Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics (CAR’s), with their close geostrategic proximity, the shared cultural and religious values in general, and the mutual interests been based upon their commercial, political, and security ties in particular, are few among the specific areas, which have made both the parties to witness a long historical development of affairs since ages. However, it was not until the disintegration of the USSR, and the independence of CARs that both the partners started to enjoy their formal relationship. Keeping in sight the current developments, for instance, the current projects of CPEC, TAPI, and CASA-1000, what seems quite evident, is the dawn of new regionalization. The regionalization that is going to be centered upon the Gwadar Port of Pakistan, as a gateway for Central Asian Republics to Europe, Africa, and the Middle Eastern States.
The Formal Relations between Pakistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs), starts in December 1991, after the disintegration of the USSR, and the formation of five independent republics of Central Asia, where Pakistan was the first state to send its formal delegation, headed by Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali, the then Minister of State for Economic Affairs, to establish diplomatic relations with all five republics of Central Asia. Apart from it, Pakistan was the first state to advance Central Asian States into the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) through its Foreign Ministers Conference held in Islamabad, on 30 November 1992.
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Understanding the matter better
By then, initially, began with, the Islamic Cooperation Organization (OIC) in 1992, the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) in 1997, and after a decade of regional insecurity, and relative instability, to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, the Central Asia-South Asia Power Project (CASA-1000), the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI), and Khyber Pass Economic Corridor (KPEC) in 2016, 2018, and 2019 respectively, were among the very prominent regional formal collaborations, that have been ensued between the two parties to enhance in their economic, political, and the energy interest in the region.
The most prominent areas of mutual interaction between Pakistan and CARs have been the development of land routes, pipelines, and the buildup of infrastructure, which is to ensure the connectivity and economic sustainability of the two parties. The same three aspects were informed earlier, but because of the fluid situation in Afghanistan, and lack of attention from the side of policymakers in Pakistan particularly throughout the years of 1996-2007, have rather turned out to be only futile efforts.
However, the same aspects have now been readdressed, through the projects of, the BRI, CASA -1000, and TAPI, which are supposed to be culminated by 2023-2025. Apart from the Energy Security, the Economic and Political ties, the Cultural and Religious ties have also been ensured, which were formally safeguarded initially through OIC, and ECO, in 1991, and 1992, and now through SCO.
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The three decades of relationship between Pakistan and CARs, have been very inclusive, as it had encountered almost all the phases an alliance may face, as to begin with the Alliance Formation (1991-2000), the years of relative instability (2000-2010), very recently they have also witnessed the developmental years (2010-2021). A never-seen-before approach of Pakistan towards CARs has been observed in the last two decades.
When it comes to the future, there exist both limitations and opportunities
When it comes to limitations, two factors in Pakistan’s foreign policy have been observed to remain constant since its inception – the Indian fear and the Ummah factors. When it comes to dealing with CARs, the two factors do influence shaping Pakistan’s foreign policy towards CARs. Firstly, neither it’s questionable that Pakistan did support Islamist fractions in CARs, through extending its brotherhood arms, nor it is debatable that, Central Asia is an important part of any future Islamic bloc, as both are the real facts.
Secondly, India has been observed in the last decade to extend a new kind of relations with CARs. It is quite evident from the way, India 2012 unveiled its “Connect Central Asia” policy which encompasses consolidating political, economic, and security ties with Central Asia. Also, the Indian policy of the “Look East, Act East” policy, through their development of Chabahar Port.
Geography is a major hurdle in Pakistan-CARs relations, as they don’t share direct borders, where the Russian Factor is also another limitation, subsequently, the improved relations of Pakistan with Russia would have a positive impact on its relations with CARs.
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When it comes to opportunities, it is the close geostrategic proximity, the huge reservoirs of natural resources, and a source of large energy supply share potential in the Central Asian States, that Pakistan can help to benefit from. However, it is also the growing relationship between China and Iran in the region, which provides a chance for Pakistan to mend its relations with the Central Asian States.
If we do a futuristic analysis, the ties between Pakistan and CARs will be a win-win relationship. Pakistan has the potential to be an economic corridor for landlocked Central Asia in their access to the international market. Pakistan as a transshipment hub can have strategic impacts on CARs. Also, smooth and strong ties with Central Asia will have a positive impact on the energy crisis of Pakistan. Pakistan, therefore, is an important country to act as a natural link for the SCO states to connect the Eurasian heartland with the Arabian Sea and the rest of the world.
The writer is working as a researcher at Islamabad Policy Institute, Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.