If Pakistan is the gateway to Central Asia
rulers and people of Pakistan feel close to the people of Central Asia for
good historical reasons as well as the fact most of the people of that
newly liberated region are Muslims, conscious of their great heritage. And
many of our rulers and writers refer to their country as the gateway to
is certainly a gateway to Central Asia from the south or south-east; but
it is not the only gateway from the South contrary to the impression our
leaders try to create in their enthusiasm to identify themselves with
Central Asia and enlarge the extent of co-operation with it.
yet one leader after another of Pakistan tend to speak of Pakistan as the
gateway to Central Asia. If Benazir Bhutto spoke of Pakistan in the same
strain in the early 1990s, the Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf spoke
in the same vein last month at the Pakistan Institute of International
fact is there is another gateway to Central Asia from the South via Iran,
and Iran has done a great deal to develop good communication system with
C.A. Yet another gateway in the south-west is from Turkey. Turgat Ozal as
Prime Minister of Turkey wanted to capitalise on the fact that a large
number of people of Turkish origin or Turkish speaking people were living
there and rushed to CA with hard cash in hand. He was ready to commit upto
one billion dollars to help those countries acutely short of foreign
exchange. He did build some real bridges, though they were not as
rewarding as he had hoped for due to the difference in the economic
systems of Turkey and the Central Asian states. Iran, too, tried to
checkmate the Turkish influence and vice versa.
ability to function as a dependable supply route to Central Asia and exit
route for its exports has been hampered by the lasting civil war in
Afghanistan and the unsettled conditions there. As a result there has not
been much economic cooperation between Central Asia and Pakistan either.
the period of the Soviet rule of Central Asia Pakistan's trade relations
with that region was very small and cultural relations negligible. Under
the influence of the US or its tutelage we kept away from communist states
as much as possible, save China. So our economic linkages with Central
Asia were few and the volume of trade with that region negligible.
when Sardar Aseff Ali as foreign minister under Benazir Bhutto led the
first Pakistan delegation to Central Asia after the collapse of Soviet
Union there was tremendous popular enthusiasm for it. But the Pakistanis
who tried to sell the Islamic bond between the two areas soon found the
approach of the people of those regions to Islam was more romantic than
ritualistic or based on fundamentals.
some Pakistanis said Islam was great, the Central Asians immediately stood
up and said "let us drink a toast to it." After a series of
toasts the Pakistanis ceased talking of the greatness of Islam and began
speaking of local cultures.
we had more money to spend on Central Asia, and if our businessmen were
ready to invest a good deal and wait for results instead of hoping for
early gains, we could have built many economic bridges there. Instead our
efforts to set up banks and have hotels there received severe setbacks as
systems of doing business there was far different from that to which
Pakistanis were accustomed. And since then as our economic conditions
became worse there has been no great enthusiasm on the part of our
businessmen to reach out to Central Asia with sizeable capital.
the common history and the fact the peoples of the two regions are Muslims
do provide a common bond we cannot overplay the Islamic card there for
strengthening economic relations between the two regions. Instead we have
to focus on economic cooperation on an economic basis, and after making
allowance for their different economic system, which is slowly changing,
and increase the cultural cooperation between the two people and promote
greater people-to-people exchanges.
is true we don't have the kind of money which Turgat Ozal could spare in
those early years; but we have to do some real strategic spending there
despite our financial constraints.
instead of claiming we are the gateway to Central Asia we have to
acknowledge the Iranian and Turkish routes as well, and we have to admit
Central Asian goods will go to Europe via Russia and to the East via
meeting of the five presidents of the Shanghai Five Group this week in
Dushambe with the president of Russia, China Kazakistan, Tajikistan and
Kyrgztan participating shows the direction in which Central Asia is
moving. They want to be a part of a much broader world than we are
took the lead informing the ECO states of ten by including the Central
Asian states to the group of Iran, Turkey and Pakistan following the
liberation of those republics from Russia, but the volume of trade has not
increased significantly. There have been more of meetings and summits than
great economic or commercial results.
efforts to bring electricity from Tajikistan to Pakistan earlier, and the
later effort to bring gas from Turkmenistan have been stymied by the
lasting civil war in Afghanistan and the resulting higher cost of
transmission of power or gas, and the reluctance of foreign entrepreneurs
to invest on such projects.
fact is that except for the oil we import from Saudi Arabia and less from
Iran and Iraq, and the oil products we get from Kuwait, our trade with the
Muslim countries including those in the Gulf close by, has been small. And
that happens despite the fact the Gulf countries have a large number of
Pakistanis at various level working there.
Mahbubul Haq used to argue in 1980s that if Turkey could export 3 billion
dollars worth of food items to the Gulf, Pakistan should be able to export
at least a billion dollars worth of food items to the region. But our
exports of food items to the Gulf have only been a fraction of that for
want of adequate efforts in that direction and a more imaginative
we ought to be earning more through our trade with Central Asian states
than merely letting our country used as a gateway to Central Asia. But
even to become a dependable and adequate gateway we have to do great deal
to develop our road and railway system and ports.
fact is our existing road system is not adequate to meet our own domestic
needs for transportation of goods. We need large and more durable roads
and a network of them for use as alternate roads if one road becomes
the goods from Central Asia are to go to India and exit down South via
Karachi to be shipped to South East Asian ports, we have to have far more
and better roads. And our railway system has to be expanded to meet more
of our domestic needs instead of overloading the road network.
have to develop the port facilities fast. Gwadar should become a major
part soon and that could be used to supplying goods to Central Asia.
with that all, law and order has to improve a great deal so that there is
no diversion of the imported goods or export cargo by criminals.
that would take a great deal of investment capital. Foreign capital could
be used to some extent depending on the conditions within the country.
such improvements in the country all around, and at all levels our claim
to be the gateway to Central Asia would not hold water.
newspapers reported that when Benazir Bhutto addressed the World Economic
Summit at Davos, Switzerland, and spoke of Pakistan as the gateway to
Central Asia she was challenged by a Central Asian president, saying
Central Asia had many gateways and spoke of his fear of fundamentalism
coming through the Pakistan gateway.
fact is the Central Asian leaders with their communist background have the
fear of fundamentalism or Talibanism crept into the region via Pakistan
that makes them wary of all out cooperation between Pakistan and Central
Asia. If recognising the Taliban government in Afghanistan secured the
support of Taliban for us to some extent that has increased the fears of
the Central Asian states, Russia and China to a considerable extent.
do not know how our leaders will now find a balance between support for
Taliban and our efforts to seek closer relations with Central Asian
states, particularly when our religious elements want to carry their
message to all parts of the world, particularly to our neighbourhood which
makes even China very wary of them.
we see the traffic jams in the city and the ill-managed transport on the
highways with heavy traffic accidents and high death toll we dread to
think what would happen to our roads if we become the gateway to Central
Asia without adequate preparations for it, including far better traffic
management and real highway discipline.
instead of thinking in romantic terms about serving as a gateway to
Central Asia let us really prepare the country for it, prepare the roads,
highways, and ports for that. That, of course, would call for a great deal
of investment. If enough funds cannot be forthcoming from within the
country let us seek foreign funds and use them judiciously. Gate-keepers
have an onerous role to play and they have to play them well and
have also to recognise that the Great Game is continuing with new players
or the old players playing an altered role. Instead of the old British we
have the Americans and the enlarged role of the Chinese and the vigilant
presence of Russia under President Putin. It is a region rich in oil, gas
and it can produce a great deal of electricity. It is rich in minerals and
have hence to be alive to the complexity of the situation and play our
part well instead of presuming that as our two people are Muslims our
cooperation and mutual help are assured. We have to meet the challenges of
the new international dynamics in a period of increasing globalization and
countries bound together by e-mail.