Uzbekistan-Pakistan Bilateral Relations: Start of New Chapter

Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

On the eve of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif Visit to the Republic of Uzbekistan on November 17, 2015, I would like to explore genuine potential areas/sectors between the two countries for the further strengthening of bilateral relations, speeding-up commercial diplomacy, and energy cooperation (oil & gas and renewables), I would also highlight the prospects of security and greater economic integration between two countries in my this article.

Strong bilateral relations provide ideal platform for better understanding and break each and every misperception between the two countries. It facilitates the easy and smooth exchange of goods and services. It brightens the chances of joint ventures and FDIs. It increases the volumes of bilateral trade between the two countries. So, a trustworthy bilateral relation is must for functional diplomacy, dialogue and development. It is hope with this important visit of Nawaz Sharif to Tashkent, bilateral relations would be further strengthened.

Since its inception, the Republic of Uzbekistan considers Pakistan an important country of South East Asia and connecting bridge between Central Asia and the rest of the world. It is an emerging economy/market which is keen to promote bilateral trade with Uzbekistan because the two countries have huge potential to improve trade and economic relations.

Uzbekistan and Pakistan have already made encouraging progress in realizing the goal of establishing functional transport corridors and institutionalizing business linkages. Both the countries need to take full advantage of their geographic proximity to enhance cooperation. Shared heritage and history is reinforced by geography, culture and religion and that ensured a common destiny of Uzbekistan and Pakistan the time had come to realize the true potential in their relationship.

In my personal opinion, right now both countries are badly missing direct connectivity in terms of aviation which hopefully be rectified during this visit of Nawaz Sharif to Uzbekistan. Moreover, direct dialogue between the private sectors of both countries is the way forward to promote bilateral trade and exports up to real potential. Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Pakistan’s Chamber of Commerce should have frequent interactions to explore new avenues of mutual cooperation between the two countries. Till now, Uzbekistan has more than 60 joint ventures with Pakistan and wants to develop more joint ventures with Pakistani businessmen in potential areas of interest for the mutual benefits of both the countries.

Since Pakistan is facing sever energy deficit since long and Uzbekistan can help Pakistan in energy sector especially in supply and generation of electricity and renewables (solar). TAPI Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) Gas Pipeline & CASA-1000, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan are trying their levels best to import supplying surplus central Asian power which is both a far and not feasible due to so many technical, geographical, economic and political interrelated reasons. So, the government of Pakistan must not waste its time, money and energy in the pursuits of surplus energy via TAPI and CASA-1000 because it is not possible at least in the near future and should explore Uzbek market for the easy, cheap and smooth supply of energy during this important visit.

Uzbekistan wants to improve Pakistan’s Railways system, as it has the best expertise and system in the CIS. Both country should work together to bring stability in Afghanistan as a stable Afghanistan is essential to develop railway communication between Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Moreover, recent increasing bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia could be made more meaningful and attractive with the help of Uzbekistan which provide easiest access to Russian market.

Uzbekistan and Pakistan have good expertise in cotton which needs to be explored more and more through different joint ventures and exchange of experts in this field. Pakistan is the sixth largest producer and third largest exporter of cotton in the world. Last year alone Pakistan’s import bill was $30 million of which $20 million dollars was only cotton imported. Uzbekistan expects a MOU or agreement with Pakistan in the field of cotton development during this visit of Pakistani premier.

Uzbekistan Embassy in Islamabad grants visa to ordinary Pakistanis within 10 working days so that both countries could develop strong people-to-people level relations. There is an urgent need to widen the scope of Business-to-Business cooperation between the private companies of both the countries for the fostering the pace of greater economic integration in the days to come. Pakistani business community must focus more in Uzbekistan because there is great potential. Uzbekistan has $22 billion dollars in trade with their economy growing on average at eight per cent per annum. This is an expanding market has huge capacity for Pakistani businessman to focus.

Time and again, Uzbekistan stressed the need for promoting free trade between Pakistan and Uzbekistan to enhance trade volume between the two countries. Pak-Uzbek JMC is on the right path which needs to be further cemented.

Uzbekistan’s tourism industry has a big potential where both the countries could jointly work to take benefit of this potential and earn foreign exchange. Previously both sides had signed a protocol to cooperate in water, power, agriculture, leather, textile, tourism and pharmaceutical sectors and to enhance bilateral trade between the two countries which is now reactivated.

Uzbekistan and Pakistan have been enjoying cordial bilateral relations since 1991. Uzbekistan is interested in promoting all round relations with Pakistan in different areas including trade, commerce, energy, transportation, communication, security, tourism and culture.

Officially, both countries have achieved USD $40 million of trade and are looking to increase it in coming years. Uzbekistan exports raw cotton, non-ferrous metals, leather, medical and pharmaceutical products, chemical products and natural honey to Pakistan. On part of Pakistan, it exports medical & pharmaceutical products, edible products, medical & surgical instruments, chemical materials, clothing and sports fabrics and goods, tobacco/tobacco manufacture, Leather & Leather manufacture to Uzbekistan.

Trade balance is negative which needs to be rectified. Uzbekistan is also a huge market for pharmaceuticals (medical, surgical and beauty products) for Pakistan which must be explored. Pakistani Pharmaceutical industry is known for its quality compared to many other countries. Last year Uzbekistan imported $5 million worth of pharmaceutics which consisted 50 percent of the trade from Pakistan.”

With Pakistan is in the hunt for alternative export markets, Uzbekistan, the largest and richest country in Central Asia with more than 300 million people and vast natural resources, provides for a potential trade destination.

For the potential foreign investors Uzbekistan offers different forms of ventures, setting up joint-ventures, enterprises with 100 percent foreign capital, acquisition of part or entire issues of shares of privatized companies and etc. as well as groups of projects in different spheres of economy. Pakistani businessmen and investors must avail this opportunity to expand their commercial ties and investments in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan geographically positions in the heart of Central Asia and at a major intersection of the Silk Road. The potential markets of Central Asia (60 million people) and the Silk Road region (142 million people) lie unexploited. There are a growing number of formal cooperation programmes to renew trade, transit, investment and tourism in Central Asia and along the ancient Silk Road. There is great opportunity for Pakistani businessmen and investors to get connected through Pak-Economic Corridor to Silk Road. PAK CASPIAN TRADE LINKS Company has also opened up a corridor for transit cargo to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. It would be instrumental to increase trade between the CIS and Pakistan in the days to come.

POTENTIAL AREAS OF MUTUAL COOPERATION

Tourism: Uzbekistan is the only country in the region of CIS having such a good opportunity for bilateral tourism. More than 20 Pakistani tourist companies had signed MOUs with Uzbek counterparts. In 2007 Pakistani Company “Travel Planners” had become an official representative of National Tourism Company of Uzbekistan “Uzbekturism” in Pakistan. “New Arabian Express” and “Crystal Travels” Companies were agents for Uzbek Airways in 2006-2008. In 2009 “Travel Planners” was appointed as agent for Uzbek Airways.
Education: Medical and health sciences, exchange of intellectuals and researchers, grant of scholarship technical assistance courses, science & technology
Information and broadcasting
Banking and finance.

Mineral and metal cooperation

Uzbekistan occupies leading places on confirmed stocks of useful fossilized, such as gold, Uranus, copper, natural gas, tungsten, potassium salts, phosphorus, kaolin in the world. The value of total proven reserves is estimated at 1.3 trillion USD, and the total mineral-resource potential of the country at over 3.5 trillion USD.

So, mutual cooperation between the two countries in the fields of mineral and metal exploration would be win-win position for both the countries.

SUGGESTIONS

(a) Business connectivity

• More people-to-people contacts
• Regular business missions
• Industrial exhibitions
• Exchange of delegations of business communities
• Exchange of information
• Frequent visits of chambers of commerce would be instrumental to further strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries
• Easy and swift issuance of visas especially to business communities of both the countries

(b) Political interaction

• Exchange of parliamentary delegations
• Strong political will to promote bilateral relations
• Political understanding of each other geo-political and geo-strategic problems
• More emphasis on diplomacy, dialogue and development
• Frequent visits of concerned ministers (finance, agriculture, water and power, agriculture, textile, foreign affairs etc)

(c) Develop academic and cultural exchange programs

• The memorandum of understanding had already been signed between International Islamic University Islamabad and Tashkent Islamic University Uzbekistan, Area Study Centre, University of Peshawar Pakistan and Institute of Oriental Studies Academy of Sciences Tashkent Uzbekistan are the greats.
• Academic interaction would necessarily enhance cooperative relations between the two states and would develop academic and cultural exchange in different areas of research in various disciplines.

Concluding Remarks

Prospects are bright and opportunities are unlimited. Keeping in view the geographical advantages of both the countries along with their unlimited natural reservoirs the prospects of having enhanced bilateral relations between Uzbekistan and Pakistan are very bright. The essential thing is needed, a strong political commitment of both the countries, close linkage between the business communities, chambers of commerce and industry, better understanding between the intelligentsia and people-to-people interaction would bring dividends in the days to come. From Sialkot to Samarkand and from Faisalabad to Ferghana and from Karachi to Khiva there would be bridge of trust, harmony, cooperation and collaboration. It would be the start of new chapter in Uzbekistan-Pakistan Bilateral Relations after this visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif.

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