Connecting Central South Asia – Dream of President Uzbekistan Coming True

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Tazeen Akhtar – Islamabad / Pakistan / 12 July 2021

Uzbekistan is hosting International Conference “Central &  South Asia – Regional Connectivity ; Challenges & Opportunities” on 15 -16  July 2021 in follow up of the vision of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev who conceptualized the idea of connecting Central and South Asia through all possible means , air, road, railway and actually from the hearts. When the hearts beat together the distances and boundaries do not matter. The nations come closer and share their achievements and experiences to benefit the others.

That is what President Shavkat has envisioned and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has reciprocated in same zest and zeal. Matter of fact is that the two regions have centuries old bonds of culture, language, religion and other commonalities. President Shavkat’s initiative will restore that relationship. It will not only bring stability in the two regions but will open the doors of new possibilities and prospects for the more than 1.5 Billion population of these two regions.

The President of Uzbekistan attaches great importance to the sustainable development goals of the UNO. Uzbekistan has secured many achievements and reached milestones in the direction of millennium SDGs.  Secretary General Antonio Guteress acknowledges the commitment of the President. His participation in the conference is also expected. Secretary General had an interaction with PM Imran Khan recently on 04 June 2021 in a virtual meet to celebrate World Environment Day in Pakistan as a host. This depicts that the UN Secretary General has a good working relationship with both leaders that is quite promising state of affairs to building a productive partnership.

President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani is also attending the conference. Afghanistan is in a transitional period nowadays where Taliban, Kabul Government and other stakeholders are supposed to sit together to bring out a local solution to the situation. Peace and Stability in Afghanistan is central in the efforts of connecting the two regions. For that , good neighbourly relations with trust between Afghanistan and Pakistan are most important. President Shavkat’s initiative allows the leaders of both countries to sit together after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan has facilitated a dialogue among the Taliban and US that further took President Ashraf Ghani into confidence. That was the only thing Pakistan could do and nothing else was wanted than the local solution agreed between the local parties.

Indian representation is expected at ministerial level. India is the biggest country in the regions that enjoy heavier say in regional and international issues. India and Pakistan have some disputes that never allowed the two states to build bridges and confidence since after their independence. Jammu Kashmir is the main issue between two nuclear rivals. But this international conference will provide an opportunity to both countries to come closer under one roof. President Uzbekistan’s contribution for this arrangement is praise worthy. There has been no contact on a higher level between India and Pakistan for a long time. Maybe some development is seen in this conference that becomes a starter.

Certainly other leaders from Central and South Asia are attending the conference but Pakistan’s geographical location and already grown insight into the importance of connectivity makes it more important than the others. The transit for connection between Central and South is provided by Pakistan. That is why President Shavkat Mirziyoyev shared his vision with Prime Minister Imran Khan who welcomed the idea and assured his full cooperation in this regard. Both leaders held the first ever virtual summit on 14th of April this year in which the whole gamut of bilateral cooperation came under discussion. High level delegations from both sides have visited each other before and after this virtual summit.

The high level contacts also include the visit of Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan General Qamar Javed Bajwa in late April 2021. Foreign Ministers Mr. Shah Mahmood Qureshy and Abdulaziz Kamilov have also met many times during the latter’s Pakistan visit and in different regional and world level conferences.

This shows that a common understanding for the well being of both nations is present among the leadership at political level. Now it is only to give it a turn towards meaningful sustainable cooperation in all possible fields including trade, economy, investment, tourism, ziyaarat tourism, education, science, technology, agriculture and last but not the least people to people contacts. The conference is expected to further previously discussed and agreed matters of cooperation to take the concrete steps for their implementation. This will definitely prove to be the real game changer for the two regions.

As long as connectivity is concerned, Pakistan has already offered Uzbekistan and other central Asian countries that they can join CPEC to reach our ports. But recently Uzbekistan and Pakistan took some decisions that can be beneficial for both and the other central Asian countries, equal if not more than CPEC. Uzbekistan is operating a train from Tirmiz to Mazar e Sharif Afghanistan. Last Feb , Pakistan joined it on the invitation of President Shavkat. This train will travel to Peshawer from Mazar e Sharif. Agreement has been signed by the three countries. Russian Foreign Minister in March observed in a news conference that this train connectivity is more important than the North CPEC. He used the term N-CPEC for its branch that can connect Central Asia to Pakistan.

Uzbekistan is the first country among all Central Asian states to start and sustain direct flights to Pakistan. Uzbek Air is operating flights between Tashkent Lahore. Pakistan International Airlines is also considering starting its own direct flight to Uzbekistan. Recently both countries successfully completed a truck trade pilot project when a truck from Karachi travelled to Uzbekistan through Afghanistan and returned to Faisalabad with trade goods.

The leadership of the two regions will discuss the way forward to implement already agreed projects. New proposals will also come under consideration. The two regions need friendly relations to make their people’s lives better. They need peace, stability, development, security, energy, education, health facilities, food security, trade, tourism. That can be done only when the states have colse, cordial, mutually beneficial relations. Wars, confrontations, proxies never serve the well being of humanity.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has visualized a brighter future for the people of the two regions. Prime Minister Imran Khan has assured his full support for that great objective. Leaders of other states are expected to cooperate with open hearts and minds.

That is the way to realize the dream of connecting the regions for the welfare of the public. A complete understanding is present among the leadership of Uzbekistan and Pakistan to implement the connecting projects as soon as possible. Leaders of other states are supposed and expected to come on board during this conference. Therefore it can be hoped that the dream of connecting the two great regions of the world will soon come true.

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