Thursday August 18, 2022

A flourishing partnership

September 15, 2021

Prime Minister Imran Khan will be visiting Tajikistan on 16-17 September, 2021 to participate in the 20th Anniversary Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Heads of State.

After the conclusion of the summit, he will also pay an official bilateral visit to Tajikistan. The prime minister’s maiden visit to Tajikistan will be in quick succession after President Emomali Rahmon’s highly productive visit to Islamabad in June 2021. As the leadership of both countries shares common goals of peace, progress and prosperity for their people and the region as a whole, the upcoming visit would significantly help in transforming Pak-Tajik ties into a strong bond of brotherhood and strategic partnership.

Tajikistan won independence in 1991 following the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. It is a landlocked country, with a population of around 9.5 million. Soon after independence, the country plunged into a bloody civil war between the secular and ultra-religious forces that raged through 1992-1997 in which more than 100,000 Tajiks lost their lives. The civil war ended through a peace truce and since then President Emomali Rahmon has led his nation from the front to rebuild Tajikistan. Today, Tajikistan has around 98 percent literacy rate and it has a quite developed infrastructure, especially in the health, education and transport sectors.

Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognise Tajikistan after its independence. Geographically, the two countries are virtually neighbours separated only by a narrow strip of the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan that at some places is but a few kilometers wide.

Pakistan aims at enhanced engagement with the Central Asian Republics. In this regard, we are working on a result-oriented, holistic and sustainable ‘Vision Central Asia’ policy. This robust policy is based upon five planks – political; trade and investment; energy and connectivity; security and defence; and people-to-people contacts.

Over the last three decades, Pak-Tajik friendship has emerged as an example of good neighbourliness in the international political arena. To date, both sides have signed 79 bilateral documents to institutionalise bilateral cooperation in various areas of mutual interest. As a result, the two countries are now moving towards establishing a strategic partnership. Be it political, defence and security, economy, culture, scientific or academic cooperation, the two sides are endeavoring to materialise the vision set by our leaderships to further solidify bilateral ties.

Both countries have constituted an inter-ministerial commission and multiple joint working groups in various areas. An Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group and a Joint Business Council (JBC) have also been formed to fortify bilateral ties in respective fields.

As regards multilateral cooperation, there is a marked commonality of views between the two countries on various regional and international issues. Besides the UN, our common membership in the OIC, SCO, ECO and CICA has further intensified our bilateral cooperation through multilateral frameworks. Both countries almost invariably support each other on various international and regional fora.

On the sidelines of the prime minister’s visit to Tajikistan, the first-ever Pakistan-Tajikistan Joint Business Forum will also be organised on September 16 in Dushanbe. Several B2B meetings are planned to create direct business linkages between the business communities in the two countries. A high-profile business delegation belonging to varied sectors from Pakistan will arrive in Dushanbe to participate in the forum.

Leadership in both countries realise that our bilateral economic ties are not commensurate with the existing political warmth. According to Tajik Customs, our bilateral annual trade volume was recorded worth around $25.79 in 2020. On the one hand, it indicates the vast potential that remains to be tapped and on the other, it reflects the volatility and inconsistency in trade patterns. This is largely due to the security situation in Afghanistan in the past decades as most of our bilateral trade with Tajikistan transits through Afghanistan. In other words, the major impediment in increasing our bilateral trade is the absence of direct road, rail and air connectivity. Both sides realise that increased connectivity holds the key to increased bilateral trade, people-to-people contacts and tourism. Accordingly, both sides are now exploring every possibility to resume the direct air link between the two countries.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a very important component of China’s mega Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is poised to lay down an ideal infrastructure and connectivity mechanism across the region and beyond. The recently envisaged railway line project connecting Pakistan with Uzbekistan through Afghanistan is also a very welcome step towards increased regional connectivity as its completion would help connect Pakistan with other Central Asian countries including Tajikistan through rail link.

Pakistan’s important geo-strategic location in the region enables it to become a natural link between the Eurasian heartland and the Arabian Sea. Tajikistan is, therefore, keenly looking forward to connecting with the outer world including Southeast Asia, Middle East and Africa through our seaports. Similarly, Tajikistan is a gateway to Central Asia and beyond for Pakistani products.

In the realm of defence and security, both Pakistan and Tajikistan consider peace as the basic requisite for economic progress and prosperity and view the menaces of extremism, terrorism and organised trans-national crimes as the engines of instability and violence. This shared perception has instilled into our bilateral relations a mutual resolve to root out these evils from our two countries, region and the world at large.

In the energy sector, CASA-1000 is a flagship project between Pakistan and Tajikistan as it envisages the transportation of surplus electricity from the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the summer season, when Pakistan needs it the most. According to its modalities, a 47 km transmission line will be established between the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan and a 750 km line between Tajikistan and Pakistan via Afghanistan. The project will be the first practical initiative to connect energy-rich Central Asia with energy-deficient South Asia, thereby establishing a permanent energy corridor and opening up further avenues for energy trade.

Since cultural and academic ties as well as people-to-people contacts bring nations closer, both the countries are availing every opportunity to capitalise on the shared cultural linkages and to build bridges between our two peoples, artists, academia and institutions. Pakistan is already promoting its cultural heritage including art, fashion and cuisine through various exhibitions and events held in Tajikistan from time to time.

Our two peoples also share striking literary affinities as they are followers of the universal and peaceful messages of great luminaries and saints such as Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Syed Ali Hamdani, SadruddinAyni among others. In fact, Allama Iqbal is a household name in Tajikistan and his works are included in Tajikistan’s academic syllabus. Similarly, there are several thousands of followers of Syed Ali Hamdani in Pakistan and Kashmir.

A famous Tajik scholar, Ali Muhammad Khurasani, was conferred ‘Pride of Performance’ by the president of Pakistan in 2015 for his superb work on Allama Iqbal’s poetry. A Pakistan Study Center was established in the Urdu Department of the Tajik National University, Dushanbe. Established through the Pakistan embassy’s efforts in 2009, the centre is facilitating Tajik students in their research work in Urdu and Pakistan Studies.

Since I assumed the current post two years ago, I have found Tajik people to be very generous and hospitable. They are peaceful, hardworking and industrious. All these characteristics not only point to the rich culture and progressive nature of the Tajik nation but also to the visionary leadership of President Emomali Rahmon whose untiring efforts toward Tajikistan’s development have helped his nation tread the path of peace, progress and prosperity.

It is with this background that the two sides are eagerly looking towards Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Dushanbe, so that the two leaderships can review the whole gamut of bilateral ties and chalk out future strategy to further boost Pak-Tajik friendship. Pakistan-Tajikistan Dosti Zindabad

The writer is serving as the ambassador of Pakistan to Tajikistan.