Uzbekistan-Pakistan Enhanced Connectivity

In the age of “globalization” and rise of “imperialism” a pure “miracle” has now been achieved. The long awaited “dreams” of greater regional connectivity between Central Asian Region and South Asia have been materialized.

The first-ever containerized shipment from Pakistan under “Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR)” finally reached Tashkent, in 48 hours from Torkham. It validates “strategic vision” of the leadership of Uzbekistan and Pakistan, pertaining to greater regional connectivity. It has been “colossal” human efforts of both sides in which strong political commitment and economic inspiration play vital role.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been working for greater regional connectivity between Central Asian Region (CAR) and the South Asian Region (SAR). Now in collaboration with TCS Logistics Pakistan it succeeded in its first pilot shipment to Central Asia under the Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) Convention. It destined for Uzbekistan, departed Karachi on April 29, 2021 and arrived in Tashkent on May 4, 2021 via the Karachi-Kabul-Termez route.

It is indeed a “giant step” in Pakistan’s transit trade history as Pakistan Customs processed the first-ever TIR consignment which has multiplier socio-economic effects. It has further increased connectivity with trading partners which is vital for viable trade relations.

The successful transmission of TIR has been Pakistan’s long-term vision for trade and economic relations with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs) which has now transformed Pakistan as a hub for trade, transit and transshipment. The structure and efficient connectivity networks of all the participatory countries   play a vital role in access to markets and should be considered a important attribute for the trade competitiveness.

It is the first in a series of five planned trial cargos transmit to the countries of Central Asian through Afghanistan and China aimed at testing the viability of various routes for international transit to Central Asia and beyond under the TIR Convention, documenting the associated operational and logistical challenges during the journey. It hopes that the successful execution of the first pilot to Tashkent will be a confidence booster among traders and transport operators from both sides to adopt TIR for cross border trade and transit and boost regional trade integration and connectivity.

Moreover, it hopes that successful “operationalization” and “channelization” of the TIR will further enhance Pakistan’s comparative advantage having geostrategic location and geo-economy predominance and will increase its international trade.

In this context, its current meaningful step of commercial diplomacy with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan will speed-up this vision of befitting proposition of regional connectivity between Central Asia and South Asia in which Pakistan may be connecting hub in the days to come.

The consignment comprised of herbal medicines crossed into Afghanistan after completion of all custom formalities at Torkham. It will establish a new era of direct land-route trade with the CARs.

Moreover, the TIR system will hopefully streamline border procedure cutting time and money for trade and transport operators and resultantly will be greater regional connectivity, immense socio-economic prosperity and last but not least greater in & out flow of commodities between the two important regions.

Abdul Razak Dawood, advisor to Pakistani prime minister on commerce and investment termed it beginning of a new era enabling free movement of trucks between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs).  He also labeled it first step towards opening of bilateral trade with Uzbekistan and beyond since long. He emphasized that trade must be based on secure, open, consistent, reliable and legal movement of goods at the Afghan border along with enhanced connectivity with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and CARs.

After a delay of 30 months, the first-ever shipment under the Convention on the International Transport of Goods for traffic-in-transit of goods across the border reached capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent.

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) notified rules for the implementation of TIR in October 2017. More than 77 countries including Afghanistan have acceded to the TIR convention so far. As a result of this, the Afghan government will not check Pakistani trucks carrying goods to Central Asian countries. It will also ensure uninterrupted flows of trucks across the Pak-Afghan border.

The Customs Convention on the International Transport of Goods under Cover of TIR Carnets, called the TIR Convention, came into force in March 1978 and it replaced the original Transport Internationaux Routier (TIR) of 1959.

The TIR Convention facilitates international transit through simplified Customs transit procedures and an international guarantee system. Customs procedure takes place at origin and destination rather than at each border crossing using a single guarantee.

TIR covers the whole of Europe and reaches out to North Africa and the Near and Middle East. More than 33,000 operators are authorised to use the TIR system and around 1.5 million TIR transports are carried out per year.

For the further strengthening of bilateral relations in diverse sectors of economy, trade & commerce, joint venture, FDIs, infrastructural development, education, tourism and last but not least, security and defense cooperation the leaders of Pakistan and Uzbekistan held a virtual meeting in the near past.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev also thoroughly discussed the Trans-Afghan Railway Line Project, which was signed and agreed between Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan in this year. It hopes that project will link the Central Asian transport network with Pakistan’s seaports of Gwadar, Karachi, and Qasim. It will transform the geo-economic dynamics of the entire region.

Both leaders agreed to early finalization of a preferential trade deal and transit trade agreement between the two countries which will boost collaboration in the fields of economy, defense, education, culture, and tourism.

Uzbekistan president appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate the Afghan peace process and termed the current situation as a historic opportunity that must be seized by Afghans to achieve an inclusive, broad-based, and comprehensive negotiated political settlement.

Consequently, the two sides signed several agreements and memorandums of understanding, including for developing further cooperation in the field of agriculture, mutual recognition in the fields of conformity assessment of products, standardization, metrology and technical assistance, and an agreement on defense cooperation, according to the statement.

Central Asia also figures prominently in a variety of other initiatives and plans for enhancing connectivity and integration across Europe and Asia. These include the European Union’s TRACECA1 initiative and the New Silk Road (NSR), the International North–South Transport Corridor or the proposed Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) 2 corridors.

South Asia has now become pivotal to Uzbekistan’s dynamic foreign policy. It will further diversify its options for accessing the sea other than the Iranian ports. Uzbek government is actively working with Central Asian and South Asian countries to organize a high-level conference titled “ Central and South Asia: Regional connectivity, Challenges and opportunities to be held on July 15-16 2021.

Uzbekistan desires to have easy and smooth access to Pakistan ports. While visiting to Pakistan the Uzbek officials received further assurance of access to ports in Karachi and Gwadar. Rigorous commercial diplomacy has now widen the scope of regional connectivity due to which now various routes are available for regional connectivity between the CAR and SAR. The opportunity to access the same Pakistani ports via China, bypassing Afghanistan, is also on the advance stage. It would go via the Karakoram Highway, which connects Gilgit-Baltistan to China’s Xinjiang region.

Being a prominent regional expert of Uzbekistan & CAR I would like to suggest that enhanced banking & financial integration and cooperation is must for the further strengthening of bilateral relations between the two sides. Swapping of currencies may provide all participatory sides especially Pakistan and Uzbekistan to enhance its trade volumes. Close liaison in diverse sectors of Islamic Banking, Micro-Financing and SME may further enhance economic relations between the two countries in the days to come.

Befitting propositions in agriculture, vegetables, fisheries, pharmaceuticals, sports commodities, textiles, garments, automobiles and last but not least dry-fruits may revolutionize bilateral trade between Pakistan and Uzbekistan. “Colored” cotton and newly cultivated crop of “Saffron” of Uzbekistan would be a value-addition in terms of bilateral trade. Joint ventures in affordable automobiles may open a grand opening for both the countries private sectors for making huge investments.

Moreover, energy cooperation would be a win-win proposition for both the countries in the days to come. Cooperation in military fields, training, production and joint venture may further consolidate regional peace and harmony. Matters of human and drugs trafficking, and uniformity of customs would be a giant step for further strengthening of bilateral relations.

Tourism may be further accelerated by forming a Joint Tourist Company (JTC). Pace of infrastructural development and cooperation may also be patronized by forming a joint Infrastructural Development Company (IDC). A Joint Chamber of Commerce (JCC) would be a confidence booster for the private sector. Reciprocal Trade Houses (RTHs) would be a value-addition for promoting trade & commerce activities between the two countries in the future.

To conclude formation of Corridor of Knowledge (CK) would further enhance educational, cultural and last but not least, people-to-people ties between Uzbekistan and Pakistan. In this regard, The Center of Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS) may play a vigorous role because of its vast and dynamic experts and expertise. Its constant persuasion in terms of holding constructive regional dialogue (ISRS, Uzbekistan, and various universities), interactive sessions with policy makers, opinion makers, regular seminars and conferences since its beginning is now paying dividends in terms of greater regional cooperation and connectivity.

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Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan KHAN
Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan was born on September 11, 1969 in Lahore, Pakistan. After finishing Primary and Secondary School in his hometown, in 1992 he entered the Faculty of Public Administration, University of Punjab, Lahoer. He has specialties in management, marketing, economics and governance. He has also master degree in Development with specialization in Diplomacy and Public Relations. He has degrees in International relations and basic Law too. He completed his M.Phil. leading to Ph.D. in 2010 from University of Punjab, Pakistan in Development. He has vast experience in serving different departments of the Federal Government. He has also a rich experience in research, peace and conflict resolution and defence issues. He has been in this profession for more than 25 years. He worked in BBC Asia Network as regional expert on Afghanistan and Middle East in 2004. He worked as regional expert in USGAM, Turkey and had a great experience while interacting with TRT too. Transparency International UK selected him “peer Viewer” from Pakistan in 2015. His research and comprehensive articles have already been published in China, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, USA, South Korea, UAE and Kuwait too. He has great experience in the socio-economic, geo-politics and geo-strategic issues of Central Asia, Caucasus and Middle East. He is a famous expert on CIS and Caucasus in Pakistan. Member Board of Experts: CGSS, Islamabad. Ambassador at large at IHRFW.