Pakistan’s bilateral relations with Uzbekistan have been further strengthened during recent times because of the improved political understanding as well as progress in bilateral trade along with impressive growth of tourism industry and the last but not the least combined efforts for establishment of peace and coherence in the region. In 1991, after Uzbekistan’s independence from USSR, Pakistan was one of the first few countries to recognize Uzbekistan and ever since both nations have extended their area of collaboration in the economic, cultural and diplomatic ranges.
Both countries are members of numerous international and regional platforms such as the United Nations (UN), Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). Along with this, both nations also have strong connections through the combined ministerial meetings held on regular basis. Central Asia in common and Uzbekistan in precise is a significant link once we look at the historical perspectives of the world while having a glimpse of the modern civilisations with its own glory and fascination, heritage and traditions.
The region, what we now called as Uzbekistan has a history of thousands years of effort of great and creative scholars who spent their lives working and discovering what today’s contemporary science, medicine and other fields have taken aspirations from. This particular region has continued to be the hub of world’s trade and industry because of the great Silk Road. It also makes this region a place of excellence for travelers from across the globe. The great route was also the cause behind canvassing new ideologies, arts, crafts, traditions, principles, cookeries and skills. Uzbekistan is one of the landlocked countries along with the other five landlocked Central Asian nations.
Uzbekistan is an agriculture-based economy but the country is also gifted with huge natural resources like rich reservoirs of gold, minerals and natural gas. The country also makes countless sums of foreign exchange through exporting these natural resources. Pakistan and Uzbekistan have diplomatic relations since more than 25 years but the profound historical roots further augmented these ties. These relations were further strengthen over the years because of the religious and cultural similarities. Pakistan and Uzbekistan are situated in a region of unlimited geo strategic prominence. Collaboration between the two distant neighbors is noteworthy for the political and economic comfort of the whole region.
Establishment of the relations between both dates back to the time when both states open their first diplomatic missions in each state after the independence of Uzbekistan. The trade potential between Pakistan and Uzbekistan is immense; however, the trade between both nations remained nominal. When it comes to Pakistan’s exports to Uzbekistan, the country exports textile, sports goods, vegetables, pharmaceuticals, and photography equipment to Uzbekistan while consuming its export potential of $9.14 million. While Uzbekistan exports cotton, plastics, salts and earthly stones, chemicals and fertilizers to Pakistan but over the period the exports volume has fallen considerably. The trade volume between both countries was $24.7 million in 2007 and $3.22 million in 2016. Fortunately, trade volume in recent years again increased. In 2019 trade revenue of Uzbekistan with Pakistan touched the amount of more than 122 million dollars. In 2018, the trade volume was 98 million dollars whereas in 2017 it was just 36.6 million.
On the other hand, in the contemporary scenario with the encouraging developments of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), QTTA and BRI, there is an opportunity for both countries to further upsurge their trade volumes. Another development is which can prove to be more fruitful with its execution is Uzbekistan’s membership of the Quadrilateral Tariff and Trade Agreement (QTTA) and once the country will be part of it, the volume of bilateral trade is anticipated to reach up to $1billion in the next five years. Although Afghanistan, which is another landlocked country like Uzbekistan, offers the shortest and most nearby route for connectivity between South and Central Asia, but the conflict in Afghanistan foreshadowed this advancement to become a veracity. This is the cause that both nations have united hands and share their ambitions for the attainment of peace, firmness, and growth in Afghanistan.
Previously the major challenge between Pakistan and Uzbekistan was the direct connection, which was later resolved with the resumption of direct flights operations from Tashkent to Lahore. After the recommencement of the flights, it came out as a great surprise that at the very first month more than 2000 visitors from both the countries availed this opportunity to visit both countries. With the passage of time, this number is increasing constantly. This further provides an opportunity for the both sides to augment partnerships in numerous fields. When it comes to business and trade cooperation, in recent years, KASB group and Uzbek Export Corporation signed an agreement to establish Pak-Uzbek Trade House. The purpose of this initiative is to introduce new technologies in the field of agriculture in Pakistan. It will prove to be a great initiative since Pakistan is struggling to improve the per-acre yield of the cotton in presence old technologies and techniques.
Uzbekistan being the chief cotton-producing country owns high valued and mechanized agriculture machinery. This machinery and agriculture techniques can be beneficial for the farmers in Pakistan in order to improve their productivity. Uzbekistan and Pakistan have a large economic potential that can expose extensive range of opportunities for jointly beneficial collaboration. Trans-Afghan Railway Line Project decided between Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan would alter the geo-economic dynamics of the whole Central Asian region. The project would be the initial step in connecting the Central Asian transport network with Pakistani seaports of Gwadar, Karachi and Bin Qasim.
In April this year, Prime Minister Imran khan in a virtual meeting with Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, emphasized the significance of improving political and diplomatic connections along with fast tracking trade and economic collaboration. He also stressed on the need of guaranteeing early finalisation of the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) and Transit Trade Agreement (TTA). Both sides also agreed to increase security and defence assistance, and taking steps to extend joint collaboration in the fields of education, culture and tourism. Therefore, the importance of rail, road and air connectivity cannot be sidelined. There is enormous potential existed in varied fields to build an extended and mutually beneficial partnership. The economic and security paradigm of Pakistan is changing as the focus is shifting towards geo-economics.
In May this year, Pakistan and Uzbekistan transit trade and export of goods to Pakistan through Afghanistan initiative was launched. In this regard, an Uzbek cargo truck traversed the Afghan transit course in two days and reached the Torkham checkpoint in Peshawar on May 11. After the conclusion of customs clearance, the truck reached the importer in Faisalabad. According to a press release from Ministry of Commerce, the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Pakistan together with Pakistani transport company, Best Trans Pvt. Ltd., and Uzbek freight forwarding company, Asad Trans, for the first time executed a pilot trans-Afghan logistics project for the direct distribution of Uzbek export goods to Pakistan through the region of Afghanistan. The project has been launched as a combined initiative for direct delivery through Afghanistan of Uzbek goods to Pakistani cities according to the supplier’s warehouse and importer’s warehouse scheme.
Uzbekistan has announced many advanced and contemporary concepts for tourism industry mostly about ecotourism, geo-tourism as well as health and cultural areas. It has also executed a project on reinstatement of objects of cultural heritage, construction and reconstruction of tourist facilities, the expansion of new routes of ancient monuments and scenic places. Tourism cooperation has been augmented between the two sides. Uzbek ambassador in Pakistan has introduced new concept of “religious diplomacy” which has attained great success as the number of tourists from Pakistan has been increased. Uzbek economy is on a rising trajectory. The Government of Uzbekistan established Special Economic Zones. These zones are paying positively to the economic development of the country.
The government of Pakistan also established special economic zones at the CPEC route. The Pakistani business community could acquire from the Uzbek’s experience about the formation and working of Economic Zones. The development of economic zones can appeal Uzbeks investment. Pakistan wishes to forge faster ties with Uzbekistan and other CARs in areas of trade, investment, energy and people-to-people interactions in which CPEC will play an imperative role. Uzbekistan is a perfect match for BRI in Pakistan because of its crucial location for a logistic hub in Central Asia. Linking Gwadar to Central Asia as an organic expansion of BRI, and as a venture into revealing the economic potential of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The growth of Gwadar port and the CPEC project is an excellent chance to modify the destiny of the region as Pakistan could offer a channel between Central Asia, South Asian, the ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) and the EU (European Union) countries.