ISSN 2330-717X

Central And South Asia Regional Connectivity: Prospects And Challenges – OpEd

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Central and South Asia share long historic relations based on cultural, traditions, religious and scientific values. In the changing geopolitical dynamics, both regions need each other not only for political purposes but for the economic betterment of both regions. The initiative under the title “Central and South Asia: regional interconnectedness: challenges and opportunities”  is taken by the president of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev. 

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Under the initiative of Uzbekistan’s president, a conference was held on 15-16 July, 2021,  in Tashkent, where presidents, prime ministers, and delegations of regional states participated. The significance of this conference become more relatable by the participation of special delegations from the European Union and the United Nations. 

During his inaugural speech, Uzbekistan’s president put forward important initiatives aiming to achieve these goals of inter-regional connectedness. These important initiatives include building suitable conditions to improve trade and economic ties with regional states, innovation in transport and logistics, and digital platforms to foster digital connectivity.

The primary mission of this initiative is to create regional connectivity between two resource-rich regions to boost the trade volume which will bring economic stability to the region by promoting investments in energy, technology,  education and transport sector. The main crux of initiative as highlighted by president Shavkat Mirziyoyev lies in the following points. 

  • The main promising area of initiative among all regional states is to build new transport corridors, for better bilateral trade relations and transit trade routes, which will provide trade routes to central Asian states toward Africa and the Middle East.
  • To enhance people-to-people contact for building cordial business relations based on historical ties to promote the private sector.
  • To ensure the security and stability of the region by resolving all major conflicts including border disputes and Afghanistan’s crises.

The economic dimension of central and south Asian inter-connectivity

On an international level, trade and economic relations are the backbones of all sorts of relations. Today, when world major powers are entering into an era of geopolitical transformation that is bringing new challenges and prospects, the initiatives to revive the old mutual relations between south and Central Asia are becoming more relatable and popular in all regional states mainly Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. As Uzbekistan’s president highlighted the importance of international conference on interconnectivity in these words “ we are entering into a new era. Based on the long historic, spiritual, scientific and cultural heritage of people of two regions, the timely measures and joints efforts for economic betterment, undoubtedly can give powerful synergy effect “. 

According to many surveys and analysis reports of world institutions, both regions can prove a gold mine for each other. Central Asian states are landlocked and teeming with natural resources including gas, oil, minerals, and cotton while on another hand south Asian states have immense potential to export food items, wheat, rice, surgical instruments, sports, and agricultural machines. Apart from bilateral trade between south and Central Asia, the provision of transit routes including trade corridors and seaports to landlocked Central Asian states can boost the trade volume of the region.

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Case of Pakistan – Uzbekistan trade relations

Both states enjoy cordial relations in social and cultural aspects but economic and trade cooperation is not up to mark as potential exists. During the current governments of Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Imran Khan, bilateral economic relations are improving through joint efforts. An initial target of 300 million USD is set by both states that will cross the long-term target of 1 billion dollars in near future. The introduction of liberal economic reforms by Uzbekistan’s president is providing momentum in strengthening the trade and economic relations with Pakistan.

Uzbekistan’s government is taking steps to build smooth trade relations with its neighbors. For instance, Uzbekistan is providing free electricity to seven provinces of Afghanistan. The central Asian state has over 500 million Dollar trade volume with Afghanistan which depicts that Pakistan and Uzbekistan trade volume is not according to the potential which exists between two states. Both governments are showing keen interest to enhance bilateral trade in agriculture, textile, and electronics fields. 

On the sidelines of the international conference on central and South Asia regional connectivity, an agreement is signed between Pakistan and Uzbekistan governments which will shift export of Uzbekistan from Iranian Bandre Abbas port to Pakistani seaports. These steps not only provide transit trade routes for central Asian states but new doors of investments for Pakistan will open. Following the high-level meeting of delegations from Pakistan Afghanistan and Uzbekistan in February 2021 a joint road map for the construction of the Tashkent – Mazar e sharif – Peshawar railway route was signed by three states to create viable and short routes for transit trade. These initiatives will lead to an economic boom in both regions. 

Challenges and prospects: 

The massive project of central and south Asian connectivity is confronted with several challenges which are giving a difficult time to policymakers of both regions. All transit trade routes have to pass through Afghanistan soil, anarchic situation in Afghanistan may hinder the fruitful outcomes of these initiatives. All-inclusive government based on mutual consent is a dire need of the hour to pave ways for the interconnectedness of the region

Another major challenge that is an obstacle in the creation of transit corridors is the traditional hostility of Pakistan and India. On the occasion of the international conference in Uzbekistan Pakistani PM mentioned that if India wants to engage itself in regional connectivity then India has to comply with international standards to resolve bilateral issues. Other major challenges include the reluctance of international financial institutions. The regional security situation is not in favor of attracting foreign investment for these projects. 

The bilateral border disputes among central Asian and south Asian states are challenging. The initiatives of the government of Uzbekistan are not sufficient to enhance regional connectivity. All central Asian states must show eagerness to achieve the goals. 

As far as prospects are concerned, both regions are home to a significant portion of the population. With every passing day population is increasing and new challenges, for instance, climate change and water scarcity are knocking doors of these states. A collaborative approach is needed to maximize the sustainable economic betterment of the region. The initiatives like central and south Asian regional connectivity will not only enhance government to government relations but business to business relations among private sectors will also get a boost, which will eventually provide more job opportunities and revenues to local citizens. 

Conclusively, a project like central and south Asian regional connectivity which is in collaboration with  the Chinese belt and road initiative  is dire need of  hour to promote regional connectivity. As the world is entering into a phase of geopolitical transformation, many states are promoting their regional relations for securing more and more opportunities for the economic stability of their nations. The old historic trade routes between the central and south Asian regions should be reopened for regional prosperity.

*Allah Nawaz is a student of international relations at Bahria university Islamabad and intern at CGSS

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