The President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev planted a tree at Shakarparian Park Islamabad during his first visit to Pakistan, in 1992 and it has become tall and flourished one now, depicting the friendship of both nations. The cordial relations of Pakistan and Kazakhstan dates back to the independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the 1990s and Pakistan was among the first five countries to recognize Kazakhstan as a sovereign and independent nation. Ever since both countries enjoy fraternal relations based on their commonalities like their historical linkage, Islamic goodwill and common approach towards global issues. The high-level visits to Kazakhstan by Prime Ministers and Presidents of Pakistan and similarly the President of Kazakhstan H.E. Nursultan Nazarbayev visits Islamabad, in 1992 and 2003, is an epitome of brotherly relations of both nations.
Like its neighbours, Kazakhstan is also a landlocked country but it the largest one among all the Central Asian Republics and rich in its natural resources, history and culture. In this context, Pakistan not only acts as the connectivity hub by providing the shortest and most accessible route to the Central Asian Republics but also connects the region with African and Middle Eastern markets. Even though the geographic contiguity of Kazakhstan and Pakistan is eminent from the ancient silk route but it is pertinent to mention that, it takes only 25hours to drive from one country to another, providing an alternative route to South Asia for connecting it with Central Asian Republics and Europe. Pakistani ports and specifically the Gawadar Port is located at a very geostrategic location and acts as the main access for the Central Asian Republics to reach the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. This is the underlying reason for the recent Quadrilateral Transit and Trade Agreement (QTTA), where Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and China are the main actors and it acts as the transit traffic and trade relating to CPEC and the broader agenda of BRI.
Moreover, it also attracts other Central Asian Republics like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to become part of this agreement.
Among other commonalities, both Asian nations are common members of United Nations (UN), Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), and Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Along with this, in his last visit, the President of Kazakhstan said that the two countries are looking forward to bolstering their bilateral relations through cooperation in the field of education, trade, economy, science and technology, and energy. The military and defence cooperation between Pakistan and Kazakhstan is exemplary. It is evident from the bilateral counter-terrorism exercises, Dostarym, and visit of the Kazakhstan military personnel and Defense and Aerospace Minister the 10th IDEAS exhibition organized by Pakistan in Karachi. Moreover, both nations have inked agreements in the field of defence, trade, agriculture, and disaster management.
However, there is much more both nations can do to bolster their relations and reinvigorate bilateral trade and people-to-people contacts, especially with regards to the BRI of China, because both Pakistan and Kazakhstan are part of this mega initiative if they converge their energies to promote regional trade, technical assistance, infrastructure development etc. they can do wonders. Nevertheless, the significant piece of this jigsaw puzzle is Afghanistan due to its geographic contiguity to both South Asia and Central Asia, which is why peace in Afghanistan is pivotal to bolstering trade. Pakistan is playing its role in pacifying the situation in Afghanistan and settlement of the issue and Central Asian Republics, especially Kazakhstan acknowledges this fact. This is because peace in Afghanistan will not only help in improving and diversifying the trade routes but the inclusion and cooperation of Afghan people with the region can result in a win-win situation for all neighbouring countries.
Similarly, there is a need to raise awareness in the business communities of both countries to increase the overall sum of trade and investments. For this, the governments of both countries should organize roadshows, and help in establishing business forums, which will enhance business-to-business contacts, etc. Pakistan is a vast market for Kazakhstan goods, predominantly grains and natural mineral resources and similarly, Kazakhstan is interested in agriculture produce, leather, textile and garments, pharmaceutical production, surgical instruments of Pakistan. Another commonality, which can be leveraged for furthering the cooperation, is the tourism sector because both countries have numerous natural tourist attractions and if the governments of both nations ease the visa regimes and raise awareness at the local and international level, then the full potential of tourism sector could be tapped. It could be similar to Europe where a tourist takes its breakfast in France and then travel to Germany for its next meal. Beside easing down the visa regimes and working on allowing visa on arrival, tourism potential could be leveraged through re-establishing direct flights between two countries and linking the Iran-Pakistan-Turkey railway project with Kazakhstan.
Culture, education, and science and technology is another nascent domain where there is a need to cooperate. Although for a number of Pakistani students, Kazakhstan is one of the favourite destinations, particularly for medical education, this could also be emulated in the field of science and technology. For instance, in December under the auspices of the COMSTECH, the Global Conference on the great medieval scholar Al-Farabi was held in Islamabad and other such activities could be held in Astana to promote the cooperation in scientific and research domain. Similarly, bilateral visits of artists and performers of both nations will further the cultural ties and increase people-to-people contacts.
The Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Pakistan His Excellency Aken Rekhmatullin spoke on bilateral relations of Pakistan and Kazakhstan at an event organized by the Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR).
His Excellency was of the view that he cherished his stay in Pakistan long ago when he was a young diplomat and shared his optimism on the increase in trade volume and business-to-business relations between both countries.
While discussing the potential of trade and investment in both countries, he mentioned several areas where both nations can collaborate and this potential remains untapped due to instability in Afghanistan, whereas Pakistan is making great efforts to bring peace in the neighbourhood. He also highlighted that they are making efforts to sustain the presence of the National Bank of Pakistan’s branch in Kazakhstan because it pivotal to boost the economic ties and helpful for the business community and they are hopeful that it will not be closed.
Regarding connectivity, Ambassador noted that direct flights and land connectivity is the best source of connecting the people, tourists and business community. He was of the view that the quadrilateral land route between Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, and Kazakhstan is not operational at the moment and it should be reinvigorated together as soon as possible, and CPEC can be supportive in this regard. He also appreciated the Government of Pakistan, especially MOFA for a pleasant and result oriented approach. He emphasized that this spirit is central in enhancing bilateral relations and similarly, the business conferences like this one should be organized more often so that the business community from both countries know each other and discuss the possibilities directly. Talking about the education sector, he mentioned that we are working on reducing the fee of medical students in our universities, which will attract more Pakistani students to our country.
Similarly, he mentioned that the Ambassador also seems determined to promote tourism and culture cooperation as well. He said that we would bring a bigger cultural delegation than the previous one to Pakistan and tourists of both nations could be attracted to visit the countries if we raise awareness about each other’s beautiful country and the sites. If a direct flight is available, the Pakistani tourists will be astonished how early they can reach Kazakhstan like breakfast in Islamabad and Lunch in Kazakhstan.
While highlighting the efforts of Kazakhstan for regional security, stability and nuclear disarmament, he also appreciated the efforts of Pakistan’s military and mentioned that Pakistan military is among the best in the world. He also welcomed the Chairman Joint Chief of Staff General Nadeem Raza’s visit to Kazakhstan and hailed it as a congenital development. He noted that high-level visits could further boost relations. He concluded by saying that “My dream is to pave the way for the visit of our President to Pakistan.”
The ongoing pandemic has slowed down the cooperation between both nations but the long-term plans of both nations and their sincere efforts of teamwork is an inspiration for others and with the great potential and strength both can bring their intentions into their practical implementation.