Ever since India ripped SAARC apart by boycotting the SAARC summit in Islamabad, the South Asian organization has turned into a dead horse. India has completely undermined any chances of turning SAARC into a South Asian free economic zone, through its subversion of the very fundamentals of SAARC.
Indian elite has started to imagine SAARC as a de-facto manifestation of Akhand Bharat, a deluded idea that cost this organization its very life. As things stand right now, SAARC cannot be revived while it remains dominated by India – unless the Hindu nationalist elite realizes the cost of their hegemonic ambitions in South Asia.
With SAARC becoming a thing of the past, Pakistan would have to re-imagine its economic, geostrategic, and diplomatic alliances.
As the American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Central Asia will become a key concern for Pakistan, as Islamabad would again have to facilitate a smooth exit for the US forces from Afghanistan.
It presents a long list of challenges for Pakistan – that would have to be understood under the purview of the emerging geopolitical trends in Central Asia. As China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) takes shape in Central Asia, the once closed markets of Central Asia will open up for Pakistan.
The vast territories of Central Asian Republics are not properly integrated with the rest of the world. It is in this context that the China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will become a critical pillar of regional integration.
Benefits of trading with Pakistan
Pakistan recently signed a deal with Uzbekistan to build a 573km long cargo train link between the two countries through Afghanistan, to facilitate smooth transit of Uzbekistan’s trade to the rest of the world through Pakistani deep-sea ports – located at the Arabian Sea.
As Central Asia opens up to the rest of the world, its Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) with Pakistan will take centre stage. Pakistan will enable all Central Asian Republics (CARs) to engage in trade and commerce by opening its doors to these countries to facilitate their trade interests with the global markets.
Central Asian Republics will see fast-paced economic growth once they can trade their commodities, minerals, materials, and products – freely with the global markets through Pakistani ports.
The Central Asian Republics will also greatly benefit by trading with Pakistan – the largest country and the largest economy in the Central Asian region. Access to large marketplaces will act as a catalyst for the economic growth of the Central Asian Republics.
In this context, Russia will also take a central role, as Moscow will be able to secure access to the Gwadar deep seaport in Pakistan’s Balochistan province – that will prove to be a gamechanger for the Russian economy, as Russia has always desired to secure sustainable geographic access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.
Russia is a major energy and materials exporter – having access to Gwadar through trade corridors in Central Asia – is exactly the enable Moscow needs to boost its ailing economy.
Having close trade ties with Moscow through Central Asia – will also be a game-changer for Pakistan, as for the first time in history – Pakistan would have direct overland access to Russia and potentially Europe, making it a win-win situation.
A need for new priorities?
For this scenario to become a reality, Pakistan’s policymakers must re-imagine Pakistan as a ‘Central Asian’ State – rather than a South Asian state.
Pakistan has to accord its relations with Central Asia – the highest level of priority, to facilitate and build projects like the Uzbekistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan Railway project, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India gas pipeline project – and take necessary steps with Beijing and Moscow to develop Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) connecting the entire Central Asian Region and Russia with the Pakistani seaports.
It also should be a matter of utmost importance for Pakistan to develop close trade and commerce relations with Russia through Central Asia, by developing a joint venture with Moscow to facilitate the construction of Road and Railway infrastructure needed to connect Russian export hubs with Pakistani deep-sea ports located at the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan should seek close energy cooperation with Russian energy companies to explore oil and gas reserves in Pakistan as well as establishing Russian export zones in Gwadar to facilitate trade between Russia and its clientele across the world.
As India brings SAARC to its knees due to its hegemonic ambitions, Pakistan needs to form new alliances with its Central Asian partners based on quantifiable interests – while aggressively engaging all South Asian countries like Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan, and Nepal at a bi-lateral level to promote trade with those South Asian countries.
As Pakistan becomes a zipper of cross-continental trade in Central Asia – the entire region will reap benefits of close economic integration, a wholesome outcome for both Central and South Asian states that are in desperate need of economic development, that begins by Pakistan shifting its priorities to forming alliances with Russia and Central Asian republics.
Shahid Raza is Editor Strategic Affairs at GVS. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.