Asian Century: Is the Dream Coming True? | Amna Malik

There is a vast scope of cooperation between Central and South Asia

Nature has beatified the soil and the people of different regions with different resources. Some regions abound in beauty, while others are characterised by grimness. In some places, there is an attitude based on lenity but in certain other areas, gallantry and temerity are the popular values. Some areas have ample natural beauty, with soaring mountains and lush green fields, while others have deserts and flatlands. If we look at the Central Asian region, it has diverse attributes. The soil and the faces of people exude beauty, as well as steadiness and animation. This was the region from where the Islamic world found the warriors for whom Allama Muhammad Iqbal has written an anamnesis in his poetry, entitled “Shikwa-e-Tarkamani” (Complaint of the Turkman).

The great thinker of Islam, Allama Iqbal, had also conveyed the message 90 years ago that without the enthusiastic cooperation of the Central Asian Republics (CARs), this region cannot attain real and lasting prosperity. Central Asia has been blessed with a superiority in natural resources over the whole world. Central Asia has a great share in Islamic history of knowledge, research, exploration, preaching, communication and reformation. Kazakhstan is considered one of the most significant countries of the region, as it enjoys a bounty of natural resources. It has established its worth on the economic, commercial and diplomatic levels. Because of its trade and economic policies, the whole region began to dream of the ‘Asian Century’.

The foundations for Pakistan’s relationship with the CARs were laid from the time when Allama Iqbal foresaw the significance of this region in times to come and suggested that a railway track be built from Kabul to Constantinople (Istanbul), through the Central Asian region, to promote trade and communication in the Muslim world. His idea is still a beacon of light for us. If we had executed this plan a long time ago by laying a railway track extending from Kabul to warm waters, the landlocked states could get easy access to the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. It would have also significantly contributed to the growth and development of the whole region. Enormous resources of oil and gas are found in the Central Asian states. In South Asia, there is more human resource than the resources of energy. Under such circumstances, there is a vast scope of cooperation between Central and South Asia.

Kazakhstan has a great variety of natural resources, including petrol, gas coal, bronze, lead, gold and uranium. Kazakhstan is in possession of 30 billion barrels worth of oil reserves and is included in the list of the top 10 oil-producing countries. It has over three trillion cubic metres of gas reserves. The natural resources of Kazakhstan are worth almost $ 46 trillion. Kazakhstan has the sixth largest reserves of gold in the world. Its iron reserves are the eighth largest in the world. With regard to its uranium resources, after Australia, it has the second largest reserves — one quarter of the uranium of the world.

Relations between Pakistan and Kazakhstan formally began on February 24, 1992 and the Kazakhstan embassy was opened in Islamabad on November 27, 1994. Soon after gaining independence, the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev paid a visit to Pakistan, which reflects the significance that both countries hold for each other. In 1995, both countries signed a Joint Statement on Perspectives of Bilateral Relations. The government of Pakistan also participated in the first summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) on June 4, 2002 at Almaty. After these high level overtures from Pakistan, President Nazarbayev paid an official visit to Pakistan on December 8-9 in 2003.

Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif, on his recent visit to Kazakhstan at the invitation of President Nazarbayev, had a vision instituting energy and trade corridors with Kazakhstan and other countries in Central Asia. In his meeting with his Kazakh counterpart, Karim Massimov in Astana, PM Nawaz Sharif expressed his views on a range of bilateral issues, as well as the regional situation. He was of the view that the two countries had a great potential to fortify cooperation in engineering, food and agriculture, pharmaceuticals and highways.

PM Massimov expressed his desire to be a part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project because it would provide an alternative route for access to the sea. He called for preparations for meetings of the governmental commission of the two countries, saying that cooperation in transport infrastructure would help promote bilateral trade. Kazakhstan wants to cooperate with Pakistan for the promotion of regional peace, said the Kazakh premier, adding that the two countries had always cooperated with each other at international forums. Both the leaders called for the further strengthening of bilateral ties between Pakistan and Kazakhstan through enhanced cooperation in diverse areas, particularly trade, energy and infrastructure connectivity, for the mutual benefit of the two brotherly countries.

The two leaders exchanged views on regional and international issues of mutual interest. Pakistani ports (Gwadar and Karachi) provide the shortest route to the sea for the CARs. PM Nawaz Sharif expressed Pakistan’s vision of a prosperous Central Asia, with all countries connected by rail, road and air. The PM said that Pakistan viewed Kazakhstan as an important state in the region because of its strategic geographic location and energy resources.

Pakistan and Kazakhstan signed three Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) for cooperation in the areas of trade and investment, defence and strategic studies and training in foreign services. The MoU between the National Export and Investment Agency of Kazakhstan and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan purports to increase the volume of bilateral trade, investment and technology transfer. It not only encourages the mutual exchange of information on trade, but also facilitates development of potential trade routes between the two countries by establishing contact in key areas, such as agribusiness, the food industry, entertainment and services, machinery and equipment, fashion, design, technology, health, construction, metallurgy and pharmaceuticals. The MoU between the Foreign Services Academy of Pakistan and the Academy of Public Administration under the President of Kazakhstan aims to develop cooperation in training and boosting professional acquisitions of diplomats with the intent to beef up bilateral relations. The MoU on cooperation in the area of defence and strategic studies between the National Defence University and the Centre for Military Strategic Research of Kazakhstan aims at raising academic cooperation between the two institutions through conferences, research and other academic activities.

In an interview with Astana Times, PM Nawaz Sharif said that the CPEC would provide connectivity with Central Asia, would cater to economic prospects and constitute a win-win situation for all countries. Both sides are exploring new spheres of cooperation. In this regard, Kazakhstan’s World Trade Organisation membership will be instrumental in erecting the country’s trade with Pakistan, a founding member of the organisation. Responding to a question, PM Sharif said that Pakistan would support Kazakhstan’s candidature for election to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the term 2017-2018.

Major exports from Pakistan to Kazakhstan are leather, pharmaceutical products, telecommunication appliances and equipment, cotton products, bedlinen, knitwear, garments, rice, fruits and others. Despite enormous economic complementarities, unfortunately bilateral trade between Pakistan and Kazakhstan is below the actual potential. But one must hope that the required trade goals may be achieved in the near future by expanding the parameters set by the leadership.

The writer is a freelance columnist


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