Turkmenistan-Pakistan Brotherly Bilateral Relations

Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

Turkmenistan and Pakistan celebrate 25 years of bilateral relations. Turkmenistan and Pakistan enjoy cordial relations, which are characterized by bonds of historical, cultural and religious affinity and mutual respect. These are rooted deep in the hearts of the people of both the countries. Both sides attach great importance to the friendship between their people and the need to further strengthen their cooperation in diverse fields.

Ashgabat and Islamabad agree to enhance cooperation on international and regional issues of common interest, and continue coordination within international and regional mechanisms such as the UN, NAM, G-77, ECO and OIC. Now Ashgabat and Islamabad express their resolve to work together for regional peace, development and prosperity.

Strong political will of both the countries will foster the bilateral relations in terms of greater socio-economic interaction/connectivity, business-to-business coordination, exploration of potential opportunities for joint ventures and foreign direct investments (FDIs) through rigorous commercial diplomacy. Moreover, establishing air, road and rail links on a priority basis will be a value-addition.

Turkmenistan and Pakistan are two brotherly Muslim countries with unique commonalities of historical and political nature. Turkmenistan and Pakistan have been enjoying excellent economic, social, cultural and political relations since 1991. Turkmenistan is endowed with huge hydrocarbon resources, which can provide energy to Pakistan to meet its needs. Pakistan also supports Turkmenistan’s initiative to establish trans-regional energy corridors.

In October 1994, the then Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, visited Turkmenistan. Subsequently Nawaz Sharif also visited Turkmenistan in October 1997. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also attended the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline groundbreaking ceremony on December 13, 2015 in South-eastern Turkmenistan. Most recent visit of H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, President of Turkmenistan to Pakistan on the1 3th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) will boost bilateral relations between the two.

During 25 years of bilateral relations both the countries signed many inter-governmental agreements to enhance cooperation in the fields of trade, energy, agriculture & livestock, science & technology, education, health, sports and tourism, which will not only further cement Turkmen-Pakistan bilateral relations but will also game changer to their economies too. However, economy is not the only aspect of Turkmen-Pak relations. Simultaneously the establishment of political, parliamentarian, social and cultural links has been taking place.

Most recently, H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the President of Turkmenistan visited Pakistan and had many meaningful meetings with Primer and President of Pakistan. During these high level meetings, Pakistan and Turkmenistan decided to improve connectivity by establishing communication corridors that would be befitting to tapping the potential of trade, economic cooperation, people-to-people contacts and tourism between the two countries in the days to come.

The two sides exchanged viewed on a wide range of bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest. The leaders noted with satisfaction that significant progress was made in recent years on bilateral relations and high-level exchanges between the two countries. The two sides emphasized the importance of timely meetings on established bilateral mechanisms for enhancing cooperation in agreed sectors. They reaffirmed their commitment to sustain the momentum of upward trajectory of bilateral ties.

During the visit, the Turkmen president had a meeting with President Mamnoon Hussain and held talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. During their meeting, the president and the prime minister underlined the significance of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project and expressed satisfaction with the foundation of the project that was laid in December 2015. The Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appreciated the initiative by the president of Turkmenistan for implementation of this important project and agreed to take measures for early completion of this important regional energy project. Pakistan has also started work on TAPI.

TAPI is a gift from Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan’s regional connectivity is based on its concept of “shared prosperity” and TAPI is its prime example. TAPI will revolutionize the macro-economies of all the participating countries and will be the start of a new era of regional cooperation, peace and harmony.

TAPI is not just a gas transit initiative connecting energy-rich Central Asia with energy-starved South Asia, but a mega project of strategic importance that will open doors for greater regional economic collaboration and integration. Moreover, Pakistan will also import one thousand megawatt of electricity from Turkmenistan and the MOU in this regard was signed during his visit to Turkmenistan last year. Moreover, TAPI gas pipeline will generate economic activity, create job opportunities and improve the living standards. It would also help counter-terrorism and enhance regional trade and development.

Through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)-TAPI and One Belt-One Road, bilateral relations of Turkmenistan and Pakistan will be further strengthened in terms of sustained socio-economic integration, greater trade & commerce ties and above having better political understanding on different regional as well as international issues of mutual interest. Moreover, with the completion of Turkmenistan Caspian Seaport it would be connected with the strategic Gwadar Seaport which would further connect blue-economies of both the countries in the days to come.

The two countries also agreed to enhance bilateral economic and trade relations. Both sides realised that the volume of trade did not match the goodwill that existed between the two countries. Both countries agreed to take appropriate measures to enhance bilateral trade. The leaders welcomed the initiative of the Pakistan-Turkmenistan Business Forum on the sidelines of the visit. Both sides agreed that such sector based interactions between businessmen of the two countries should be a regular feature to facilitate bilateral trade and investment.

Both the leaders recognised the importance of high-level bilateral political interaction that provides impetus to all areas of bilateral relations. Moreover, both countries agreed to enhance cooperation on international and regional issues of common interest, and continue coordination within international and regional mechanisms such as the UN, NAM, G-77, ECO and OIC. The two leaders expressed their resolve to work together for regional peace, development and prosperity.

Both countries agreed to create conducive conditions and initiate projects for the promotion of infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, multimedia technology, banking, environment and energy sectors. Pakistan and Turkmenistan inked eight accords of cooperation, including seven Memorandum of Understanding on energy and financial intelligence and a program of cooperation 2016-17.

Keeping in view the importance of mega infrastructure and road communication Nawaz Sharif suggested that Pakistan and Turkmenistan can be connected through railway corridor connecting Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran. He said the bilateral trade needs to be increased and stressed for facilitating business visas and relaxing visa regime for the further promotion of economic relations.

FPCCI and ECO Chamber of Commerce & Industry appreciated the further strengthening of Turkmenistan-Pakistan bilateral relations to prioritize trade relations and connectivity in increasing energy and rail and road links with Central Asian countries which were observed during the recent visit of the President of Turkmenistan to Pakistan along with a large high profile delegation. Pakistan has a good opportunity to revive the historical trade route by offering central Asian countries the privileges of utilization of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to provide them shortest access to Middle East, Africa and Far East countries.

Turkmenistan under the leadership of President H.E. Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has achieved a notable position in the region as well as in the world. Its strength is its visionary leadership, its inspiration is its hardworking people, its real strategic assets are its indigenous collective wisdom, its guarantor is its dynamic constitution and its supporter “growth-pusher” is its strong and stable political system which always encourages gross-root participation, accountability, transparency and merit. Its international recognition is based on its holistic approach towards basic human rights, freedom, women empowerment, universal education, provision of clean drinking water and health facilities which have been rated the best among all the regional countries by so many international agencies for so many years. Its “neutrality” is the essence of its international posturing.

Turkmenistan has strategic vision of achieving global peace, harmony, sustainable development, humanitarian assistance and environment cooperation as well as consistent implementation proposed by Turkmenistan at various international forums, initiatives, and proposals will be a key in the development of approaches of Turkmenistan to cooperation with all member states, organizations, bodies, institutions, UN agencies and institutions in the course of the 71th session of the General assembly.

Turkmenistan always welcomes the close international cooperation in resolving emerging problems of today and expresses its firm willingness to work together in the name of the consolidation of high ideals of peace and justice, the goals and challenges facing the United Nations.

The republic of Turkmenistan at 25 is making tremendous development in every sphere of national life. Despite regional economic meltdown its macro-economy is strong, stable and sustainable. Despite regional political chaos, its political system and above all governance is unblemished. It is indeed icon of “neutrality”. Its governance system is people friendly that believe in service and delivery.

All the international monetary agencies and financial organizations rate it the best among the regional countries because of its resilient banking system, financial transparency, unmatched social development and the last but not the least, unshakable trust between the government and its people.

It is a successful model of “socially oriented economy” where people are always preferred to uncontrolled corporate profits. It is one of the hot destinations for regional and international tourists and is blessed with reservoirs of oil and gas which is being utilized for the welfare of its people and further strengthening of regional cooperation, peace and harmony.

Right from the bringing, gradual transition was initiated to build a market economy. Development of people’s governance system was thoroughly institutionalized to ensure political stability, security, social equality and social order. Equal development of different types of ownership, creation of a foundation for effective management systems of economy was gradually pursued in right direction. It ensured social protection of citizens during transition from state to a market economy. Efficient use of opportunities created by globalization of world economy for diversification of foreign economic policy of the country was achieved.

Prospects are bright and opportunities are unlimited between the two countries which have to be explored for accelerating inflows of FDIs, joint ventures, establishment of free economic zone and tangible taxation system. Direct air-link would be a game changer. Preferably Islamabad-Ashgabat-London sky route would be feasible answer to absence of any direct communication links.

In Turkmenistan private sector is developed and vibrant and hopefully gradual increase of the share of private sector in GDP from 40 percent in 2010 to 70 percent in 2030 and expansion of share of service delivery in GDP from 29.7 percent in 2010 to 37 percent in 2030. Private sectors of both the countries must avail this golden opportunity for further strengthening of bilateral relations.

The Republic of Turkmenistan is a connecting hub which the CIS to Caucasus and Europe. It is a role model of regional connectivity. A Global Sustainable Transport System Conference was held in Ashgabat during 2016 which further enhanced Turkmenistan strategic role in the region as well as in the world.

It is the leader of energy diplomacy in the region and beyond. It is also chairman of “Energy Charter Conference” to be held during 2017. Its macro-economy is smarter and diversified too. Its resources are green and its people are white. White is everywhere in Turkmenistan which shows friendly, peace-loving and cooperative nature of its rulers and people alike. It is an enterprising country.

Turkmenistan has knowledge base economy in which multifunctional productive channels of production, massive industrialization, robust oil and gas sector and the last but not the least, oil-processing chemical and petrochemical fields play very important role. Huge mechanical engineering and metal-processing units are producing building materials, light and food industry and contributing in the GDP of the country.
According to latest publication of IMF (August, 2016), the growth rate of Turkmenistan’s GDP was 6.7 percent. Its income increased 100.6 per cent and expenses enhanced 78.7 per cent. All the wages, pensions, welfare payments and students’ stipends were financed timely and in full volume. Its budget is socially oriented where most of its allocations are used for the welfare of the people. Education, health care, clean drinking water and shelter segments of the social development are preferred in every budget.

Today, it has a strong, competitive and dynamic economy. The rate of annual growth is showing a stable 10 per cent increase for the last so many years, despite recent negative trends in the global economy. The national economy, based on the country’s rich resource potential, structural diversification and attractive investment climate, has successfully mitigated external market fluctuations. It provides Turkmenistan with an opportunity to calmly and confidently plan its economic development in the long-term. It shows its inbuilt resilience which is achieved through rigorous reforms and state’s business and investment policies where people are preferred over corporate profits.

According to latest figures of IMF report (September, 2016), the GDP in Turkmenistan was worth 37.33 billion US dollars in 2015. The GDP value of Turkmenistan represents 0.06 percent of the world economy. GDP in Turkmenistan averaged 11.63 USD Billion from 1987 until 2015, reaching an all-time high of 43.49 USD Billion in 2014 and a record low of 2.37 USD Billion in 1987.
The strong growth performance, sustained over a decade, helped to lift the country from a low income to an upper middle-income status. GDP per capita increased from US$970 in 2002 to nearly US$7,000 in 2013. Living standards of the population have improved, accompanied by massive investments in physical capital. Growth has been driven by natural gas exports, which amount to over 90 percent of exports, with the extractive sector including refineries accounting for nearly half of GDP. Now, sustained growth, continued improvement in living standards, an increased role for the private sector and economic diversification have become strategic government priorities for 2030.

According to its ministry latest figures (March 2017), in January-November 2016, Turkmenistan’s GDP increased by 6.2 percent. The GDP rose by 1.1 percent in industry, 4.4 percent in construction, 10.4 percent in the transport and communication sector and 12 percent in agriculture. Moreover, according to World Bank report entitled Global Economic Prospects Turkmenistan will maintain its leading position in the world rankings in terms of annual growth in the coming years. The World Bank has estimated that Turkmenistan’s economy grew by 8.5 percent in 2015 and will continue its dynamics of the growth by 8.9 percent in 2016 -2017. In 2015, the growth of the GDP was 6.7 percent, increase in the construction industry 9.3 percent, trade 10.4 percent, transport and communication sector 9.8 percent. The role of its private sector has increased and further strengthened. Currently, Turkmenistan holds a key position in the gas market of the Caspian and Central Asia regions, supplying gas to Iran and China.

Also, the country ranks the fourth place in the world in terms of natural gas reserves, which gives it a good chance to enter new markets in South Asia and Europe. The Turkmen Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources assure that the results, achieved in terms of falling world energy prices, proves the stability of the national economy.

The strategic leadership of H.E. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov introduced series of reforms which have already been institutionalized in the framework of the national and state programs, which are aimed at the diversification of the national economy.

Its service sector is booming and new Ashgabat Airport is the ideal combination of science and arts. It holds beauty of its rich culture and traditions. It reflects Turkmen concept of lavish hospitality. It showcases its true spirits of love, peace and harmony. It shows its love to nature. It carries highest levels of comfortability and consumerism. It has already opened new air gates of Turkmenistan. It is another value-addition to its service sector. It has immense socio-economic multiplier effects. Furthermore, completion and operationalization of international sea port in Turkmenbashi city will further increase its regional connectivity and pay its dividends very soon.

Conclusion

Under strategic leadership of H.E. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov Turkmenistan is achieving all desired goals of socio-economic prosperity, qualitative life, diversification of economy and resources and above all energy connectivity. Its neutrality status is the essence of its dynamic foreign policy.

Bilateral relations between Turkmenistan-Pakistan is now on the rollercoaster due to which prospects of greater socio-economic prosperity, energy cooperation, direct air-link and above all better political understanding are bright. TAPI would speed up and open many new avenues of mutual cooperation.

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