Wednesday September 22, 2021

Upgrading our diplomacy

I have returned to Islamabad after attending the International Conference on 'Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities', held at Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan. The government of Uzbekistan, especially President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, deserves appreciation for this excellent initiative.

Today, Uzbekistan, the second largest economy in Central Asia, is on the world map as an independent and sovereign state. The presence of magnificent buildings, amazing public places and excellent infrastructure reflects Uzbekistan's progress and prosperity. However, only three decades ago, Uzbekistan was an integral part of the Soviet Union, the great superpower of the last century.

Geographically, the Soviet Union consisted of multiple socialist republics located in the eastern part of Europe and the northern part of Asia, covering a sixth of Earth’s land surface. At least one hundred ethnic groups were living there. Several Middle Eastern and Latin American countries were also influenced by the Soviets.

During the cold war, the international community was divided between the Soviet Union led Eastern Bloc and the US-led Western Bloc. The Soviets were giving a tough time to the US in every field of life, including economics, business, education, the arts, space and technology. Western countries were afraid of the Soviet Union, which once played a pivotal role in defeating Hitler-led Nazi Germany during World War II.

However, the Soviet leadership made the grave mistake of invading Afghanistan which resulted in the collapse of the USSR. Due to the historic defeat in Afghanistan, many former states, including Uzbekistan, achieved independence. The important role of Pakistan in this regard is also acknowledged by citizens of former Soviet states.

During my visit to Tashkent, I was highly impressed by the national spirit of the Uzbek people to ensure cleanliness around their surroundings. According to a report, Uzbekistan is estimated to generate over 12,000 tons of Municipal Solid Waste on a daily basis. The capital Tashkent alone generates 500,000 tons of waste in a year. However, I did not find any garbage there during my entire visit.

On the occasion of the recently-held CASA conference, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have signed many significant agreements on bilateral cooperation, including trade and investment. Different bilateral trade agreements have been signed during the Business Forum. It is hoped that the two countries will come closer to each other to ensure the development and prosperity of their people.

Unfortunately, on the occasion of the recent conference, not a single press release was posted on the official website of the Pakistani embassy. Similarly, social media accounts of the embassy failed to contribute something genuine.

Uzbek media, no doubt, is dominant over regional media in Central Asia. A good number of local media here is in Russian language. Therefore, there is a dire need for hiring proficient Russian language experts, who can help disseminate Pakistan's national narrative in Central Asian media.

We must understand that the situation in our region is changing very rapidly. The Tashkent Conference was held at a time when America is withdrawing its troops after ending its 20-year occupation of Afghanistan. The changing situation in Afghanistan once again has the potential to affect regional stability. We need to upgrade our approach so as to ensure sustainable peace and integrity in the region.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani