Pakistan and Uzbekistan: Cultural and Historical Linkages

Pakistan and Uzbekistan have historic relations rooted in cultural linkages and shared history. Strong cultural links, religious binding, defense cooperation, and substantial economic ties forge a solid bilateral relationship between two Asian brothers. Pakistan was among the first countries to recognize Uzbekistan as an independent state in 1991. Consequently, in the year 2021, both culturally rich countries celebrated 30 years of diplomatic relations. Pakistan and Uzbekistan’s historically effective connectivity could be traced back to Great Mughals’ era, the “Baburids Dynasty.” According to the historical records, the Baburids dynasty was established by Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur, who came to the subcontinent from Uzbekistan.Architectural monuments, parks, memorial complexes, mosques, gardens, forts, and madrasas built during the Mughal dynasty are considered a critical cultural heritage of Pakistan. Moreover, arts, crafts, traditional values, and religious linkages highlight that both states have shared values and cultural similarities during Mughal rule. Subsequently, the rich cultural connectivity of the historic links impacted Pakistan-Uzbekistan relations in diverse ways.

Religious and Cultural Connectivity
Uzbekistan is the country of the world’s great thinkers, scholars, and scientists. For centuries, the contributions of Uzbekistan’s scientists and scholars to the development of scientific knowledge and culture have been the center of world attention. Numbers of religious scholars and thinkers from Uzbekistan’s land have made irreplaceable contributions to the formation of Islamic civilization. Significantly, the author of the collections of Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam al-Bukhari was born in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Al-Jami al-Sahih, widely regarded as the most credible collection of Hadith in the Islamic world, is the outcome of many years of intense research by Imam Bukhari. Al-Jami al-Sahih is recognized as one of the significant sources of Islamic teachings after the Holy Book Quran.
Moreover, the economic, cultural, and scientific development of Islam or the Islamic Renaissance was a process of the modernization of Muslim civilization. During the development process, heavy emphasis and contribution were made by Uzbekistan’s scholars. For example, Al-Khorezmi was the algorithm’s creator, Abu Rayhan Beruni a great scientist, Al-Fergani the scientist-astronomer, Mirzo Ulugbek a great astronomer, and many others other scholars have roots in Uzbekistan.

Sufism in South-Central Asia
Sufism, the esoteric school of Islam for self-purification through spiritual instructions, connects the two nations. Sufism has remained a vital force in the religious bond of Pakistan and Uzbekistan. The Naqshbandiya movement was originated in Uzbekistan and has been the most influential movement of Sufism. Similarly, the culture of Sufism, tombs, and shrines is significant to understand the religious linkages. This Sufi culture of Central Asia strongly influences Pakistan’s Sufi traditions and culture. As mentioned earlier, the founder Bakhauddin Naqshbandi was born in Bukhara. Therefore, thousands of Pakistanis annually visit Uzbekistan to perform Ziarah of these holy places, including Imam al Bukhari memorial complex, Shahi Zinda, Seven Peers of Sufism, Imam At-Tirmizi, Owais Qarni tomb, and many other sanctified shrines.

Moreover, in Pakistan, people widely use surnames such as Samarkandi, Boukhari, and Tirmizi. These people trace their origin or roots back from Central Asia. Consequently, the Holy Quran, Collection of Hadiths Book, Sufism, and Muslim scholars provide strong historical foundations for religious connectivity between Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

When it comes to heritage and folklore, Pakistan and Uzbekistan celebrate multiple common religious and cultural events. Festivals in both states highlight religious and historical traditions of the past. Even today’s festivities are passed on from older generations to recent ones.

The common religious and cultural events are following:

  • Eid Al-Fitr or Ramazan Hait: Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan; it is celebrated during the first three days of Shawwal, the 10th month of the Islamic calendar. It is an occasion for special worships and prayers, family gatherings, visits, gift-giving, and charity.
  • Eid Al-Adha or Kurban Hait: Eid al-Adha, the second of two great Muslim festivals. It is also known as the festival of sacrifice. On this day, Muslims worldwide offer Eid prayers, goat or sheep are sacrificed, and it is time for the family, friends, food.
  • Ashura: Ashura is a holy day for Muslims of both countries. It is marked as the day of mourning, observed on the 10th day of Muharram.
  • Nawruz: Nowruz marks the first day of spring, and large celebrations are held in both states.

The Uzbek language came from the Turkic branch of the Altaic language family. Subsequently, the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language is the origin of the Urdu language. Nevertheless, Urdu and Uzbek languages have close similarities. For example, in the Urdu language, approximately 6 thousand words come from the Uzbek language. That is why Pakistanis and Uzbeks can understand and communicate with one another with little effort. Significantly, centers to understand the Uzbek language and departments to study Urdu languages are running both in Uzbekistan and Pakistan.
The higher educational institutions of Uzbekistan provide training, retraining, and advanced training for students, specialists, and academic staff for a roadmap to Urdu learning success. Such as the Institute of Oriental Studies, Tashkent, and University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Uzbekistan has Urdu Departments. Students and faculty of both institutes compiled an Urdu dictionary which includes a specialized vocabulary and terminologies which reflect 4000 words common in both languages. The Institute of Oriental Studies, Tashkent, and University runs one of the oldest Urdu Language departments. Subsequently, Pakistan television is making a drama series on the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib in partnership with Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

Architectural Similarities
Pakistan and Uzbekistan’s architectural patterns have immense resemblances and similarities. Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Khiva, Termez, Kokand, and Bukhara are Significant Uzbek architectural hubs. Furthermore, many ancient architectural designs also include mausoleums, palaces, minarets, and mosques. The key features of Uzbekistan’s architecture include turquoise-colored domes, colorful mosaics, and intricate geometric patterns. Similarly, various architectural marvels of Pakistan are imported from Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan and Pakistan’s historic buildings, madrassas, tombs, shrines, and mosques have immense similarities. Especially mirror work or naqqashi, wood craving, blue tiles, and tile mosaic.

Commonalities in Food
With its rich heritage, Pakistan’s cuisines have many commonalities with Uzbek food. Pakistani cuisines are heavily influenced by Central Asia and Middle Eastern foods and tastes. The variety of foods such as bread, curries or soups, and rice depict cultural similarities.

  • Wheat-based flatted bread is a traditional food in both countries. The Uzbek break is called “Naan lepeshka,” flat, Palin, and round wheat bread baked in a clay oven or tandoor. Similarly, the flat, round and baked bread in Pakistan, known as “Chapati or Naan,” is a staple in all Pakistani homes.
  • Likewise, Pulao is a rice dish that is cooked in both countries. The ‘Uzbek Pulao’ is a delightful combination of raisins, dry plums, and other dry fruits along with chicken tikka. Similarly, in Pakistan, Pulao is cooked with meat, dry spices, or fruits and vegetables.
  • The rich lamb and vegetable soup, also known as Shurpa (also called shourpa, shorwa, sorpa) is a well-known dish in Uzbekistan. It is a thick soup and ranks among the foremost first-course dishes of Uzbek cuisine. As it is cooked with meat or fish, it is also served with traditional Uzbek bread. In Pakistan, Chorba commonly called as shorba in Pakistan is one of the various kinds of soup or stew found in national cuisines across Pakistan. In Pakistan shorba or soup is a dish of vegetables and meat cooked slowly in liquid in a closed container or pan.

Pakistani and Uzbek cuisines are a refined blend of similar cooking traditions. Therefore, food is another key source that highlights the traditional resemblance and similarities.

Handicrafts and Dresses
Artisanship is viewed as a most significant cultural identity of a state. The art and crafts of Pakistan and Uzbekistan also highlight the close cultural similarities. Both states’ paintings, Jewelry, textile, furniture, ornaments, and pottery industry give an impression of historical existence and cultural harmony. In Uzbekistan, extensive national crafts and arts include engraving on copper, wood, and plaster-based material; carpet making; jeweler’s skills; ceramics; ornamental embroidery, inlaid works on musical instruments; painting on papier-mache; creation of decorative boxes for local tobacco; baskets, cradles, chests, and many other types. Likewise, Pakistan’s artists make traditional crafts materials to create various items. Wood and brass craving, meal work, pottery, carpets, and Ajrak are well-known crafts of Pakistan. In both states, common techniques and materials are used to work on handicrafts, therefore designs and features of paintings, pottery, furniture, cloths have immense similarities.

Policy Recommendations
Cultural harmony, common values, and shared history can help cultivate bilateral ties based on mutual trust, understanding, and interest. Pakistan and Uzbekistan aim to strengthen economic, political, and cultural roles to achieve sustainable development and regional stability and further advancement of bilateral relations.
Under the five pillars of Pakistan’s “Vision of Central Asia Policy,” it is significant to increase structural engagement to enhance political, trade, energy, security, investment, and connectivity. In this regard, the bilateral; policy priorities of Pakistan and Uzbekistan may include the following policy directions:

  1. Cultural diplomacy is vital to maintain sustainable relations and achieve prosperity. Shared values and culture provide opportunities to both states to further enhance multifaceted bilateral cooperation in tourism. Tourism will boost people-to-people contacts and foster mutual understanding through exchanging ideas, information, language, and values. Cultural diplomacy and tourism produce economic growth and enable revenue generation. Both states should invest in the tourism industry and its development because the benefits of tourism can only be realized if associated issues are well addressed.
  2. To boost tourism, Pakistan and Uzbekistan should develop people-to-people- contacts, social programs and training, visa facilities, security conditions, and technological development.
  3. The formulation of the Pakistan-Uzbekistan Business Council represents the mutual will of both states and their business circles towards further developing trade-economical interaction. Since 2018, economic relation has depicted favorable trends, with a total increase of 170 percent, and both nations exceeded 98.4 million US Dollars through bilateral trade. It is significant to consolidate the emerging positive trajectory in the economic sector; it will further strengthen relations and enhance broad-based cooperation.
  4. Uzbekistan produces a large number of raw materials such as silk and leather; simultaneously, Pakistan’s textile industry is well established. Therefore, both states can expand their cooperation in the Textile industry.
Cultural diplomacy is vital to maintain sustainable relations and achieve prosperity. Shared values and culture provide opportunities to both states to further enhance multifaceted bilateral cooperation in tourism. Tourism will boost people-to-people contacts and foster mutual understanding through exchanging ideas, information, language, and values. Cultural diplomacy and tourism produce economic growth and enable revenue generation. Both states should invest in the tourism industry and its development because the benefits of tourism can only be realized if associated issues are well addressed.
  1. Pakistan and Uzbekistan have numerous venues for cooperation. Apart from the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan roadmap for the Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway project and the United State-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan-Pakistan Quad venues, there is a need to include Uzbekistan in CPEC formally. It will eliminate the barriers to regional connectivity and regional integration.
  2. The formation of a joint media corridor will enable us to understand each other better and come closer through exchange programs, culture and information.
  3. Both states should further strengthen cooperation at the regional or international organizations, especially in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), to promote security and counter-terrorism, extremism, and separatism. Additionally, it is significant to enhance further interaction in the United Nations (UN), Organization of Islamic Council (OIC), and Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), and other regional organizations for the advancement of national security goals.

Pakistan and Uzbekistan’s relations have begun to witness constant development momentum and enjoy a profound historical relationship. Both states should strengthen mutually beneficial economic cooperation, political mutual trust and enhance people-to-people contacts to expand the avenues of bilateral cooperation. Both states should enhance cooperation to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan and its socio-economic development at the regional level. Pakistan and Uzbekistan need to formulate a sustainable, balanced, and long-term strategic framework to achieve mutual interests in the emerging regional landscape of world politics.


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About Asma Khalid 11 Articles
Author is Editor of the Melange International Magazine and Research Associate at Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR). Her research interests include South Asian Security and Strategic issues. Her analysis of these issues has featured in national and international publication platforms.