Connecting Central and South Asia

A major international moot on regional connectivity between Central and South Asia has concluded in Tashkent. Prime Minister Imran Khan held a joint press conference with the Uzbek president on Thursday and addressed the forum on Friday. The agenda of the moot included a comprehensive exchange of views and joint development of proposals for enhancing multifaceted economic and cultural cooperation between the two parts of Asia.

Landlocked Central Asia is a market with a population of 75.3 million and the total GDP at $300 billion. The countries of South Asia have a population of about 1.9 billion with the total GDP of more than $3.3 trillion. At present, the trade turnover of the Central Asian countries with their South Asian partners has small volumes, in 2020 only $4.43 billion, which is 3.2 percent of their total foreign trade turnover

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While Mr Imran Khan was accompanied by the ministers of Information and Interior, the National Security Adviser and the PM’s adviser on Trade to the moot, India sent only its Foreign Minister S Jaishankar.

Pakistan and India presented different plans for discussion. Pakistan’s first connectivity plan was the Trans-Afghan route based on the construction of a Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway. The Uzbek side was promised access to ports in Karachi and Gwadar. Keeping in view the still unsettled situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan had a second plan also. Uzbekistan could access the same Pakistani ports via China, bypassing Afghanistan, with the goods traffic passing through the Karakoram Highway which connects Gilgit-Baltistan to China’s Xinjiang region. India emphasised the role of the Chabahar port in Iran and maintained that it could play an important role for trade with the Central Asia region.

Pakistan has offered a viable route which could become the natural choice of Central Asian countries provided those in control of Afghanistan manage to ensure peace and stability in the country, adopt less rigid policies and abstain from exporting their version of Islam to neighbouring countries. While the BJP considers Central Asian conquerors as oppressors, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have planned to jointly produce a film on the Emperor Babar, underlining a common cultural heritage. China’s Belt ad Road scheme, with CPEC as its flagship project, is yet another factor that could sway Central Asia in favour of the main route supported by Pakistan.

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