pm-imran-khan-21-1Pakistan is setting new targets of development by creating economic linkages with Central Asia and taking the pathway of regional prosperity that traverses through a peaceful Afghanistan. The country, after its significant shift from the geo-strategic to geo-economic policies in line with the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan, has embarked upon a journey where all roads of regional integration lead to progress. The government is focusing on regional connectivity with five-landlocked Central Asian states – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, to witness a major economic upturn in near future. However, it has termed peace in Afghanistan as the “foremost factor” to materialize such a vision of prosperity. Imran Khan at several occasions has emphasized that of all nations, Pakistan is the one “most interested” in the resumption of peace in Afghanistan for its own interests. “Pakistan is concerned for peace in Afghanistan because the country’s economic strategies greatly depend on it, ” he said, in a recent interaction with the visiting Afghan journalists in Islamabad. A peaceful Afghanistan, he said, could act as a corridor for Pakistan’s trade route to Central Asian states besides benefitting itself from Pakistan’s Gwadar seaport. Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan on February 2, 2021 had agreed to a roadmap for construction of a 573-kilometer route from Mazar-e-Sharif to Peshawar, via Kabul. The project, with an estimated cost of US $ 5 billion, will open Pakistani seaports on the Arabian Gulf to Uzbekistan and continue Afghanistan’s gradual integration into the Central Asian economic system. The new corridor will improve connectivity with an annual transit potential of up to 20 million tons of cargo transportation. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in a virtual meeting on April 14, had supported construction of ‘Termez–Mazar-e-Sharif–Kabul–Peshawar’ railway line, calling it an important initiative to establish connectivity from Central Asia to Arabian Sea through Afghanistan and Pakistani sea ports of Karachi, Gwadar and Qasim. Prime Minister Khan, during a recent visit to Uzbekistan in July, had stressed that Pakistan’s trade relationship was going to depend on how quickly the countries were able to connect with each other. He termed the trans-Afghan railways project as the most important project for Uzbekistan and Pakistan. “For Pakistan, it connects us to Central Asia, to Uzbekistan which is the biggest of the Central Asian republics and beyond,” he said. The regional connectivity also promises an immense potential for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to benefit the entire Central Asian region in areas of transport, fiber optic cable, energy pipelines, and investment opportunities in Special Economic Zones. In his address to the leaders participating in the Tashkent’s ‘Central and South Asia Summit on Opportunities and Challenges’ in July, the prime minister spoke about the situation in Afghanistan, where he said Pakistan wanted a political settlement in the neighbouring country for “mutually beneficial” connectivity between Pakistan and Uzbekistan, and also other Central Asian countries. Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry has also linked regional connectivity with durable peace in Afghanistan. “Pakistan is desirous of durable peace in Afghanistan, and is making all possible efforts in this regard,” he said in Tashkent, expressing hope that regional connectivity would prove as a harbinger of progress for the entire region. Following the meeting of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Uzbek president in Tashkent, Fawad said the two leaders expressed the desire of running a train service from Gwadar to Tashkent and a truck service from Karachi to Tashkent. Commerce Adviser Abdul Raza Dawood says that Pakistan is looking to intensify trade with neighbouring Afghanistan and the countries of Central Asia with an aim to diversify trade beyond the top players. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan promises a return of stability and provides an opportunity to Pakistan to strengthen commerce with its neighbour, which sits at the cross-roads of South and Central Asia. Islamabad stands to benefit from greater trade with Central Asian markets that are rich in energy resources to develop its industrial base. Pakistan believes that political settlement in Afghanistan is the major factor which can guarantee the efforts towards prosperity. Experts says that the South Asia-Central Asia connectivity will benefit many countries. The railways line from Mazar-e-Sharif through Kabul to Peshawar will reduce Russia’s north-south route by up to 600 kilometers. Similar reductions in distance and shipping times apply to China’s trade with South Asia and East Africa. The announcement by the United States, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan on July 15, to agree in principle to establish a new quadrilateral diplomatic platform focusing on enhancing regional connectivity, has given strength to the notion. With ‘peace’ and ‘regional connectivity’ as main elements of its geo-economic strategy, the experts are sure about Pakistan that the South Asian country is going to make rapid strides in diverse fields – Up to Central Asia and beyond.