PM Imran Khan held a meeting with Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rehman yesterday, who is in Pakistan for a two-day visit. The government must be lauded for extending this invitation to a key regional partner, which allowed the two sides to discuss bilateral cooperation in key areas, including economic, trade, investment, energy, security, health, and regional connectivity.
The special emphasis placed on the promotion of trade between the countries is encouraging to see; and this is an initiative that should be extended to other regional partners as well, especially Central Asian states. It is crucial for Pakistan to diversify its trade basket which is heavily reliant on the US, EU and China. Over the past decade, Pakistan’s volume of trade with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan has been less than $1 billion. While Pakistan is expected to sign a transit and preferential trade agreement with Uzbekistan in July, there is still a long way to go before we can achieve our target of growing trade to $1.5 billion annually with Central Asian nations.
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If some semblance of stability returns to Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops, it will provide Pakistan with immense opportunities to strengthen trade with its neighbours. Central Asian markets are rich in energy resources, so the expansion of trade with these countries will be of great help as we seek to grow our industrial base.
In addition to discussing trade opportunities and the need for regional connectivity, Pakistan also promised weapons for Tajikistan and overall support in matters of security. Ordinance export has been a potential revenue stream for us, and it is positive to see the government engage yet another state in this realm. As the departure of foreign forces draws closer, it will be important for all regional actors to play their part in ensuring that Afghanistan does not plunge into anarchy.
Most heartening however, was the inclusion of climate change on the agenda, as PM Khan backed the Tajik proposal of declaring 2025 the International Year of Glacier Protection. The water supply per capita in Central Asia has fallen drastically in recent years due to the rapid melting of glaciers. Therefore, it cannot be stressed enough that collaboration is the only way to tackle the many threats that extend across the region.