A regional approach is needed to stabilize Afghanistan that will help the regional countries to connect for trade purposes and utilize one another’s potentials.
Pakistan trade volume with Central Asia is less than $1 billion despite vast opportunities in the central Asian region. Likewise, Pakistan could not exploit energy-rich Central Asia for its energy needs. The two energy projects: 1) CASA-1000 that has to extend to Afghanistan and Pakistan to export hydroelectricity has yet to be completed; 2) TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan and India) gas pipeline is facing issues due to the ongoing turmoil and uncertainty in the region, especially Afghanistan. However, the US withdrawal and the Taliban coming to power has brought hope in Pakistan to enhance its trade with the Central Asian states.
When the Central Asian States got independence following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Pakistan wanted to have access to the region as a market as well as to cater its energy needs from the region. Pakistan’s cooperation with the Taliban in the 1990s was one of the reasons it wanted to secure safe access to Central Asia. Pakistan had successfully passed some of its convoys to Central Asia in late 1994 however, the prevailing chaos and uncertainty did not allow the trade to continue. In the last three decades, there has been very slow growth in Pakistan’s trade with Central Asia.
There are some core issues that do not allow Pakistan’s trade with Central Asian states as well as Central Asia’s use of Karachi port. First of all, security is the main reason that hinders trade cooperation between Pakistan and Central Asian states. Afghanistan is the gateway for Pakistan to Central Asia and its fragile security and instability greatly affect Pakistan’s trade with CARs. Afghanistan has been unstable since Daoud staged a coup against his cousin King Zahir Shah in 1973 and declared Afghanistan a republic. Since then, several phases of instability and war have happened to Afghanistan which has greatly affected its neighbors, especially Pakistan. First Sardar Daoud was assassinated as a result of the Saur Revolution when the People Democratic party of Afghanistan took the charge. The next decade was taken by the Soviet invasion followed by the civil war and Taliban rule till 2001. However, the US invasion of Afghanistan did not make Afghanistan stable but war kept continuing.
Secondly, the access to Central Asia and Central Asian states’ access to the Pakistani ports have been costly due to the insufficient infrastructure that keeps them restricted to enhance their trade and cooperation. Thirdly, the cost of the transportation is also an issue in using the Pakistani ports. As compared to the Pakistani ports, Iran’s Bandar Abbas is near to the Central Asian states that cuts its costs thus making it viable for CARs to utilize it. All these issues not only keep Central Asia away from using Pakistani ports but also keep Pakistan aloof from access to the Central Asian markets.
Hence, Pakistan needs to take appropriate measures to cope with these challenges and remove hurdles. Since the US has withdrawn from Afghanistan, the war has ended and there is relatively peace in Afghanistan. Thus, Pakistan needs to persuade the Taliban to provide access to Central Asia in addition to providing security. Pakistan can also cooperate with China to enhance means of communication and infrastructure in Afghanistan that access could be feasible for trade. China is planning to extend CPEC to Afghanistan that will be beneficial to give Afghanistan and Central States access to its ports. Central Asian states also want Afghanistan a stable country as they are also affected like Pakistan by Afghanistan instability.
Hence, a regional approach is needed to stabilize Afghanistan that will help the regional countries to connect for trade purposes and utilize one another’s potentials.
About the author:
Mr. Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai is Senior research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. He tweets as @yousafzaiZafar5