For Pakistan, Central Asia assumes great significance for many reasons. Pakistan’s geographical location vis-Ã -vis Central Asia’s landlocked nature and its geo-political and geo-economic importance naturally induce it to reach out to the region. Political and Security compulsions as well as energy, trade, transit and commercial gains mainly determine our policy towards Central Asia.
Pakistan always sustained hope to become a regional transit trade hub by linking Central Asia, Western China and South Asia. Access to the region’s energy resources is one of the main objectives of Pakistan’s policy towards the region. Economic Cooperation Organisation and Gwadar Port are still valid hopes in this regard.
South Asia and Central Asia have centuries-old common history that encompasses cultural, religious and economic realms. Pakistan, geographically, is the most significant South Asian country, and it is highly conscious of its common cultural heritage with Central Asian States. The Islamic culture prevailing in Pakistan is, in essence, the Central Asian ‘not the Arabian’ in character. Many scholars and historians hold that the Sufism that penetrated into the Subcontinent was brought by saints, Sufis and invaders from Central Asia and it ultimately influenced our society and culture. Besides, numerous skilled craftsmen, traders, artists, and poets moved from Central Asia to the Subcontinent and infused a new life into the philosophy, poetry, music and architecture of this region.
Central Asia has contributed a lot to the development of Islamic theological thought in the Subcontinent, especially the regions included in today’s Pakistan. In the beginning of eighth century, several Muslim Sufis and saints came from Central Asia and with their meritorious efforts, Islam spread all over the region. The names of Bukhari, Al-Khoresmi, Al-Farabi, Al-Beruni, Al-Ghazali, and Akhmed Yasavi are broadly known in the Muslim world. Nevertheless, along with cultural, historical and religious ties, the trade links also strengthened owing to old Silk Route with (United) Indian merchant outposts in Kashgar, Yarkand, and Qara-Shahr in Central Asia.
The history of the Subcontinent-Central Asia trade relations dates back to prehistoric times when various trade routes connected the two regions. Central Asia’s historic heritage definitely places it as one of the most powerful economic centres in the world. No doubt, the new trends in the international and regional policies offer initiatives for Pakistan to look towards Central Asia, yet the significance of links between Pakistan and Central Asia has always been felt mostly because of the past religious, cultural and commercial bonds which presented source to establish that association.
The vast area stretching from Aral to Arabian Sea has been serving as a route for trade and free movement of the people since long. The people from Lahore to Kazakh on the Volga, and from Baku to Multan have witnessed the old caravan trade routes during Kushan period. Then, the Silk Road played a significant role in flourishing trade and commercial activities.
Economic Relations in Modern World
Central Asia has a great importance for Pakistan because of its economic vitality and potential in the form energy reserves. In reciprocation, the landlocked region of Central Asia needs Pakistan in order to have an outlet to exploit its huge potential. Pakistan can become a ‘gateway’ to Central Asia for the outer world if it exploits its leverage in this context. That is why Pakistan has been trying to promote relations with these resource-rich states claiming an edge of historic Central Asian Region-Pakistan cultural, religious, political and economic linkages dating back centuries between the two regions.
In the contemporary world, the significance of Pakistan has increased manifold due to its close geographical proximity with the resourceful Central Asia because scarcity of gas and oil resources has developed a sense of urgency in the West as well as in the US to seek new resources that Central Asian states offer in abundance.
Pakistan’s economic priority is for developing bilateral trade in raw material and manufactured goods, opening up communications and contracting for regular supplies. Pakistan saw industry there and Pakistani entrepreneurs felt they had a great deal to offer in setting up substantial benefits for its industrial growth in obtaining regular supplies of surplus power through gas and electricity grid scheme or through future oil supplies from Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
The Heartland Theory
Keeping in view Mackinder’s Heartland Theory which articulates that whoever controls Central Asia shall wield enormous power in the world, the significant of this energy-rich region cannot be ignored. Pakistan is an energy-hungry country, as its economy has to face security problems and constraints especially after 9/11 while the Central Asian states are abundant in excellent infrastructure, massive fossil fuel reserves along with minerals and metal deposits. It is the enormous manufacturer of gold reserves and oil and natural gas. It also abounds in energy resources and the developed economies like America, China and West as well as rising economies like India along with developing economies like Pakistan’s and other South Asian countries are in dire need these resources to accelerate and develop their economies. The big powers America, Russia China, and the European Union eye the natural and human resources of Central Asia. It is also ideal for Japan, Iran and the rising economy of India.
Central Asia is worth a geo-political struggle over resources and it is a ‘Great Gain’ for the world. Each and every country wants to have an access and get hold on these resources and the world, particularly the big powers, compete for the resources of Central Asia.
In future the world will be in severe need of energy but the region is landlocked and South Asia is the ideal way to have an access to these resources. That is why the great game is being played in Afghanistan and Pakistan to create disturbance in these countries. However, if the peace and security is ensured in these countries and a well developed infrastructure is contrasted there, it will be in the benefit of the world, particularly both the regions of Central Asia and South Asia.
Recommendations for Pakistan
Pakistan must put its own house in order. The political instability is least conducive to entering into long-term arrangements with these countries.
Emphasis must be on establishing mutually beneficial economic relations.
Russian susceptibilities must be kept in mind.
Healthy competition with Turkey and Iran must not be allowed to end up in rivalry.
In addition to state-to-state relations greater people-to-people contacts would prove useful.
The ingredients which Pakistan puts into the melting pot of Central Asia must be such that it results in shaping a mutually beneficial relationship. Any input which detracts from this aim must be nipped in the bud.
Pakistan should develop and promote her trade and commerce with Central Asian States. And for this purpose, developing infrastructure, including construction of roads and development of seaports should be the topmost priority.
New agreements and deeds should be made with CAS and old agreements should be realized.
Pakistan should also consider ways and means to become a gateway to other countries particularly Europe to give them access to the resources of Central Asia
A strong government in Afghanistan is necessary; therefore, Pakistan should make all efforts in this regard.