Regional connectivity

Its geo-strategic location, the start of CPEC and development of the Gwadar port has made Pakistan an attractive location for regional connection. Regional connectivity is essential for improving Pakistan’s fragile economy. Pakistan is already connected with China through the Karakoram Highway (KKH) and CPEC has changed the dynamics in the region. CPEC has enabled Pakistan to be connected to the Central Asian Republics, Middle East, Afghanistan and Iran. With the start of CPEC, some phenomenal changes can be seen along the routes from Gilgit to Gwadar.
Regional connectivity is important for Pakistan to get maximum benefits to explore and access the mineral-rich Central Asian Republics. Recent developments in South Asia and the Middle East have changed regional dynamics as well. On March 10, the world was stunned with the news of the landmark agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran which was brokered by China. This agreement has far reaching implications on regional connectivity and peace. There is a thaw in the relations between Pakistan and Russia since 2012. In February 2022, then prime minister of Pakistan visited Russia and an understanding was developed for purchasing crude oil and wheat on subsidised rates. The present government worked out modalities with Russian authorities for the shipment of crude oil from Russia to Pakistan. History was made on June 11, 2023, when Pakistan received its first shipment of Russian crude oil (45,000 metric tonnes) on discounted rates and 50,000 metric tonnes is on its way to Karachi. Pakistan has imported discounted Russian oil in in Chinese yuan. Arrival of 10 containers of LPG in Pakistan from Russia through the Pak-Afghan border at Torkham also marks the beginning of a new trade route and opens up opportunities for cost effective gas supply to Pakistan.
The National Logistic Cell (NLC) has successfully transported export goods to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan via Afghanistan travelling 4000 kilometers. NLC also transported export goods to Turkiye via Azerbaijan. In May this year Pakistan also imported cheap LPG from Turkmenistan through the Chaman border and import of LPG from Iran is also being considered via the barter system. The barter trade mechanism will create business opportunities, employment, and boost bilateral trade to $5 billion annually, a massive improvement as compared to financial year 2022-23.
Pakistan has historical, religious, and cultural links with the Central Asian Republics. Pakistan can provide the energy rich landlocked Central Asian Republics with the shortest energy corridor for exporting oil and gas reserves through the ports of Karachi, Bin Qasim and Gwadar. A 600km long railway corridor has been planned from Termez in South Uzbekistan through Mazar-e-Sharif, Kabul and headed to Peshawar, Gwadar and Karachi. Pakistan’s connectivity with Uzbekistan through rail and road trades would open avenues of prosperity in the region. CPEC can provide access to Tajikistan from Gilgit-Baltistan via the KKH bypassing Afghanistan. Tajikistan can link Pakistan via Wakhjir pass to China then to KKH and Karachi ports.
Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI) also known as Trans Afghanistan pipeline is another connectivity project. The pipeline (1814 km) will transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and into Pakistan then to India. Pakistan is ready to go ahead with the project without India’s involvement. The project depends on the security situation in Afghanistan, However, the Afghan Government is committed to ensure the protection of gas pipelines passing through their country.
In the first week of June this year Pakistan sent the first consignment of goods to Kazakhstan via the historic silk route, a milestone of connectivity. The convoy embarked on a journey from the Sost dry port in Gilgit and passed through China to reach Almaty, Kazakhstan. The consignment came from Karachi and will take ten days to reach Kazakhstan. In another development the first border market out of six inaugurated at Mand-Pishin border crossing point of Pakistan and Iran has been inaugurated. This was a long standing demand of the locals and this will also address the menace of smuggling to some extent. These markets will increase cross border trade and open new avenues for local business and livelihood opportunities for the people living in border areas. Similarly border markets can be established along Pak-Afghan border at border crossing points.
In a matter of weeks, Pakistan has experienced game-changing events that present an opportunity for the country to unlock its potential and make greater investments for the future. If pursued consistently over a period of five to seven years, such game-changing policies have the ability to revive Pakistan’s businesses and economy, while providing a significant boost to its revenue.

The writer is a retired brigadier and freelance columnist. He tweets @MasudAKhan6.

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