countries emphasized the mutual interest of in an active partnership to promote regional connectivity. In addition, the states reached a number of important deals in the fields of transit and trade, simplification of visa procedures for business circles and tourist groups, military training as well as “Cultural Exchanges Program for 2021-2026”.

An important role in the Uzbek-Pak strategic rapprochement is played by the similarity of the positions of the both states on the vital global and regional issues, which makes it possible to find common ground between the national interests of both countries.

The high-level dialogue and close interaction between the governments and agencies of the two countries provided a significant boost to mutually beneficial cooperation and created the conditions for its deepening in the following key areas.

First, bilateral trade, strengthening of intergovernmental interaction and contacts between business circles have been elevated considerably. Uzbekistan’s trade turnover with Pakistan in 2016-2021 grew from $35.6 million to $181.5 million, or more than fivefold. In the last 2 years, the transit of Pakistani goods through our country has also increased fivefold.

Main spheres of trade cooperation between two countries are agro-business, textiles, pharmaceuticals, chemical industry, production of building materials and poultry.

The activation of the business community of both countries facilitated the growth of bilateral trade. Currently more than 150 enterprises with the participation of Pakistani investments are successfully operating in Uzbekistan, 109 of them with 100% Pakistani capital.

The cooperation was promoted by the activation of joint cooperation structures. To date, seven meetings of Uzbek-Pakistani inter-governmental commission on trade and economic and scientific-technical cooperation, two meetings of Uzbek-Pakistani joint working group on trade and economic issues have been held.

The sides signed an Agreement on Transit Trade (July 2021) and Preferential Trade Agreement (March 2022).

Second, the development of interaction in the transport and logistics sector. Pakistan is a key partner of Uzbekistan in improving regional connectivity, with plans to build the shortest route to transport cargo from Central Asia through Afghanistan to the seaports (Karachi, Qasem and Gwadar) in Pakistan.

In this context, the implementation of the “Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar” railway project will help not only enhance trade, economic and investment cooperation, but also strengthen connectivity between Central and South Asia. A number of international structures, in particular the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and others have expressed their support for putting this project into practice.

The Trans-Afghan transport corridor along this route could cut freight deliveries to seaports from 35 to 3-5 days, which will drastically improve foreign trade conditions of Uzbekistan and Central Asia and open for Pakistan the shortest transport corridor to our region and further to the countries of Eurasia. Moreover, the transportation price of a 20-pound container will be reduced by almost 3 times. It is estimated that in early years when “Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar” railway is implemented, cargo transportation volume via this route will amount around 10 million tons.

Thus, the trans-Afghan corridor will open a new and shortest path to the larger South Asian markets for Central Asia countries. According to expert assessments, huge opportunities for economic cooperation with South Asia have been appeared owing to high macroeconomic figures and dynamism of this region. Nowadays, the region’s contribution to global growth composes 15%. The figure can be risen to more than 30% by 2040. South Asia can become a new locomotive of the global economy by maintaining the outpacing growth dynamics.

The realization of the trans-Afghan corridor will help diversify Central Asia’s cargo flows. It would also permit the countries of the region to exploit both routes, directing to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. On the one hand, Central Asian states already use existing corridors, leading to the ports of Chabahar and Bandar Abbas along with routes to Karachi and Gwadar ports.

Tashkent and Islamabad are making efforts to organize road transportation through Afghan territory. In November 2021, the first truck caravan delivered cargo from Uzbekistan to Pakistan in 48 hours. The route can be 80% shorter and 38% cheaper than others, which will make it possible to launch regular multimodal cargo transportation through the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan corridor in the future.

Pakistan’s business and expert circles have also noted a great interest in the development of air cargo and passenger transportation from Pakistan to Uzbekistan and through Uzbek air ports to the CIS countries and Europe.

It is proposed to establish air flights between the cities of the two countries, especially to Tashkent and historical centers of the country, which will stimulate contacts between business circles, tourism and strengthening of transport and transit potential of the two countries.

Third, the active development of security partnership. The sides emphasize their readiness to maintain a regular dialogue and constructive cooperation in this sphere. The Secretary of Uzbekistan’s Security Council V.Makhmudov visited Pakistan in November 2021, and the first meeting of the newly created bilateral joint security commission was held.

The parties cooperate within SCO’s Regional Antiterrorist Structure (RATS) on combating terrorism, separatism and extremism, and illicit drug trafficking.

An important part of bilateral dialogue in the field of security and interaction on regional issues will remain the promotion of stabilization in Afghanistan, the involvement of this country in regional trade and economic ties and large infrastructure projects.

The serious political transition has been taken place in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s power capture.

The political situation in Afghanistan has also led to the transformation of the geopolitical reality in Central and South Asia, which requires a new acknowledgement, an elaboration of appropriate political and diplomatic approaches based on bilateral and multilateral mechanisms of interaction.

Taking into a consideration the Afghanistan’s strategic importance for Central and South Asia’s security and sustainable development as well as for regional connectivity enhancement, it seems important to unite Uzbek-Pakistani efforts in promoting the political stability in Afghanistan.

Fourth, strengthening and increasing cultural and humanitarian ties.

Cultural, spiritual and religious closeness between Uzbekistan and Pakistan is traditionally regarded as an effective source of strengthening friendship, trust, mutual understanding and respect for each other’s interests. Cooperation in this area contributes to the mutual enrichment and culture exchange, the creation of a common cultural and humanitarian space.

The interconnected cultural and civilizational heritage of the two countries, the proximity of languages, cultural, religious traditions and spiritual values constitute a solid foundation for the development of interaction in culture, education, science, tourism, medicine and other fields.

Our forefathers – the great statesmen, scientists and thinkers such as Zahir ad-Din Muhammad Babur and Alisher Navoi, Muhammad Iqbal and Mirza Golib, Abu Rayhan Beruni and Abu Ali ibn Sino – are honored in both Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

Our shared historical and cultural heritage can be used to foster interaction among academics, joint research, cultural diplomacy and stimulate tourist exchange, especially pilgrimage (ziyorat) tourism. Uzbekistan is among the top ten destinations of “pilgrimage tourism” among the member countries of the Islamic Cooperation Organization, and Pakistan is the second country in the world in terms of the Muslim population.

In Uzbekistan, favorable conditions have been created for evolving “ziyorat tourism” industry and infrastructure due to the large-scale national reforms carried out in the recent years. Uzbekistan is among the top ten countries in the world in terms of the number of historical holy places. Such great scientists of the Muslim world as Imam al-Bukhari, Imam at-Termiziy, Imam Maturidi, Baha-ud-Din Naqshband, Mahmud Zamakhshari, Abu Ali Ibn Sino, Beruniy, Al-Farabi and others lived and did researches in our holy land. Holy places of worship associated with their lives and activities play a core role in the development of pilgrimage tourism.

The relevant authorities of two countries are working on necessary measures to develop tourism, including the resumption of direct flights and facilitation of visa procedures. Additionally, an Uzbek Tourism Center was founded in Islamabad in 2019. Consequently, one of the leaders of the “Naqshbandiya” movement was appointed as an Ambassador Ziyorat Tourism of Uzbekistan to Pakistan in 2020.

Another important area of cooperation is education, the intensification of contacts between universities, research institutes, libraries and museums of Uzbekistan and Pakistan. The trend of increasing the interest of Pakistani youth in getting an education in Uzbekistan is noteworthy. Today, more than 1,200 Pakistani students study in Uzbekistan, mostly in medical universities.

Both in our country and in the best universities of Pakistan it is possible to train much more students of our countries in demanded specialties in manufacturing and business (modern technology, finance, commercial law, etc.), as well as to study the Uzbek and Urdu language.

In general, dynamism of multifaceted Uzbek-Pakistani cooperation meets the interests of both countries, that is mutually beneficial. The sides should continue to deepen the political dialogue, identify ways to strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation, reach new important agreements on further activation of the Uzbek-Pakistani relations.

The anticipated regular exchanges at the high and supreme levels will contribute to strengthening friendly ties and mutual trust, enhancing strategic partnership, and will also open up new horizons for productive bilateral cooperation.

Daniyar Kurbanov

Director, Center for International Relations Studies